MK DESIGN BLOG MK MUSIC BLOG Notes from the workshop Whistle instrument care

Stuck low whistle tuning slide

How to fix a seized whistle tuning slide

(please note this applies to metal tin whistles and low whistles -not wooden ones).

A seized tuning slide has long been a problem on many woodwind instruments.  I thought I’d take the time to talk through the ins and outs of seized tuning slides – an age old curse of woodwind musicians including low whistle players.

First I feel it’s worth mentioning that the best solution is to prevent the tuning slide seizing in the first place – as obvious as it might be to say so!   Contrary to popular belief tuning slides rarely, if ever, seize as a result of dirt getting trapped in the slide.  The two parts actually get stuck because the surface of metals corrodes as it reacts with air – in a similar process to steel rusting.  This reaction on the surface of the two adjacent and touching parts causes the parts to fuse together.  Some metals suffer more from this phenomenon than others.  Aluminium or steel are quite reactive in air and therefore fuse relatively quickly.  Brass and titanium are relatively stable (or ‘inert’) in air and will therefore take much longer to react.

The simplest way of stopping the two parts seizing together is to stop the reaction at the surface of the metal.  This is where tuning slide grease (or cork grease) comes in very useful – it coats the surface of the parts and creates a barrier between them and the air, hence stopping the reaction.  The handy thing is that putting a little on can last for long time.

So you have a seized tuning slide?

The tuning slide on your prized music instrument is seized – what should you do?  The first thing to remember is don’t panic!  …or start twisting it with massive pliers or hitting it off things in a blind rage!  The trick is to break the bond which has developed from the corrosion.

Rather than reaching straight for a huge wrench, it’s best to try more gentle methods first and build up from there.

One of the first things to try is a little lubricant like WD40.   Leave it for a while to penetrate after dropping a few drips down between the two brass parts of the slide.  Any excess can be cleaned off with a alcohol based cleaner – e.g. IPA or Meths – before trying to rotate the parts.

If this hasn’t worked then applying some heat may work.  By far the best way of applying heat is with a heat gun, but this should be done very gently so as to avoid any damage.  It can be better to start with a hair dryer which will be a more gentle source of heat, and work up from there.  In any case care should be taken not to burn your hands.   We really only want to heat the outside tube so that it expands and breaks the seal.   The seal can be checked by rotating, using fabric or gloves to protect your hands.

In extreme cases, where you don’t have access to a heat gun, using a blowtorch at a distance and sparingly will break the seal, though many would prefer to send the instrument to an instrument maker before reaching this point!

Of course once you’ve unstuck the tuning slide, make sure to keep some grease on it so it doesn’t happen again!


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