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Instrument fitness evaluation


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
A large band (80+ members) in our city is doing their annual instrument check to ensure they're all in reasonably good working order, and I have been asked to evaluate the woodwinds (their usual expert being absent), whether they have to go to the shop or can return home.
I am reasonably good at finding out what's wrong with an instrument that doesn't behave, but here I am confronted with the problem of determining whether there's a problem at all, and that I have to thusly evaluate some 30 or 40 horns on a single Saturday.

I plan to look at
- user's subjective impressions
- service history (when last checked/fixed?)
- overall appearance (signs of neglect or poor maintenance by user, joint corks etc)
- keywork condition (bent or rattly keys, excessive play)
- pad condition
- basic tightness test, via leak light and pressure
- (if time permits) play test by me or user

I haven't received a schedule yet, but am inclined to believe that I have about five to ten minutes for a verdict. All instruments have been in constant use, so we're not talking "shelfware" here.

What's your method when having to perform such tests? How much time do you spend on it?
I haven't received a schedule yet, but am inclined to believe that I have about five to ten minutes for a verdict.
Five to ten minutes for 40 instruments?!?!
Or do you mean per instrument?
If the former... good luck :)
If the latter, it is probably possible to do it much faster than ten minutes, at least for most instruments.

I had to do this (although not with that many instruments) also in places other than my shop. I brought a leak light, feeler and mouthpieces for all the instruments I had to check.

If the owner/player brings each instruments, start with asking if they notice an issue. Irrelevant if the instruments just come without owners, which was always the case when I had to deal with a pile of instruments :)

I would probably start with play testing (random plus the entire chromatic range not too fast maybe) as anything obvious would usually show more easily and faster that way.
Check response of certain notes when very gently pressing keys vs. firmly pressing keys (while play testing).
Check the instrument briefly overall for anything obvious, like torn pads, keys out of adjustments, screws sticking out, keys binding, missing corks, etc. (there are many more things here I'm just not mentoining it all).
I might do this before play testing.
Check with leak light and/or feeler.

The second part is deciding what needs to be done or if there is enough to justify repairs, but that depends on how much they want to spend and what condition they expect the instrument to be in. It might be that a $5 repair would make a huge difference, but maybe an instrument needs a $100 repair to play just slightly better. If you need to decide that, then I guess it's up to you to decide that :)
I'm not sure if you are doing the repairs or not.

I like to do these things slowly so it would take me a while... but it's possible to be faster. Checking each type of instrument first e.g. start with all clarinets, then all saxophones (even each type of saxophone), etc. can make it easier/faster.


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
no... 5 to 10 minutes per instrument. Everything else wouldn't be serious, would it?

Happy to see that you'd do roughly the same stuff as I. Per the play testing - that'd be fine and dandy with clarinets and saxes, maybe oboes as well. But my flute and bassoon skills are somewhat rusty and I'd rather have the user play for me while I watch for white knuckles from gorilla-gripping.

I just have to decide whether the instrument needs to see the shop. (I might be able to tell the user what exactly would need attention in that case)


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
This sounds very much like going over the rental returns in the repair shop I used to work in. The rule of thumb was to try to tell if the instrument would be dependable for the next 12 months. Pads that were still sealing but showed excessive wear or were starting to deteriorate were replaced. Corks that were worn and starting to be loose were replaced. We used our fingernails to try to make pads come out of key cups to see if the glue was going to fail. We did the same with key corks and felts too. Rods were randomly pulled to check the condition of the key oil. To sum it up we looked for not only what was wrong, but what might go wrong in the next rental period.
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