I have a Buffet clarinet, age approx. 76 years. I may have played it three times in about 6 years. Have I ruined it by not playing it or doing any kind of upkeep?
That is a a nice question because the answer can be expounded upon for as long as one would like to read or write. Upkeep on a clarinet can be very serious and intense I suppose, depending upon where one lives and how extreme these living conditions may be.
One of the easiest ways for a clarinet to be hurt or ruined is by being played upon. Yes, that is right. When you play, all of your breath and temperatures go through the clarinet, a considerable difference of temperature and humidity. If you do not “warm-up” a clarinet, depending upon where you are living and that particular ambient temperature, the instrument may become damaged, which means that you may risk a crack developing, and then opening. The clarinet would be damaged, though not ruined. If the clarinet was not cracked when you stopped playing, chances are that it is undamaged.
However you must treat it “like a lady” when you decide to awaken the aging beauty. First open the case and just wait for her to get used to the temperature. Then play very gently and slowly. Swab carefully, dry the joints and joint ends, after having checked the tenons for loose rings, and put it away. Repeat this process with plenty of time between playings, and you should be OK.
Avoid extremes in temperatures, and never put the clarinet in the trunk of your car, whether you live in the tundra or in the desert; make sure all keys and springs are freely moving. Make sure pads are seated and have not dried out. Make sure the case and the instrument are cleaned. Oil only minutely. Inspect for any damage: swelling and or shrinking at joints, and wipe the keys gently.
That is what I would do. Or, you may retire and sell your instruments, or some of them, as I have done. The choice is yours … or was it mine.
Good luck. It is quite probably not wrecked, but only dry. If you decide to sell it, you may have a good instrument, especially if it is Boehm system, or perhaps you may have a one-piece Buffet. That is the way they frequently made good clarinets at that time. Because they had plenty of grenadilla lying around; but that was a bit more than 76 years ago. Rosario once told me that he had known a clarinetist who, upon retirement moved to a secluded cabin the forest and nailed his clarinets crosswise above the door of his cabin. Now THAT is a story.
Good luck, and thanks for your question