Lacquer serves many purposes on a saxophone. Visually, it grants a glossy appearance across the surface of the horn while also preventing the metal alloy from corroding. In addition, some people claim to notice a tonal difference when listening to a lacquered saxophone.
Is it possible to unlacquer a saxophone and, if so, how? It is possible to remove the lacquer from a saxophone. To do this, you'd have to:
- Disassemble the saxophone
- Soak it in a solution of water and muriatic acid.
- Rinse it with cold water.
- Remove the acid with a solution of water and baking soda.
- Dry, polish, and reassemble.
In this article, we'll discuss the possible effects of removing the lacquer. Next, we'll move on to elaborate on this fairly complicated procedure.
What Are The Effects Of Unlacquering A Saxophone?
Removing lacquer from a saxophone requires patience since you'll have to take the horn apart first. It's also an irreversible process in the way that any lacquer removed cannot be undone. The saxophone would have to be re-lacquered to revert to the original look.
For the uninitiated, lacquer is a thin coating mixed with a solvent spread to metals and alloys to endow them with protection against corrosion while also causing a glossy look and feel. It's likewise employed in wooden furniture and instruments.
The lacquer is applied with a sprayer, providing a thinner finish than regular varnish or polyurethane. Notwithstanding, it still manages to create a protective barrier that lasts a considerably long time.
Unlacquered saxophones are particularly attractive to people looking for vintage instruments, and, surprisingly, they're sold at a higher price than their lacquered counterparts.
However, the bonuses of unlacquered horns should be weighed against the drawbacks before deciding to remove the lacquer from your sax.
For one, the differences in sound may not be as major as some manufacturers and retailers report. This is not to say that there are absolutely no distinctions in tonal profile. Rather, these tonal changes are likely magnified by hype. This is a hotly debated topic in itself.
The second factor to consider refers to exposure to corrosion. While some say it brings character, corrosion could also degrade your playing experience.
Not only does the feel of an oxidized or tarnished saxophone worsen, but it also exudes unpleasant aromas. Surely, periodic maintenance tasks could deter these issues, but they do not replace a good lacquer job.
Related article: 5 Reasons Your Saxophone Smells Bad & How To Fix The Issue
If you've still concluded that the benefits of stripping a saxophone of its lacquer outweigh the risks and want to proceed with the unlacquering job, read on!
How To Unlacquer A Saxophone
Before moving on, I should stress that this is a technical and risky operation that should only be performed by people with a certain level of expertise. I advise that it be left in the hands of professional repairmen.
Now that the disclaimer has been stated, let's dive into the methodology.
To remove the lacquer from your saxophone, you'll need:
- A large tub
- Cotton rags
- Metal polish
- Cold water
- Baking soda
- Muriatic acid
- Protective gear
- A towel
- A large surface
Next, we'll proceed to expand upon the procedure outlined at the beginning of this article:
1. Disassemble The Saxophone
Remove all the parts, including the springs, but especially the pads. Pads are largely prone to get damaged due to the action of strong chemicals such as the ones utilized in this context. Soaking the pads could likewise provoke swelling, bringing about issues with their sealing mechanism.
You must make sure to tag all the parts you remove with masking tape and that you know where they go before putting them back together.
As a tip, you would want to do this on a large surface so that you can align each part relative to their position on the saxophone. In doing so, you'll have a handy visual guide when it's time for reassembly.
This delicate task demands precision and deep knowledge of the instrument's anatomy.
2. Fill The Tub And Soak The Instrument
Muriatic acid is a highly corrosive substance that can cause damage to your limbs, eyes, and respiratory tract under moderate exposure. In order to manipulate it, you ought to use protective gear such as a mask, safety goggles, and gloves.
Once equipped with the gear, fill the tub with cold water and pour 1 part muriatic acid per 4 parts water. The solution must completely cover your saxophone.
After that, leave the saxophone immersed in the solution overnight. The nitrocellulose lacquer should detach and float in the water as you check on it the next day.
3. Rinse With Cold Water
Withdraw the saxophone from the tub using the protective gear described above and drain the tub. Rinse the saxophone thoroughly with cold water and remove any trace of acid from the tub.
There will still be some acid stuck to the surface of the instrument even after you've rinsed extensively. For this reason, you'd want to follow the next step.
4. Fill The Tub Again, Add Baking Soda, And Soak The Instrument
Baking soda is an amazing acid neutralizer. It's also very easy on the skin, as opposed to muriatic acid. It helps dissolve any bits of acid that are left lingering on most surfaces. It works marvellously to eliminate the remnant muriatic acid present on your horn.
Fill the tub with water and drop a pound of baking soda per 3 gallons of water. Leave the horn submerged in the solution for two hours.
5. Dry, Polish, And Reassemble The Sax
Dry the saxophone exhaustively and spread metal polish on it, rubbing it with soft cotton rags.
When the horn is shiny enough, put the keys and springs back together.
This online forum proposed an alternative method utilizing a degreaser instead of muriatic acid and boiling water instead of cold water. In this case, the sodium bicarbonate would be mixed with the degreaser, effectively bypassing step 4.