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In this article I want to take you through how to clean a saxophone. This article targeted at anybody who needs to know this information so they can care for and maintain maintain their saxophone properly.
Beginners and music teachers who teach beginners will find this very useful.
Basically, I will take you through saxophone disassembly so you thoroughly clean your saxophone and then finish off with saxophone reassembly after cleaning.
And then i’ll throw in a couple of tips on how to keep your saxophone in good condition.
The entire process should take about half an hour. This shouldn’t be too hard.
So let’s get started.
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A work with instruments a lot, and everyday I see a lot of saxophones that are pretty funky on the inside and it is something that you can avoid easily by proper cleaning.
That’s why I want to show you how to clean your saxophone.
Here are a few things we need to keep in mind:
- Your saxophone gets pretty funky on the inside when it is colder than your breathe. If you play your saxophone at summer time, it will have hardly any condensation inside. It is when you are inside or during winter time when it’s much colder that moisture sticks to the side of the saxophone making it funky.
- A saxophone is like your silverware. It is not something you clean once a week, you clean your silverware everytime you use it. So you clean your saxophone everytime you use it.
- Pads on the saxophone are made of leather, they will last 20 to 30 years if you clean them out. If you don’t clean your saxophone, the pads will last three to five years, then you are looking at a 300-500 dollar, or thereabouts, repad job.
- Most of the moisture inside your saxophone runs down to the E-flat pad at the very bottom. Partly due to the way a saxophone sits on the case. If you look at the your E-flat pad and you can see a black ring around it, that means you have moisture damage in your instrument.
- Sometimes the pads have a black or green ring on them. It’s a chemical reaction between the moisture and the brass and the leather. If you open the pads and you find this black or green ring around, that means you are getting moisture damage on your saxophone.
What You’ll Need
Here are the things that you will need to clean your saxophone:
- A saxophone neck/mouthpiece swab. Basically saxophone cleaning swab is a string and a weight with a handkerchief. That’s to clean out the neck and the mouthpiece.
- A saxophone body swab. The cloth on this one is a little fatter and it has a piece of foam in it. This one cleans out the body.
Because the saxophone is so conical, very skinny at the top and fatter towards the bottom, you need these two swabs.
If they’ve not provided you with either of these, with your saxophone, these are dirt cheap, you can just get them from Amazon for next to nothing. And if you’re really handy, all these things are are a cloth or upholstery tied to a string with a weight on the end.
Step #1 — Take the Neck and Mouthpiece Off from the Body
You need two swabs, one if the neck and mouthpiece, the other in the body. There could be a puddle of moisture in the mouthpiece or at the bottom of the body.
So the first thing you need to do remove the neck from the body of your saxophone by unscrewing the attachment screws.
You need to unscrew the right hand side screw. The left one doesn’t really do anything, with regards to unfastening the nack from the body.
If you have an old saxophone, the neck will likely come right off after you unfasten the right screw and twist it off. You need to twist the neck against the body, as opposed to pulling it, to get it off.
Twisting is important because you don’t want to damage either the neck or body when taking them apart.
After the two are apart, you need to stick the bowl, or cork, to the body of your saxophone. This will prevent the edge from handling damage.
You can start with the body if you want, but I’be gotten into the habit of starting with the neck.
Now, even more than the body, you definitely need to clean your mouthpiece and neck every single time you play.
You’ve just been putting host moist air on metal and you’ve definitely got condensation.
Lots of it.
Its likely even more at beginning, when you first start playing the saxophone, because you tend to be a bit spitty.
If you leave that moisture in there, you will end up with mould and all sorts of funkiness.
If your putting your mouthpiece in your mouth all the time and it’s covered in mould, you’re risking getting ill.
Step #2 — Loosen the Ligature on the Mouthpiece
Loosening the ligature allows you to take the reed out.
And then all you need to do with the reed is dry it out a little bit. You can wipe away any moisture on the inside of your reed on your neck/mouthpiece swab.
A thing to keep in mind here is that your reed will mould quite quickly. I would recommend you don’t put it back in its little case.
Putting something moist in such a little space is just asking for condensation to turn to mould. And it’s wood, so it moulds much more easily than metal.
It drys out better if you keep it on the mouthpiece with a bit or air space. Just keep it loose and push it in a little bit so if doesn’t get damaged if something bumps your mouthpiece because it’s not right up at the end.
After taking the reed out, you are left with an empty mouthpiece.
Step #3 — Swab the Mouthpiece and Neck
For this step you will need the smaller neck/mouthpiece swab.
To get a swab done, you need to pop the swab through the mouthpiece leading with the weight and pull it through the other end.
You need t do that a couple of times to take away most of the moisture. The rest should hopefully evaporate and you can maintain a nice clean mouthpiece.
And there you go, clean mouthpiece, so we move to the body.
Step #4 — Swab the Body
The first thing I usually do make sure the weight is on and is heavy, you might need to beef it up. The weight goes onto the side of the string of your body swab opposite of the cloth.
A lot of time, the swab manufacturers put very small weights that are a little bit harder to get through the saxophone body.
You can put a piece of metal right next to the weight so that the weight is nice and heavy. Obviously, you need to make sure that the piece of metal is round enough so as not to damage the body of the saxophone as it slides through.
When swabbing the body of the saxophone, you always insert the weights of the body swab in through the bell and out the neck. Every time. You always want to go backwards.
Most of the moisture (and a little bit of saliva and food particles) will be trapped at the upper part of the body of the saxophone. There is no reason to drag these through the entire body just to get them out.
So you always go in through the bell and out the neck.
Pay attention to the swab cloth and foam while you do this, make sure they are not twisted. The cloth should cover the foam like an umbrella going in.
These will reduce your chances of getting to stuck, and if you do get it stuck, you need to go the other way.
Don’t yank or pull on the body swab very hard while it is stuck or caught inside the saxophone.
If it gets stuck, and it will, I usually take a wooden stick and push gently back out the other way and then reach down the bell and take it back out.
Repeat the swabs until you are sure that you’ve got all the moisture out.
If you use a pad saver, read this part. Otherwise just to the next step below.
Pad savers are a thing that a lot of saxophonists like. Personally I don’t use them. But…
You need to clean the body first and the then put your pad saver in. The pad saver helps to soak in the residual moisture away from the pads, and therein lies the confusion.
Some people think that pad savers are cleaners.
A pad saver will soak up moisture on the main body of your sax.
But if you do not clean your saxophone body, all the pad saver does it shove all that moisture all the way down to the bottom of your saxophone. And, if you don’t play, you just get all that moisture soaked up, sitting there.
You can tell this if you pull out the pad saver and it is covered with funkiness at the bottom.
Yet, pad savers are washable. You, really, can just take them and wash them.
So a pad saver might be a good thing if you’re going to play regularly and if you clean it and your saxophone body often.