Not only can saxophone repairs be costly, but some issues can take some time to fix–cutting away from valuable practice time that’s crucial to your progress and success. As with any instrument, it’s important to be aware of some common issues you might experience, and have a proper understanding of the causes and solutions to those issues. Fortunately, problems with saxophones typically fall into one of the below categories: broken or missing neck cork, air leaks, stuck keys, and dents. Generally, these problems are easily addressed by a qualified repair technician. Whether you’re thinking about playing the saxophone or already do and have run into some issues, this guide will walk you through some of the most common saxophone problems and the repairs they may require.
If notes won’t play (or require a lot of air to play) it’s almost always due to an air leak. The leather pads located under the keys are supposed to seal the air from the tone holes, but if the pad doesn’t seal well the saxophonist will find themselves blowing harder or squeezing the key until it seals. If the leak is big enough, the note won’t play at all. So, what causes air leaks? Sometimes they happen when keys are bent out of position, but most of the time they’re due to old or deteriorating pads. As sax pads get older, the leather gets stiff and doesn’t seal well. The only real solution for this is replacing the old pad, carefully placing it next to the tone hole for a tight air seal.
Unfortunately, when one pad has deteriorated, the others are close behind, so replacing one stiff pad won’t fix the problem for long. For this reason, replacing all the pads is recommended. It’s never a welcome expense, but you’ll be surprised by how well the saxophone plays with new pads.
Broken or Missing Neck Cork
The neck cork is pretty easy to spot, since it looks quite similar to the cork you’d find in a wine bottle. Located between the mouthpiece and the neck, the sole purpose of the neck cork is to make sure no air leaks through. If the neck cork is broken, cracked, or missing, it’ll need to be replaced. (But don’t worry–the cork compresses and comes loose with normal play; it’s nothing you did wrong!) To replace the cork, the technician will clean the old cork off, cut new cork to fit, glue the cork into place, and shape it so it holds the mouthpiece tightly in place. It’s not a super expensive repair, and with proper maintenance the new cork should last for at least a few years. In an emergency situation, you can apply tape or paper to the neck to hold the mouthpiece in place until you can get your sax to the shop.
Another very common saxophone problem is stuck keys. Keys sometimes stick because of frozen pivot screws or rods, but in most cases they’ve just been bent out of position during play, transport, or storage. During the repair, the technician will bend them back into position and align them so they can move freely. In most cases, they’ll also replace the pads at the same time. If a single key won’t return to its rest position, its spring may have come unhooked. In some cases, a saxophonist can move the spring back into place with a pen or crochet hook, but only attempt this “fix” if you know what you’re doing–otherwise play it safe and leave it to the professionals! If you notice your keyguard is loose, and have found the missing screw at the bottom of your case or elsewhere in your practice area, you can screw it back in. If the keyguard has been knocked off completely, it will need to be soldered back. It’s a quick fix, but something that MUST be done by a professional.
Because of the soft material that saxophones are made from, they are highly susceptible to dents–even if you take the necessary measures to protect them. This is an area where you’d definitely do more harm than good if you tried to address the issue on your own. If your saxophone has a dent, take it to a repair technician right away. Because this is a repair that must be done very carefully, make sure that the musical instrument repair technician has prior experience repairing saxophones. These repairs may not be uncommon, but not every technician is qualified to handle them. For this reason, you should learn how to find a qualified repair technician, especially if you’re not in touch with one already.