Passing the Buck

Mike Lawson • Playing Tips • September 8, 2017

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My long-time sax repair man showed me a trick that has saved me a lot of money on pad replacements.

Unlike most paper products derived from wood pulp, USA paper currency is made of cotton and linen; it is strong and has a light texture perfect for cleaning pads without wearing them out. As soon as possible after playing my sax, I swab it out, wipe it down and then clean the pads with dollar bills. By inserting a crisp bill between a key and tone-hole, while gently pressing down on the key, passing a buck once or twice between the two will safely clean the pad and the hole while removing excess moisture. I take extra care with keys that rest in the closed position — they’re the ones that tend to stick — for those I usually leave a bill in place under the key when I put it away in the case. That further protects the instrument and provides handy dollars for the next cleaning. The five minutes I spend with this process has kept my instruments healthy, and is applicable to any woodwind. 

Mark “Smiley” Shenkel 

Professional Saxophonist 

Nashville, Tennessee 


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