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Sweet Sounds: Ultrasonic Cleaning and Musical Instruments

In order for brass instruments, such as trumpets, trombones and saxophones, to maintain their clear sound, musicians must keep them clean and well maintained. With so many moving parts (keys, valves, etc.) on these complicated but delicate instruments, cleaning can be a tiresome, time-intensive chore. Ultrasonic cleaners, normally associated with laboratories and industrial applications, are also highly useful at keeping these instruments sounding sweet and in tune.

Empire Winds, a New York firm that maintains and repairs brass and woodwind instruments, purchased an ultrasonic cleaner for their stock, as well as for their clientele of professional musicians whose instruments require a thorough cleaning. The company has endorsed the use of ultrasonic cleaners for musical instruments, both as a means of cleaning excess residue from delicate parts and as a method to extend the working lifespan of the instrument itself.

For nearly a century, the cleaning of brass and woodwind instruments has involved the use of acidic solutions to break down deposits that can form around the valves. The unfortunate side effect is that, along with removing lime, scales and other residue, the acids would also damage the brass and other metals in the instruments. The damage would cause the instrument to go out of tune or impair its ability to hit specific notes.

Also the use of acids, along with rags, wire brushes and other cleaning implements, would pose a threat to both the instrument and the musician. Harsh chemical solvents give off fumes that can damage the lungs, mouth and nasal cavities. The cleaning process itself was tedious, time consuming and often ineffective. The musician would either have to handle this process himself, or pay a professional cleaner to take care of the task.

The advent of the ultrasonic cleaner removed much of the tedium and many of the hazards from instrument cleaning chores. Instead of eating away at the metal while removing the residue as acidic cleaners do, ultrasonic cleaners use high-frequency sound waves to produce a highly effective bubbling in the water (called “cavitation”) to reach the smallest crevices in the instrument without damaging the metal parts. These microscopic bubbles “pop” along the surface, removing the dirt and lime.

brass ultrasonic cleanerUltrasonic cleaners also come in a wide array of sizes. A small cleaner can hold valve keys and other removable parts, while cleaners with larger tanks can hold a disassembled trombone or a baritone saxophone. The cleaning process works equally well on simpler instruments like flutes and trumpets, as well as complex brass pieces such as the tuba and the French horn. With a mixture of tap water and special water-soluble detergents, the ultrasonic cleaner from can reach almost every curve, nook and crevice in these beautiful instruments.

The ultrasonic cleaner has become as much a part of a brass instrument musician’s life as his instrument case and sheet music. High school and college band directors are also investing or budgeting for ultrasonic cleaners for their instruments. Whether you prefer classical, jazz, blues or rock’n’roll, ultrasonic cleaners allow brass and woodwind instruments to keep their distinctive sound.


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