I was stupid.

… and was paying too much attention to the CD I had put in while I was cleaning my oboe, and pulled the swab too far into the upper joint. It’s stuck.

How should I get it out?

This is such a common question, and this is why I use a cotton swab. (See the first swab here.) This swab can’t go all the way through, and really can’t get stuck. Some cotton swabs are smaller and do get stuck. Some of those cotton swabs are also awfully stiff. Mine is a very soft cotton swab. (In black!) I love it. Silk swabs are incredibly easy to get stuck (which is why I have a handy dandy swab remover here at home to help rescue students). I used to use silk swabs. My oboe swab got stuck in the oboe right before a solo. The English horn one got stuck when I was about an hour from home and my husband graciously drove all the way up to hand me my swab remover. (Thanks, Dan!)

In any case, if you get a swab stuck, take it to someone who knows what they are doing. Do not try to force it out. Do not stick a drill in the end to try and get it out (really, I’ve heard about someone doing this!). Do not have your band director pull even harder to see if he or she can get it out (heard that one too). Just call me. Or your teacher. Or that good oboe repair person.

Trust me.


  1. (Note for brass players: equivalent to getting a mouthpiece stuck, except that with the swab you can’t even play the instrument, instead of just not being able to put it in the case.)

  2. I wish there was a picture. I don’t really understand the situation!

  3. Ah – woodwind swab – a bit of rag on the end of a string, basically, with a small weight on the opposite end, which is used to remove the condensation (think of breathing on a mirror) from the inside of the instrument. You drop the weighted end in the larger end of the instrument until it comes out the smaller and pull it through.

    Brass players just dump the condensation on the floor (or stage, or wherever). Much easier. 🙂

  4. …and at the risk of being considered garrulous…a build-up of condensation can make a big difference in a brass instrument. Horn is perhaps more susceptible – so I’m biased, get over it – on trumpet it makes notes sound gurgley – on horn excess condensation can cause one to miss the note completely (I’ve played ’em both – can’t vouch for trombone because I’ve only dabbled). On oboe (about as sensitive as horn – what the heck was I thinking?) getting an extra drop of water in the wrong place can be a complete disaster (but only during a solo/exposed passage – otherwise it will all work fine :).

    Anyone who doesn’t believe or understand any of the above should take up both horn and oboe – it will be educational, I promise (if it isn’t please contact me – I can help you achieve an appropriate understanding :). And this is not meant to denigrate or otherwise imply that any other instrument is not challenging – far from it – it’s more that the initial challenges of instruments like horn and oboe are greater. Bottom line for me is what is the sound that punches your buttons, I guess – what is the sound you want to make?

  5. “Do not have your band director pull even harder to see if he or she can get it out”… even if it’s a school instrument and I can’t take it anywhere until he’s done playing with the thing? v_v… not my finest moment right there…

  6. Yeah, even then, Miriam. At least in my opinion! They mean well, but they don’t know the problem this may cause. Sorry it happened to you. 🙁

  7. Luckily it ended up fine… I thought my band director would know better, but clarinets are cylindrical so I don’t think he understood why I was cringing until afterwards.