When I played in the Kahuku High School Marching Band in Hawaii, with lots of rain, humidity, and sun, it really took a toll on my sax. Saxophone pads are made of leather, and expand and contract with changes in humidity, and on top of this the sax player breathes and blows into the sax with super-humidified air which collects all over the pads. Then after moving back to Utah, one of the driest places I’ve ever been, the pads really took a beating.
Once I took my sax into a local shop after a month long tour with a reggae group all over the states. I anticipated perhaps paying a hundred dollars or so to have it looked over and minor repairs done. The repair shop (which I will not name) called me back later and told me it’d be $300. I was reluctantly OK with this because I was experiencing some difficulties playing low notes and overall the sax seemed harder to play than before; I had to push extra hard to get the notes out. When I went back to the repair shop, I had a bill waiting for me of almost $600. After that I decided I really needed to learn how to fix my own sax. I could have bought a low end saxophone for that price!
Here are some tips I have learned over the years:
If a pad falls of or becomes loose on a gig, this can really mess you up. It usually happens when you’re setting up for the gig, you find a pad fell off due to temperature change since you last played the sax. A quick fix can be made using a common cigarette lighter. The pads are held on these days by glue much like hot-glue-gun glue, so if you carefully heat the back side of the pad (the metal backing which holds the pad in place) you can re-heat the glue temporarily to get it back in place. Be careful not to burn the leather of the pad, or the felt on your buttons. This is only an emergency fix solution, which can leave black streaks on your horn if you are not careful.
One of the coolest tips I’ve learned over the years uses Old English Wood Oil, some rubber bands, and an old paintbrush. A local sax technician taught me this; a way to refurbish and seal your pads overnight.
The idea is that over time your pads get worn, dried out, and suffer minor adjustments which can cause leaks. A “leak” in your saxophone, i.e. an area where the pad doesn’t perfectly seal when you press down the key, can cause the problems I described when I returned from the reggae tour. This trick fixes most minor leaks, protects your pads against damage, and generally improves how your sax will perform.
You take a small amount of lemon oil into the paintbrush, and spread it evenly over each of your pads on your saxophone. Use enough to coat each pad, it won’t hurt your pads or other parts of your saxophone. As you do this your pads will soak up the oil and become dark.
One you have coated each pad, take rubber bands (also pipe cleaners can be useful) to firmly close each pad and seal it off. I wrap the rubber band around the pad/key and the body of the instrument, tying or hooking it in such a way that it seals off the pads and keeps pressure evenly on each one. Be careful as you do this not to bump or damage the complex series of corks and felts surrounding your keys.
Once you have sealed off all of the pads on your horn, put the sax in your case and leave it overnight, with the pads treated and pressure from the rubber bands keeping them sealed.
The next day, your sax will perform like it has just been through a tune-up at the shop.
For my final tip, you will need to go to the pharmacy. A common problem and constant battle each sax player faces is the littlest yet most important part of your saxophone: the bamboo reed.
At your local pharmacy or grocery store, ask for “lanolin”. Women use this while breastfeeding to sooth the parts the baby chews on (babies are rough!). It’s sheep oil. If you coat your reed with this, it works like magic to preserve and lengthen the life, of your reeds. Take a small amount of the lanolin on your finger (it is of the consistency of Vaseline) and rub it into your reed. You’ll be amazed at the difference!