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 didn’t use any Cork Grease and 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.  The easiest way to do this is heat the outside part.  When you do this, the outside of the slide  expands quicker than the inside causing the bond to break.  After doing this you’ll be amazed at how easily the parts come apart.  It’s a little like using hot water to heat your breakfast bowl to get dried cornflakes off it!

So how do you heat the outside of the slide?

By the far the best way to heat the outside of the slide is with a heat gun.  This, however, is not always readily available to us.  A compromise can be to run boiling water over the outside of the part at the tuning slide.  Care must be taken during this not to burn your hands – as the parts do heat up it can be a good idea to use gloves – ideally wool gloves though even rubber washing up gloves are a good start.  This wont always work but it is a good starting point.  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!

***If you think it would be beneficial for this article to be published as a video please let us know – if there’s enough interest we’ll publish it as an instruction video.

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