#WednesdayWisdom: Tightening a Loose Clarinet Socket Ring

By Miles DeCastro

Loose barrel upper socket ring

When winter rolls around, it is not uncommon for wooden instruments to experience at least some shrinkage, especially those which reside in a cold, dry environment.  However, while the instrument’s wooden body shrinks, its metal parts stay the same size.  This can cause a multitude of problems.  One of the most common problems is loose clarinet socket rings.

“So the socket ring came off, is this really a big deal?”  It might be.  Would you consider a crack to be a big deal?  If so, then I would recommend that you take the appropriate steps to re-secure any loose rings, as their main function is to stabilize the thin wood around the sockets and help prevent cracking in this area.

Resist the temptation to glue the ring back on.  Glue will not provide stability and may cause further damage (imagine the ring coming off with a big chunk of wood attached to it).

There are ring shrinking presses available, but they are bulky and cost hundreds of dollars.  They also present the problem of what happens in the summer when the instrument is in a warm, humid environment and the wood wants to expand to a size larger than the newly shrunken ring?

Instead, follow the steps listed below.  This job is not overly complicated and can be accomplished by just about anyone.  You will need:

Step 1: Remove the loose socket ring.                           

Step 2: Use the razor blade to cut a thin strip of sandpaper that is less than the width of the socket ring.  The length of the strip will depend on how loose the ring is.  For the loosest ring I’ve ever seen, the strip needed to be about half the circumference of the clarinet.  Typically, the strip will need to be approximately one-quarter the circumference of the clarinet.  I prefer wet-dry sandpaper for this because the paper itself is fairly thin, and the abrasiveness helps secure the ring.

Step 3: Tuck the strip of sandpaper under the socket ring while putting the ring back on the instrument.  It does not matter which way the abrasive side of the strip is facing.

Step 4: Keeping the paper flush against the wood, push the ring on as far as you can with your hands and then gently tap it down the rest of the way with a rawhide mallet (it may be a good idea to place the instrument on something soft while tapping).  Once the ring is back on, check to make sure it is now secure.  If you can pull the ring back off it is too loose, so repeat this process with a longer strip of sandpaper.

Step 5: Use the razor blade to carefully trim any sandpaper that is sticking out (there will likely be some).  Take care not to scratch the ring or wood (mask these with masking or painter’s tape if necessary).

Step 6: For any tiny fibers of sandpaper that you cannot trim, color them in with black marker to make them virtually invisible.  Any marker that gets on the ring or wood can be wiped off with your finger while still wet.  If the marker dries on the ring or wood, it should come off with a little bore oil on a clean, soft paper towel or rag.

In the end, a snug socket ring is a happy socket ring.  A snug ring will give added stability to the socket, giving you the best chance of preventing cracks in this area of the instrument. Happy repairing!

Miles DeCastro is the owner of North Country Winds and repair technician at The Crane School of Music.  You can follow him on Instagram @northcountrywinds37 and @cranerepair