How Often Should A Saxophone Be Repadded?

Saxophones are highly complex instruments, comprised of over 600 parts. Some of the most important parts from the list are the pads, which are responsible for sealing the tone holes airtight and shortening the air column. These pads, unfortunately, also should be replaced from time to time.

But, how often should a saxophone be repadded? There is no set time for repadding, but pads would normally last up to ten years under proper maintenance until needing to be replaced. However, if there are tonal problems or pitch stability issues, you could be experiencing pad leaking, so you should check the pads for signs of wear and tear,

In this article, we'll discuss how pads work, how long they last, why they may need replacement, how the repair process is carried out, and some care tips.

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What Are Saxophone Pads For?

We just described the importance of pads in the context of a saxophone's functionality and their longevity under proper care. We'll now explain what pads are in more detail and how they're supposed to work.

Pads are typically made of cardboard disks with leather covering bonded to each saxophone key's underside. These are meant to seal the tone holes properly and prevent leaks

These pads consist of four main parts:

  • The cardboard back.
  • The woven felt that comprises the “core”.
  • The leather cover.
  • A metal or plastic resonator at the center (present in more modern versions).

Pads come in various sizes to fit each cup. You may be able to find pads as small as 7mm in diameter and as big as 70mm.

Resonators are recent inclusions. They're meant to reflect the soundwave back into the bore, resulting in a brighter output. They're made mostly out of metal or plastic.

We ought to be vigilant whenever we detect problems in the saxophone's sound, such as squeaks or delay in note rendering, for they may signal a padding problem.

Why Do Pads Require Replacement?

Pads are made out of various fabric components that, while durable in their own right, are not immune to the detrimental effects of humidity and the action of biological agents.

Pads are installed facing the inner side of our horn's tube. This means that they interact heavily with water vapour from our breath.

When this vapour is condensed, it can draw bacterial and fungal activity that, together with the action of the water particles themselves, can end up downgrading the fabrics. The pads could also deform and swell, producing irregularities in the sealing mechanism.

Still, keep in mind that, at times, pitch and tonal issues may not have to do with pad wear but, rather, with other factors such as sticky keys.

Moreover, perhaps the problem has nothing to do with the pad's integrity itself but with the glue employed to bind it to the pad cup. It may either be of bad quality or might have lost its binding properties, causing the pad to shift slightly or detach, in which case, a simple readjustment or reattachment would be sufficient.

How Long Do Pads Last?

Pads normally last a very long time (fortunately so). Some experts believe that a properly maintained pad should endure under ten years. Others have reported having most of their original pads still in place after roughly 20 years of moderate use.

Additionally, not all pads go awry at the exact same time. Generally, the ones under High E, F#, and low Eb are more prone to gather humidity and show signs of wear before all the others.

It should go without saying that the playing frequency also influences the repadding frequency. Naturally, since we consistently expose the pads to moisture, they should be expected to wear out more quickly.

People who play their saxophone daily could have padding issues after a year, especially when they're on the road and have little time to perform major maintenance work.

How Do We Replace Saxophone Pads?

This writing is not supposed to be a thorough guide on how to replace the pads step-by-step, but we found it fitting to at least outline the process.

Replacing saxophone pads is a highly delicate task that requires removing the keys, which is no small feat. Removing keys and putting them back together demands precision and care not to hamper the mechanism.

Additionally, the glue or adhesive used for sticking the pad onto the pad cup is shellac, so the keys would have to be heated up with a Bunsen burner or an alcohol lamp before the pad can be removed. The person performing the job should be extremely careful with the pearled keys, for they could inadvertently melt them as well.

Once the old pad was removed, the key would still need to be subjected to further heating until the melted shellac can be spread uniformly across the surface of the cup. At that moment, the new pad can be firmly embedded.

For these tasks, it's advisable to turn to professionals unless you feel capable enough. You could follow this video tutorial if you want a more visual guide on how to proceed.

How To Increase The Life Cycle Of Saxophone Pads

Pads are overwhelmingly expensive. Unless you are savvy in the art of repadding, you'll have to rely on a competent repairman to do the heavy lifting, which adds to the bulky bills.

That's why maintenance tasks are so imperative for a saxophone owner. Procrastinating your saxophone cleaning duties even for one day could prove disastrous for your pads' life cycle.

In that sense, one of the most crucial upkeeping chores that you'd have to undertake is swabbing. Pull-through swabs allow you to thoroughly eliminate any trace of humidity from your pads' surface, effectively eluding the appearance of damaging microbes and water buildups leading to swelling.

Padsavers are also very handy when storing the saxophone. It's basically a bristled rod inserted inside the saxophone's bore to absorb moisture from the pads.

However, we mustn't overdo our swabbing. If you live in a dry area, the leather can dry out and turn brittle, which must be avoided.

If you have a sticky pads problem, you would want to use rubbing alcohol, but use it sparingly. Rubbing alcohol is known for drying out leather, and we'd want them moist enough to retain flexibility.

Finally, you could fit some props under the key arms before storage. Key Leaves is a great option for preserving the pads under G#, low C#, and Eb.

Key Leaves consists of a strap with two leaf-shaped props at the end. When installed, it allows the keys we just mentioned (which are closed by default) to remain open, optimizing ventilation and moisture riddance.

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement ( or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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