How do you keep a bass clarinet in good condition? Proper maintenance is key to keeping your instrument in good playing shape throughout its life and will ensure that it works well for years.
First, make sure you have a few tools to help keep your instrument clean and dry: a solid case (usually not a problem since they come with a case, but if it breaks, or doesn’t close properly, it should be repaired or replaced), a bass clarinet-specific swab with a covered metal weight, a mouthpiece cap, cork grease, and a soft cloth. A solid, protective case ensures that the instrument is well protected when it’s not in use. A bass clarinet swab should be made of silk or microfiber (cotton is okay too) so it is absorbent; felt swabs move moisture around instead of soaking it up and being specifically for bass clarinet ensures it is large enough and has a long enough string to be used properly. A mouthpiece cap protects the mouthpiece and reed when the instrument is assembled but not in use. Cork grease aids in assembly, ensuring an easy glide-together between joints. And a soft cloth is perfect for wiping down the body and keys of the instrument periodically, every few months, to keep dust and dirt to a minimum.
When assembling the bass clarinet, make sure to grip it properly, around the keys and the body of each joint, and don’t pick up any pieces by their keys—especially the ones that extend off of a joint. They are easily bent out of shape. Be sure to use cork grease, but not too much at one time, which will actually shorten the life of the corks because they become oversaturated. When you are done playing, use the same care to disassemble the instrument, and swab out each joint from the bottom to the top. Check if the tenons and joint openings have any water, and if so, wipe them out with your swab as well. You can run the swab through your mouthpiece from the bottom to the top as well, being careful not to knock the tip of the mouthpiece with the swab weight. You can also wipe off any access moisture from the outside of the mouthpiece and let it air-dry. If there is moisture present in any tone holes, pad paper inserted between the key/pad and the hole itself will soak it up. When wiping down the body and keys with a soft cloth, make sure to do so carefully so the cloth doesn’t snag on any screws or springs; this is a good time to make sure there aren’t any screws sticking out as well.
If you are playing bass clarinet and other instruments for a performance, a very good investment is a bass clarinet stand. This means you have a safe place to put the instrument when you’re playing another one. Try to avoid laying it over a chair or across the case, as it is very easy to knock an instrument off of these positions inadvertently.
Finally, a regular, once-per-year checkup with a qualified repair technician will ensure that any problems are found and repaired and not allowing them to worsen. An instrument overhaul every couple of years will contribute to the longevity of the instrument and its playing condition as well.