Tarnish troubles

Posted by
Erin Nichols
Date
 July 14, 2015
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“My flute just isn’t as shiny as it used to be!!” We all know how frustrating it is to see our meticulously-maintained instruments starting to develop discoloration, especially in those pesky hard to reach places. This week, I wanted to talk a little bit about things that can be done to help put the brakes on this issue.

Unfortunately, the development of tarnish, which is a chemical reaction that occurs on silver or even silver-plated items, is an inevitable reality for flute players. Exposure to the air, materials in a case, and contact with the skin all cause gradual discoloration of the metal. Small things such as the glue used to hold a case together can even cause this to occur. The good news is there are things that can be done to help slow this chemical reaction. Here are some helpful hints:
1. The most important thing you can do to take care of the finish of your instrument is to clean it after every playing session. You’ve already heard me talk about how important it is to clean the inside–the outside is just as important to keep it shiny and less prone to tarnishing. Your hands, even if they have just been washed, contain different oils and pH levels that interact with the metal on the instrument, and these can corrode the finish over time. Wiping off all visible fingerprints after playing with a lightly textured microfiber cloth helps keep the instrument clean.
2. Silver saver strips are an inexpensive and easy way to help slow the progression of tarnish while the instrument sits in its case. These thin paper strips, which go directly on the inside of your case, serve to neutralize sulphur gases and regulate the pH in the air immediately surrounding your instrument within an enclosed space. Skeptics be assured–they really work! I keep them in my flute cases in the shop, and they make a huge difference. These strips last 6 months apiece and come in a multi pack in the shop.
3. Tarnish can, and eventually will, develop within the hard-to-reach places around the rods and tenons of the instrument. This is an inconvenience, but will not affect the playing quality of the instrument. A small cleaning brush or a Q-tip can be used to remove some of this, but take care not to bend or damage the small parts of the instrument. If this buildup becomes very bothersome, our repair shop can provide a full cleaning, where the instrument is taken apart and given a chemical bath, but be advised that this service is quite costly and is NOT covered by a service policy, as it does not change the playing ability of the instrument.

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