When to repad a saxophone for beginners

When to Repad a Saxophone and Replace the Pads

Written by Greger Hillman, Saxophone teacher and music educator

Saxophone pads play a crucial role in the sound quality and playability of your instrument. Over time, they may wear down, affecting the overall performance of your saxophone. Knowing when to replace these pads is essential to ensure that your instrument remains in top shape and continues to produce impressive tunes.

Just like any other component of your saxophone, pads also require regular care and maintenance. However, ongoing usage and exposure to moisture can cause deterioration, leading to leaks and poor sound quality. As a saxophonist, it's crucial to recognize the signs that indicate your saxophone pads need repadding and understand the process involved in replacing them.

Understanding Saxophone Pads

Without saxophone pads in good condition you will run into a whole bunch of problems trying to play your saxophone. I talking about leaking pads making it hard to finger and play the notes, but also intonation and getting a sqeaking sax sound when you play.

The Saxophone Pads are made out of leather and it's these pads that create a seal on the saxophone's tone holes when you press the keys on your saxophone. Their primary purpose is to prevent air leaks while funneling the air through the sax, so that you get the actual note you are fingering.

Sticky pads can also be a cause for concern. While cleaning sticky pads can often solve the issue, if you find that your pads continue to stick even after cleaning, it could be a sign that they are deteriorating and need to be replaced.

In that case, where the pads continue to stick, cleaning them regularly becomes more of a temporary solution and replacing the pads altogether will be a better long-term option.

However, if you have dried up key pads and they have damages to them you need to replace them in order to get a good seal for that saxophone pads to ensure both proper sound quality and to keep your sax playable.

The choice of saxophone pad material can significantly impact the overall performance and durability of the instrument. Traditional pads are made of leather, while newer materials, such as synthetic or composite options, have also become popular due to their added durability and resistance to moisture.

The Neck cork is another essential component of a saxophone, which provides a tight seal between the mouthpiece and the saxophone neck. If there are any leaks in that seal you can experience issues that can seem to be related to leaking pads when it's really due to a leaking saxophone neck.

That's why it's important that you put on the saxophone mouthpiece the right way and play with a good saxophone embouchure to make sure you get a good sax sound.

Find leaking saxophone pads with a light

One reliable way to detect leaks in your saxophone pads is by using a leak light, which basically is a stick with led lights on it. You put it down the inside of the saxophone body from the top, where the saxophone neck normally would go.

Sitting in a dark rom while looking at the light coming out from the body of the saxophone will help you spot the leaking sax pads as you go through and press down every key pad one by one.

As you press down a key you will see if there's light coming out around the pad where it's not supposed to be. That makes it easy to visually find and fix the leaking saxophone pads.

If a large portion of a pad is not in contact with the saxophone body it could mean that you need to adjust the position of the actual key rather than changing the sax pad. However, if that is the case you probably want to bring your sax to a saxophone technician so that you do not break anything by mistake.

I have the luxury of having my own sax technician just down the street, so when ever there's a major issue like this I just bring it to him.

Now, I have done full restauration on an old King Zephyr Saxophone from 1936 on my own (with some guidence from my sax tech) and I know quite a bit about fixing a saxophone myself from over 35 years of being a sax player.

However, from my experience it is quite tricky to get the right angle and distance between the hole on the sax body and the key pad. These need to be lined up by a set parameter to keep you saxophone playing in tune.

And that's why, even though I know how too, I let the full time sax tech pro handle my saxophones instead.

Signs That Your Saxophone Needs Repadding

The lifespan of saxophone pads can vary depending on the quality of the instrument, frequency of use, and how well it is maintained. However, there are some telltale signs that indicate your saxophone may need repadding.

The most common which I've already mentioned is when you start to notice leaks while playing. That's however not the same as getting a airy or spitty sax sound. I'm talking about leaks that cause poor intonation, difficulty playing certain notes, and increased resistance while blowing.

Using a light to locate the leaking pads is the most accurate method of finding the leaky pads on your sax, but it's not always possible to do it that way.

So, in addition to that method, you can also go through your sax and play each note to locate the leaking pads that way.

In my experience there's a few “common” weak points where you normally would find leaky pads. This can obviously depend from horn to horn, but here's a good starting point troubleshooting leaking pads on you saxophone:

  • The octave pads: These mechanics include both the octave key on the neck and the secondary octave key on the actual saxophone body. Check them both to make sure the are closing correctly.
  • The middle B-flat keys: The alternate fingering can get stuck which could cause a similar problem as a leaky pad. Watch how to fix sticky pads here
  • The G-sharp keypad: Also a common key to get stuck due to a loose spring
  • The side keys (right hand): Depending on how you store and handle your saxophone, these keys can get worn out or get stuck
  • The low E-flat pad: This keypad is especially exposed to moisture and saliva and it's quite common to have it stick, especially if you are a beginner and skip cleaning the saxophone after each practice session.

Another indication that your saxophone needs repadding is if the pads have become hard, worn, or damaged. Old pads can cause poor pad seating and result in the instrument being difficult to play.

A close visual inspection of the pads can help you determine if they need to be replaced. If they are visibly cracked, deformed, or misshapen, it might be time for a repad.

Resistance while playing is another sign that your saxophone may require repadding. If you notice that it's becoming more difficult to play and requires more effort to produce sound, your saxophone may need new pads. While resistance can sometimes be attributed to other factors like reeds or mouthpiece setups, old saxophone pads can also greatly contribute to this issue.

It's a good idea to keep an eye on your saxophone's performance and when you start to notice these leaking issues it's time to consult with a professional technician to see if you need to do a renovation and repad the entire horn or partially.

You will be able to keep playing your saxophone longer, without any need of replacing any keypads, if you maintain and take good care of your saxophone.

That will save you quite a bit of money as well because repadding an entire horn can cost anywhere from $500-800, depending on the type of saxophone and the area you are in.

The Repadding Process

Tools and Materials

If you are up for the task of repadding your saxophone by yourself there are som tools and materials you need to make it happen.

Essential equipment an materials include:

  • Screwdrivers: Small, sharp-bladed screwdrivers for removing and adjusting keys.
  • Pliers: To help remove and adjust key components.
  • Rawhide mallet: For tapping keywork back into place without damaging the finish.
  • Alcohol lamp or heat source: To heat the shellac or glue for pad replacement.
  • Leak light: To check for pad leaks and proper seating.
  • Buffing cloth: For cleaning and maintaining the saxophone's finish.

You obviously also need the replacement pads themselves, as well as adhesives such as shellac or contact glue, and Teflon sheets to aid with pad leveling and seating.

Removal and Cleaning

Before installing new pads, you need to remove the old ones and thoroughly clean the saxophone. Carefully disassemble the keys using screwdrivers and pliers, making sure not to damage any of the delicate components.

Also, make sure to clean each key and the corresponding posts on the saxophone body with a cloth soaked in a mild solution of alcohol or a specialized cleaning fluid. This is important so that the new pad can be placed in the right position and alignment.

If necessary, you can use a rawhide mallet to tap the keys back into their ideal position.

Installing New Pads

When you have cleaned and inspected the saxophone, it's time to install the new pads.

Place a small amount of the chosen adhesive (shellac or glue) on the pad's back, then heat it with an alcohol lamp or other heat source to make it pliable.

Carefully fit the new pad into the key cup, ensuring it is leveled and aligned with the tone hole. You can use a Teflon sheet under the pad to help with leveling.

Once the pad is in place and the adhesive has cooled, reassemble the keys on the saxophone using screwdrivers and pliers.

Double-check that the pads make an airtight seal with the tone holes by passing a leak light through the saxophone. If there are any leaks, you may need to re-adjust the pad or use shims to improve the fit.

This process can be tedious but it's crucial to make sure that the keys line up perfectly to get the best result with your repadded saxophone.

When you've completed the process and installed the new pads and reassembled the keys on the sax body, your saxophone should perform at its best.

Steps to Replace Saxophone Pads

Even before you get started, you should make sure to be on a big table with good lighting and the tools lined up. This makes it a lot easier as some of the screws on the saxophone are tiny and can easily get lost if you're not being careful.

I actually managed to loose a couple of screws on my Selmer Saxophone doing a small renovation of the saxophone myself. Fortunately, I have my sax tech down the street and he hade extra screws that I could use as replacement.

If that would have been my older King Saxophone it would have been a bigger problem as it's more rare and therefor harder to get the right replacement screws that fit that saxophone.

Key Removal

Before replacing saxophone pads, the first step is to carefully remove the keys from the instrument. Begin by unscrewing and gently detaching each key, particularly the F# key and the brass linkages.

It's essential to keep track of each key's position and the screws to ensure accurate reassembly later on. Using a container or a labeled organizer can help keep everything in order during the process.

Personally, I like to use white pieces of paper where I write down what part it is and what's included in that particular part. For example, if there's a rod or two screams that go with the key mechanics, I write that on the paper so that I know I have everything ready for the re-installment process.

Pad Fitting

Once the keys are removed, you can proceed to fitting the new pads. Prepare the new pad for each key by making any necessary adjustments, ensuring a proper fit over the tone hole.

When you buy a key pad set it has all the key pads with the right dimensions for your saxophone. Before you start assembling the pads, it's a good idea to map out the pads, so that you now that you pick the right one for each key.

One method for replacing saxophone pads involves using shellac to secure them in place.

The basic process looks like this:

  1. Carefully heat the shellac with a hot air gun or micro torch until it becomes tacky
  2. Attach the new pad to the key
  3. The goal is to create a consistent “ring” around the pad where it meets the tone hole for a proper seal
  4. Allow the shellac to cool and harden for a strong bond between the pad and the key.

Key Reassembly

After the new pads are securely in place, it's time to reassemble the keys onto the saxophone. Ensure all linkages and adjustment screws are present and in their correct positions. Start by carefully reattaching each key to its designated spot, including the F# key and brass linkages.

Pay attention to any adjustments needed for the key and pad alignments, as proper key reassembly will help prevent issues with the pads in the future. Once the keys are back in place, test the saxophone for playability and pad seal consistency, making any final tweaks as necessary.

Following these steps will help you replace the pads on your saxophone. However, from my experience it's a good idea to consult with a sax technician before you get started. Even if it's just for asking a few questions about what to look out for in the process. You can damage your saxophone if you are not being careful, which could make for an expensive learning experience. So, please be careful handling your saxophone.

Pricing and Choosing a Professional

When it comes to saxophone repairs, particularly repadding the instrument, costs can vary based on factors such as the quality of pads being used and the level of expertise of the technician. On average, a standard repad job can cost anywhere between $500 and $800, depending on the technician and the extent of work needed1.

It's important to choose a professional who is experienced in saxophone repair, as different pad types and materials can impact the final result.

For example, some technicians may offer a choice between Valentino Model 350 Premium Untreated Sax Pads, Pisoni Pro Sax Pads, and Ferree's B52/B53 Sax Pads.

Other pad types, such as kangaroo leather or synthetic, might be available upon request, but often at an additional cost.

An experienced saxophone repair technician will also be able to address any specific issues, such as repairs related to the lower stack.

This requires a level of expertise, so it is crucial to choose a professional who is familiar with the intricacies of the instrument.

When choosing a repair professional, consider reputable companies and individuals that specializes in saxophone repairs. Also look for local experts with extensive experience.

Make sure to research customer feedback and reviews before making your decision.

Remember that pricing for saxophone repairs will always depend on the individual technician and the specific work to be done.

I'd personally choose the technician with a good reputation and track record even if he or she is more expensive. I do not want just anybody to be handling my saxophones. They must be professional and provide good quality saxophone repairs and services.

Advanced Techniques

Swedging

Swedging is another technique in saxophone repairs, particularly when repadding the instrument. The process involves tightening the hinge tubes and rod posts to eliminate unnecessary play in the key mechanism. This results in improved pad alignment and an overall better pad seal.

I would leave this to a professional as you can really mess up your saxophone if you get this wrong!

To perform swedging effectively, you'll need specialized swedging pliers. These pliers are designed to apply pressure only to the specific areas needing adjustment.

When swedging a saxophone, precision is crucial. Carefully swedge one hinge tube or rod post at a time while continually checking for the proper alignment.

Resonators

Resonators also play an important role in the overall sound projection of your saxophone. They are small metal or plastic discs that sit in the center of the saxophone pads, working to focus and strengthen the sound emitted by the instrument.

When replacing saxophone pads, one must consider the type and size of resonators to be used. Various materials and styles have different effects on the instrument's tone and projection:

  • Metal Resonators often provide a brighter and more focused sound due to their rigidity.
  • Plastic or Synthetic Resonators typically deliver a slightly warmer tone.

I prefer a more direct sound on my saxophones and have the metal resonators on my alto and tenor saxophone. On the other hand, I want a softer sound on my soprano and that's why I've got plastic resonators on that sax.

These are “smaller impact” adjustments you can make when you repad your saxophone. The main factors affecting your sax sound comes from your embouchure in combination with the type of mouthpiece and reed you are playing.

So, if you are looking for the 80/20 of a good sax sound you should focus on developing a better sax embouchure and look for a mouthpiece that suite your playing style.

Large vs Small Resonators

The size of the resonator is another factor that reflect the sound you get from your saxophone. Larger resonators create a more pronounced and resonant sound, but may adversely affect the pad's seating and the saxophone's intonation.

Smaller resonators will have a subtler sound, but provide a better pad seal and less interference with intonation.

Proper Saxophone Care and Maintenance

Regular Cleaning

Proper saxophone care starts with regular cleaning. After each practice session or performance, it's essential to remove moisture and dirt from your instrument. Use a cleaning swab to remove dirt from the mouthpiece and inside the neck.

Additionally, gently insert a saxophone swab or pull-through cloth through the bell and neck to remove moisture from the interior. Wipe down the saxophone body, keys, and pads with a clean, lint-free cloth to remove moisture, oils, and dirt.

Watch the complete Saxophone cleaning videoguide here

Preventing Leaks and Dents

Proper saxophone care includes taking steps to prevent leaks and dents. Inspect your saxophone regularly for any bent or misaligned keys, and apply key oil to the pivot screws and springs to keep them functioning smoothly. When not in use, store your saxophone in its case to protect it from accidental damage.

Pads are an essential part of a saxophone's performance, and maintaining them is crucial. Replace saxophone pads only when they are worn, leaking, and the leak is caused by the worn pad.

Regular maintenance and an occasional keypad overhaul will help ensure that your saxophone plays efficiently and with optimal sound quality.

By following these proper saxophone care and maintenance tips, you can prolong the life of your instrument and improve your playing experience.

Difference Between Alto Saxophone and Other Saxophones

The alto saxophone is a popular choice among musical instruments, especially for beginners. Although it belongs to the same saxophone family, there are some notable differences between the alto sax and its counterparts like the tenor, soprano, and baritone saxophones.

First and foremost, the size of the alto saxophone is smaller than the tenor and baritone saxophones, but larger than the soprano saxophone. This difference in size greatly affects the pitch and tonal range produced by each instrument. The alto saxophone is pitched in E-flat, with a tonal range an octave higher than the baritone sax and an octave lower than the soprano sax. Meanwhile, the tenor saxophone is pitched in B-flat, and its tonal range falls between the alto and baritone saxophones.

Another prominent difference is the shape and design of these instruments. While the alto saxophone has a more “classic” saxophone shape, with a curved neck and bell pointing upwards, the soprano saxophone has a similar shape but is much smaller and straighter, often being mistaken for a clarinet. The tenor saxophone also has a curved neck, but its body is larger, and the bell is positioned at a wider angle when compared to the alto sax. The baritone saxophone has the most distinct shape, with a much larger body and a looping neck to accommodate its lower pitch and tonal range.

In terms of playability, the alto saxophone's smaller size and lighter weight make it an ideal choice for beginners and younger players. The finger positions are more comfortable and the embouchure (mouth position) is easier to maintain due to the alto saxophone's smaller mouthpiece. On the other hand, the tenor, soprano, and baritone saxophones require more advanced techniques and stronger breath support to produce a clear and controlled sound.

Lastly, when it comes to the musical roles and genres these instruments are commonly used in, the alto saxophone is known for being versatile and suitable for various music styles. It is often featured in jazz, classical, pop, and marching band music. The tenor saxophone shares a similar versatility but leans more towards jazz and pop music. The soprano saxophone is prominently used in classical and jazz ensembles, while the baritone saxophone is typically seen in jazz big bands and large ensembles, thanks to its rich, deep sound.

Overall, understanding the key differences between the alto saxophone and other saxophones can help aspiring musicians make an informed decision on which instrument best suits their preferences and goals in pursuing music.

Expected Life of Saxophone Pads and Signs to Look For

The life of saxophone pads can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the quality of the pads, how much the saxophone is played, and its exposure to moisture. However, it is essential to regularly check your saxophone pads for any signs of wear and tear to ensure optimal performance.

One common sign that your saxophone pads need to be replaced is discoloration. Discolored pads may indicate that they are not sealing properly and need to be replaced. Another indicator is when the pad becomes too hard, which can lead to air leaks and decreased playability.

Saxophone pads that are sticky, ripping, or tattered may also be signs that it's time for a repad.

Additionally, if the pad is not seated correctly into the key or if you notice any air leaks, it may be time to consider a pad replacement. Unusual squeaks, squawks, or odd noises coming from your saxophone can also be an indication of deteriorating pads.

Long-lasting pads can extend the life of saxophone pads by providing greater durability and resilience to wear. While higher quality, long-lasting pads may cost more up-front, they can save you money on frequent repads in the long run.

In conclusion, it is crucial for saxophone players to consistently monitor their instrument's pads for any signs of wear or damage. Familiarizing yourself with the expected life of saxophone pads and knowing the signs to look for can help you maintain your instrument in optimal condition and avoid costly full repads. Remember that opting for long-lasting, high-quality pads can be a wise investment in your saxophone's performance and longevity.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you replace saxophone pads?

Replacing saxophone pads depends on factors such as usage, environment, and quality of the pads. Pads can last anywhere from a few years to more than a decade. It's important to inspect your saxophone regularly and get it serviced by a professional when needed. More information on the lifespan of saxophone pads can be found here.

How do I know if my sax needs new pads?

Check for torn or worn leather and leaking pads, which can impact the sound and performance of your instrument. A professional technician specializing in saxophones can help you determine if your pads need replacing. Also, use the guide above to troubleshoot your sax pads.

How much does it cost to re pad a saxophone?

The cost to re-pad a saxophone depends on various factors such as the type of saxophone, the quality of pads used, and the labor cost of a reputable technician. Costs can range between $500 to $800 or more. It's best to consult with a professional to get an accurate estimate for your instrument.

How do you reseat a saxophone pad?

Reseating a saxophone pad requires heating the shellac that holds the pad in place, adjusting the pad to ensure airtight sealing, and allowing the shellac to cool and harden. This process requires specialized tools and expertise, and it's recommended to leave it to professional repair technicians.

What are the signs of worn saxophone pads?

Worn saxophone pads have torn or worn-out leather, which affects their ability to seal the tone holes properly when the keys are closed. Other signs include leaks, sticky keys, and difficulty in producing a consistent sound. It's important to check your pads regularly and consult a professional repair technician if you suspect your pads are worn.

What impact do old pads have on saxophone performance?

Old or worn-out pads can cause a variety of performance issues, such as poor airtight sealing of tone holes, inconsistent intonation, leaks, and difficulty in playing certain notes. Replacing old pads with new ones allows for better control, improved sound, and smooth playing experience.

Saxophone teacher online Greger Hillman

Written by Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher with +36 years of experience playing saxophone. 

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learn saxophone teacher Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher and musician from Sweden.

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