Do you own a plastic recorder with joints that sometimes stick together and become really hard to take apart? I think every player has experienced this at some point. Here are my tips on dealing with stuck plastic recorder joints, and some pointers on how to avoid it getting stuck in the first place!
Rocking the joint
The first thing to try if you have stuck plastic recorder joints is not turning, but rocking the joint. If you’ve tried turning the pieces and they feel completely jammed together, try rocking it backwards and forwards a little; for example, hold the middle joint still, and put pressure on the head joint as if you were making a doll nod its head. This is sometimes enough to get the tenon unstuck, and you can go back to twisting it off.
If not, try putting the instrument over your lap, and pressing GENTLY down on the piece hanging off your leg. This will help to break the seal within the joint, whether it is a vacuum or just gunk adhering the pieces. Take care that you don’t press too hard, though – we don’t want to damage the tenon.
If that doesn’t work, try putting the joint under warm running water (not too hot). What you are trying to do here is expand the plastic on the outer part of the joint just a little. Then try turning/rocking again.
Get the gloves out
If that doesn’t work, reach for a pair of latex surgical gloves. Put them on, and try turning the pieces while wearing the gloves. These should give you a better grip on the plastic.
And if it’s still stuck, find a friend and give them a set of gloves, too. You turn one part of the recorder while they hold the other part absolutely still. The combination of the increased grip and the extra muscle power really should do the job!
Avoiding it happening again
Once you’ve experienced having stuck plastic recorder joints, you’ll understandably want to avoid it happening again! There are three main culprits for sticky joints: not keeping the instrument clean; storing it somewhere with variable temperature and humidity; and using too much joint grease. I’ll cover each in turn. (There’s also just never taking the instrument apart, but the solution for that is fairly obvious, so I’m not covering it here!)
All instruments need attention and a bit of a clean at some point. My son’s trumpet teacher has a particularly gruesome story about a young pupil who had never cleaned his cornet – when the teacher took it to the staffroom and ran hot water through it, the result was enough to make the pupil gag!
I’m quite sure that your plastic recorders don’t have nearly the same problems as that young cornet player’s instrument, but a simple wash will prevent the build-up of anything unsavoury. Clean them regularly with warm soapy water (if you play them frequently, maybe once a month), gently dry them to remove excess water, and let them air dry. This gets rid of dust and any particulates that have accumulated in the joints, holes and mouthpiece.
When you buy your first wooden recorder, you’ll be warned in no uncertain terms about keeping your instrument in a place with fairly stable temperature and humidity. Wooden recorders need a stable environment so that the instrument doesn’t have to adjust itself to extremes by expanding and contracting.
But plastic recorders, though they are far more stable than wooden instruments, still need stability of temperature and humidity wherever possible. Just think what happens to a plastic pot that is left out on a sunny windowsill! This is why, even though my teaching room is at the back of my house, my recorders (including the plastic ones) are stored in a different room where the temperature is less variable.
It is really tempting to think that, if a little bit of joint grease is good, then using a whole lot must be better – especially if the joint is already a very snug fit. But think about it: if the joint is snug, there is very little space there. Joint grease takes up space – it has molecules, and when you put the grease on the joint you effectively add width to it.
Trust in the joint grease – just a very light smear will be enough to do the job.
I hope this helps you to keep your recorders in a good playing condition. If you get really stuck, then contact these people for help: