It's not uncommon to see lots of protective gear marketed for musical instruments, and it's easy to see why that's the case. Musical instruments can lean on the expensive side while being overly sensitive to the weather and the slightest accidental bumps. Saxophones are not exempt from these handicaps. But, Just how important is a saxophone case? Stick around to find out.
Is it bad/damaging to leave a saxophone out of its case? It's not bad or damaging to leave a saxophone out of its case so long as it's handled safely. However, saxophone alloys and materials may corrode, degrade, or deform due to the elements in harsh environments. Also, they may suffer more damage from drops or collisions when outside their cases.
In this article, we'll be discussing the following:
- Types of damages that saxophones may experience outside their case
- Types of cases you can purchase along with their pros and cons
- Whether stands are a good alternative for storing your saxophone
Types Of Damage That Saxophones May Experience Outside the Case
As stated earlier, it's detrimental to leave saxophones out of their case for a long time due to the possible damages that might ensue from a myriad of environmental and mechanical factors.
These are the damages that may transpire from not stowing your saxophone in its proper case:
If a saxophone is left outside its case for an extended period, the weather will eventually take its toll on the instrument's build material, eliciting a degradation process called “corrosion”. Saxophone cases, especially those with a hermetic seal, will serve as a barrier to fend off any corrosive chemicals or elements, so they don't reach the woodwind.
Corrosion consists of electrochemical reactions prompted by the interaction of objects with each other and their respective environments, resulting in the separation of compounds into elements which, in turn, generate new compounds.
Generally, moisture, oxygen, and other particles suspended in the air stimulate these reactions. Seaspray is also something to be cautious of if you live near a coastal area, as salt accelerates the oxidizing action of water.
Corrosion produced on the external surface might only devalue the instrument (though it's disputed whether that would affect the tone significantly.) But, if it occurs at the tone holes and/or the bore, it could conceivably alter the sound and feel of the instrument, with side effects such as sticky keys and other annoying hindrances.
Corrosion is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “rust” or “oxidation”. Rust is the degradation of ferric or ferrous compounds under the action of water's acidic electrolytes, provoking the mixture of iron atoms with oxygen and the formation of iron oxide. It's a type of oxidation that affects iron compounds exclusively, while oxidation, strictly speaking, involves every other type of metal.
As a side note, some people claim that saxophones can rust. However, considering that, in the majority of cases, their body is made of brass (a non-ferrous alloy), oxidation is, technically speaking, a more accurate term. Regardless, the corrosive effects are still the same, as are the preventive measures you ought to take.
To learn more about saxophone brass, check out my article Why Are Saxophones Made Of Brass? (Since They’re Woodwinds).
On the other hand, saxophones left resting outside their case may also tarnish. Tarnish is a type of corrosion by which a thin layer or film is rendered on certain metals, such as brass or copper, producing a dull appearance. This is caused by a reaction between metal and nonmetal compounds like sulphur dioxide or oxygen.
Unfortunately, you'll be hard-pressed to find a place or environment devoid of sulphur, and saxophones out in the open are invariably exposed to it, especially if they don't sport any type of lacquer.
Lacquered saxophones are not exactly “out of the woods” either. The sax's lacquer is bound to eventually break down, leaving the underlying metal susceptible to experience discoloration in the long run. While granting an extended lifespan to the woodwind, the lacquer won't compete with a saxophone case when it comes to long-term preservation.
To learn more about saxophone lacquer, check out my article Why Are Saxophones Lacquered & What Does Lacquer Do?
Finally, exposure to the weather can degrade other components and parts – such as those made from leather and felt – due to humidity changes. Corks and reeds are highly consumable and disposable. Thus they represent minor losses. Regardless, you will appreciate the extra longevity they acquire when sealing the saxophone inside a decent-quality case after each use.
With all that said, storing a saxophone in a case is not likely to prevent corrosion from occurring if the instrument is not thoroughly cleaned first. By cleaning it, we eliminate environmental impurities that can cause harm to the saxophone's finish, even when appropriately stowed afterwards.
Cleaning it before storage will also remove corrosive substances from our own bodies. Each time a saxophone is played, moisture builds up on the inside by water vapour from our breath and saliva. Additionally, oils, fat, sweat, and other pollutants from our fingers can get stuck on the surface and speed up corrosion, even inside the case.
Generally speaking, corrosion can be delayed by cleaning the saxophone periodically and after it's used, using polish and pull-through swabs. Storing the instrument correctly and employing suitable protective gear has proven to help, but nothing will be achieved unless the saxophone is adequately treated and cleansed beforehand.
For more info on saxophone polish, check out my article What Products Can Be Used To Polish A Saxophone?
Mechanical damage can happen as a result of the usual wear and tear or through negligence. Accidents are bound to occur, so keeping a saxophone in its case is crucial.
For example, leaving it on unstable surfaces may increase the risk of fall damage. Considering that a saxophone is comprised of over 600 parts, a drop on the floor could spell disaster for the instrument, especially when left unprotected.
Also, laying it on a flat surface for an extended time can be detrimental for pads, keys, springs, and posts, for they may break, dislocate or bend as they bear the bulk of the instrument's weight. There are discussions on properly laying a saxophone on a flat surface during a performance. However, when you're not in the middle of a gig, it's advisable to use a case.
When all these hazards are considered, purchasing a case becomes a no-brainer. Using a case, you are essentially insulating the instrument and its components or accessories from these aforementioned external forces, and every bump or eventual drop can be effectively absorbed, preserving the instrument's integrity.
Hard Vs. Soft Saxophone Cases
When choosing the right type of case for a saxophone, It can be tempting to opt for the soft case. Soft cases are lightweight and may appear very handy when travelling with a copious amount of equipment. It may also provide some level of protection against small bumps and environmental moisture.
With that said, soft cases have their obvious setbacks. For one, hard bumps will not be wholly absorbed by the case, leaving your instrument in a very vulnerable position (especially when travelling).
Moreover, some airlines will give you difficulties when trying to pass the saxophone as cabin luggage. You'll probably be better off getting a hard case for situations in which you may have to leave your saxophone at the mercy of the aircraft crew and customs staff. If you're concerned about portability, there are lightweight moulded hard cases you may purchase that can provide a similar feel to soft cases.
Hard cases are designed to isolate your instrument from the exterior, and the sturdy shell (made out of metal, hard leather, carbon fibre, or plastic) stands in the way of any hard impacts. Furthermore, many of them come readied with airtight sealing, repelling any trace of moisture or sulphur in the air.
As an additional measure, you can place desiccants in the case to absorb any excess moisture that might get inside. In addition, if your saxophone is made of silver, you can put anti-tarnish strips over it before sealing the case for extra protection against the dark silver tarnish that often forms on the saxophone's outer layer.
For more information on storing your saxophone safely, check out my article How To Store A Saxophone Properly & Safely.
What About Saxophone Stands?
A stand represents a fairly optimal choice for three reasons:
- It's very practical for those players who rehearse frequently and wish to have their saxophone at arm's reach.
- It's designed to provide enough support for the instrument and to withstand its weight.
- It allows you to showcase your saxophone in a prominent spot in your house for bragging rights. This is the least important reason to get a stand, but some saxophones are undoubtedly eye candy and carry a certain ornamental value.
Nevertheless, as stated in previous paragraphs, there is always a chance (albeit slim) of tripping over it while doing some cleaning or other related chores. You'll decrease these risks considerably by making a habit out of storing your saxophone in a hard case.
Likewise, a stand will not be able to provide a barrier against corrosive agents. If you decide to place your instrument on a stand, make sure that the stand is placed in a dry spot, avoiding damp basements or storage cellars. Still, nothing will fully supersede the benefits of using a case to protect your instrument.
To learn more about saxophone stands, check out my article Is It Bad/Damaging To Leave A Saxophone On Its Stand?