Oil Immersion Processing of Deteriorated Grenadilla Instruments

Since 1973, I have immersion processed hundreds of grenadilla instruments including: [modern] Eb, Bb, and A soprano Clarinets; Alto, Bass, Contra Alto and Contra Bass Clarinets, Basset horns, Oboes, English Horns, [wooden] Piccolos & Flutes, as well as historic Clarinets and antique wooden Flutes. I have immersion processed Bagpipes drones and chanters also.

Oil immersion reverses the negative effects of deterioration: makes wood more elastic; makes wood more supple; makes wood more saliva-resistant; and makes the wood less prone to movement [i.e. not succumbing to rapid, severe, abrupt expansion or contraction caused by temperature and moisture changes].

Immersion processing involves preparing the wood, first by removing petroleum products from the instrument body, as well as any key oil and petroleum based cork grease. We then immerse the instrument in a tank containing a specific blend of organic oils at a controlled temperature. We treat all surfaces of the body uniformly, thus avoiding uneven absorption of oil. And, the immersion oil, formulated specifically for immersion processing, produces superior results. I must emphasize that the type of oil is extremely important — as is the method of applying it.

Depending on the condition of the wood, actual immersion lasts five to eight days. After immersion, we drip-dry the instrument and monitor the wood for three weeks. Once the wood is ready, we then mechanically rebuild the instrument totally: cleaning & refitting all keys, installing new pads & tenon corks, et al. See Rebuild, please.


Immersion processing can repair damaged wood in about eight weeks. After five weeks in my shop, there is a 3 -- 4 week break-in period in your environment. During this break-in period, the instrument becomes very stable, dimensionally. This stability allows, for example, the player to travel to different climate zones without suffering the typical performance problems that result from dimensional change. Typically, clients state that the scales of their instruments “lock in” during this break-in period. In addition, most players report a noticeable increase in resonance — as well as a better evenness, register to register.  


I have immersed new world-class instruments, some of which were used in paired comparison tests for experienced audiences. In all cases, the audience preferred the timbre, response, and resonance of the immersed instruments compared to new, non-immersed ones of the same brand. Please see my publication, Clarinets and Concepts, presented at conventions in Denver and Milwaukee.


For those who want a more scientific, causal analysis of deterioration and how immersion reverses that status, please visit my publication, Deterioration & Immersion Processing of Grenadilla* Instruments.

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