Silver saxophones are some of the flashiest looking instruments in the brass section, but they require specific cleaning and maintenance to avoid tarnish and grime. Leaving a saxophone dirty can lead to playing problems, such as sticky keys, as well.
What is the right way to clean your silver saxophone? Silver saxophones should be cleaned with a silver polishing cloth as long as they aren’t lacquered. Lacquered silver saxophones should be cleaned with a musician’s lacquer polish. It’s crucial not to use brass cleaner on silver saxophones since it is much more abrasive and can cause damage.
Silver saxophones are beautiful, but you need to know how to care for them properly. Keep reading to learn how to maintain your silver saxophone and keep it looking its best.
What Supplies Do You Need to Clean a Silver Saxophone?
The supplies you need to clean a silver saxophone depend on a couple of factors. If you have a lacquered silver horn, you’ll need to follow a different cleaning procedure than if you have an unlacquered silver horn.
Here are some of the various cleaning supplies you’ll need to get together to do a deep cleaning of your silver saxophone either way:
- Soft lint-free cloth: There are plenty of untreated lint-free cleaning cloths available that are specifically designed for cleaning instruments, but any microfiber rag will do the trick. It’s essential to use a lint-free cloth since, otherwise, you can end up with fuzzy residue. It’s also important that rags don’t have any stitches or seams that could potentially scratch the horn.
- Silver polishing cloth: For unlacquered horns, a silver polishing cloth is a good option for keeping a silver saxophone untarnished. Silver polishing cloths also have the advantage of being dry, so they don’t leave residue around saxophone keys and don’t require disassembly to use. Many silver polishing cloths also come with tarnish inhibitors that make the instrument tarnish more slowly.
- Antiseptic mouthwash: Antiseptic mouthwash is good to have when cleaning any saxophone to soak the mouthpiece. This kills any latent bacteria that have built up in the mouthpiece from saliva and food particles. The mouthpiece of the saxophone can be soaked while the rest of the saxophone is being disassembled and cleaned.
- Lacquer polish: Lacquer polish is necessary for silver saxophones that have a lacquer finish—many modern saxophones have a lacquer finish that makes them easier to clean and maintain. If you’re not sure whether your saxophone is lacquered or not, consult with a musical instrument shop to verify the finish type.
- Liquid silver polish or silver polish spray: Liquid or aerosol silver polishes are a good option for doing a deep cleaning on a silver saxophone but should only be used if the saxophone has been completely disassembled. Polish can destroy the keys if it infiltrates them, so make sure they stay clear during the polishing process.
- Q-tips and cotton swabs: Q-tips and cotton swabs can be used to help buff silver spray or polish into tight crevices and hard to reach places. Q-tips can also be used to remove tarnish and polish residue out of tight spots.
- Neck swab: A neck swab is a cleaning tool explicitly designed to clean down the neck of a string or brass instrument.
- Mouthpiece brush: A mouthpiece brush is a small brush similar to those used to clean test tubes and bottles. Mouthpiece brushes are used to scrub out and sanitize the mouthpiece during saxophone cleaning.
- Tone hole cleaner: Tone hole cleaners help to remove moisture and corrosion from tone holes that can lead to pad rot and other maintenance problems.
- Sandpaper: Sandpaper can be used to sand down and polish any scratches that might show up in a resin or rubber saxophone mouthpiece that isn’t tattered enough to be replaced entirely yet.
- Pad savers: A pad saver is a microfiber bottle brush that is used to remove corrosive moisture from the nooks and crannies of the saxophone’s pads, tone holes, and bore. Removing saliva residue from the saxophone’s keypads helps prevent the keys from sticking during play. Pad savers should not be used as a neck swab, as they are meant to be used after the majority of the excess moisture has already been removed from the instrument.
Keeping these items on hand means that you’ll be able to clean your silver saxophone any time you need to. It’s a good idea to keep them together in a case or bag designated for your saxophone supplies so that you aren’t missing a crucial piece of your cleaning kit when you have your saxophone disassembled and ready to go.
How to Clean Your Silver Saxophone: Step by Step
Doing a moderate cleaning on a silver saxophone should be done at least once a month or more depending on how often the saxophone is used and how often a more cursory polish and wipe-down is done on the instrument. As with many musical instruments, regularly wiping down the instrument after each use can drastically cut down on the deep cleaning needed.
With woodwind instruments, cleaning the interior of the instrument is just as important as cleaning the exterior. Because saxophone players blow into their instrument, the condensation that ends up trapped inside the saxophone can lead up to a build-up of condensation, saliva, and bacteria. It’s essential that, along with cleaning the saxophone out, that the water valve is used to purge the instrument of spit and water after each playing session.
Here is how you go about cleaning your silver saxophone, step by step:
Cleaning the Interior of Your Silver Saxophone
Before tackling the outside of the saxophone, the interior of the saxophone should be maintained. To clean the interior of your silver saxophone, do the following:
- Use the water valve and purge the sax, then take the mouthpiece off the top of the saxophone so that you have access to the opening of the saxophone body. This is an excellent time to set the mouthpiece aside for sanitizing.
- Place the weighted end of the neck swab inside the bell of the saxophone and then flip the saxophone over. Pull the weighted end of the neck swab through the body of the saxophone until it comes through the opening of the body.
- Work the neck swab back and forth through the body of the saxophone several times, making sure the inside is wiped thoroughly to remove any residual condensation inside the instrument. This will help remove any water that didn’t get removed through the water valve.
- Swab out the neckpiece of the saxophone with the neck swab in the same way that the body of the saxophone was swabbed out.
Cleaning the Mouthpiece of Your Silver Saxophone
Cleaning the mouthpiece of your saxophone is essential to keep it sanitary and increase its lifespan. If you don’t clean your mouthpiece, you can push food particles and saliva down into the saxophone, where it can eventually damage the pads and keys, ruining the sound of the instrument.
Here’s how to clean the mouthpiece of your sax:
- Remove the reed from the mouthpiece and set aside. Be careful not to misplace it since you’ll have a lot of cleaners and equipment lying around. Your reed should be wiped down after every use to prevent the accumulation of saliva and bacteria. If you are planning on sanitizing your mouthpiece in antiseptic mouthwash, you can soak your reed in that container as well. Make sure to dry the reed before use after soaking.
- Using the mouthpiece brush, scrub out the interior of the mouthpiece to remove any saliva residue or other moisture. Rinse the mouthpiece brush with cold or lukewarm water. Do not use hot water, as this can damage the mouthpiece.
- For very dirty mouthpieces, the mouthpiece can be soaked in antiseptic mouthwash to kill any bacteria that might be left inside. After soaking, pull a cleaning cloth through the mouthpiece to dry the interior and remove any remaining residue. Set the mouthpiece aside to finish drying.
- Once the mouthpiece exterior is dry, use sandpaper to buff out any nicks or scratches. Coarser sandpaper can be used to remove the scratch, while a finer grit can be used to go over it and polish the mouthpiece smooth again.
Cleaning the Pads and Tone Holes of Your Silver Saxophone
Cleaning the pads and tone holes of the saxophone is an integral part of the cleaning process since corrosion and gunk build-up in these areas can cause the saxophone to play poorly.
Here are the steps to take to clean the pads and tone holes of your sax:
- Inspect the pads for stickiness and other grime. Saxophone pads can be cleaned by wetting down a cotton ball slightly and wiping them. Another method is to take a scrap of paper and place it between the closed key, then pull it out. This can remove a lot of the gummy residue between the key and the tone.
- Pay special attention to the low Eb pad, since this is the pad that is closest to where condensation gathers in the bell of the saxophone. If this pad has a tarnished black or green appearance, this is an indication that your saxophone body is in serious need of a cleaning.
- Use the tone hole cleaner to swab out all the tone holes to remove any build-up of corrosion or moisture. Make especially sure to clean out the octave tone hole since a build-up of residue in this area can drastically impact the sound of the instrument.
Cleaning the Exterior of Your Silver Saxophone
The cleaning of the exterior of the saxophone differs depending on whether the silver saxophone also has a lacquered finish. If so, a lacquer polish is used with an untreated cleaning rag. However, if the silver saxophone is unlacquered, a silver spray, polish, or polishing cloth is used instead.
The exterior of a silver saxophone can be polished with a silver polishing cloth without disassembling it. Still, due to the risk of damaging the keys, aerosol silver sprays and cream or liquid silver polishes should be ideally used when the keys have been removed from the saxophone.
Do You Have to Disassemble a Silver Saxophone to Clean It?
Whether you have to completely disassemble the saxophone to clean it or not depends on precisely what level of maintenance is being attempted. If you’re just trying to clean the exterior of the saxophone, a once-over with a silver polishing cloth should be enough to remove any smudges and fingerprints for the instrument to look extra sharp during a performance.
But since the saxophone is a woodwind instrument, sanitation is an essential part of saxophone cleaning and maintenance, too. Therefore, it’s crucial to make time to break down your saxophone regularly—at least once a week if you play daily—to clean the interior of the saxophone as well.
Not only does this make the saxophone more hygienic to play and prevent the build-up of dried saliva that can cause a saxophone to smell bad, but it also prevents the build-up of moisture and corrosion that can eventually break the saxophone keys.
How is Cleaning a Silver Saxophone Different Than Cleaning a Brass Saxophone?
One difference between cleaning a brass saxophone and cleaning a silver saxophone is that the cleaners and polishes used for brass saxophones are much stronger and more abrasive than those used for silver, which is a softer metal. This means that if you use a regular brass cleaner on a silver saxophone, you’re going to end up damaging the finish of the instrument.
Because silver is a softer metal and easily tarnishes, it is better to clean silver saxophones with silver polishing cloth if possible, rather than silver sprays or polishes. These should only be resorted to if a saxophone is extremely dirty. This is because if these chemicals come into contact with the saxophone’s keys, they can potentially damage the pads.
The best time to do a deep cleaning with silver sprays or polishes is during a saxophone overhaul, where the saxophone is being wholly disassembled for tuning and repairs. Otherwise, a silver polishing cloth and regular wipe-downs after sessions should keep the saxophone looking bright.
How to Keep Your Silver Sax Clean
Along with regular cleaning sessions, there are several preventative measures you can take to help make sure your saxophone doesn’t get to the point where a total breakdown and polish is necessary. With a little regular care, that level of maintenance shouldn’t be necessary often.
Here are some tips for making sure your silver saxophone stays cleaner longer:
- Brush your teeth before playing. Food particles and spit that contain the backwash of sugary beverages can make keys sticky and introduce bacterial growth in the bell of your saxophone. Make sure to brush your teeth and swish some antiseptic mouthwash every time before playing.
- Don’t forget to purge your water valve. Don’t let saliva build up in your saxophone over multiple play sessions, since this leads to corrosion. Plus, it’s really gross.
- Keep your saxophone in a silver storage bag. A silver storage bag is a bag that protects silver from oxidation and tarnishing—keeping your silver saxophone in a silver storage bag when not in use should significantly slow the advance of tarnish and corrosion on your instrument.
- Wipe down after every use. It’s an easy habit for lazy players to fall out of, but taking the ten or fifteen minutes to polish your instrument after each use, run a swab through the tone holes, and wipe down the pads can make a huge difference in how well your silver saxophone ages.
- Wear white gloves. A lot of the tarnish that ends up on a silver saxophone comes from being exposed to the oils on the player’s hands, which then leaves the surface of the silver vulnerable to oxidation. To prevent this, use white playing gloves.
Keeping a silver saxophone in good condition isn’t necessarily hard, but it does require many small maintenance routines to be repeated consistently throughout your career as a saxophone player. Get into the habit early of cleaning your saxophone often to keep it in good shape and prevent unnecessary and untimely repairs.
A benefit of regularly polishing your silver saxophone is that many silver polishing cloths come with an anti-tarnishing agent included. That means that not only do they buff your saxophone to a high new dime gloss, they also help keep the saxophone looking brighter longer.
Silver Saxophones Are Worth the Trouble of Cleaning Right
While some saxophone players might find silver saxophones too fussy due to the specialized cleaners and equipment they need to stay in good condition—especially the unlacquered ones—the bright tones that are the hallmark of these instruments are definitely worth the effort.
It might seem tedious to clean your saxophone every time you play it, but the more daily maintenance you perform on your sax, the fewer overhauls you’ll end up performing (or paying for) down the road.