Proper Care and Maintenance of the Saxophone

Saxophone Care and Maintenance

As a saxophone player, you should expect to take your instrument to the repair shop every now and then- it’s part of owning and playing an instrument, and accidents are bound to happen. But did you know many of those costly repairs can be avoided if you take proper care of your instrument from the get go? Whether you’re new to playing the saxophone or have neglected it for far too long, saxophone maintenance is actually quite easy. From oiling the keys to cleaning and polishing the outside, this guide will help you keep your saxophone in tip-top shape.

Brush Your Teeth

If you don’t already brush your teeth before you play, it’s best to get into that habit as soon as possible. Why? Sugar in certain food and drinks can mix with the saliva in your mouth and form a nasty solution that can accumulate on your pads and cause them to stick. While sticky pads aren’t super difficult for a repair technician to fix, isn’t it better to take the necessary precautions to avoid the issue in the first place? Plus, some saxophonists who go a few days without playing their instrument may notice a funky smell the next time they pick up their instrument- this is usually attributed to old food and drink particles that have accumulated on the pads. Yuck!

Oil the Keys

Occasionally, your keys will need oiling. Key oil can be purchased at music stores and online, and remember: if you take music lessons at a Music & Arts center you may be eligible for special in-store discounts. If you can’t find key oil, valve oil can be used a substitute- just don’t use any other kind of oil! Also, make sure not to add too much oil to your keys, as excess oil will just collect more dirt. A good rule of thumb for applying key oil is the old cliche: “the squeaky wheel always gets the grease.” If your keys aren’t clunky, stuck, or impacting your playing in any way, then it doesn’t need oil. When oiling your keys, it’s best to do so privately. If you oil your keys in a busy room and someone bumps into you, this could cause you to drop, dent, or otherwise damage your instrument.

Woodwind Key Oil Standard Helps prevent wear and keeps your key action running smoothly. Learn More

Temperature & Humidity

Although the saxophone isn’t as sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity as the clarinet or violin, it’s still not a good idea to keep it in the car during the cold winter months or in direct summer sun. (Note: instruments should never be kept in cars for an extended period of time, as this increases the likelihood they’ll be stolen. If you do need to keep your instrument in a car, keep it in a locked trunk instead of the back seat.) If you’re part of a marching band or otherwise play your instrument outdoors and have a “backup” saxophone, consider playing this one while outdoors. There are a lot of risks involved in playing instruments outdoors, and if you have the luxury of a backup instrument it should always be used these situations.

Clean & Polish the Outside

Unless your saxophone is in especially poor condition, you won’t need to clean or polish the outside of your saxophone on a consistent basis. Instead, keep a clean, dry microfiber cloth handy and wipe your instrument down after each use. Although there are lacquer polish cloths on the market that are OK to use from time to time, if you can overuse them or aren’t careful the wax on these cloths can lead to unsightly build-up. If you’re new to playing the saxophone or aren’t comfortable with it yet, it’s best to avoid these. If you do decide to polish your saxophone, wipe it down first with a cloth that’s lightly dampened with rubbing alcohol. This will remove any oil or dirt that’s accumulated on the outside of the instrument.

Vandoren Microfiber Cleaning Cloth Standard Combining the delicacy and absorbency of silk with the durability of microfiber, Vandoren’s clarinet swab is the perfect choice for your instrument. The gentle fibers are specially designed to thoroughly clean your clarinet while protecting the delicate finish. Learn More

Learn How to Disassemble It

Before you ever attempt to disassemble your saxophone on your own, make sure you’ve run through the process a few times with your teacher. Since disassembly is a crucial part of saxophone maintenance, you should be able to take it apart and put it back together again with your eyes closed. Fortunately, disassembly isn’t super difficult. If any part of your instrument is stuck or difficult to take apart, don’t use pliers or other household tools. If you use the wrong tools you could accidentally damage your instrument. If you can’t pull something out with minimal effort, finish cleaning the rest of your saxophone and take it to a repair technician. Not only do repair technicians have years’ of experience, but they have access to a variety of professional tools.

Dents & Scratches

No matter how careful you are with your instrument, your saxophone WILL get dents and scratches. Most dents and scratches have zero impact on the way the saxophone sounds, and shouldn’t be stressed over. However, a really bad dent (such as one that happened when your case wasn’t secured properly and your saxophone tumbled out onto a brick walkway) can affect the horn’s playing. If dents are high up on the body of the saxophone or if it alters a key position or otherwise interfered with the operation of your saxophone, take it to a shop and have it repaired. Never try to fix a dent yourself unless you’re properly trained. Doing so will probably damage the saxophone even more, adding to your bill.

Other Tips

  • Never lift your saxophone from the keys or neck.
  • Always swab your horn from the bell to the top.
  • Don’t place your saxophone in a closed case after playing, as there will still be a little bit of moisture lingering in the horn.
  • Always keep your mouthpiece in a bag; never place your mouthpiece directly in the accessory compartment of your case.
  • Take your instrument to a repair technician once a year for a tune-up; if you play less often, this might not be necessary. Speak with your music teacher about setting up a tune-up schedule that works for you. 


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