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How to best care for your Saxophone

Seems like there are a lot of questions about how you should be caring for your horns. I have had some really big care issues myself and have seen some really nasty stuff over the years.

I once left a horn at a repair shop while I went on tour for 3 weeks. When I returned, mold had grown in the horn and it smelled SO BAD it had to be completely disassembled and bathed in order to fix the problem. I asked a student once how long it had been since he had removed his reed, he said weeks. We took it off and the reed was covered in black mold, that is so very bad for you.

Needless to say, you should keep your horn as clean as possible. I used to keep one of those long hairy things that you put in the horn after you use it but after many years of doing it, I think it actually kept the moisture close to the pads for longer and added to the degradation of the pads, not the reverse, which is what it is supposed to do.

So as a general rule of thumb:

  • Always remove your reed for storage away from the mouthpiece. This will allow you to clean the mouthpiece after usage. Even running some water through it helps.
  • Make sure you remove the mouthpiece from the neck. If you leave it on, it will compress the cork and it will need to be replaced sooner.
  • After playing, tip the horn forward to let any collected saliva run out of the bell.
  • Get a cleaning cloth from a music store. Try to get one specifically made for your horn so it fits properly and doesn’t get stuck. Run it through the horn once or twice after playing.
  • Clean the outside of the horn with a cloth at least once a week. The acids in your saliva actually eat away at the finish of the horn over time.
  • When washing your mouthpiece, never leave hard rubber mouthpieces soaking in water as it can discolour them.
  • Leave your case open to the air for a couple of hours every week if you are practicing a lot. Taking the horn out, filling it full of saliva and then closing it back in the case increases the moisture levels in the case and can create problems.
  • If your reeds are getting discoloured from mold or extended usage, throw them out.
  • If it looks gross, clean it. If it smells bad, clean it. If you get a sore throat when you play your horn, clean it. It is possible to get sick from the horn so keep that in mind.

I have included an image of one of the mouthpieces I play regularly so you can see the scaling caused by repeated usage. This is not because I don’t clean it, this is actually minerals that have hardened on the mouthpiece and they never come off until I use a chemical to bath it in, which I don’t do. The problem is I play a gig and then I take the horn home (rather than trying to wash it at some gigs) and by then, the saliva has dried. Over time, it is permanent.

If you get a chance, asking for some napkins and a glass of hot water can go a long way to keeping your mouthpiece clean and if you have the time at the end of the gig, this is advisable. Before you put the horn away, do your best to let it dry for a bit after the cleaning you do. When you get home, open the case and let it dry even more. This will go a long way to keeping your pads in good shape, your case from smelling like a gym bag and your horn in good shape.


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