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The saxophone is a tricky instrument with many nuances. But what can bewilder a novice or even an experienced musician is how to take care of your beloved instrument. Cleaning a saxophone can be a tedious task, and changing pads can get tricky and expensive. A saxophone that is not being cared about can lose its purpose since an uncleaned saxophone can have distorted sound.
A pad saver is not a cleaning instrument. The purpose of a pad saver is to make cleaning your saxophone easier, and to protect saxophone pads and their owners. After using a saxophone, a pad saver should be placed into the horn and left there for 5-10 minutes before taking the pad out.
Pads in saxophones are susceptible to water, no matter what material they are made from, since they are fast at absorbing moisture. Pad savers have become a controversial tool: some musicians claim that pad savers are useless and some even say that they are potentially harmful. In this article, we will discuss how to properly use a pad saver and how to find a pad saver that is suitable for your saxophone.
What Are Pad Savers?
Pad savers are a de-moisturizing tool for your saxophone. When you play a wind instrument, your mouth still produces a lot of saliva. As you can imagine, much of that saliva ends up inside your instrument.
- Moisture can corrode the insides of your saxophone or flute.
- Moisture trapped inside a closed and unventilated space, like saliva inside a saxophone, is the perfect environment for mold.
Thus the name: pad savers. Saxophone pads are prone to trapping moisture inside the saxophone that can lead to corrosion or mold. After you are done practicing and put your saxophone to its proper place, moisture will slide down the neck and will find its place in one or many pads. If this happens, pads will not work as they should be, causing distortions in sound and potential damage to your instrument overall.
A Musician’s Nightmare
Mold and rust are not the biggest problem: even if you are spared from mold on your pads, at some point they will start to rot. They will start to rot anyway but the more moisture you keep uncleaned, the faster your pads will become unusable and dangerous to use.
Not only corrosion and mold can damage your beloved instrument but spores and particles from these unwanted consequences from practice can end up in your mouth and lungs, when you decide to open your saxophone for the next performance. In addition to awful smell, improper care after your instrument can cause some health-related issues.
Pad savers do just that: they save pads on your instrument and also protect your mouth and lungs by physically cleaning and absorbing all the moisture that you will inevitably blow into your wind instrument.
How To Use Pad Savers
There is nothing too tricky about using pad savers. When you take a pad saver for the first time, it will not be long before you can figure out how to use one. Pad savers are long fluffy sticks that fit inside your saxophone and absorb trapped moisture.
Many saxophone players would use pad savers right after playing:
- When you are done practicing, simply put a pad savers into the part of your sax that it was designed for.
- Once inside, pad savers will drain and absorb the excessive moisture from parts of your instrument to keep it safe.
But there is a trick. Many musicians warn against using pad savers. If used improperly, pad savers can become pad destroyers. Pad savers themselves are made from materials that can also become a victim of mold. Once you use a pad saver, it will absorb moisture but will continue to keep it inside a fluffy stick itself.
When to Use a Pad Saver
To use a pad saver properly and safely, put it into your instrument only right after your practice or performance but do not put it in a case yet. Remove your pad savers quickly after using it, about five or ten minutes is enough.
The trick of a pad saver is that it is a partially self-cleaning product. Once put into a saxophone it will remove moisture from parts of your instruments, and when removed, a pad saver will release all that moisture into the air. But when you keep it inside the neck, moisture will stay trapped inside and will continue to destroy your valuable instrument from the inside.
Perhaps, needless to say but also, make sure that your pad saver is dry when you use it. Pad savers are used to get the moisture out of your saxophone and not put more moisture inside. If your pad saver is still wet, do not use it, the pad saver will not do its job and might damage your instrument even more.
Some manufacturers claim that their pad saver can be stored inside of your instrument. Check for these indications but still be aware that most saxophone users still do not recommend storing a pad saver in your instrument. After all, it is not that hard to remove it after ten minutes.
Cleaning Your Saxophone
Here is another caveat: a pad saver is not a cleaning product. A common misconception is that pad savers can be used to clean the insides of a wind instrument. While a pad saver is a maintenance product, pad savers should not be used for cleaning.
Pad saver removes moisture but does not do the job of cleaning. Proper cleaning technique involves other tools that you can find in every saxophone cleaning kit.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure you are properly cleaning your saxophone:
- Get a cleaning kit first,
- Clean your saxophone (you can find many instructions online)
- Swab your saxophone with cleaning products
- Use a pad saver for about 5-10 minutes.
This does not mean that you should use a pad saver only after cleaning. The product is designed to be used right after playing, but if you are doing a full cleaning job, a pad saver should be your last step, not the only step.
Be sure to use antiseptic materials too. Yes, a pad saver is designed to remove moisture to prevent pads from mold and rot. But, as you know, there are many other parts that your saxophone has, and the most dangerous for your health is the mouthpiece. A pad saver does nothing to your mouthpiece, so using it as a cleaning product will damage your instrument and threaten you too in the long run.
Choosing the Right Pad Savers
Pad savers are usually made of flexible plastic to stick it safely and easily into your wind instrument. The job of absorbing moisture is done by cloth and fibers that cover plastic. Materials are different but most usually it is microfiber that is now being used quite often in cleaning and absorbing moisture.
But microfiber cloths are not created equal:
- Regular microfibers from a cleaning section of your store are not made to be used consistently for a prolonged period of time.
- When you buy your pad saver, make sure that its microfiber components are made specifically for multiple uses.
- Proper microfiber for pad savers are made to be more resistant to shredding and shrinking.
Not only will finding the right pad savers save you from putting a pad saver on your recurring shopping list, but this will also save your instrument. Wind instruments are not keen on having moisture inside, but shedding microfiber will introduce even more unwanted materials inside your horn.
Microfibers in Your Pad Savers Matter
Unsuitable microfiber might also not do its job. It will usually absorb the moisture, yes, but it might not do the job of keeping it inside a pad saver itself, instead releasing it back into pads. Not much of a pad saver if it can damage pads.
When shopping for a pad saver, make sure to find one that is made from high-quality, well-absorbing microfiber. Great pad saver will also blend easily with pads and other parts of your sax, absorbing moisture quicker and more efficiently.
If you are not sure what to get, follow this general rule: do not get pad savers that are just white and unicolored. These types of microfiber material are not suitable for this job, because they shed, and you do not want any alien fibers inside your instrument. However, be cautious – just a color of a product is not a sole indication of quality.
What Instruments Need a Pad Saver?
All wind instruments with pad can benefit from a pad saver. Manufacturers design pad savers for flutes, clarinets, alto saxophone and tenor saxophone.
If you own one of these, be sure to check what instrument a pad saver was designed for. Sometimes, manufacturers create pad savers that can fit into both alto saxophone and tenor saxophone, but that is not always the case.
Should You Use Pad Savers At All?
Moisture inside a saxophone seems to be an inevitable consequence of practicing. However, in reality, moisture is everywhere around us in the air. All musical instruments can suffer from excessive water, that is why guitars should be kept in a dry case. And it is highly likely that you keep your wind instrument in a dry case too. So do you even need a pad saver?
The answer depends on where you live and the humidity of your climate. Hot and dry climate will make it easy for water and saliva to evaporate naturally and quickly into the air.
If you do not have access to high-quality pad savers and the only available product might damage your instrument, then you might want to skip on getting a pad saver—this is especially true if you live in a dry climate. So make sure to check on your saxophone from time to time, as you might underestimate the negative effects of too much humidity.
But even if you live in a humid climate, a pad saver might not be the best choice for you. Some experts do not recommend buying a pad saver but instead, to make one yourself.
Good pad savers are made from high-quality microfiber cloth. However, taking a flexible plastic rod, wrapping a cotton cloth around, and sticking that self-improvised pad saver into your horn can do the job just as well.
Even so, the fact that you can make a pad saver yourself, does not always mean that you should skip on buying one. Pad savers that are sold on the market are created to be a good absorbent – a quality that a regular cotton handkerchief might not have. If “better safe than sorry” is your motto, then consider getting a pad saver anyway.
How to Clean a Pad Saver
Cleaning a pad saver is also a tricky part. When a pad saver has done its job, it keeps moisture inside itself, and then releases it into the air. But there is a controversial question among saxophone players: should you wash a pad saver after using it?
While the answer seems obvious, in reality, there are more opinions than one. The troubling part is that a pad saver can potentially suffer from the same problem that it was designed to fight: mold. A cycle of dry to wet and back to dry that happens if you wash your pad saver is the reason things can get moldy. What is the purpose of a pad saver if the pad gets moldy too?
However, many pad savers users, including experts in saxophone cleaning, still do wash their pad savers. No matter how high the quality of microfiber is, the pad saver will still release fibers when in contact with parts of your saxophone. Washing a pad saver will physically remove loose fibers that will stick to pads and can get stuck in tone holes, potentially distorting the sound of an instrument.
Loose Fibers in Saxophone Pads
Fibers are small but the difference between different tone holes are not that large too. If a loose fiber gets stuck on a pad, it can later get into the seat of a pad. Even a small fiber can eventually create distortions, if fibers build up together. It can take a long time but static electricity makes fibers stick together.
But some experts and musicians justly point out that fibers are not a problem – they will just get blown out by your playing. Some musicians also say that it depends on which tone hole gets affected, saying that blowing a fiber out is easier, when lower tone holes have stuck fibers.
In any case, cleaning a pad saver is trickier than it seems. Even so, one effective method of cleaning is brushing a pad saver to remove loose fibers manually without using water, so you can remove the maximum amount of fibers without a threat of developing mold.
Are Pad Savers Worth Buying?
But here is another tricky question: are pad savers even worth buying? Swabs look like pad savers, so some musicians think that swabs are just as good at doing the job of protecting your pads as a pad saver.
That might be a fair assumption but here is the thing. Swabs are made of cotton and fleece. They are good for cleaning and are used for cleaning. But again, pad savers should not be used for cleaning, they are for absorbing. Swabs materials can do the job of absorbing extra moisture too—cotton is a good absorbing material. But fleece is not, so only half of a swab is good at doing a pad saver job.
Swabs are not tested to have good absorbing properties, while pad savers are. At some point, a swab will remove moisture but you need to keep it inside a horn for a much longer time than a microfiber pad saver.
As previously mentioned, a pad saver should be removed quickly after using, within 5-10 minutes. That is not enough for a swab to do the job of demoisturizing, so using it instead of a pad saver will put your instrument in danger.
Swabs will definitely do some job at removing moisture but most will stay inside, and swabs will mostly wipe inside a saxophone. Swabs might wipe moisture out of the problematic areas: pads and tone holes – but water will quickly find its way back.
So using a pad saver for demoisturizing is safer to keep your pads and tone holes clean, and keep on using swabs for cleaning.
What Are Pad Savers? Conclusion
Pad savers are useful tools but it should not be used carelessly. Some musicians just leave their pad savers in their instruments between sessions, not removing it for days. That is a sure way to damage your saxophone instead of taking care of it. Choosing a proper pad saver and using it according to the manual is the way to go for you.
Buy the right pad saver for you. Before purchasing, find out what instrument this pad saver was designed for since they are used for flutes and clarinets too. Some pad savers were designed for several instruments – be sure to get the one that is right for you. Proper care for your instrument is the only way to guarantee that your instrument provides the best sound it can.