Lacquer, i.e., the most frivolous aspect of saxophone ownership, gets the most attention. Will you play better if your lacquer is better? I doubt it. But this blog is going to be about your inner-self. Actually, your horn's inner-self. I've torn apart and rebuilt enough saxophones that I know that it's what's inside that counts. And I really mean what counts. What is inside your horn, stuff that you don't know about, will really, really effect the way your horn plays. People talk about whether a re-lacquer effects the way a horn plays. It is a complex issue with lots of hyperbole and folk lore. But what's inside your horn will absolutely effect the way the horn plays, yet nobody talks about that.
Every new player gets the admonition about swabbing out their horn when they are done practicing. Good advice, often ignored. So what bad stuff happens to the horn that isn't swabbed regularly? The same thing that happens to the swabbed horn, just much faster. Even a horn that is taken care of suffers over time. Here, I'm talking about quite a bit of time. Since I generally work on older horns (1920's-40's), I often see stomach-turning filth, and some of it is on well maintained horns. Think of it like brushing your teeth. It's a great idea, but when you're 100 years old you probably will have some issues even if you brush just like your dentist says. Same with swabbing. You will also need a periodic deep cleaning.
One of my recent repads was a 1951 Conn 10M. Compared to most horns that I've worked on, that's a new horn. I always look inside when I take them apart and this one was normal. There was stuff. Stuff that wouldn't come out with a swab. I have a stainless steel wire bottle brush that has adjustable bristles. I can make it narrow or as wide as a wine bottle. Perfect for cleaning the inside of the body tube after all the key mechanisms are removed. Here is a view down the bell.
Good quality pads and resonators are about $100 on a tenor. If the horn is taken care of, they should last over 10 years. That's less than $10 a year to play on good pads. Of course, if you don't work on your own horn and install the pads yourself, it costs more.
Here is one of the issues with old pads. This is verdigris.
Right in the center of the picture is an area that isn't completely shiny after being lightly lapped. The combination of leather, copper, spit, and who knows what else had, over the years, caused some metal loss. It doesn't take much of a pad seat to hide this size leak. The tone hole needs to be filed down a tiny amount and all is good. Except for one problem. I still have brass directly against leather. And I will have moisture. By taking good care of my horn I can minimize the amount of time moisture is present, but I can't eliminate it.
What I have done in the past is to cut to the chase and corrode the newly exposed brass so that it won't further corrode. It's similar to the anodized finish that is put on aluminum to prevent further corrosion. I need to corrode the copper with something so that no raw copper is exposed to acetic acid, etc. (the common causes of verdigris). What I have used is a mixture of selenic acid and phosphoric acid. It is the same stuff that I used on another blog to produce a brownish patina on the whole horn. Although that horn is un-lacquered brass, there has been absolutely no verdigris formed on the patina surface in 6 years. Not on the inside, not on the tone hole chimneys.
Shortly after putting the patina on that horn, I leveled some tone holes and was concerned about the leather/raw brass issue. Leveling the tone holes produces a sharp edge. I run bronze wool around them to round them over a little bit and get rid of any sharp burrs. Not a rolled tone hole exactly, just an edge that is friendlier to the leather.