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What Is Brass Instrument Restoration?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Brass instrument restoration is the process of putting any brass instrument such as a trumpet or trombone back into its original playing condition. The process focuses primarily on getting the instrument to produce a suitable sound with ease. It also involves techniques that have a lesser impact on sound but which vastly improve the overall aesthetics of the instrument.

One of the most common reasons for brass instrument restoration is the age of the instrument. Brass instruments often tarnish over time, sometimes to the point of being grossly discolored. Springs and other mechanisms such as corks also decay or weaken. Proper storage of the instrument is a factor in how quickly this happens, so the brass instruments that usually need restoration are those that have been stored in extremes of heat and moisture. It is not unusual for these instruments to have gone years without being played, often stored in attics, basements, closets or the back of band storage rooms.

Brass instruments can become tarnished over time.
Brass instruments can become tarnished over time.

The second reason for brass instrument restoration is that the owner or owners have handled the instrument improperly. Dents are a frequent result of this, particularly on the bell of the instrument. These often happen because the player drops the instrument, but they also happen due to accidental hits by others. This problem is more common in newer brass instruments used by beginning students, especially if the case is soft-bodied rather than hard-bodied. This problem sometimes happens even to professional players as they try to move their instruments from one location to another.

Restorers use a wide array of restoration techniques on brass instruments, depending on the problems the instrument has. When an instrument restorer encounters an instrument that plays well but merely looks awful, at a minimum he usually strips the instrument of its original finish, cleans the instrument with chemicals and then puts a new finish on it via electroplating or similar technique. Although this is fairly basic restoration, it still requires a certain level of skill due to the fact that some disassembling and reassembling of the instrument may be required. Repairers must use caution any time they use chemicals or electricity in the restoration process.

Brass instrument restoration also includes the replacement of certain parts of the instrument. Corks and springs almost always need attention on a brass instrument that doesn't play properly. Restorers sometimes replace or realign valves, too. More serious replacements may involve entire joints or the original instrument mouthpiece.

Polishing and sanding also are brass instrument restoration techniques. Sanding sometimes help remove the original finish of the instrument. Both sanding and polishing make the new finish of the instrument look shiny and even smooth very small imperfections. This is usually one of the final steps in the restoration process.

The cost of restoration depends on the degree of restoration needed for the instrument. A basic restoration often is less than or comparable to the cost of a new instrument. If damages to the instrument are extreme, or if the appearance of the instrument is very poor, however, more techniques and restoration time is necessary, which drives up the price considerably. Sometimes the cost for these restorations is high enough that the only reason an instrument owner would want to restore the instrument is because the instrument has sentimental value, value as an antique or has an unusual but highly desired overall quality of sound.

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    • Brass instruments can become tarnished over time.
      By: bepsphoto
      Brass instruments can become tarnished over time.