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Advanced Instrument Design and Maintenance

How to Clean Clarinet and Oboe Tone Holes

The solution is simpler than you might think.

Most woodwind tone holes are covered by pads, but some clarinet and oboe tone holes are instead covered by the fingertips of the musician while the instrument is being played. This makes them much more susceptible to the buildup of debris — something that can have a negative impact on tone color and pitch. Excess cork grease, dirt, and skin oil on the musician’s fingers will accumulate over time until the venting of the tone hole is significantly obstructed.

Graphic of arrow on a closeup of the tone hole of a windwood instrument indicating the dirty residue.

Grimy residue.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. This grimy residue can easily be removed with a cotton swab or a pipe cleaner — generally no cleaners or solvents are necessary. Simply insert the swab tip into the tone hole and turn in a circular motion until all of the residue is gone. Making a habit of washing your hands before playing will also help ensure that the instrument delivers optimum timbre and pitch.

Graphic of a cotton swab in a woodwind tone hole with arrow showing movement in a circular direction.

Move the swab in a circular motion.


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Jeff Peterson
Jeff Peterson currently manages Yamaha Corporation of America’s Atelier-Los Angeles, part of a global network of Research & Development and Artist Support facilities. In this role, he works with a worldwide team to develop cutting-edge wind instruments to satisfy the world’s most discriminating artists. Prior to his time with Yamaha, Jeff ran his own repair and customization business focused on woodwind instruments. He also recently served as President of the National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians (NAPBIRT), a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the craft of band instrument repair through education.

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