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How can I clean a filthy old sax?

I just bought a 90-year old sax, pads are in pretty good shape, but it's grubby. Brown, fossilized goo inside the toneholes, and the whole thing stinks. Is there a way to clean it without taking all of the keys off? Does anybody have experience with this kind of thing, or pointers? I'm not really qualified to totally disassemble it, and I don't really want to take it to my tech guy and make him deal with this nastiness, and I don't particularly want to destroy pretty good pads with cleaning agents, so if anyone has good ideas on the matter, I'd appreciate it!

Thank you!


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I regret to have to tell you this, but there is no way to properly clean a saxophone in that condition without completely disassembling it. The smell is in the pads and so they should be replaced as well. Sorry, but there are no shortcuts here. If it is a vintage model sax that is worth restoring, then you may want to bite the bullet and pay to have it done professionally if you can't do it yourself.
Thank you for your advice. You're probably right. I'm guessing the smell is in both the pads AND the brown goo. It is probably worth restoring. It's not a valuable collector's piece, by any means, but I got it cheap, and it's probably worth the purchase price plus the repair costs to make it nice again. Thanks again,

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
You might want to share the make/model of sax you picked up so cheap. We could recommend how to proceed if we knew if it was an old Conn or Buescher, or Bundy or some other thing.


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
What make and model is it? There are folks on this board who are very knowledgeable about vintage saxes. Some even play quite well when fixed up and played with a suitable mouthpiece.
Lyon & Healy with beveled tone holes, I think it's a Corturier, Indiana stencil. I know it's a stencil, because they didn't make their own. It has the clown face engraving on the bell, soldered and beveled tone holes. The pads are in great shape, but whoever put them on didn't clean the horn first. Century-old spit doesn't smell good.
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Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Alto, tenor?


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Another point to mention is that if you have a bad smelling case, you should KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!!1111one

Erm. If you put a completely redone saxophone in a smelly case, the sax will start to smell again. The reverse is also true: put a smelly sax into a new case, the case will start to smell.

My "kill it with fire" comment is actually quite true. It is possible to reduce the smell using a whole variety of different techniques on both a case and the horn, but none of them will completely work until you remove anything that's not metal (well, porous) from the case and the horn. Then you need to get the horn cleaned. However, if you've got a good playing horn (it sounds like you do), you might want to try an ozone machine, coffee grounds, activated charcoal or any of the other tips and be content with the smell. And clean out the inside of the horn with a swab. There's a tech out this way that dunks disassembled horns in Simple Green. I've used rubbing alcohol. I'm also not a instrument tech.

Having the horn completely repadded, all new corks and all new felts is kinda pricey -- and will be more if you have big ol' dents or bad repairs that need to be cleaned up. A case won't be expensive, unless you want something like a flight case. You could probably do well with most used cases, even.

Oh. One other thing if you're wanting to try disassembling the horn: those are called "needle springs" for a reason. Make sure your shots are up to date.

One other thing on cleaning: if you decide to polish the horn, use a non-abrasive, non-tarnishing polish that's for the metal your horn is plated with -- most of the Lyon & Healy horns I've seen are silver plate -- and be gentle. It's easy to bend stuff.