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How to Eliminate the Running of Water Into the Tone Holes

By Hans Moennig


     In my first article on the care of the clarinet, published several issues ago, the problem of preventing the cracking of the wood was discussed.  I believe I mentioned at that time that oiling the wood would not prevent cracks.  There is, however, one other problem when oiling the bore is advisable.  This is when too much water collects in the bore, especially in the tone holes, causing gurgling sounds or even causing a note to sound half a tone flat some times.


     The first precaution to prevent this from happening is simple enough:  always hold the instrument in its upright position as in playing.  In this position the water will run freely along the bottom of the bore where there are no tone holes except that of the octave or speaker key and the thumb hole, the metal tubes of which protrude into the bore causing the water to flow around them.  Do not turn the clarinet on its side unnecessarily so that water will not into the tone holes.  When laying the instrument down it will be helpful to put on the opened case in such a way that it cannot easily roll on its side.


     However, careful as one may be in handling the clarinet, water sometimes does get into the tone holes, and once started, the nuisance quite often becomes chronic.  To overcome this difficulty by deflecting the flow of water away from the offending tone hole or holes is the purpose for which I recommend oiling the bore  Now just oiling the bore won’t make things any better; in fact oiling the bore might make the problem even worse.  What we must do is to oil only the upper half of the bore where the tone holes are.  First of all, swab out the bore well and remove the necessary keys and clean and wipe out the holes in question.  Let the wood dry for another hour.  Obtain a piece of smooth, straight wire about 1/16” thick and 8 to 10” long (a drinking straw with the end plugged up will probably do also).  Then put a drop of sweet almond oil (obtainable in any drug store) or linseed oil on the end of the wire (or straw), and holding the  clarinet joint toward the light so that you can see through the bore, and having the tone holes on the bottom with the octave key end towards yourself, deposit the oil in the bore where there are no tone holes.  Then spread the oil out along the bore , and of course only where the tone holes are.  Five or six drops are usually enough to cover the whole length of the bore.  Do not use more as grenadilla wood, because of its dense grain, does not absorb much oil.  Naturally, put the joint down in a horizontal position with the thumb hole and octave key up to let the oil soak in;  and after an hour or so it is advisable to turn the joint so that the side tone holes come to the bottom in order to have that part of the bore oiled well, too.


     After ten or twelve hours most of the oil should be absorbed and you can get the clarinet ready for playing again.  I would now recommend playing the instrument only long enough for the water to form and run down on the bottom of the bore past the offending tone holes.  Then the clarinet should be laid aside in an inclined position so that the air can more easily pass through the bore and dry up the water – do not swab out.  After the water has dried up, repeat this performance two or three times so that the water may form a well-defined path to follow.  One point to remember while playing on the instrument during this time:  do not trill on any keys or holes as the water in no doubt whirled around considerably by a trill, so play an easy legato.


     Another means I use to mitigate water trouble is to put cork pads on those keys where it occurs most.  For one reason cork does not absorb water like pads do and also the tone hole can be coated with Vaseline to keep the water out with out the pad’s getting sticky and noisy. 

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