Silver Plated keys: it’s personal

Ijust received a question from a clarinetist asking the best way of keeping silver plated keys looking well.I just spent a while looking up silver plate, and how to keep it bright and lustrous. The reason for my research is quite simple: I have always preferred silver plated keys. The contrast of the silver with dark wood of the instrument is quite satisfying, pleasant to gaze upon, and as a young student, I thought anyone who had silver plated keys must certainly be a professional. It was something to wish for, a clarinet with silver plated keys, the only thing to surpass that would be a set of Bb and A clarinets, all with silver plated keys. Very cool looking was what they were and are, still today.

Now, I am a player who has always had the easiet time of keeping silver plated keys shiny and lustrous. There is either something lacking in my system or some acid which does nothing to them, no wear, no pitting, no breakdown in the plating , color, luster or the metal. In fact, when first I owned clarinets with silver plating, my fingers kept slipping off the keys, especially the little finger keys. There was available at the time, cutouts of the keys of your clarinet which had adhesive which adhered to the key, and on the other side was a slightly abrasive material which kept your fingers from slipping. I actually used these things for a while until i tired of them and learned to keep my finges from sliding. There are many players of our instrument who prefer the nickel plating or so-called German silver, however they have been somehow less attractive to me, so,it has always been silver plating. There are many whom I have known who can make their silver keys tarnish in one rehearsal, an exaggeration, but only to an extent. For these folks,it is imperative that they repolish their keys after each rehearsal. Their is also a rhodium plating which keeps them bright, but it wears off after a while. I’ve seen some clarinets , deeply pitted and worn, and not from long sessions of rehearsals.

This is why I say that it is personal. I used to keep orange peels in my case, and I cannot remember why, except for the pleasant ambience which always arose when I opened the case. Or, was it to keep my keys bright? Frankly, I cannot remember. Some always carry “dampits” in their cases, and depending upon the climate and the temperature in the hall, one can never tell what will assail you.
I remember playing a Bavicchi Concerto with the MIT Band in Florida. Prior to the rehearsal, they had sprayed the hall with some kind of bug killer. I remember feeling “out of it” during the rehearsal, but then was ok, for the performance. That has little to do with silver plated keys. On the birthdate of my second son in July of 1977, I had a concert at the University of New Hampshire. It was 105 degrees in the hall and all of my keys were tending to stck and that was a full boehm Mazzeo Clarinet. I used talcum powder continuously in order that the keys would not stick. The concert went fine. My son had been born in Plymouth, New Hampshire the last night. Though it had been difficult because there was a phone strike and the doctor was late and it was a breech presentation My wife was fine. Who cared about sticky keys?
To conclude, the answer to keeping your silver plated keys in good condition lies within your self, your particular genetic makeup , the humidity and temperature in the hall, what you had for your previous meal. Oh yes. have heard that it is proper to avoid pungunt salad dressing before playing. I once played in a church in Montreal where the temperature was below 60f. I actually brought a small heater which I kept at my feet. It was that cold. Of course, the clarinet was terribly out of tune. The lower tones were sharp, the upper frozen and flat. (It was the only time I ever did that). Better to turn down the gig than to play in a freezing church. There are those readers who will know of what I speak. Keep your keys and your powder dry, and a rouge cloth in your case, and you will be OK.
But, you have to opractice.

stay well.


One Response to Silver Plated keys: it’s personal

  1. Hi Sherman, I have noticed that almost invariably any clarinetist who’s silver keys tarnish rather quickly , even go black, are those who drink beer, Has beer got some trace of sulphur in it’s recipe ?

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