Keeping Your Saxophone in Top Shape

Duke Smith-Holley • November 2023Wind Talkers • November 1, 2023

The saxophone is a fantastic instrument and certainly has its place in music history and on many stages and classrooms. It is no wonder people love the saxophone, the way it sounds and where it fits into almost every genre of music.

Whether you’re a beginner exploring the first notes or a seasoned musician, maintaining your saxophone is crucial for preserving its tonal quality and ensuring longevity. As a saxophone player and a repair technician, one of the things I see quite often is the lack of knowledge about how to best take care of your saxophone to keep it in its best playing condition. Aside from visiting your local repair technician every year, there are some things you can do to look after your saxophone to keep it playing optimally.

Here are a few tips I recommend to everyone to keep your saxophone in top shape.

Pad maintenance:

First, make sure you get yourself a pull-through body swab. It is surprising how many people don’t own or use one. A good quality swab is important as it wicks away condensation effectively in a few passes through the instrument. I always recommend swabbing your instrument after around twenty minutes of playing, as most condensation happens within that time. Then, if you swab again when you’re finished playing, you’ll notice very little condensation. This helps the pads last for a very long time. Bonus tip – Get rid of the fluffy “pad savers” as they don’t really save the pads at all.

Key leaves: 

An awesome product that helps reduce that all too common sticky G# key and the dirty EH key. The key leaves product props open the Eb key and the low C# key, which also opens the G# key, allowing those pads to dry properly. Also remember to leave your case open for a while after swabbing your instrument so it can properly dry.

Neck plug:

The second most important thing is your neck plug – when you put your instrument in the case, make sure you use your neck plug. This keeps the instrument secure in the case, and also protects the octave pip from damage. 


Regularly clean your mouthpiece with cold soapy water and a soft brush. The mouthpiece is one of the most important parts of the saxophone, so take care of it. Do not leave your reed on the mouthpiece. This is the quickest way to have to purchase more reeds, which are not cheap. 


The keys of your saxophone require proper lubrication to maintain smooth movement and prevent friction. Every few months, apply a small amount of key oil to the pivot points and gently work the keys to distribute the lubricant evenly. Be cautious not to over-oil, as excess oil can attract dust and dirt. Make sure you wipe any excess oil with a soft cloth.

Reed care:

The reed is a vital component that significantly influences your saxophone’s tone quality. After each use, remove the reed from the mouthpiece and rinse it with water. Gently pat it dry with a clean cloth and store it in a reed case or reed guard to maintain its shape and prevent warping. Rotate between multiple reeds to allow them to dry completely, enhancing their lifespan and preserving their responsiveness. Regularly inspect your reeds for signs of wear or damage and replace them as needed. A well-maintained reed ensures a crisp and clear sound.

Schedule regular visits to a repair shop:

If something doesn’t feel quite right with your instrument, take the time to go and visit your local repair technician to get your saxophone checked over and explain what you are experiencing. Most repair technicians are friendly and will know how to fix it relatively quickly. Sometimes it may cost a bit of money if you haven’t been for some time. Remember it is much like your car, which needs periodic oil changes and a few tweaks to keep it in top running condition and most people are happy to pay for that. It’s the same with your saxophone. It literally needs an oil change and some tweaks to keep it in top playing condition so you can keep making beautiful music. Remember your repair technician knows what keys move together and how to adjust them so they work together perfectly.

I consider it an absolute pleasure to be a repair technician, to serve the music community around me and to make a difference in the way our local musicians’ instruments play. Each time a customer of mine sends me a message saying, “thank you so much, my saxophone is so much easier to play” or “I just really enjoy playing again, I just can’t put it down,” it inspires me find more ways to help musicians enjoy music. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to study saxophone repair and learn all the skills to be able to do this for my local music community.

Music really can and does change the world for the better, not only in the lives of those listening to the music, but those making the music. 

Duke Smith-Holley, The Saxophone Shoppe, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

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