USD Band Directors Institute Emergency Repair Presentation

July 11, 2018

USD Band Directors Institute Emergency Repair Presentation

Notes from Whitney's presentation to band directors at the USD institute last month. Very good info for both new and existing directors.


In my experience, instruments break at exactly the worst moment possible. So although you are not expected to know how to fix all problems that may arise, it is good to be somewhat prepared for the inevitable.

If it is a school-owned instrument, then you can tinker til your heart's content. Your only concern is that you might turn a cheap repair into an expensive one. FYI: The heat required to WELD and the heat required to SOLDER are very different things. However, instruments owned by the student's family require more caution. If you put yourself forward as an instrument repairer, even if only trying to help, be aware that bad things might happen. Try to refrain from doing anything that is irreversible, including finish scratches.

When you do an emergency repair, encourage the player to get it to the repair shop as soon as they can. There’s no reason to play with duct tape over a spit valve for 3 months. Try to think in the way of ice packs and Ace bandages until the horn can see the doc.

----Truthfully, the most important thing you can do as an educator is to teach the students personal responsibility.

----Teach them that instruments are delicate and easily damaged.

----Teach them about cleaning and maintenance.

----Encourage them to take their instrument to the shop for a yearly check-up.

----Start them young while they care, so when they are apathetic teenagers it may be a habit.


Some basic guidelines

Here are a few basic things to take note of:

No super glue! It has its place in the world and I use it frequently, but it has no place in your tool box for performing emergency repairs. Some shops charge extra to clean up or remove super glue from places it shouldn't be.

No rubber bands! When a key on a flute is supposed to spring back and doesn’t, it is natural to want to use a rubber band. However, the Sulphur in rubber bands eats through silver plate leaving an ugly permanent scar. I have had fairly good luck using ponytail holders because there is a covering over the elastic or zip ties, depending on the application.

Metal doesn't burn but everything else on the instrument does. If you must melt some glue, be mindful of what is directly above the flame as heat travels up. Bring the lighter down to horn instead of holding the horn over the lighter.

Metal stresses when it is bent and doubly so when you bend it back. If you are trying to bend a key back into alignment prepare for the possibility it may crack. My secret is chant ‘don’t break, don’t break, don’t break’.

The smallest issues generally cause the biggest playing problems and vice versa. If a spring is off, the instrument may only play 2 notes and is often a quick fix. If the instrument “just sorta gets weaker” as you go down the horn, this instrument probably has a long tedious adjustment in its future.

Missing Parts! I swear there is $100 worth of Screws and Trumpet 3rd Slide Rings on a band room floor at any given time. Might be worth your while to tell the person who cleans the floor to keep an eye out, possibly start a “Parts Box” like a suggestion box but for lost parts that anyone who spots something walking though can add to. Unclaimed parts will be a good addition to your emergency repair toolbox.



Here are the nuggets of knowledge per instrument.


  • Head Cork (DEMO) – Marching Story (Flute Section Leader said, “Hey guys, last year my piece on the end came unscrewed, so everyone tighten them up so you don’t lose it.”) 17.3mm from center of embouchure hole. Tune 8vas to each other with the HC and most players end up with the line a little ‘keys’ of center. Tune to the band by pulling the headjoint in and out.
  • Clean Tenons w/ Santi-Mist (works on saxes too) Put on the rag to be safe or carefully spray so you don’t turn the D pad green
  • Loose Screws/Loose C Rod – When the flute only plays a few notes tighten all screws especially the High C rod which tends to back out and make the right hand keys too loose to seal.
  • Sluggish keys – Oil


  • Use plumber’s Teflon tape to cover the face of a ripped pad, because there is felt under that skin. It might not be perfect but it’ll be better than that sweater that’s currently trying to seal air.
  • Tenon Corks - Masking tape (works on sax neck corks too) or peel/stick synth. cork
  • Wood Instruments – In our Climate, it’s a good idea to do SOMETHING, whether it be Bore Oil, Damp-its, Gel Packs, etc. There are tons of opinions. Find what’s easiest for the player to keep up with. It does no good to buy Bore Oil if the player is too timid to apply.


  • Neck Strap – “It just flew off the strap.” I always tell player it’s like crutches. You don’t walk on crutches without a foot on the ground so don’t neck strap without a hand on the sax.
  • Sticky Pads – Try a matte finish business card. I like powder paper by Yamaha but I use it like this… Fold ‘powder’ side in and use the non-powder side to clean by letting the pad close or pushing it down and pulling the paper out, so it scrapes off the debris. Then, for that final bit of stickiness, fold the powder paper the opposite way with ‘powder’ side out on both sides and DAP the pad cup up and down (DON’T DRAG) on the paper.
  • 8va Bent – Put thumb one hand under the looping part of the key by the tenon and press (bend) with the other hand as close to the hinge as possible so as not to mess up the pad seat, usually between the hinge and key guide.
  • Objects stuck inside – Always look down the bore when the horn doesn’t play well to search for the missing mouthpiece or mouthpiece cap.
  • Missing Guard Screws – Use Twist-ties. Don’t scratch and they come in gold and silver
  • Pipe Cleaners to hold keys on. Slip the pipe cleaner through the posts and key until the rod can be found.

Oboe or Bassoon

  • Stuck Swabs – Set it out to dry for a day and see if it moves then. Drying should shrink it.


  • Use Blue Juice – This will help clean and wake up those stiff valves from sitting dormant even if it isn’t the valve oil you chose to use on a regular basis.
  • Tape Solder Joints or Zip Ties – No Super Glue
  • Stuck Mpc – Bobcat Puller is the most bang for your buck
  • Stuck Caps – Tap around the outside of the cap at a 40 degree angle with chime mallet (Better than pliers, which cause scars. DO NOT HIT THE CASING) Many light blows are better than heavy hits.


  • Use Rapid Comfort – It covers up a multitude of slide sins like grim, minor dents, etc
  • Give assembly Instruction to prevent the “Clapper Dent” from the bell.
  • Watch for Bent Waterkeys, Keep corks on hand

F Horn

  • Restringing – #1 Loosen both screws. #2 Do the nec. install & loopty loos of the string. I heat the end of my string with a lighter to prevent fraying. #3 The screw on the LEVER maintains string length (slop/slack). Tighten this string first. Note: When trying to get the string around the screw on the lever arm, rub your fingers together with the string in between, and it will twist into a loop to lasso the screw head. (video) #4 The screw on the ROTOR (Stop Arm) sets lever height (tighten 2nd ). #5 If rotor stiff afterward, just loosen & retighten 1st screw in one quick motion.

Tuba & Baritone

  • Valve Guide – Little hole for the valve guide & big hole for venting (nothing in it). Vent hole should always be visible when you look at the top of a valve.
  • Red Grease – A little thick, so don’t love it on well-maintained trumpets, but for low brass, it masks scratchiness, small dents, and minor alignment disappear. It also takes a long time to dry out so your slides keep moving longer.



                             (* = most important)



*Spring hook

*Screwdrivers (flat blade and Phillips)

Flat-nosed pliers - large and small (no teeth)

Heat Source (lighter, torch, flameless heat)

Pin Vise

Razor blades

Cork cement (contact cement)

*Pad cement and/or stick glue (“hot” glue)

*Mouthpiece Puller

Flute Rod

The Band Tool



*Key oil

*Zip ties

*Hair ties/ponytail holders

*Masking tape

Tissue paper, dollar bill, Yamaha powder paper

Pipe cleaners

*Mouthpiece disinfectant

*Fingernail polish - to cover lip plates as a rash barrier or to put on loose adjustment screws

F Horn String

Teflon Tape

Blue Juice

Rapid Comfort

Red Grease



Reference materials


Instrument Repair for the Music Teacher by Burton Stanley – Alfred Pub. ($23)

The Band Director’s Percussion Repair Manual by Ed Brown – Alfred Pub. ($30)

The Complete Percussionist by Robert Breithaupt – Barnhouse Pub. ($30)

The Band Director’s Guide to Instrument Repair by R.F.Meyer  Alfred Pub

(out of print – sometimes available on eBay or used from

Practical Band Instrument Repair Manual by Clayton Tiede – Wm C. Brown Pub.

(out of print – sometimes available on eBay or used from


I Hate It When That Happens – a Band Director’s Guide to Emergency Repairs (VHS/DVD