Conservation: Musical Instruments

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The sublime connection between function and form is a musical instrument. Not only created to be played, but also to be visually admired, the musical instrument is perhaps the most glorious way to travel back in time.

There is no doubt that instruments are meant to be played, but not always antique ones. The antique instrument must be recognized for what it is. It must be assessed and determined if it is wise to be played. In many cases, the tone of the instrument will have changed enough so that the sound is not accurate anymore; to repair that may cause your piece to lose value. The value of a rare piece that is cared for and conserved is unquestionable, and its beauty is undeniable.

The care and cleaning of your piece is determined by the type of instrument you have, whether it is a brass, woodwind, or string instrument. Because instruments are often a mixture of materials and as such have unique directions for their care, always consult a conservator.


  • Wooden instruments can be dusted but should never be treated with any polishes or oils
  • Brass instruments should never be touched unless wearing cotton gloves
  • Brass instruments should not be shined, as polishes can damage the brass and their natural coloring is of greater value
  • Consult a conservator for appropriate light, temperature and humidity settings

Because of the individual needs of the particular piece, meeting with a conservator to discuss any of the above is extremely recommended.

  • Discuss the case in which the instrument will be stored, take time to think about air flow so mold does not develop, as well as the materials as certain combinations may set off chemical changes
  • In cases of moving large instruments, such as a piano, a dolly should be used only on post-1850 piano‚Äôs
  • Lid of piano should be kept shut

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