Chem Clean or Ultrasonic: Which is Best?

Brass instruments have traditionally been cleaned with a combination of soaps and chemical baths, accompanied by a good deal of hand scrubbing. In recent years ultrasonic cleaners have come into the picture, offering a different cleaning method. Which method gets your horn cleaner, which is safer for the horn (and you)?  How do you choose?

valves-beforeAs a brass instrument is played, deposits build up on the inner surfaces. These include old grease and oil, food particles, dental plaque and bacteria, calcium, and copper carbonate, the material formed by the reaction of the acids in your breath and the copper in the alloy. Copper carbonate builds up green, rock-hard deposits. It’s the primary cause of sticking and other action problems in rotary valve instruments. If the mouthpipe is brushed out once a week or so and the instrument is oiled frequently enough, a brass instrument can go for years between Chem/Ultrasonic cleanings. In actual practice, however, this rarely happens and a cleaning is needed every year or so.

A Chem Clean starts with a scrub with brushes and detergents to remove old oil and grease. The instrument is immersed in a mildly acidic solution  which dissolves the calcium and copper carbonate. Areas of heavy buildup can be addressed with acids on a
q-tip. Then the instrument is scrubbed again with detergent to remove any residue and is re-assembled.

Ultrasonic cleaning replaces the hand scrubbing with sound waves. The disassembled instrument is put into a tank of cleaning solution and bombarded with sound waves. The sound waves cause microscopic bubbles to form in the fluid. These bubbles immediately collapse, converting the sound waves into kinetic energy. This process, called  “cavitation”, creates the scrubbing action that cleans the horn. One of the big advantages of ultrasonics is that that scrubbing action reaches all through the inside of the horn, even into areas unreachable by brushes.

valves-afterWhen using ultrasonic cleaners it’s important to be aware of their power and potential for damage. The microscopic bubbles are very good at finding their way into the pinholes left by dezincification and opening them up. So, older instruments and instruments that show any signs of dezincification (red rot) should not be ultrasonically cleaned. Ultrasonic cleaning can also remove some lacquers. So, it’s important to use the least power and the shortest time that will do the job.

Some people have the misconception that ultrasonics replace acids in the cleaning process.  This is not the case. The acids are needed to dissolve the calcium and copper carbonate deposits. The cleaning solutions we use are mild enough to be handled without gloves. We have tested samples for up to four hours of immersion with no measurable loss of metal. (Repair shops and manufacturers used to use Chromic acid to produce a bright brass surface. This material did remove metal and is also a carcinogen. It has been banned by the EPA although, amazingly, you can sometimes still find people using it.)

In our shop, a typical cleaning may involve both ultrasonics and traditional techniques. We choose the combination that’s safest and most effective for the instrument.

Schedule a Cleaning

Getting Ready For the Holidays

Choosing gifts for the brass players on your holiday list can be tricky. You want to support and encourage them, but it’s difficult to pick out things will be appreciated. Here are some ideas for presents that will appeal across a wide spectrum.

  • The Maslet horn straight mute is a versatile all-around choice.A Really Good Mute. A professional quality straight mute is a basic item for every trumpet, horn, and trombone player. Horn players need a good fibre mute. Aluminum mutes are standard for trumpet and trombone. If your brass player is using a plastic mute or the old red-and-white fibre kind, a new mute will be welcome.
  • Silent Brass fells and sounds like a concert hall.Silent Brass/ Practice mutes. These specialized mutes for practicing allow a player to warm up or do basic maintenance playing without disturbing people in the next room.
  • Combo tuner-metronomes pack a lot of punch into a small package.Electronic Tuners and Metronomes. Rhythm and pitch are the building blocks of performance. Everybody needs a tuner.
  • Solid, stable, and hold its adjustmentStands and Lights. If your brass player is using a wire stand at home you can bet he or she will appreciate a solid, strong, orchestral stand that can support a heavy load of study materials. A good stand light can be a life-saver in a dimly lit room or pit.
  •  About Playing and PlayersBooks. Books about playing, players, and performance broaden horizons.

Made for Marking MusicStocking Stuffers. Small, inexpensive, and guaranteed to be appreciated:

We Go the Extra Mile

Osmun Music Trumpet Specialist Jim Becker

Osmun Music Trumpet Specialist Jim Becker

Jim Becker, our ace trumpet tech, just got a nice shout-out from a happy customer on the Trumpet Herald (Here’s the link):

Hi All — Last year I had Jim Becker at Osmun do a valve job on my 1968 Olds Special. He turned a “Special” into a “Fantastic.” This past week, he did a valve job on my 1954 Olds Recording, with the same result. The horn is the off-the-map good. In my view, for a vintage horn, there’s no bigger bang-for-the-buck than a valve job, as long as the rest of the horn is sound. Jim also goes the extra mile, always finding other things to correct along the way (my Recording came back with the bell straightened out and with O-rings on the third valve slide). He’s an expert’s expert, fair in pricing, and a nice person to boot. Thanks, Jim!

Be sure to check out the Trumpet Services page at osmun.com.

Off to ITG

Jim Becker showing off a new hand-made Osmun Bb trumpet

Jim Becker and I are off to the ITG conference in King of Prussia, PA.  We’ll be there with trumpets, mouthpieces, and all sorts of things to make your life as a trumpet player happier and more rewarding.

We’re very proud to display Jim’s latest hand-made instrument. It’s a large bore Bb trumpet designed for the lead player. The prototype was built for 1st call big band and show player extraordinaire Larry Pyatt, who provided us with valuable feedback every step of the way.

Jim will be available to talk about blueprinting and all the ways he can make your trumpet just a little bit better (We call it “The last 2%”). We have a Bach Bb and C that we’ve blueprinted for you to try. I think you’ll be amazed at the improvement over stock horns. Please stop by and say hello.

Blueprinting

Why Are Some Trumpets Better Than Others?

As far back as I can remember, it’s been an article of faith for trumpet players: To get a good trumpet, go somewhere where you can try a lot of identical instruments and pick out the good one. That used to work, sort of. Years ago, large stores, and even some smaller ones carried multiple samples of the same instrument which they would dutifully roll out to be tried. The problem was that, unless you happened to be there when a new shipment arrived, you could safely assume that the trumpets you were trying had already been picked over by numerous players. Plus, it can be very difficult to access small differences in a short time span and in an unfamiliar acoustic. Now days it’s pretty much a moot point. The economics of the music business make carrying a large stock of instruments a losing proposition. Continue reading

Precision Valve Alignment For Me

Precision Valve Alignments are recomended for Yamaha Trumpets

Precision Valve Alignments are recommended for Yamaha Trumpets

Sometimes with my hectic schedule, I procrastinate on projects that would actually benefit my own trumpet playing. I have been playing on my Mike Vax Yamaha for years and never had Jim Becker look at my valve alignment. Recently, while playing Jesus Christ Superstar, I felt something was off with my 4th space E and the E an octave above. So, for my birthday, I treated myself to a Precision Valve Alignment by Jim Becker. Sure enough, my valves were way off. When Jim was done, the E’s lined back up, and the core of my sound was consistent from top to bottom. I feel much more confident blowing through the notes on my horn, as opposed to “hoping” the horn settles on a particular slot.

Both Jim Becker and I highly recommend Precision Valve Alignments on Yamaha Trumpets, especially the Bobby Shew medium bore horns. The Bach C trumpet is the trumpet we perform the most PVAs on. I would say that in general, a Precision Valve Alignment by Jim Becker will add 10-15% improvement in your horn’s stability. That’s sometimes the difference between a good day of trumpet playing and a bad one.

Feel free to contact the store if you have any questions on your possible PVA.