8 Saxophone Care Tips that You May Have Never Heard
This article was inspired by a great question from reader in the UK, Peter (“reader”, “Peter” – that sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it?). Peter writes:
First of all let me say what a great site you have, a fantastic resource. Thank you.
I have just bought my first sax (alto) and I have a question about cleaning it. All the information I read stresses the need to clean after every use. I can understand and appreciate the need for this from a hygene point of view and for the sake of pad preservation. What none of this information tells me is, how do I do it. OK, I have a pad saver, but is simply inserting this in my Sax, good enough? I would just like somebody to tell me the proper way to dry and clean the inside of my sax after I have used it and I just wondered if you could help.
Very many thanks
When I first learned how to play the sax the horn, I don’t remember anyone telling me how to clean the thing other than running a swab through the horn and calling it a day. While there are a gaggle of sites with great saxophone maintenance tips out there, I thought I pluck out some of the important, tips that might have slipped by many of us in our early days.
1. Brush your teeth before you play.
This is particularly important if you’ve been taking in sugary food and drink. Sugar plus saliva makes for a nasty solution that accumulates on your pads and can cause them to stick, which is no fun when you’re rattling off inadvertent wrong notes.
2. Check your low Eb pad to see how much moisture you’ve got in your instrument.
Since your Eb pad is located at the bottom of the horn before it starts curving upwards into the bell, the curve at the bottom of the horn is where just about all of the saliva and breath water ends up. If you take a look at your low Eb pad and see that it looks black with a green ring around it, then it probably means that you’ve got too much moisture in the horn and really need to start getting more proactive with your swabbing – which brings us to our next tip…
3. Always swab your horn from the bell to the top
The wettest part of your horn is the top, so why would you want to drag all of that moisture down through the body of the horn? Make sure to swab from the bell, which is the driest part of the horn to minimize unnecessarily spreading more moisture through the instrument. If you’re having a tough time getting the weight at the end of the swab’s string to come all the way down through the top of the horn, give gravity a hand by adding some additional mass to the skimpy weight that comes with most of these swabs. You can bulk up that weight using heat shrink tubing fused onto the weight using a lighter.
4. Don’t use your padsaver as a swab
After a playing session, when the top of the horn is still wet and icky, pushing a pad saver down the body of the horn does nothing but spread that wet and ickiness throughout the sax – which is no good for your tone holes, and really just about any part of the horn. The pad saver is there to use only after the bulk of the moisture has been removed by a large cleaning swab.
5. Always hold your saxophone by the bell
This one should be pretty obvious as the bell is the sturdiest part of the instrument, and making a habit of squeezing down indiscriminately on the rods and keys is bound to mean trouble down the road.
6. Don’t close your case right after playing
Even after swabbing your sax and mouthpiece, make no mistake – there will still be a bit of moisture lingering in the horn. By closing the horn and depriving the horn of fresh air, you’re rolling out the red carpet for damaging bacteria to grow. Obviously, this is not something that’s practical to do after playing a gig, but any time you practice at home- leave that thing open for a bit!
7. Clean that octave key tone hole
This tone hole is absolutely crucial to the proper function of your horn, and unfortunately has a tendency to clog up with all sorts of sax ick. Go grab yourself a
tone hole cleaner such as the one made by Yamaha and keep that hole free and clear for crisp and clean octave action!
8. Bag that mouthpiece
Many of us – yours truly included, have allowed our mouthpieces to bounce around in the accessory compartment of our cases like shoes in a dryer. Not good – especially if you’ve got a hard rubber mouthpiece. Make sure to store your beloved piece inside a nicely padded mouthpiece pouch to keep it from being tragically damaged.
See How it’s Done
Much of what I’ve learned has come from this great video which really steps you through the whole sax cleaning process from start to finish.
Making it Last
So hopefully some of these tips will help you hold on to that horn much longer. With daily care and at-east-yearly maintenance, there’s really no reason that your shouldn’t last a lifetime and then some, so stop making excuses and start swabbing!
March 30, 2013 @ 4:24 am
I’ve just read your very useful tips for cleaning a sax so I was wondering if you might have some suggestions for me re an old tenor sax I have acquired.
The sax is a lovely silver coloured Dornay Belle Aire dating from the 1950s. A friend’s father used to play it. It seems that it may have been in its case unplayed for many years. I have found that whenever I play it I get severe flu-like symptoms for about 3 weeks afterwards so I think there must be something rather nasty lurking in there! Could you possibly suggest something strong enough to kill any bugs that will not harm the sax?
Many thanks for your assistance
March 30, 2013 @ 4:26 am
BTW: I have bought a new mouthpiece & have rinsed the neck with white vinegar twice.
March 30, 2013 @ 6:37 pm
Hmm, I don’t see how you could have germs on the horn that remain alive and keep re-infecting you to the point where you get sick on multiple occasions. Really, there should be no need to sanitize a saxophone (if there is you probably shouldn’t buy the horn) and if the mouthpiece is clean, I’m unfortunately at a bit of a loss as to why you’ve been getting sick. If you really want to sanitize it anyhow, I’d take it to a repair person and have them do it, as it could require removing some parts so that those parts of the horn aren’t damaged by whichever liquid you’re using to clean the horn.
I’m no doctor, but it’s my sense that your 3 weeks of flu-like symptoms are not related to the saxophone, but to some other health issue. I would suggest going to the doctor and seeing what he/she says.
I wish I could be of more help, best of luck!
Gary Patrick Manning Jr
November 11, 2016 @ 2:02 pm
June 5, 2013 @ 9:05 am
Check your reeds and reed case. A friend had a similar problem and it turned out to be growing in her reed case, not the horn.
September 1, 2016 @ 6:57 am
Could you tell me what caused your flu symptoms after playing the sax as I get a very bad bronchitis after every time I try and play. So now I have stopped playing. I have cleaned everything and also tried new reeds.
November 9, 2019 @ 2:08 am
Do not recommend the alleged pad saver, why would this be recommended. Apart from keeping moisture in the horn they also leave fine hairs everywhere over time. These effect the pads etc.
April 5, 2013 @ 4:38 am
I’m thinking about buying a pad and neck saver swab. However, I have heard negative things about them. Folks are saying that a pad saver does exactly opposite by keeping the moisture inside the horn and prevent natural ventilation. As you mentioned in your article, the horn should be well dried before using pad saver, however I’m not sure if it is possible to dry out each valve hole and pads after each play.
Please give us your opinion or suggestions regarding this matter.
Thank you very much for this helpful article.
April 5, 2013 @ 9:16 am
Well, that’s why I recommend leaving the case open for a while after you play, if at all possible. You’re right, it’s not possible to dry every nook and cranny of the horn, but whatever you can do will help.
I don’t actually use a pad saver myself, but not being a technician, I don’t have a super-strong opinion regarding whether or not to use one. People do say that the pad savers soak up moisture that would have otherwise stayed on the pads, but on the other hand the wrong pad saver can leave lint inside the horn. I’ve heard good things about the Hollywood Winds pad saver, so I would say give that one a try and see how it works for you.
I hope that helps!
May 23, 2013 @ 6:55 am
I have been told by one of the top woodwind technicians in GB not to leave a pad saver in a saxophone pads need air to dry so if you insert the saver so far as the palm note rotate remove shake or beat it out, insert to the left hand pads rotate plus open and close pads remove dry then insert to the right hand pads and repeat.
This is where my designed comes in this is the blurb….
Would you like to play or practice your saxophone a lot more,like right now when you get that inspiration?leave it out on its stand just pull off the Dust cover and be playing in seconds with No assembly time.don,t lose that moment make some music now! get a “SAX O SACK DUST COVER”ideal for home or studio work always use a reed cap. SAX O SACK DUST COVERS are made of 100% cotton to let your sax breathe
Top Tips For Cleaning Your Saxophone - Hooppler
July 18, 2013 @ 2:21 pm
[…] to keep your saxophone clean is to make sure you play your instrument with clean hands as well as brushing your teeth before playing. Moisture always gets inside your saxophone while you play and you shouldn’t put your saxophone […]
April 29, 2015 @ 4:31 pm
Many thanks for your helpful website. I have a Yamaha custom Ex alto (lasquer gold finishing) approximately 1 year old. Only recently, I notice stain shots appearing around join areas of the sax. It’s like dark brown rusty color (tarnish stain mark) I could not have it clean by wiping.
These spots seems to appear only over the last month.
Are these due to moisture? I diligently swap, clean the pads and wipe the sax after every use. I even wears a glove when handling the sax.
Pls advise what can I use to remove the tarnish stains. Thanks
April 30, 2015 @ 7:26 am
Thanks for the kind words of support! As far as removing tarnish, this is not actually an area of my expertise, and I definitely don’t want to advise you incorrectly. You can check out this discussion here: http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?163076-Saxophone-Cleaning-Polishing, or pose the question on that site, as there are some great experts there. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!
May 18, 2015 @ 6:19 pm
Hi. I’ve been experiencing a lot of salva accumulation while playing the Bozza Aria. It especially gets annoying around number 5 on the piece. I may not have an accompanist while auditioning so it gets especially uncomfortable. Do you have any suggestions. It seems that trying to swallow quickly interferes with the piece… I’m at a loss.
October 28, 2015 @ 1:14 pm
My sax has fuzzy stuff growing inside the mouthpiece I cleaned it and it went away but I’m afraid it will come back
November 20, 2018 @ 7:40 am
Clean your mouthpiece out after you play. Make sure to take the reed off and put it away every time you put your sax away and to alternate and change reeds every so often.
January 14, 2016 @ 11:46 am
Great site. I’m mildly devastated because my 18month old sax needs repadding, costing nearly as much as the sax itself. I use a swab and pad saver every time and brush my teeth before every practise session.
I’m going to use my “old” sax as a fingering practise tool, and move to a tenor. BUT I want to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again!
From my bagpipe playing days, I know I’m a “wet” blower. Bagpipe technicians designed a moisture box which reduced the moisture before the air got to the reeds. I wonder if a similar concept could be used on the sax (replace reeds with pads obviously). Some kind of filter after the mouthpiece? Probably interfere with the air flow too much I suspect.
In the interim, I’ll continue with my regime of swabbing etc. But I was wondering about running a hair dryer (cold setting) over the sax and even using a fan to help dry out the sax?
January 24, 2016 @ 8:42 pm
Hi. I’ve been experiencing a lot of salva accumulation while playing the Bozza Aria. It especially gets
annoying around number 5 on the piece. I may not have an accompanist while auditioning so it
gets especially uncomfortable.
March 25, 2016 @ 8:39 pm
I bought a hwp pad saver and I was wondering if I should leave it in the saxophone.
April 11, 2016 @ 9:55 am
Any advice for me – I play clarinet and have purchased a tenor sax so am looking in for any key dos and donts
July 22, 2018 @ 10:16 am
Saxophone lung is real…caused from mold. It can cause Broncithitis, asthma symptoms…clean your instrument daily, brush your teeth before use…see a doctor for persistent lung problems with playing instrument.
October 28, 2020 @ 8:28 pm
This didn’t really help at all. But thanks for trying