Trombone Slide Cleaning 101
In the last 50 years, many advances have been made to make repairing band instruments easier, safer and at the same time produce a better product. So, let’s get "Back to Basics" on several of these things – starting with prepping and cleaning the trombone hand slide. Before we start, we will mention that there are no bench motors, lathes or other power equipment used in these methods.
First, when cleaning a hand slide, you usually run into some solid debris left in place from not being cleaned properly in the past. Many people use one of several chemicals made for this purpose, a tubing scraper or a combination of both. In the case of the scraper; you can use a smaller diameter inner slide rail, LIKE ONE from an older California built Olds "Ambassador" and solder an old stiff cornet mouthpipe into the upper end of the tube like a cane to use for a handle also LIKE ONE off of one of the old California built Olds "Ambassador’s”.
Then, you would flare out the stocking end with either some round or hook nose pliers to give it angle and projection and then use some diagonal cutters, rotated “head in”, to give the scraper a better "attack" angle.
Carefully twist and fit this "end edge" cutter into the outer rail you are working on and then, once securely in the bore, push while simultaneously twisting the scraper down into the slide you can remove the calcium, lime and other debris as well as maybe a small dent or two. The inner slide rail or tube is usually harder nickel and then nickel or chrome plated.
Be sure you use one of this type and not the lesser used softer "brass tube" variety. The outer slide you are working on is usually brass, although sometimes on more expensive instruments it is nickel. (Generally, what we call brass is "yellow brass" and what we call nickel is "white brass") So, in using this process to remove the crud you are in a sense "burnishing" the inner surface due to the difference in the hardness of the metal. You may want to use the P1 Tubing Cleaning Balls here, if there is an obvious build up of scale, to clean out the bottom bow tubing. It just takes a moment to brush out the bottom bow, you may even want to add a couple ounces of cleaner in the bottom to help out. Now, if you want to use just chemical here instead of scraping – You can.
Next, comes the actual slide cleaning using "F7A Brasso" and "X50 cheesecloth". Proper trombone hand slide cleaning involves using an "S73 Trombone Rod", Brasso, cheesecloth and "Z10B cold cleaner".
Take your trombone cleaning rod, insert the corner of your flow of cheesecloth through the loop an inch or two and then, carefully start winding the rod tightly in the cloth toward the center of the cloth at about a 45 degree angle, keeping it tight all the way. When you get to the center of the cloth, grab the cloth tightly and turn the rod to be at a right angle to the cloth and continue to tightly wind the cloth on the rod until it is approximately half the diameter of the tube you are going to use it in.
Now, grab the resulting wad tightly and twist the cleaning rod to firm the wad. Then bend the cloth over double, this should be about the size of the bore now. Holding the wad firm, grab the flow of cloth below the wad in the vicinity of where the round loop end of the rod is. Loop the cloth flow around your hand so that when you tighten your grip the flow of cloth tightens the end of the rod and tries to bring the end of the rod to you, like a violin bow. Your hand is wound once with cloth and holding the loop, cushioned by the cloth. This way you can push the rod in the slide and have it take the cloth in with it and pull the cloth out bringing the rod with it. This way you will never have to worry about getting the cloth stuck in the slide and at the same time have a very firm pack of cloth with which to clean and polish inside the bore with "Brasso", which we have used for about 50 years or whatever brass polish you prefer.
At this point you just dip the end of the firmly packed cloth on the rod into the Brasso about an inch or so, insert it into the slide tube and proceed to clean the slide, while firmly holding the rail or tube with which you are working. All that is necessary is to "pump" the rod and cloth assembly in and out 5 or 6 times in each rail or tube. By having the cloth tightly packed, you will do a better job of cleaning and you may well push out some other irregularities in the tubing.
Briefly, we use the following process:
Clean the slide with Brasso by briskly pushing the rod down the tube with about an inch or so of Brasso showing on the cloth, working it in and out to clean and polish the bore.
Remove the dirty wad from the slide tube; disassemble the cloth/rod unit, cut off the Brasso wet used part of the cloth and re-wrap as before, over to the center and then straight to half size. Tighten, fold and refit. Perhaps a half turn less to allow for movement now using cold cleaner. Dip the cloth about inch and a half into the cold cleaner, re-insert the rod and cloth back into the slide tube and work it in the same as you did with the Brasso.
Remove the cloth/rod assembly from the tube. Cut off the solvent wet part and re-wrap using the same method as before. This time insert it dry into the tube after having first blown the tube dry with compressed air or otherwise. You can use the solvent wet part to clean the inner slide and tuning slide rails and other jobs around the shop. Both professional and student slides gain benefit from this procedure. Proper cleaning will make most slides seem to work better, even if you don’t do anything else. Therefore, proper cleaning should always precede any dent or alignment work.
Next time, we will discuss hand slide dent removal and alignment. With the new N87A pliers, the whole process of denting, straightening and aligning is much easier.