Saxophone Maintenance Tips
Let's face it, saxophones are expensive! A good saxophone is a major investment - just like a car. And just like a car, saxophones need our tender love and care to keep working in top shape. Any saxophone, if taken care of properly, should last a lifetime and actually longer. The information contained on this page will help you keep your saxophones looking good and playing well for many, many years.
Taking Out Your Sax
Many accidents occur when an instrument is being taken out of its case. When removing your sax from its case, make sure that the case is right side up and on a firm, preferably level, surface (floors work great for this). Open the case slowly and position the top where it won't fall back down. Before even touching the instrument, put on your neck strap. After clipping the neck strap onto your saxophone, take the bell firmly with one hand and the body in your other hand. Lift straight up. From there place the sax in your lap. Loosen the neck screw and slip the neck piece straight into the hole. Do not use lubricant on the neck joint unless absolutely necessary and never force the neck piece in or out. Finally, apply a small amount of cork grease onto the cork and slide on the mouthpiece.
Many saxophone companies now sell cleaning kits. They all contain about the same ingredients. One item that is useful is a cloth connected to a weighted string. It is used to clean out the body of the saxophone. To use it, disassemble your sax and drop the weighted end of the string down into the top of the body. Next, pull the string out through the bell letting the cloth travel through the body to clean it of dust and spit. It is important for the cloth to go in the same direction through the sax as your breathe does so that the most important areas are cleaned. For cleaning out the neck of your saxophone there is another tool. It is basically a piece of wire with a soft material on one end and a brush-like tip on the other. This is used simply by running it through the neckpiece. Cloth strips also work well.
Keys & Pads
To a beginner, the network of keys on a saxophone can be overwhelming. Maybe that is why they are often ignored when it comes to cleaning and care. To clean around the keys use a small brush or a pipe cleaner. A pipe cleaner is ideal because they make it easy to reach those hard to reach places. Once in a while it is beneficial to add a drop of valve oil to the joints where the rods meet. You should also bring your instrument to a good instrument repair shop for an annual look-over. What may cost only $15 now by tightening or loosening a few screws may cost much more if ignored. As for pads, totally replacing them usually costs over $100, so keep them in good shape too by keeping them clean of as much dirt, hair, and spit as possible. A good way to keep them dry is to blot them dry with a piece of soft, lint-free paper. Slip the piece of paper between the pad and the tone hole and press down on the key gently. When left moist, pads tend to swell and rot.
Care for mouthpieces is relatively simple. Dried spit and such should be gently removed with a brush or swab. Some people use mouthpiece savers. They can be purchased for about $1 and are cotton swabs that are kept inside the mouthpiece when not in use. Regardless, mouthpieces should be kept in some sort of small container and in a mouthpiece cover.
Like clarinet players, we are doomed to be reliant on reeds for our sound. Oboe or bassoon players need two reeds! Reeds are too important and too expensive to just toss into a case and forgotten. Some people go through "reed rituals" that supposedly extend the life of reeds by playing on them for so long, soaking them, playing them some more, drying them, etc. A more enjoyable solution is to use that time to practice and then simply soak your reeds overnight the first time you open the box. It supposedly makes them last longer and sound better. You can then slip them into your reed case - a small plastic container where the reeds are kept straight while they dry. It is very important that the reeds be kept dry when not in use. There are few things as disgusting as using a reed with spores growing on it. This is evident when you check behind the padding of an old saxophone case for lost reeds. As for taking that mysterious "gunk" off your reeds, a soft toothbrush does the trick.
Saxophones come with many different finishes. While the most common is a lacquer, some are silver- or gold-plated (not to be confused with gold lacquer). The differences between the three are how much they cost and how much wear and tear they can stand. Gold plating does not wear well, does little to improve the sound, and is the most expensive. Of course, it's a great way of showing off since not many people have it. Silver plating, though, does wear well and improves the sound. For these reasons some sax’s come in solid silver. Finally we come to good old lacquer. It's the cheapest and most common. What do these three finishes have in common? Eventually, they wear away. If you have been around saxophones a bit you have undoubtedly seen the poor outcast sax that has lost most or all of its finish. This can be prevented. Most of the damage starts where your hands come in contact with the sax for prolonged amounts of time (like under the octave key and thumb rest). Acids on your hand and in your sweat eat away at the finish. Therefore, it is a good idea to carry with you a polishing cloth and wipe your saxophone off every time you put it up. Also, make sure that the polishing cloth is for your saxophone's type of finish, lacquer for lacquer, brass for brass, etc. Again, most of the damage starts with your hands; the rest is mostly due to moisture in the air. Do not "bathe" your sax, play it in the rain, wipe it down with water, or leave it where it can get wet (like in a damp case). When the moisture gets under the finish, the metal underneath turns reddish and the finish comes off easily. Should your saxophone get a deep scratch, a useful tip is to apply a thin layer of clear nail polish to the area to keep moisture from seeping into the area. Finally, say no to relacquering. In order to relacquer (or replate) a saxophone, the metal is usually buffed. This removes a thin layer of metal which can drastically hurt the sound and lower the instrument’s worth.