The Sax Player painting
The Sax Player, painting by Will Richwood
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Maintenance Tips

  • Always swab out the moisture after playing the instrument. “Pad Saver” products are also acceptable.

  • Some players like to oil their own key mechanisms. Generally I don’t recommend it. There are a number of high quality oils on the market, and if the last technician to work on the horn used one of those, it should not require oiling again for several years at least.

  • Also, if the keys click loud enough to be a distraction, a little oil is probably not going to do the trick (or if it does, it will only be a short term solution). Take your instrument to a qualified repairman.

  • For those that insist on “doing it myself”, my recommendation is Hoppe’s gun oil. This is a very stable product that will not evaporate over time. I recommend using a good quality repair screw driver to take the pivot screws out one at a time and then put a drop of oil on the end of the key. For the small keys with a rod, back the rod out at least halfway and put a drop of oil directly on the rod. I don’t recommend that for the stack keys, and since I highly discourage you from just putting a drop of oil on the outside of the pivot (very very messy!), if you’re experiencing a lot of clicking in this area you’ll probably need a little professional help.

  • To oil clarinet wood or not to oil clarinet wood? I’ve read very scholarly articles arguing both points of view. Basically the argument against is that it could swell the wood and warp the bore. Personally, I think there are more potential problems from wood that is too dry than too moist. Ideally a repairman would remove all the pads before oiling the bore, but if you are careful to not get oil on the pads I don’t see any reason you can’t do the job yourself. Put a very small amount of bore oil on a swab and pull it through the bore until you can see an even sheen of oil on the inside. Let it sit over night and then pull a clean swab through to remove the excess oil.

  • There are two ways to tighten loose tenon rings. If it’s very loose, remove the ring, put a little paper on the body along with a little glue, then push the ring back on and trim the excess paper with a razor blade. If it’s just a little loose you can glue it back on. The safest way to do the job is with Pad and Cork Cement. You can use Super Glue, but I don’t recommend it. I’d need about three pages to go over all the things that can go wrong, but let’s just say “glue in eyes” and “glue on fingers” and leave it at that.

  • If a pad is sticky the fast and easy way to clean the pad face is with a paper bill ($1’s work just as well as $100’s!). Open the pad, put the bill under it, close the pad firmly, pull the bill out. If it’s still sticky after several pulls, put a little “no stick” (unscented talc) on the bill, rub it in a little, and repeat the steps above. NEVER put talc directly on the pad! You’ll only make a mess. If a little talc doesn’t do the trick you’ll probably need a little professional help. But as a last desperate attempt to fix it yourself, apply a shoe waterproofing product directly to the pad (use a Q-tip or pipe cleaner so you don’t make a mess). You’ll need to brace the pad open overnight so it can dry.

  • If a pad falls out two minutes before a performance, try heating the pad cup enough to soften the glue, put the pad back in (lined up as closely as possible to where it was), then hold the pad closed until the glue sets. If the glue is not heat sensitive (in other words, it doesn’t get soft when you heat it), try a little chewing gum , double sided tape, or anything handy that’s sticky enough to get you through the gig!

  • I hate cork grease! I think it’s a trick of the cork grease industry to get people to use cork grease because it doesn’t last very long, so you constantly have to replenish it. The best product I’ve found, and I’ve used it for over 30 years, is Selmer’s Tuning Slide and Cork Grease. This product has a kind of “honey” consistency. Rub it into the cork and wipe off the excess. You may never need to grease that cork again!

  • If you think you need to put grease on the head of your flute or the neck of your sax, GET IT FIT PROPERLY! Putting grease on that connection will significantly reduce the tone color of your instrument. And the fact the head/neck is too tight is also a source of uneven scale and reduced tone color. Now, getting it fit properly may not be that easy! Absolute do not trust fitting the head/neck of your instrument to anyone except a highly qualified woodwind repairman.

  • Do not store music books in the case. Anything that does not fit in designated pockets or storage areas should not be in the case! If you have to force the case closed, you will be causing damage to the instrument