The Care and Storage of Musical Instruments

Jon Fesmire | Aug 27, 2015 @ 09:28 AM

Musical instruments are delicate, expensive, and to the musicians who own them, precious. The guitar or violin you carry with you becomes both an extension of yourself and a trustworthy friend. Musical instruments are more than the sum of their parts, so of course musicians want to keep their instruments in great working order.

Sometimes we need to put musical instruments in self-storage. Before packing them up and taking them to your storage unit, make sure to properly prep each item. Keep in mind that many items kept in long-term storage can deteriorate in quality over time. Dust, humidity, and wide temperature fluctuations are detrimental to most possessions, especially sensitive musical instruments.

If your instruments will be kept in storage for more than a few days, make sure to get a self-storage unit with climate control. Many storage facilities have this feature.

Without climate control, here are just a few of the environmental factors that can harm a musical instrument. Dust can creep into the electronic parts of instruments, such as electric guitars and keyboards, damaging their electronic parts. Extremes in temperature can cause brass instruments, and the metallic parts of other instruments, to contract or expand prematurely wearing them out. High humidity can encourage the growth of mold and can warp string and other wooden instruments.

Once you’ve selected a good storage facility with climate control, you will need to prepare your instruments. The methods vary depending on the instrument type. While brass instruments are made mostly of metal and stringed instruments mostly of wood, woodwinds, pianos, and others use a combination of the two.

Preparing Your Instruments for Storage

General

The information in this section applies to all musical instruments

  1. Store the instrument in a clean, high quality case specifically designed for that type of instrument.
  2. If there is any damage to the interior of the case, line it with buffered, acid-free paper. This lining paper is available at music supply stores.
  3. Store musical instruments in their cases, off the floor, and away from open vents and doorways. Ideally, place them on shelves.
  4. Considering the value of musical instruments, purchase enough insurance from the self-storage facility to cover their value.
  5. After retrieving your instrument from storage, take it from its case carefully and make sure it’s in the same condition that you left it in.
  6. In addition to the information shared here, be sure to read the owner's manual for each of your instruments or look up how to care for them on the Internet.
  7. For added protection, but the instrument in its case, then inside a zippered polyethylene bag.

Brass Instruments

  1. Disassemble your brass instrument, removing any reeds and mouthpieces.
  2. Thoroughly use a white cotton cloth to polish your brass instrument with cleaning, conditioning brass polish from your local music store. Pay special attention to keys and valves, including the spaces underneath and between them.
  3. Use a special brass instrument cleaning brush to clean out the inside of the tubes and horns.

Woodwind and String Instruments

A cello.

  1. Relax the strings of stringed instruments.
  2. Clean your instrument with a specially formulated wax rub available at your music store. Oil or alcohol-based polish can dry out wooden instruments, so eschew these.
  3. Disassemble and carefully clean woodwind instruments. Like with brass instruments, make sure to thoroughly clean keys and valves.
  4. If you play a woodwind instrument, you’re used to cleaning it every time you’re finished playing. Do so before you store one as well. Cotton swabs meant to clean the inside of clarinets, oboes, and the like are available at music stores that sell woodwind instruments.

Pianos

A piano.

  1. Unlike other stringed instruments, do not loosen the strings in a piano. The piano is designed to withstand the pressure.
  2. Cover the instrument with a sheet or tarp.
  3. Due to the size and weight of pianos, whether upright or grand, consider hiring a professional mover for the job. See our article on crowdsourced moving for some ideas.

Percussion Instruments

This class includes drums, xylophones, cowbells, shakers, and the like.

A drum kit.

  1. Disassemble drum sets.
  2. Properly oil leather drum skins. When in doubt, ask how to do this, and what to use, from your local music store.
  3. Clean all parts and store each instrument, if it has one, in its proper case.

Electric Guitars

  1. With a clean, damp cloth, wipe smudges and dirt off the guitar body.
  2. With a clean, dry soft cloth, rub the guitar down once more to shine.
  3. Relax the guitar strings and put the guitar in its case.

Electronic Keyboards

  1. Dust the keys and wipe the keyboard down with a clean, dry cloth.
  2. Remove the keyboard’s electrical cord. Store this separately, or in its own section in the case.
  3. Cover the keyboard with a cloth and place it in its case.

Musical Equipment

This covers amplifiers, soundboards, music stands, and other equipment.

  1. Cover the equipment with plastic tarp or sheet to protect items from dust.
  2. Place CDs, DVDs, and flash drives in waterproof, airtight plastic containers.

Collusion

Barring unforeseen circumstances, these guidelines will help to keep your stored instruments in great shape, so when you need them again, they’ll be ready to once again make music.

The advice in this article is provided for informational purposes only. It is offered with no warranty expressed or implied.