FITCHBURG, WI 53719-5329

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Seasonal Instrument Care

Seasonal Instrument Care                                         

General Tips

  • Keep your instrument in the case when it is not in use.
  • Don’t leave your instrument in the car-if you’re comfortable, your instrument is comfortable.
  • If you have to leave your instrument in poor conditions, leave it in its case as it warms up/cools off. This can take several hours.
  • Humidify your case. Start humidifying as soon as you turn on the heat in fall and continue until you turn the heat off in spring. Ideal humidity for wooden instruments is between 40%-60%.
  • Never play a cold instrument!  Sudden temperature changes are a major cause for cracking. You will also be out of tune.

Brass Instruments

Brass instruments are the heartiest of the bunch, which makes sense when you consider that they were developed for use in military bands that would march outdoors in all conditions. A brass player will find that they produce more “spit” at lower temperatures and their instrument will be pitched flatter than usual when played cold. At extreme temperatures the condensation that forms from the hot breath of the player against the cool metal pipes can become frozen. This slows down any moving parts including the valves, rotors, and or slides or the instrument. Emptying spit valves and properly oiling and lubricating the rotors, valves, and slides or your brass instrument can help prevent any damage that could happen this way.  Some finishes of brass instruments may also split or peal if trapped moisture freezes or thaws on the horn. Leaving an instrument to climatize in its case will reduce condensation that can cause this pealing.

Orchestral Instruments & Fretted Wooden Instruments (Guitars, Ukuleles, Mandolin, etc.)

The thin, hallow body of orchestral and fretted instruments are the most susceptible to temperature and humidity changes. In dry conditions the face of an instrument will move inward and the neck will come forward. In high humidity the opposite will occur. This will have an effect of the height of the strings. On many guitars and some ukulele there is a truss rod that runs the length of the neck which can be adjusted to counteract this change. If you are not comfortable adjusting this yourself, Ward-Brodt’s repair staff is happy to adjust that for you in order to reduce the stress on your instrument.

One may find that after a particularly harsh drop in temperature their instrument which normally holds a tune has its strings hanging loose and a fallen bridge. Cold temperatures in combination with a drop in humidity can cause the natural wooden material to warp. As the shape of the wood changes the overall the tension on the strings is released, meaning that the instrument is no longer in tune. Friction-based pegs will also change size which will further contribute to a shift in the strings. Case humidifiers are an inexpensive way to maintain proper conditions when storing and prevent major adjustments that may be necessary during seasonal changes.

Woodwind Instruments(Wooden)- Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Oboe, Bassoon, English Horn, Etc.

Woodwind instruments are usually made of very dense species of wood such as Grenadilla wood or Rosewood. Though in some ways the denseness of the wood helps with durability, these instruments are still affected by changes in the weather. If played when cold the inside begins to warm more quickly than the outside. This creates a wedging effect as the expanding wood pushes outward. If it finds a weak point, like the thinner wood of the edge of the tone hole or a natural flaw in the wood, the outer wood will crack to make room. This is one reason why you should never play a cold instrument. Oiling the bore twice a year will maintain the suppleness of the wood so that it is less likely to split when naturally changing shape. Humidifying the case is always a good idea and hard shell cases do a better job of sealing in the ideal conditions for your instrument. If you have a ABS (plastic) or resin instrument the effects of weather are usually less extreme, but they are not completely unaffected. See more about how instrument pads are affected in the Metal Woodwind section.

Metal and Plastic Woodwind Instruments- Saxophones, Flutes, Etc.

Metal wind instruments survive a little better in changing temperatures. However, moisture is the enemy of most wind instruments. Players fight it daily by swabbing out their instruments after they play, and emptying water-keys throughout performance. In the case of cold weather, the extra condensation that accumulates is absorbed by the woven pads. This expands the pads and prevents proper seals from forming between the keys and the instrument body. Moist or wet pads will also encourage mold growth which can be a major health concern for musicians. Most adhesive that is used to affix the pad material to your instrument is also affected by cold weather and can become brittle and loose. If this happens, it is likely that the instrument’s pads will fall off. Store the instrument in a comfortable climate and leave it in its case when not playing to help protect your investment. You can also purchase soft rubber inserts that hold open the lower stack keys of a saxophone. This helps moisture escape the instrument after you play.


A good quality instrument maintained properly can be with you for a lifetime. While a crack will not necessarily ruin an instrument, it can increase maintenance costs. In some cases, an instrument will crack no matter how careful you are. If it does, don’t panic! The repair staff at Ward-Brodt Music is experienced in crack-repair. A repaired crack will need to be resealed from time to time, but if filled properly the instrument will continue to play at its best.