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 Silver Or Nickel Keys?
Author: Johnny Galaga 
Date:   2022-05-20 04:55

What's the benefit of paying extra for silver? Thanks.

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 Re: Silver Or Nickel Keys?
Author: hans 
Date:   2022-05-20 06:54

A potential benefit is that silver has antimicrobial properties. On the other hand, it tarnishes quickly and polishing the keys will eventually remove the silver plating.

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 Re: Silver Or Nickel Keys?
Author: Ed 
Date:   2022-05-20 16:33

I always wear through nickel plating. For me, silver holds up better. (although the instrument I have had for years is nickel and well worn). Some say it sounds different, but I am not sure of that claim

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 Re: Silver Or Nickel Keys?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-05-20 17:10

Like everything else it is a matter of trade offs. Silver might "look" better. It's whiter under the lights of the stage. But it's a bit "tackier," a little less easy to slide off of (mostly the pinky keys of course). This is the reason Richard Stoltzman used nickel plated keys. He would wear through them regularly (every four years or so) and have his teacher Kal Opperman re-plate them.

If you wipe the keys off after every use though, you should keep either silver or nickel in pristine condition! Cut a case sized swath of 100% cotton flannel (any color you want) found at any fabric or sewing store. And leave in case over the horn.

[as I wrote this I was listening to this and HAD to post]


..............Paul Aviles

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 Re: Silver Or Nickel Keys?
Author: jdbassplayer 
Date:   2022-05-20 17:16

In theory Nickel is harder and should be more durable. In practice Buffet and other manufacturers seems to make their silver plating much more durable (thicker?) and it generally holds up better over time. Silver tarnishes easier but it can always be brought back up to a bright shine. Nickel looks great when new and holds up well for the first few years. After a while nickel can develop a cloudiness that can be almost impossible to polish away without removing an excessive amount of material. This isn’t as obvious when looking at an older nickel plated clarinet on its own, but comparing a 50 year old Buffet with freshly polished keys vs a freshly plated instrument you can see a difference. Meanwhile my 1967 Buffet with silver plating from the factory looks fantastic after a polish. It’s also worth noting that silver is much lower on the activity series so while it is not as durable it is more resistant to the acids in your sweat. Lastly many people have a nickel allergy.


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 Re: Silver Or Nickel Keys?
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2022-05-20 18:30

While nickel plate is harder, it's only applied thinly to around 3 microns whereas silver plate being a much softer metal is applied much thicker from around 10 to 25 microns or even more.

Nickel plate is often used as an undercoat for silver to be plated onto because of it being a nice flat and smooth surface compared to copper plate which is much rougher at the molecular level.

Although most platers will copper flash keywork and then plate silver plate directly onto copper instead of plating nickel over copper.

Nickel is also hard on cutting tools which is also why it's applied thinly. I've worked on some old Noblet alto clarinets where the nickel plate was ridiculously thick and it took a lot of doing to cut through it when doing keywork alterations.

Silver plate had become standard on all clarinets in the UK and Europe in the late '90s from entry level plastic models upwards due to higher rates of nickel allergies compared to silver.

Personally I prefer silver plate as it's far more tactile compared to slippery nickel plate, plus the fact it's much easier to maintain the shininess of silver plate whereas nickel plate will require more invasive machine polishing when it turns dull grey when it tarnishes.

I've seen chrome plated keywork on some clarinets and that looks really ugly by comparison to both nickel and silver plate. Chrome plate was used on Buffet bassoons (and some Fox bassoons) due to its slipperiness and I've even seen some Olds trumpets in chrome plate which look cheap as the finish is the same as bathroom fittings or metal coated plastic, although it will remain bright and shiny but with a blue tinge to it.

Unplated nickel silver keywork is good as keywork alterations can be done and there's no plating to have to be redone, although it does tarnish a dull yellowy/greeny colour. It does have the tactile feel of silver plate and doesn't stand up too well with players with low pH perspiration which is why plated keywork offers some protection of the base metal until it wears through.

Former oboe finisher
Howarth of London
1998 - 2010

The opinions I express are my own.

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 Re: Silver Or Nickel Keys?
Author: Tony F 
Date:   2022-05-20 18:58

There are some toxicity issues with nickel and its use is banned in some countries for this reason.

Tony F.

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