How to Fix Sticky Saxophone Pads, G-sharp Key, and Other Keys

by ReverbLxnd in Saxophone

This guide shows you how to fix sticky saxophone pads and keys. The G-sharp key tends to be the key that gets sticky the most. Here are three best methods to unstick it (or two, really, because the first one builds up significant residue).

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Sticky pads in your saxophone can really drive you nuts. But they are pretty easy to fix. Today we are going to look at how to fix sticky saxophone pads and keys on your saxophone by yourself.

Sticking keys or pads is one of those issues that every saxophone player, that has played long enough, has had at some point.

We are going to look at three different ways of fixing sticky keys, especially the g-sharp key so that you can keep playing or practicing your saxophone.

And then go over some tips to help you avoid having sticky saxophone pads or keys in the first place.

So let’s dive right in.

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How to Fix Sticky Saxophone Pads, Keys (Step-by-step DIY Guide)

Sticking pads could either be something that happens every now and then or every time you pick up your saxophone. Either way, it a completely annoying problem.

Sticky keys or pads is one of those issues that doesn’t take long to come up between saxophonists.

Which Saxophone Pads, Keys Tend to Stick the Most?

Usually, the pad that tends to stick the most on the saxophone is G-sharp(A-flat) followed by Low C-sharp (Low D-flat), E-flat (D-sharp), and then the Bis key.

Another interesting thing to mention here is that often, particularly if you are relatively new to the saxophone, you will have times when you pick up the saxophone and start playing and a pad or a key just doesn’t sound right.

Sticky keys might be causing that.

What Causes Stick Saxophone Pads, Keys?

By far, the biggest reason why saxophone pads stick is usually because of dirt—the sugar in the saliva or food particles go down the instrument and settle on the pads causing the stickiness.

Even if you just drink water, your saxophone will get a bit of saliva while you play. And then it’s really just a matter of time.

The first thing we need to do is locate the sticky pad before we move on to fixing it.

Let’s say, for instance, we have identified that the G-sharp pad is sticky. What can we do to fix the stickiness?

There are three good ways to fix sticky saxophone pads or keys:

Fix #1 — Using Chalk Paper or Powder

The first way is simple, there are things on the market to fix sticky pads such as chalk paper, I’ve even heard people talk of buying and putting chalk powder on the sticky pad.

I do not particularly like chalk paper because it leaves a residue on the pad. Chalk builds up and emulsifies on your pad. You will notice this chalk when you go to service your instrument.

Now don’t get me wrong.

Initially, chalk paper and powder will get the pad working properly so you can get through the gig, but the saxophone is not “breathing”. It won’t destroy your instrument but it will build up inside your instrument and get a bit messy.

It’s not a nice thing to see when you strip your instrument down to service it.

Why have that when there are cleaner, equally as effective, solutions.

Fix #2 — Using Any Rigid Piece of Paper

What I use, normally, is a piece of paper (normal A4 printing paper)

You any piece of paper really, as long as it’s quite difficult to split, you don’t want something that’s just going to break up, and then obviously fall inside the saxophone.

You want it to be pretty rigid.

Open the pad and just slide the paper in between the tone hole and pad. And then, just lightly press on top of the pad and slowly pull the paper out.

You’ll find that the paper pulls out a bit of residue.

You’ll get somewhat of a faint green or black line on there where it’s actually picked up residue on the tone hole and pad. So the paper will be stained both front and back.

Do this a couple of times and then the pad won’t stick anymore for a good while.

It’s a pretty simple fix really.

What you’re doing here is basically wiping off the pad and tone hole to get what’s getting it stuck off.

Fix #3 — Using an Earbud or Q-tip

The other way you could do this is using an earbud or q-tip.

What you’ll probably do here is use some water, whether it’s lukewarm water or cold, it doesn’t really matter.

Wet one end of your q-tip in water and run it around the impression of the pad, the top of the tone hole, and round the leather of the pad, to get as much residue off the pad as possible.

If you’re just careful, you’re not going to damage anything.

If you look at the q-tip, it will have picked up quite a lot of stuff from your sticky key or pad.

Simple stuff.

You, obviously, need to repeat whichever of these methods you choose on all the sticky keys or pads on your saxophone.

The good thing about the second and third methods is that it’s easy to carry a q-tip in your saxophone case or find a firm piece of paper, so you can finish your gig without the annoyance of sticky keys.

And, most importantly, using a firm piece of paper or q-tip does not leave anything inside your saxophone. These are the only ways that I have ever fixed a sticky pad.

This should fix any sticky pad, within reason, of course.

I think even as a general saxophone maintenance thing, it is not a bad idea to get a piece of paper or q-tip and wipe off residue from your saxophone pads.

How to can you avoid getting sticky saxophone pads, keys in the first place?

This is one mistake I see even pro player do all the time.

The best way to avoid getting sticky pads on your saxophone in the first place is by avoiding eating or drinking while you’re playing. It’s a big no-no for hygiene reasons.

Over time, it will make your pads stick, while it causes all sorts of nastiness to get stuck inside your saxophone.

So if you like to have a glass of scotch or a soft drink or even coffee or tea (especially with sugar in it) while you’re playing, all that is eventually going to end up on your pad and you’re going to have a problem with sticky pads.

If you cannot do that, just wash your mouth with water or swish some mouthwash before you do some playing.

At least that way you’ll cut back some of that nastiness, such as mold and mildew that eventually builds up inside your saxophone.

And you’re going to make repairer and maintenance work on your saxophone much easier, and definitely less gross.

Nobody wants to be left cleaning gunk off your saxophone.

The next best way to avoid getting sticky keys or pads on your saxophone is just getting in the habit of cleaning your saxophone every once in a while.

I made a guide on how to clean a saxophone. So if you are wondering how to go about that, there you go. It’s not that hard, and it doesn’t take long, so there is really is no excuse to play a dirty saxophone. Ever.

Can a New Saxophone (or a Brand of Saxophone) Have Sticky Pads or Keys?

Sometimes you’ll come across players that complain about sticky pads or keys on a new saxophone, that they can’t even go through the entire chromatic scale without getting some pads stuck, for instance.

The interesting thing is you’ll even come across these complaints about particular brands of saxophone having sticky pads.

Sometimes the problem is so bad that they end up having to do an overhaul of the pad work eventually.

It is entirely possible for a particular brand of saxophone to have sticky pads or keys. Even if it’s new. But that’s a little baffling, and definitely very rare. The stickiness of keys is not how you tell apart saxophone brands, unfortunately (or fortunately, come to think of it).

The best advice I can give here is that you put a bit of research into buying a new horn. That’s your first and best defense.

I hope that helps.


I've been a musician and brought in my stuff for mixing and mastering, I've been my own producer where I wrote, recorded, mixed and sold my own stuff. Now, I'm *mostly* an audio engineer, where I only record and mix for clients. I'm currently based in Berlin, Germany, where I operate ReverbLand out of. Got a question? DM me on Instagram or Twitter @reverblxnd everywhere, or shoot me an email [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you.

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