How to Clean Musical Instruments or COA

A COA (Cleaning, Oiling, Adjusting) is important for any instrument, though the term is usually used when talking about woodwind instruments.

A COA once or twice a year is ideal, but if you can’t afford that, or don’t find it necessary, you’ll still need to have your instrument fixed up when things start to go wrong.

It’s best to catch these things early on, but the less obvious results of wear and tear can be easily overlooked, unless you know what you’re looking for. While this article mainly focuses on woodwinds, the concept can also be applied to brass instruments.

Take care of your instrument. While this should be obvious, it’s good to be in the habit of being careful. Don’t drop it, use the case as a footrest, hold it in a way that can damage the keys, skip swabbing it, etc. Taking care of your instrument can save you a lot of time at the repair shop and a good bit of money.

Maintaining the musical instrument is as important as buying it.
Image: Casio Digital Piano AP-250 BK/BN

Pay attention to your instrument when you are playing it. If you are alert and familiar with your instrument, you should notice almost immediately when something isn’t working right. However, there are some things that you may not notice when playing, so every so often, sit down and take a really good look at your instrument.

Get an idea of your instrument’s general outside appearance. The “C” part of COA covers both cleaning the inside and cleaning the outside. While the outside appearance of your instrument doesn’t really affect your playing, most musicians want to keep their instruments looking nice, and if you try to sell it in the future, you’ll be glad that you kept up its appearance.

Take a look at the color and condition of the pads. Color doesn’t always affect playing ability, but if the pads are cracked, swollen, or growing mold, it might be time to replace them. It may be that only some of the pads are in bad condition, in which case you can just get your instrument partially re-padded.

A COA is highly recommended before any major competition or assessment, Solo and Ensemble event, audition, or big concert.
Image Credit: Yamaha SLG-110S H Silent Guitar

Check for leaks. For most woodwinds, this can be done by taking each individual section of your instrument, covering all the holes with one hand, covering one end of the section with the palm of the other, and blowing into the open end. You should not feel or hear any air escaping.

Make sure your corks are in good condition. No section of the cork should be missing, spit shouldn’t leak out between the sections, and the instrument should not fall apart or wiggle where the sections meet. If you are experiencing any of these problems, get your instrument re-corked, or at least fix the cork(s) that are giving you trouble.

Decide if there’s anything you want adjusted, even if it’s not really something “wrong” with the instrument. You may decide that it would be easier to play certain notes if a certain key was tightened or loosened slightly, you want your keys silver-plated instead of nickel-plated (since you’ve already decided to have it re-keyed), or things of that nature.

Take your instrument (and mental/written list of things to be done) down to the music store, and ask for a COA. Ask how much it’ll cost, and when you can pick your instrument up. If not much is wrong, you may be able to walk out with in in a matter of minutes, or an hour or so. If it’s having anything major replaced (corks, keys, pads, etc.), you may be looking at a few days to a week.

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How to Clean Musical Instruments or COA