Trumpet Tip: Removing Crusty Mineral Buildup

Limescale Closeup
Limescale Closeup

Interviews are kind of sporadic as I work on the dissertation, so I thought that instead of just letting the blog sit there doing nothing, I’d post some useful things more regularly. Here’s a quick cleaning tip:

I was having some trouble with a sticky Amado-style water key on my horn. I opened it up to clean it and it was nearly frozen with the crusty mineral buildup (limescale) common on an older horn (I have a Monette Bb I bought new in 1989). Regular cleaning isn’t enough and scraping that stuff off isn’t a good solution. Instead, I soaked it in vinegar.

Amado water key

Vinegar contains acetic acid which make it a great non-toxic cleaner and disinfectant that also removes mineral buildup. White vinegar is what you want (not balsamic vinegar, though that would probably work. Your horn will smell like a salad). After soaking for an hour or so, I scrubbed the inside of the water key with a mouthpiece brush and reassembled the key. It worked great!

If the action on your water key isn’t good, if the button doesn’t snap right back after you push it, instead of replacing the spring, just stretch it out a little so it delivers more compression to the button.

Here’s Ron Knaflic showing you how to remove and clean an Amado water key.

And here’s a conventional water key repair vid, also from Ron Knaflic:

And finally, trumpet-maker Jason Harrelson explains a relatively new type of water key, the Saturn water key (named because of the ring surrounding a ball bearing in the device), invented by Dennis Wedgwood, who has a pretty hilarious story with lots of detail on the device’s origin on his site.

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3 thoughts on “Trumpet Tip: Removing Crusty Mineral Buildup

  1. Instead of vinegar (acetic acid), a solution of citric acid can be used on limescale. It’ll work very powerful on scales and there won’t be any interference with brass.

    Vinegar oxidizes copper, brass mainly consists of copper plus some zinc. For German silver nickel is added, too.
    Maybe this could be more crucial if used for cleaning leadpipe and slides.

    1. thanks, buddy! Great advice. I do have to polish up the horn a bit after using the vinegar. I’ll try citric acid next time. Would making a solution using dissolved vitamin C tablets work, do you think?

  2. Thanks for the ping back! Informative post. White vinegar is good for everything, isn’t it? I’ll have to tell my husband. He pulls out his trumpet every Christmas and entertains us with merry tunes. I’ll bet he could use this!
    Thanks!
    Jennifer

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