Every sax player I have ever known struggles with the G# key sticking in the closed position. updated May 26, 2022
This is because there is an “override” on G# which allows you to trill from G# down to F or E or D without removing your 5th finger from the G# key.
On the newer saxophones, there is a similar override on the low C# key, which allows you to trill from low C# to low B without letting up on the C# key.What do you do when these pads stick in the closed position?
Many years ago, I met a repairman who had a shop behind Local 47 off of Vine Street. He swore by old dollar bills, the ones with a lot of hand dirt on them. Apparently, the dirt dries out the gunk which makes the pad stick. You store the horn in the case in between gigs with the dollar bill under the G# key. This has the added benefit of making sure you have a buck for a beer at the next gig!
I believe it was Abe Brown – a wonderful repairman (and banjo picker) in Costa Mesa – who told me about talcum powder. Same theory … it dries up the gunk … at least temporarily. It turns out that when the talc gets wet, it transforms into a mush which can cause more sticking than before.
The problem seems to be exacerbated by rolled tone holes. I figured a horn with rolled tone holes would be less likely to leak, because more metal contacts more pad surface. Guess what … fewer leaks, more pad sticking! Not only G# and low C#, but also the Bb “bis” key and the second finger E key now stick on my Keilwerth SX90R alto and tenor! These keys are harder to deal with, because they are stored in the open position. You cannot leave a dollar bill under the pad (even if you have a buck to spare.)
I finally resorted to applying rubbing alcohol to clean the crud off of the pad, but this dries out the leather and does not really stop the sticking for very long.
My current repair genius is the multi-instrumentalist Paul Woltz from Kennelly Keys Music in Lynnwood, WA. Paul and I have struggled with the sticky pad dilemma for a couple of years. We also consulted with Paul’s friend, “Dr. Dan” Parker. Paul found this amazing stuff called Blaster Silicone Lube. I immediately bought a dozen cans of the stuff. (It is also a better general lubricant than WD40.)
Paul fills a mason jar with the aerosol spray and then applies it to the pad with a paint brush while the key is removed. I tried using a pipe cleaner but found it easier just to spray the silicone onto a scrap of paper and rub the wet paper on the pad. I just use regular inkjet paper.
You also want to get the silicone down into the tone hole, where the fungus tends to collect and grow. Sometimes I just spray the stuff into the body of the horn. It’s great for the metal as well as the leather. It lubricates the mechanism, is good for the springs, and conditions the leather for longer life and water repulsion.
Since writing this article, i heard from a British repairman who uses cigarette lighter fluid. This works well temporarily, but eventually destroys the leather.
More recently, i had the whole left-hand stack, the G#, and the C# on my alto replaced with the synthetic Schmidt pads. They are expensive, but do a good job controlling sticking.
A couple of weeks ago, another repairman hipped me to mineral oil. This also seems to help with sticky pads and should be good for the leather.
Even the Schmidt pad on the bis key of my Keilwerth SX90R has started sticking! It’s crazy, man, like it’s catching or something!
On my soprano, Jeff found there was just enough play in the rod that the B natural pearl would sometimes hold the bis key pearl in the down position. He crimped the post to prevent the rod from slipping and lightly swaged the edge of the pearl. Not yet sure what to do about the Schmidt bis pad on the alto.
So what do you do for sticky pads? Has anyone come up with a better solution? If so, i would sure like to hear about it.