One day you decide to play your saxophone and notice that you're not able to bring out low notes or that it squeaks at specific spots. This may be a sign that your saxophone is leaking.
Why do saxophones leak, and how can we prevent leaking? Saxophones leak mainly because of a faulty key or pad that doesn't cover the tone hole or does not cover it promptly. Leaking is very common in the case of octave keys. Good habits for preventing this involve performing maintenance tasks and using correct storage methods.
In this article, we'll cover the basics regarding leaks on a saxophone, the usual methods for preventing these issues, and fixing minor hindrances in the mechanism.
What Is A Saxophone Leak?
The initial paragraphs explained how saxophones leak due to malfunctioning pads or keys and how proper hygiene and storage are good measures to prevent these problems from arising. With that primer, it's pertinent to disclose what saxophone leaks are before proceeding.
In the broad sense, leaks refer to the unwanted loss of content from a container resulting from a hole, crack, or mechanism glitch.
When speaking of a saxophone, leaks refer to the loss of airflow that causes the air column from our breath to be shaped in an undesired way, rendering odd tones, squeaks, and input delay or resistance.
In most cases, you'll also be impeded from delivering notes in the lower range because, expectedly, the air column tends to shrink by losing air through the holes.
What Makes A Saxophone Leak?
A myriad of factors may contribute to leakage on your saxophone, resulting in your instrument not covering the tone holes correctly.
If you have a broken or deformed pad, your saxophone will be prone to leak air through the tone hole it's supposed to cover.
Pad leaks result from the impossibility of getting the leather-wrapped felt and the metal ring to contact the entirety of the pad at the precise moment. This will produce resistance or squeaky notes, for the tone hole can't be sealed immediately as you push the key.
For more info on fixing saxophone squeaking, check out my article Why Saxophones Squeak & How To Prevent Squeaking.
Pad timing leaks are related to the inability of two or more pads that are linked together to close at the exact moment they're supposed to. These leaks are often caused by issues in the spacing material or cork, prompting a delayed response in the mechanism.
Additionally, the problem may arise from a pad that is simply unable to cover the tone hole, or it's non-responsive, which can result from a spring issue or a bent rod. Whenever this happens, you cannot play notes lower than the one corresponding to the leaking key.
Variables That Can Produce Leaks
Bumps or accidental falls can elicit the appearance of leaks across the saxophone, for the keys could potentially bend or break as a consequence of the impact. The odds of these flaws appearing after an accident or from laying the saxophone on a hard, flat surface are relatively high due to the sensitivity of its components.
The mechanisms can also turn glitchy from corrosion due to the action of the elements and moisture from our own breath. In this sense, the hinge rods, corks, leather, and felt are very susceptible to suffering degradation.
How To Detect Leaks
Some leaks are easier to detect than others. Octave key leaks are very common owing to all the possible risk factors present around that area, including the presence of the neckstrap, the correct functionality of the lifter, and the neck adjustment.
Insofar as you are unable to play notes on their lower register – particularly middle A, Bb, and B – the flaw is very likely caused by a non-responsive or bent neck octave key. This can be fixed by manually closing the hole while flexing the extension around the octave rocker so that there is a little gap between the rocker and the key.
Another problem arises when trying to trigger the body octave key, and the neck octave doesn't lower. Typically, when pressing the G key while pushing the octave lever, the body octave key doesn't open enough to lower the lifter.
It may also be a problem with the key itself being bent. However, after pressing the G key, the issue would be resolved by tackling that area first. This is done by placing your finger between the tone hole and the pad while pressing down the key, which will cause it to open up a bit further. and deactivate the neck octave.
When the issue happens at specific notes, the best course of action is to try to slowly play a chromatic scale until you're able to identify the troublesome note. When a specific note sounds fuzzy or is met with greater resistance than usual, the problem might reside in a timing or a pad leak present in that specific key. In many instances, this may have to be solved by replacing the felt.
Finally, if you have a flexible LED flashlight, you can easily detect leaks by introducing the tool inside the tube and finding any visible lights across the key layout.
How Do I Prevent Saxophones From Leaking?
Fortunately, there are methods to fix some of the aforementioned minor bugs easily and measures to prevent them from even happening.
You should be able to prevent these issues by constantly cleaning your saxophone inside and out every time you use it, both by using a microfiber cloth on the outer parts and by cleaning the bore with the aid of a pull-through swab.
When we do this, we rid the saxophone of any water particles and grime specks that can potentially compromise the corks, felt, then metal comprising the keys and pads, and the mechanism that binds these parts together (including the springs and rods).
Related article: How Often Should A Saxophone Be Cleaned?
It can't be stressed enough just how important storing a saxophone in its safe case is, primarily in a hard case. Carrying bags may only absorb so much from impacts. Still, hard cases provide a sturdy frame that adequately isolates the saxophone from any direct damage from hits and falls. A hard case will also protect from corrosive environmental agents that could take a toll on its parts.
The area where the saxophone is stored has to be dry and cool. Try to avoid damp basements or areas with heavy sea spray content.
Related article: How To Store A Saxophone Properly & Safely