Categories: Brass Instruments

Shining Victory: Polish for Marching Band Instruments

Art has a way of stirring feelings deep inside of us, accessing emotions we did not think existed. When art encompasses more than one medium, it can bring about something greater.

Marching band uses both music and visual stimuli to create an entertaining and emotionally stirring performance. But to leave the audience speechless, every detail must be perfect.

The most commonly overlooked aspect of the show is the presentation of the instruments. Dingy or dirty instruments do not make the same statement as their shiny counterparts. While polish is the answer, the environment and elements are unlike those that instrumentalists face in a concert venue.

Top Pick: Music Nomad MN700 Lacquer Polish
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The lacquer polish is in an easy use spray bottle and requires little formula, is very easy for students to use and restores the competitive shine. The polish lasts all season long; even after four months of constant use, instruments looked like they were just polished.

Why Trust Me?

For the last decade, I have been engrossed in marching band and what goes into make a nationally recognized show. I spent six years as a performer, playing tenor sax and mellophone for three years each respectively. I have competed in two high school circuits and performed in college, including experience at bowl games and NFL games.

For the last four years, I have been staffing for the same band I marched in high school, focusing on music and visual presentation, which has led to multiple regional and state championships, as well as a national championship in US Bands.

Part of my job included polishing all the instruments before the first show of the season. I have tried many products, which have either taken too long to work or did not achieve the shine required. I finally found success with Music Nomad’s products.


There are many options available when selecting a polish, all geared towards different needs. Marching band is a physically intensive activity that is taxing on the performer, as well as the instrument.

You need a polish that withstands the weather and elements daily. You also need to look for polish that works quickly and is easy for students to use. Long lasting polish will save money in consistently slashed budgets.

Finally, you need a polish that will create a bold finish that can be seen from the heavens, which is where the press box can be found in many stadiums. It must be noted that you use the right polish for the right coating, as silver polish and lacquer polish is not interchangeable.

This is far more requirements than are needed for a standard instrument polish and some may question if all of them are necessary, and the truth is they are. I have used a polish that comes in brass care kits and found myself having to redo the process within a week.

When there is a band of sixty kids, it is taxing and time-consuming to have to redo them all. A polish that cannot hold against rain, especially a silver polish, will cause tarnish, even if you wipe the water away quickly. The product needs to match the intensity of the activity.


Polishing brings many benefits to the show and the instrument. Keeping the coating of the instrument shiny makes it look beautiful, but helps protect the instrument beneath, especially silver instruments.

Tarnish eats away at the coating, exposing the metal beneath to rust and damage. It can greatly shorten the lifespan of an instrument, which can be expensive, especially for marching instruments like mellophones and tubas.

The shine can also improve the overall effect of the show. Visual movements with the horn such as horn pops are more visible to judges and the audience. The bold shine of the bell catches the stadium lights, making impact moments in the music stronger.

One of the lesser known advantages to the polish is the confidence boost the performers get from the shine. Numerous students have told me that they feel a new level of pride in their performance. They feel like the judges and the audience are looking at them and they are being heard.

In recent years, I have required my students to polish and clean their instruments, giving them a new learning opportunity. Students that are required to clean their own instruments are more likely to take better care of them, which can also minimize repair costs.


Instrument polishes come in three main forms: liquid, paste, and cloth. Liquid forms can be watery enough for a spray bottle and are ideal for lacquer and treatment of small areas of tarnish.

Thicker liquids cling to the instrument well and penetrate deep, but safely to restore the coating. Paste behaves much like a thick liquid and is easier to apply and control than the liquid. These forms require use of a soft cloth to apply and remove the polish, which are available.

The final form is a polishing cloth that has the treatment woven into the fibers. It is ideal of small surfaces and spot treatments, or to buff an already polished instrument to an even brighter shine.

When you’re looking for a polishing product for marching band, a thick liquid or paste will get that deep, long lasting shine.


Before using any polishing product, you need to start with a clean instrument. Wipe down the outside of the instrument with a soft cloth to rid the instrument of any dirty. Brass players can give their instruments a bath to get extremely filthy instruments clean.

Remove the valves from the chamber and the pipes. Submerge the instrument in a tub of warm water with a little mild soap and gentle scrubbing with a soft cloth. Repeat the same process for each of the pipes.

Dry all the pieces before restoring the valves and pipes correctly, being sure to oil the valves and grease the pipes. This method has proven effective and is commonly used by those who march in Drum Corps.


Temperature effects an instrument, causing a fluctuation in pitch even in the middle of a performance. Weather can also damage the coating as your cleaning it. The best way to use this product is to eliminate any of these outside influences.

Polish and clean the instrument inside and at room temperature for best results. Heat or cold could affect the active ingredients in the polish and harm your coating. The best time of the season to do this is at the beginning of fall.

Polish them on a day when students will not be using them and they will be back in the case upon completion. After polishing silver instruments, both performers and handlers should wear gloves during rehearsal to minimize tarnish throughout the season.

Practice or performance gloves work fine. On days when performers encounter rain, be sure they wipe the instruments immediately to avoid any damage. It is advised to buff the instruments with a polish cloth before the end of the season.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Music Nomad's MN 700 Lacquer Polish
best products when it comes to protecting instruments against the conditions they face during the marching band season$8.99
Bach Silver Polish Cloth
great for spot treatments$7.99
Bruno 3589 Glo-Cloth, Lacquer
good for touching up polish, buffing out inconsistencies in the shine$6.94
Selmer Lacquer Polish
makes shiny instruments even shinier$6.97
Yamaha YAC 1060P Lacquer Polish
has the Yamaha quality when it is finished$11.75
Instrument Clinic Woodwind Key Polish
can use for deep spot treatments on silver instruments$9.99

TOP PICK: Music Nomad’s MN 700 Lacquer Polish

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Music Nomad’s MN 700 Lacquer Polish and MN 701 Silver polish are the best products when it comes to protecting instruments against the conditions they face during the marching band season.

I list both of these products because lacquer and silver polish is not interchangeable and some schools cannot afford to issue instruments in the same finish for their band.

The lacquer polish is in an easy use spray bottle and requires very little formula to be applied to give beautiful results.The polish is sprayed onto a soft fiber cloth (Music Nomad makes a cloth that works incredibly well) and gently applied to the instrument producing an instant shine.

Music Nomad offers an instructional video if you’d like detailed instructions:

Music Nomad’s MN 700 Lacquer Polish is very easy for students to use and restores the competitive shine. The polish lasts all season long; even after four months of constant use, the instrument looks like it was just polished. The polish only needs one coating to restore the finish.

It protects against small dings and dents. I have had students crash into each other during rehearsal, and while there may be a small dent, the shine remains. The product is so strong that one spray will cover large instruments like trombones and baritones.

Quality silver polishes for instruments are difficult to find. Silver tarnishes very easily by just the oils on the skin and water. Even if you successfully restore the finish, it can quickly return to its dirty appearance.

When handling silver instruments, there are some precautions that will allow the shine to last longer. Wearing gloves during rehearsals and performances is the greatest defense. Much of the tarnish on silver is around the valves and their casing.

When instruments are resting on the sideline, they should be in their cases. If not, they should be laid on their sides on a towel. This will prevent moisture and dirt from the ground to latch onto the silver. Performers should carry a cloth in their pocket during rehearsal to wipe down any moisture from rain or spit.

Even the most tarnished silver instruments are no match for Music Nomad’s MN 701 silver polish. It easily tackled a tarnished baritone that I had tried to clean for two years, restoring it to how it had looked ten years ago. Although a little more involved that the lacquer polish, it is still easy to use.

Fold a soft polishing cloth in half. In one corner, add about a dime sized amount and apply to the instrument in a circular motion, leaving behind a thin purple layer. Once covered, use the clean side of the cloth to remove the polish, leaving the instrument like new.

The amount you apply will vary, depending on the size of the instrument. Applying too much will leave behind a residue, so it is better to apply too little than too much.

Like the lacquer polish, the silver polish is fast acting and leaves a beautiful shine. If you follow the precautions during the season, you should not need to reapply again until the next season.

The polish can also be applied to flutes, but extra care is needed when applying to avoid damaging the wires and keys. Both products can be found online for under $10 each and last for a long time.

I have been using them for two years on roughly forty instruments a year and still have my first bottles. It is high quality at a low price.


Bach Silver Polish Cloth

Credit: Amazon.com

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There are other instrument polishing products that you can add to your arsenal to help improve appearance throughout the season. Music Nomad’s product provides the best finish, yet is the most intensive.

Once you have a solid finish, sometimes a touch-up is all that is needed. These products provide this touch-up but are not good for the heavy duty tasks that the recommended product can tackle.

Bach Silver Polish Cloth was one of the earliest polishing products I used. The problem was it did not get that deep tarnish that I was encountering on the instruments. I also could not use it for some of the big instruments, like the tuba because the cloth became to tarnished.

Polish cloths like this cannot be washed because doing so would remove the treatment from the fibers. That said, I still carry this in my bag because it is great for spot treatments and buffing the bell on the run.

If a student has used too much silver polish on their instrument, I will clear the residue with this cloth to provide extra shine. It runs for roughly $6 online.

Bruno 3589 Glo-Cloth, Lacquer

Credit: Amazon.com

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Bruno 3589 Glo-Cloth, Lacquer is the lacquer equivalent to the Bach cloth, but it doesn’t face the same problems that the Bach cloth does. The Glo-Cloth does not build up tarnish the way the Bach cloth does, but it does not give that deep penetrating shine that Music Nomad’s products do.

It is great for touch up of polished instruments, buffing out inconsistencies in the shine. It also works well for saxophones, as the cloth can slip under wires to clear dust and debris.

I use it to buff the bells right before show time to give the instrument an added shine, especially during nighttime performances when the stadium lights are the brightest. This product runs for roughly $4 online and is a nice addition to any emergency maintenance pack.

Selmer Lacquer Polish

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Selmer Lacquer Polish is exactly as its name says; it’s just a polish. It does not remove stains or add any additional protections. It makes shiny instruments even shinier.

If your instruments are already out of the box perfect, this polish is perfect for keeping the shine up, but scuffs and rubs in the polish will still remain. For the price of $5, it is great for brand new instruments as it does not affect the finish too much.

Yamaha YAC 1060P Lacquer Polish

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Yamaha YAC 1060P Lacquer Polish meets the same standards as the Selmer polish. Yamaha’s product is watery and runny, so it does not adhere well for the deep penetrating action that the Music Nomad products offer.

Like the Selmer, this is ideal for out of the box instruments and keeping their appearance out of the box. It does not offer any additional protections than the Selmer and it is pricier at $11 for a tiny tube. However, it does have the Yamaha quality when it is finished, which always looks nice.

Instrument Clinic Woodwind Key Polish

Credit: Amazon.com

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Instrument Clinic Woodwind Key Polish is designed for the keys of woodwinds like clarinets and flutes. However, it can be used for deep spot treatments on silver instruments.

Although it is a thick liquid, it is incredibly messy and can be difficult to use on the small parts of woodwind instruments. Gloves are absolutely recommended to avoid tarnish stains on your hands.

The cloth that comes with the packaging is not great quality so another cloth would be preferred. I have used this on deep tarnish stains on the silver plated brass instruments and was happy with the results, but it is not suitable for the whole instrument.

The kit is $10 and also comes with cork grease and key oil, which can be useful throughout the season. It is a great kit for just woodwind products and deep penetrating spot treatments.


Polishing needs vary based on instrument quality, maintenance, budgetary constraints, and the age of the instrument, to name a few. Marching band takes a great toll on instruments and tests its metal, quite literally.

Polish and regular cleaning can increase the age of the instrument, saving districts money on replacements. It is important to treat your instruments well in order to achieve success. In competitive marching band, every detail is assessed and even a small effect can keep you from victory.

Penni and RachelHorn :Hi! I'm Penni. I've been obsessed with playing and teaching music since I was 10 years old. I've had hundreds of students over the years who have at some point asked for my advice on what to buy to support their learning. When you buy certain products from some of the sites which we link to, Hear the Music Play receives a commission that supports our work.Here is an explanation of what we do and how to support our work.