Woodwind Instruments: a practical guide for technicians and repairers by Daniel Bangham is a new release that will be a useful reference for woodwind technicians and players alike. Expected in late October 2022 through The Crowood Press, Bangham’s book provides instructions for setting up a complete workshop to repair and maintain clarinets, flutes, saxophones, oboes, and bassoons. The detailed repair instructions for technicians include most routine and complex repairs they might encounter. For players, the book can serve as a guide on caring for their instruments along with what to look for when they are encountering problems going so far as instructing them on some stop gap measures until they can get their instruments to a repair shop. The book is aimed at technicians, particularly given the specialized equipment needed to affect repairs, but understanding more about how their instruments work helps players get the most out of them even if they don’t want to try to make the repairs themselves.
The book reads like a technical manual and is broken into five main parts. Some sections have the tone of a friendly mentor sharing some of his own experience, while others are a bit more detached. The Table of Contents is instructive and shows the breadth of the material covered.
Part 1: Getting Started
- Initial dismantle and reassemble of an instrument
- Order of assembly
- Initial diagnosis – observations and tests
- Emergency fixes
- Care of instruments
Part 2: Instrument Anatomy
- The main sections of each instrument
- Bodywork components
Part 3: The Workshop and Repair Processes
- The workshop
- Checking and repairing bodywork
- Checking and repairing keywork
- Checking and replacing pads
Part 4: Specialist Repairs
- Specialist repair tools and materials
- Specialist repairs
Part 5: Materials and Tool Building
- Materials used for the body and keywork of woodwind instruments
- Cleaning and polishing tools and materials
- Making tools
Beyond the major sections, there is also an introduction by the author explaining how his early endeavors learning flute as a boy inspired him when he had the opportunity to try a friend’s “good” instrument in orchestra. He discovered that the quality of the instrument makes a significant difference in a musician’s playing, i.e., it’s easier to play a better instrument well.
At the end, Bangham also provides a supplier list, a short but heartfelt acknowledgement section, and a comprehensive index to more easily use the book as a reference manual if desired.
At the outset, Bangham informs the reader that he focuses on the most common woodwinds including:
- Clarinet in Bb
- Alto Saxophone
Bangham closes his introduction by noting that some, but not all, of the same techniques apply to more specialized woodwinds like piccolo, cor anglais (AKA English horn in the U.S.), bass clarinet, and the like. He provides additional details for these instruments in his section on specialist repairs.
Part 1 is a basic introduction for technicians, and it is also the most useful portion of the book for players. In Chapter 1, Bangham’s recommendations get very specific in terms of equipment needed for setting up a repair shop, even if it’s at home and informal. Some of the equipment and supplies require special considerations in their care such as ensuring that cork remains supple as long as possible by storing it in an airtight container. Much of his instruction is common sense, but no detail is too small. Some of the recommended supplies are also a little surprising, such as recommending a shaving brush being the best suited type of brush for cleaning the body of an instrument during maintenance and for general care. Bangham’s reasoning is sound. A shaving brush is normally constructed without metal fittings, so it’s less likely to cause damage to the instrument, and the bristles are supple, yet firm enough to gently get dust and debris off the body of the horn. More specialized brushes are needed for cleaning instrument bores, tone holes, and keywork, but the shaving brush is a good top level one every technician and player should consider obtaining.
In Chapter 2, Bangham provides a detailed photographic legend for each of the major instruments with every key labeled by their nominal order of assembly (which is repeated and expanded late in Part 3 of the book). He uses Yamaha instruments for this, so the reader need be aware that some differences may be found between those and other instrument manufacturers. Still, it’s useful to have these full layouts with the accompanying photographs of the disassembled instruments to help identify the specific parts more easily even if not made by Yamaha.
The tests and observations Bangham provides in Chapter 3 are useful, and in some cases intuitive but difficult for a musician to execute. For instance, he discusses that for a musician, the goal is to always get the best out of one’s instrument. That means compensating when there are issues, many of which can be overcome by pressing harder on the keys or by changing one’s embouchure or airspeed. He stresses that in play testing while troubleshooting, it’s important not to compensate to allow the problems to show themselves. Because of this, play testing for a technician is very different from the type of playing that a musician would normally attempt either in practice or performance. Beyond play testing, other tests nominally require some extra equipment that likely wouldn’t be available outside of a shop.
In Chapter 4, Bangham describes numerous emergency repairs that may need to be done that require little time, but are usually only stopgap measures until a more complete repair can be done.
He recommends a versatile emergency tool kit consisting of: Blu Tack (i.e., an adhesive putty), cling wrap, toothpicks, contact cement, cork, cork grease, cotton buds, elastic bands (silicone preferred as rubber bands will tarnish silver), feeler gauges (e.g., cigarette paper or audio tape), masking tape, matchsticks, pipe cleaners, powder paper, rags, sandpaper, razor blade, spring hook, smooth jaw parallel-action pliers, screwdriver (size depends on instrument), thread, and a strip of cloth-backed abrasive.
Most serious players will have many of these items, although generally not all of them unless they are well-versed in handling some of their own repair work. Bangham provides suggestions for some quick-fix solutions using the aforementioned supplies which are extremely helpful and far more common than many people realize. Most of these repairs are fully illustrated through photographs or careful diagrams.
Speaking from personal experience, while I tended not to have all of the supplies mentioned, I did carry some of them in my gig bag and have used them during rehearsals or performances on more than one occasion. Having spent many hours in orchestra pits, the challenge isn’t just having the right supplies, it is also having enough light to see what you are doing, especially if a screw or spring falls off at just the wrong moment during a performance.
In Chapter 5, Bangham provides a comprehensive tutorial on caring for one’s instruments. Much of his advice is common sense that most students will have picked up along the way, but it’s always good to have a reminder. Unfortunately, some common techniques are actually problematic, such as blowing air through it to warm it up before playing. Bangham suggests other more helpful ways to warm up the top of the instrument before playing such as tucking the upper joint under one’s arm or inside a coat next to the body for about ten minutes. Although a little more time consuming than just pushing warm air through the horn, this has the advantage of not seeding the instrument with condensation unnecessarily. He also has some salient suggestions for reducing condensation while playing since gurgling from condensation collecting in the tone holes is the bane of every woodwind player’s existence. Bangham stresses the importance of cleaning woodwind instruments after playing and provides helpful advice to players on this score as well. Too many players fail to do this correctly often not taking enough time to let their swab absorb the moisture from the bore, a habit that can cause more repairs to be necessary over time.
Bangham also provides instruction on lubrication. This section is specifically aimed at technicians because to do it right, some level of disassembly of the keywork is necessary.
In Part 2 of the book, Bangham provides a deep dive into the anatomy of each of the main woodwind instruments he’s covering. He starts with a high level overview showing the assembled instruments and labeling the sections while also describing the nominal materials used for construction. He then drills down into the component pieces of the body and the keywork diagraming them along the way. Part of the goal of this part of the book is to provide readers with the conventional nomenclature which is referenced later in the book. Besides the nomenclature, he discusses the functions of the various parts and the effects they have on the operation of the instruments. This part of the book is very dense and detailed, and if the reader chooses to read it straight through, they’ll have a much deeper understanding of the construction and functioning of the woodwind family. In his discussion of the keywork especially, he bounces between the various instruments to illustrate different configurations and mechanisms used across the woodwind family. Some configurations are common across multiple different instruments, and some are specialized for a particular instrument.
Part 3 is focused on the setup and operation of one’s workshop. Bangham describes in some detail the first question every technician must answer – will they be a specialist or a generalist? The equipment needed and repair scope depends on one’s answer to this crucial question. While a generalist can get away with more multipurpose equipment rather than manufacturer specific tools and will be able to handle a wider range of general repairs across the broader family of instruments, they’ll have to turn away work that requires in-depth specialized tools and expertise. Whether a specialist or a generalist, practice is required to gain proficiency on one’s chosen path.
In setting up the workshop and the workbench, Bangham uses his own equipment and experience to illustrate his recommendations. He also discusses various health and safety considerations to keep in mind along the way.
After a thorough discussion of how to setup a workbench/workshop, Bangham then discusses repair processes for each facet of an instrument, illustrating them through photographs and diagrams as appropriate. While there’s no way to cover every possible situation one might encounter, he provides a how-to guide for repairing the woodwind family of instruments building on the introductory observations and tests covered earlier in the book. In some cases, he refers to Part 4 on specialist repairs when deeper knowledge or more specialized equipment and handling are required. One such example is repairing a crack in the body of a wooden instrument that extends into a tone hole.
The repairs discussed in Part 3 are broken into extremely detailed, step-by-step instructions, not only covering the specifics of each repair, but also providing the reasoning behind the techniques advised. This is by far the most comprehensive section of the book. While understanding how these repairs are done might be of interest to players, this section is specifically aimed at technicians to help them hone their expertise. As detailed as Bangham’s instruction is, he stresses that it cannot replace hands-on practice.
The end of Part 3 is the final assembly section that reiterates the layouts provided earlier in the book and puts them to use to fully assemble and regulate clarinets, flutes, oboes, saxophones, and bassoons adding more detailed pictures and diagrams to illustrate the finer points of mechanisms at play.
Part 4 then discusses various less-common, specialist repairs. Here, Bangham introduces additional equipment that may be required along with a raft of repairs that fall into the realm of the specialist.
Part 5 focuses on the materials used in constructing the instruments, an understanding of which is necessary for their maintenance and also for building some tools that may not be readily available for purchase. This section makes it abundantly clear that a woodwind technician needs some expertise in physics including acoustics and mechanics, chemistry, and properties of materials. A woodwind technician is part engineer, part mechanic, and part scientist in the scope of their work, and Bangham’s book melds these fields together as they apply to the job at hand rather nicely.
While this book may not be one that most people would necessarily want to read from cover to cover, it is an excellent reference for a broad understanding of the woodwind family of instruments. For those wishing to embark on a career as a woodwind technician, or as Bangham calls them, a repairer, reading it from start to finish would provide a crucial breadth of knowledge from which to start one’s journey.