Now and then, saxophones may manifest some corrosion or tarnish signs. This could be due to a combination of the user's neglect and environmental variables. It will be far more beneficial to prevent these issues than dealing with an already corroded or tarnished saxophone.
How to prevent a saxophone from corroding: The first and most important measure is removing any moisture trace after use. This can be done internally with a pull-through swab and externally by rubbing a microfiber cloth across the saxophone's body and parts (keys, pads, levers, etc.) Regular cleaning and polishing the sax also helps boost oxidation resistance.
In this article, we'll discuss how saxophones corrode and how to protect a saxophone from corrosion and/or tarnishing. We won't, however, be explaining how to clean an already corroded or tarnished saxophone. That may be the subject of another article.
As stated, we should strive to maintain a saxophone free from moisture, both internally and externally, and clean and polish it often to delay corrosion. These duties should be performed periodically to ensure longevity.
There are two common ways saxophones can experience corrosion: oxidation and tarnishing. Let's start first by defining what corrosion is.
In the most technical sense, corrosion refers to electrochemical reactions resulting from the interaction of objects or substances with their environments or with each other. These reactions may prompt the breaking of compounds into elements that may then form whole new compounds.
Rust is a corroding process that specifically affects iron (also called ferric or ferrous) compounds, especially when they're wet and reacting with water's electrolytes. Water speeds up the breakdown of these compounds as the iron ions mix with oxygen. It's a type of oxidation that operates on iron compounds particularly.
Saxophones can't rust, some people say, because their body is made of brass, which is a non-ferrous alloy. But, even when granting that it's not technically rust, there is an oxidative effect. We may instead call it oxidation (especially in the case of non-lacquered saxes), or more generally, corrosion. Preventing this corrosion requires roughly the same preventive measures, which are mostly concerned with moisture removal.
On the other hand, saxophones can also tarnish. Tarnish is a type of corrosion consisting of a thin layer or film that dulls certain metals, such as copper or brass. It's a chemical reaction that occurs between metal and nonmetal compounds such as oxygen and sulphur dioxide. Sulphur is an element that is omnipresent in varying degrees, so it's normal to see sulphur dioxide react with the saxophone's brass material, especially non-lacquered instruments or those with worn lacquer.
In general, saxophones can oxidize or tarnish due to a myriad of factors. These issues principally result from storing the instrument in incorrect spaces or not cleaning it properly or periodically.
On the inside, saxophones are frequently exposed to moisture from our warm breath. On the outside, it can be affected by environmental conditions such as high moisture, high sulphur levels. or seaspray, but it may also suffer from oils, fat, sweat, and other impurities from our fingers. With lacquered saxophones, the lacquers can break down and cause discoloration on the metal (metal degradation).
How To Protect Saxophones From Corrosion
Luckily, even if one lives in highly corrosive regions such as the coast, there are ways to protect saxophones from ever experiencing corrosion. Some parts will unequivocally wear out even with extreme care, but at least the main parts should remain in optimal conditions for a very long time, potentially decades or even further.
To achieve this, you should abide by a tight cleaning schedule, consisting of the following chores:
Use a pull-through swab to clean the saxophone's bore walls thoroughly. This is a piece of cloth (normally of a chamois-like material) attached to a relatively long string with a weighted tip (the length may vary depending on the saxophone type it's advertised for). This should be performed after each playing or practicing session or at least once a week.
The process is not very complicated, though you should be careful not to cause the weight or the string to detach, as the swab can get stuck in the bore. Usually, the weight is inserted from the bell side and then pulled through the neck by rotating the instrument. For best results, this should be repeated a few times to remove all debris and moisture.
The Rochix Saxophone Cleaner Care Kit (link to check the price on Amazon) is an affordable cleaning kit option for Saxophones that comes with both a sax swab and a sax necking swab, along with key oil, which we'll get to shortly.
Cleaning And Polishing
Use a cleaning microfiber cloth (or polishing cloth) to clean and polish the saxophone's outer parts regularly. It can be coupled with polishing products, such as a non-abrasive lacquer polish or nail polish for smaller areas. You should rub with a cloth after every practicing session or every week.
For unlacquered saxophones, it's best to refrain from using chemicals other than some soapy water and a cloth.
Check out the MusicNomad MN700 Lacquer Polish (link to check the price on Amazon) and MagicFiber Cleaning Cloths (link to check the price on Amazon) for affordable options.
Oiling The Keys
Certain specific oils can be applied to the keys to lubricate their axles (traditionally called “key oils”). This oil should be applied sparingly on external surfaces because it is prone to collect dust and dirt, worsening the keys' condition. After applying the oil, it's recommended that you remove the excess oil with a piece of cloth to prevent the keys from getting dirty.
You would need to apply key oil at least once every three months.
Though the aforementioned kit includes key oil, I figured I'd include this superb key oil option from none other than Yamaha: the Yamaha YAC MKO Premium Synthetic Medium Key Oil (link to check the price on Amazon).
Yamaha is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
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The best course of action is to stow it in a dry case and away from damp storage areas to protect the saxophone from the action of the elements present in the environment.
Keep in mind that, to store it adequately, you ought to ensure that it's completely devoid of any trace of moisture, both inside and outside. You won't be able to profit from the benefits of a dry case or an optimal storage space if the saxophone is still in permanent contact with water particles.
Additionally, it's wholly recommended that you add anti-tarnishing strips (link to check prices on Amazon), such as those commercialized by 3M. Place a strip inside the case to absorb sulphides and other contaminants present in the air, and you'll slow down the tarnishing process considerably.
This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.