Scratches can be unpleasant to look at and tend to devalue the objects they affect. Saxophones are no exception, and these musical instruments ought to look as good as they sound. Saxophones are also often used as decorative pieces, in which case you'd probably want them to look as scratchless, spotless, pristine, and shiny as possible.
With that said, can scratches be removed from a saxophone? Scratches can be removed from the saxophone through various methods. The scratch removal technique will depend on how deep the scratch is. If it's on the metal itself, you'd have to “thin” it, while If it's on the lacquer, you only need to use scratch remover, acetone, or thinner.
In this article, we'll discuss the scratch removal methods you may choose to employ, depending on the scratch's depth.
Do Scratches Matter?
The answer depends wholly on who you ask. If your only concern is getting the right sound out of the instrument, scratches on the surface will have absolutely no impact.
Nevertheless, scratches on a saxophone, especially on a new saxophone, could generate psychological unease that may ultimately affect playability. However, the extent solely relies on the player and not so much on the instrument.
If your saxophone additionally has a deep dent or crevice, the tone might also get affected. It's always preferable to endure a scratched saxophone than a dented saxophone. Moreover, the closer the dent is to the mouthpiece, the bigger the chances of the horn presenting intonation issues, while at the bell level, these issues are almost non-existent.
For more information on dents, check out my article Do Saxophone Dents Affect The Sound/Tone, And If So, How?
Going back to scratches, perceptions vary when judging appearance. There is a market for vintage horns that values imperfections and age marks on a saxophone, but these may mostly work with legacy models that appear to have aged naturally. For the most part, however, having a scratch on your saxophone could affect market valuation significantly to the downside.
Luckily, there are ways to salvage your saxophone from being sold at a bargain price. There is a small caveat in that some of these methods progressively wear out the instrument's build, albeit the degree of wear is marginal and should not represent any major setback if employed sporadically.
It's also worth keeping in mind that the brass ages and turns darker with time.
Related article: Do Saxophones Get Better With Age?
In that sense, removing a scratch inflicted directly on the build material could potentially worsen the look of the saxophone, as you'll possibly be able to discern a clear contrast between the uncovered brass and the oxidized portion that was not buffed. In these latter cases, you'd have to discern whether it's better to leave the scratch untreated or if you'd rather take your chances.
How Do I Get Rid Of Saxophone Scratches?
The first thing you need to know is the material your saxophone is made of and, more importantly, the type of finish applied to it. Some saxophones are lacquered, while others are plated in gold and/or silver. Occasionally, they could be both plated and lacquered at the same time, so it's not necessarily an either/or.
On lacquered saxophones, the lacquer is meant to protect against the elements, but it also tends to show scratches quite easily.
Unlacquered and/or plated saxophones are more exposed, and the build material itself is bound to get compromised both by the scratch and by its removal process, as we'll see shortly.
To learn more about lacquer and plating, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Why Are Saxophones Lacquered & What Does Lacquer Do?
• Is It Possible To Unlacquer A Saxophone, And If So, How?
• Are Saxophones Gold Plated?
Without further ado, let's dive right into our scratch removal tutorial (consisting of two main parts):
1. Test The Finish
You might not know at first whether the saxophone has lacquer applied or not. To test your saxophone's finish, use a piece of cotton and rub profusely on the area. If you found that you were able to remove most of the damage, then it's probably superficial, but rubbing with dry cotton may not be enough.
You could apply a small amount of acetone or thinner to the scratch and continue rubbing. Buff consistently and constantly. Then, coat with a thin layer of nail polish or metal lacquer to replace the original coating.
If the scratch didn't disappear, it might have gotten to the metal or the plating, which is undesirable. Still, not all is lost.
2. Clean And Buff
If the scratch is on the material, you should know that – technically speaking – you won't be removing the scratch, but rather, you'll be making the scratch “bigger”. This means that you'll wear out the surrounding metal so that it's levelled with the deepest section of the scratch as you buff its edges.
To start, clean the brass with a brass cleaner. Alternatively, you can use baking soda, lemon juice, or non-gel toothpaste devoid of whitening ingredients.
Buff insistently with a cotton felt cloth, polishing pad, or clean wiping cloth in a circular motion, and the metal should start to warm up. Avoid using polyester or wool, as these are too abrasive for this job and should only be used if you need to employ stronger polishing tools.
In more extreme situations, you may also attempt to utilize jeweller's rouge and emery cloth, wiping gently across the scratch until it's gone and only the lighter blemishes from the action of the abrasive tool remain. Afterwards, you would apply some brass or silver polish (depending on the saxophone's material) and rub intensely once more to even the shine.
For more information on saxophone polish, check out my article What Products Can Be Used To Polish A Saxophone?
If you happened to polish too hard around the spot where the scratch was located, and you can discern a clear contrast between that spot and the surrounding material, try to polish the rest of the piece until the colour shift is not apparent.
Lastly, it's always recommended to buff the rest of the saxophone to proverbially smooth the rough edges and render a uniform look across the surface. This ought to be done to the extent that the products utilized do not get to the corks, the leather pads, or the hinge rods to avoid any prospective mech problems down the road.