Stuck Oboe Swab

Instrument repair techs are frequently asked to remove stuck objects from instruments. A few interesting jobs our shop has encountered over the years…

  1. A marble stuck inside a trumpet bell. We were able to extract this without disassembling the horn.
  2. Mouthpiece lodged inside a tuba, way up in one of the branches. First, we needed to determine where the mouthpiece was lodged, then develop a plan to remove it. We were able to also extract this without disassembling the horn.
  3. Neck stoppers, mouthpieces, mouthpiece caps stuck inside saxophones. We see these a lot, but the remedy is usually pretty simple.
  4. Part of a reed got lodged in the top loop of a baritone sax. The customer wasn’t even aware of this; he reached out to us because he was having intonation problems. Removed the reed and no further action was needed.
  5. Another local repair shop brought a trumpet to us. One of their less experienced techs attempted to use a dent ball mounted on a cable to remove a dent from the bell crook. Standard procedure so far. The ball got stuck, so – and this is where he went astray – he tried to push it deeper into the horn. Finally, he tried to give the tool a big tug to pull the ball back out. The cable snapped in half! We had to unsolder the bell to fix that one…

Recently we were asked to remove a cleaning swab stuck inside the top section of an oboe. Brand new Yamaha YOB-841, out of the case for the very first time.

There are several valid approaches, but there are two non-negotiable rules.

  1. We MUST extract the swab.
  2. We must NOT damage the bore (or tenons, sockets, keys, etc.)

Another guiding principle: this can and should be an undetectable repair.

We don’t care about what happens to the swab. If we can preserve it, we will, but that is a much lower priority.

Someone tried to cut off the end of the swab (or it ripped apart) before bringing it to us. We’re not sure what it looked like before “the event,” but since there’s no pull string on that end, it’s completely inappropriate for oboe swabbing and should be replaced.

A proper oboe swab MUST have a string on each end!

After applying some elbow grease to the problem (extra hands are useful here), we extracted the swab, undamaged.

A quick bench check and play test confirmed there were no other problems with the oboe, and in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s a really nice instrument to play.