Playing a brass instrument means delivering loud, proud sound at every concert. It also means a lot of regular maintenance on every part of the instrument, including the ever-frustrating mouthpiece.
Cleaning a tuba mouthpiece is relatively easy; you just need soap, water, a good brush, and a drying cloth. You can remove tarnish from the mouthpiece with a little silver polish and unstick it with a little soap. Just be careful not to misshape the delicate metal.
Let’s look at the most pressing questions when it comes to caring for your tuba’s mouthpiece.
What Do I Need To Clean A Mouthpiece?
You’ll need a couple of tools to clean your mouthpiece:
- A mouthpiece brush. This is a small, straight brush with bristles all the way around a coil of wire in the middle that is designed to get into the small spaces of your mouthpiece.
- A spray bottle.
- Soap and water. A regular dish soap works fine.
- Sanitizing spray. Most musicians recommend Sterisol.
- Clean cloths. Microfiber or 100% cotton will work.
Be careful with the temperature of the water you’re using, as too-hot or too-cold water might warp the metal. You’ll also want to use a relatively soft brush and rags to avoid scratching.
A quick note that if you need to purchase a mouthpiece brush, you should buy this brass instrument brushes kit instead. For under $8, you get a mouthpiece brush, valve brush, and a flexible snake brush. If you need those brushes too, that’s a much better deal.
How Often Should A Tuba Mouthpiece Be Cleaned?
Ideally, you’ll want to do a light cleaning of your mouthpiece every time you play. Putting your mouthpiece back in the case without cleaning it can lead to the growth of bacteria, which can make it unsafe to play. Cleaning is a very simple process, so there’s no reason not to do it every time.
When you’ve finished playing, follow these three steps:
- Using a spray bottle of clean water, spray down your mouthpiece to remove any quick residue.
- Brush the piece down with your mouthpiece brush to get rid of larger buildup.
- Finally, dry it off with a clean cloth or rag (an old sock or t-shirt will work perfectly fine).
How to Deep Clean Your Tuba Mouthpiece
You should also be deep cleaning your mouthpiece at least once a month. This can take around thirty minutes to do but is definitely worth it to remove the buildup of gunk and grime that comes naturally when playing.
To deep clean your mouthpiece, do the following:
- Fill a glass or other appropriately-sized container with warm water and a few drops of dish soap.
- Soak your mouthpiece in the water for around 20 minutes.
- Use your brush to clean out any buildup, making sure to brush from both openings.
- Rinse the mouthpiece out under warm water again, making sure no soap is left behind.
- Dry it with a rag and let it air dry for about a minute.
- Disinfect it with a few sprays from an alcohol-based sterilizer. Let it sit for another minute.
- Wipe off the sterilizer.
If your mouthpiece is particularly dirty or caked, you can let it soak for a few hours in soapy water. This is especially helpful if you haven’t cleaned your instrument in quite a long time.
How Do You Remove Tarnish from a Mouthpiece?
Most tuba mouthpieces are silver- or nickel-plated for a shining silver finish. Unfortunately, this makes them prone to tarnishing. Tarnish is a thin layer of dark oxidation on the surface of a metal. It actually helps to protect the metal underneath but can be remarkably unsightly. Removing tarnish is largely up to personal preference.
If you do decide you want to remove tarnish, the good news is that it’s a relatively simple process. During your monthly deep clean, after you sanitize your mouthpiece, use a simple silver polishing cloth to buff it down. You can also use a dab of a silver polish liquid with a clean microfiber cloth. We recommend Music Nomad’s Band & Orchestra Silver Polish.
Remember to thoroughly rinse and dry your mouthpiece after polishing it. Silver polish is not something you want anywhere near your mouth.
How Do You Get A Tuba Mouthpiece Unstuck?
Getting a tuba mouthpiece stuck in the instrument is one of the most common problems a musician can have. It’s a small, funnel-shaped piece that’s designed to fit snugly – one bump and it’s officially stuck. There are a couple of ways to get it unstuck before it becomes a serious problem, though:
- Pull. It sounds silly, but sometimes you can dislodge a stuck mouthpiece by simply pulling on it. Twist the piece firmly in one direction while pulling it back in a straight line.
- Dish Liquid. If you happen to have some dish liquid on hand, you can use it to lubricate the piece and make pulling it out easier. Gently pout some into the mouthpiece, coat the joint between it and the pipe, and pull with a slight twist. Make sure you rinse the instrument out afterwards.
- A Mouthpiece Puller. This tool is well worth the investment if you play often. It lets you remove the mouthpiece using gentle pressure.
That being said, it’s probably a bad idea to try and remove the mouthpiece on your own if it’s tightly wedged into the instrument. Brass is soft and pliable, meaning that if none of these methods work and you try to force the piece with pliers or vice grips, you might end up deforming it and damaging your instrument’s sound.
The other alternative is to seek professional help if your mouthpiece becomes completely immobile. Professionals have a wider array of tools to help them solve stubborn mouthpiece sticking. They also have years of experience in tuba maintenance, which means they are far less likely to do damage in their workshops than you are trying to fix it at home. This is well worth the cost of the repair.
Other Tuba Maintenance Tips
As with any brass instrument, tubas’ number one enemy is moisture. The inside of the tubes can be a huge problem if they’re not cleaned regularly. Remember to use swabs and cleaning instruments to wick moisture from the inside of your instrument every time you play.
The outside of your tuba is cleaned in much the same way you polish the mouthpiece. Running over it with a simple polishing cloth every day (or every time you play) will keep the shiny finish intact. You don’t need to rinse the entire tuba off every time, though, given that it’s not going anywhere near your mouth.
You should also remember to use valve oil before and after you play. This is an important step in protecting the pistons that make different notes possible. It serves as lubrication and protection from moisture. The same applies to greasing your slides.
Make sure you have a good, solid case for storing your tuba, and that you’re careful when moving it in and out. Dents can seriously affect the sound of the instrument and will need to be removed by a professional (don’t panic too much, most dents can be repaired so that your instrument sounds just fine). Never try to remove dents by yourself!
You may want a tuba mouthpiece pouch as well to protect your mouthpiece.
Your Mouthpiece Matters
Remember that your instrument’s sound and safety start with the mouthpiece. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s not important! Deformation, buildup, and overall wear-and-tear can change the entire sound of your instrument. It can also create a breeding ground for bacteria and other unpleasant things that could make you seriously ill.
This is why keeping your tuba’s mouthpiece clean is important. You’re building a good foundation for your music. With a few simple, easy-to-implement habits, your mouthpiece will function exactly as it’s designed to in your tuba for years to come.