Thursday, July 27, 2017

Battling the Sticky G-sharp Key

The sticky G-sharp is probably the most common mechanical problem for saxophonists. Usually, a quick cleaning with pad cleaning paper or a dollar bill does the trick, but it can become a real problem if it starts sticking soon after you clean it. Here are some additional fixes to consider.

Unstick the Pad
The conventional wisdom that gets passed around is to clean the pad with pad paper or a dollar bill, but a bit of liquid soap and water  (or just some water in a real pinch) can go a long way. Use a toothbrush if you can to be thorough. If you are in a bind and need to play immediately, then I would suggest not dry cleaning the pad afterward, or dry cleaning and then reapplying the liquid soap and water. The soap's slipperiness helps keep the pad unstuck and ready to go. However, Dr. G over on Saxontheweb suggested that liquid soap can gum up when it dries and make things worse. I haven't had this problem, but to be on the safe side make sure to use only a little bit of soap and a lot of water. Alternatively, lighter fluid or hydrogen peroxide can also be helpful in cleaning the pad. Dr. G also suggested something called Runyon Pad Dope, which seals the pad and helps avoid sticking (I don't have any personal experience with this stuff).

Similar to liquid soap, a little bit of light oil will also keep the pad unstuck. Use an oil applicator to get the oil right onto the pad groove. Do not use cork grease. That gums up the pad and just makes it stick more (believe me, I've tried it). Both the soap and water method and the oil method keep the pad unstuck for a longer period than the dry cleaning method.

The dry cleaning method with a dollar bill or pad paper does have its advantages though. It can remove grime from off the pad or the tone hole ridge. When you clean the pad with paper/bill make sure to apply pressure onto the G-sharp key cup, making it more difficult to pull the paper/bill out from between the pad and the tone hole. That gives your paper/bill more leverage against grime or whatever is coming off. 

Avoiding Buildup
A last fix is to put some absorbent paper between the pad and the tone hole when storing the horn. This helps keep the pad and tone hole cleaner all around, reducing stickiness.

Increasing the Spring Tension
G# spring bending freely.
G# spring in its normal position
If you have a reoccurring problem, something that comes back within minutes of cleaning, and your G-sharp key feels very light, you should consider increasing the spring tension. When you press the G-sharp key, it lifts a small mechanical arm that allows the G-sharp pad to open. There is a metal spring that lifts the G-sharp pad and key cup, and sometimes it just needs a little extra power. You can increase the pressure by simply bending the spring in the direction of lift. This is a pretty simple procedure, so take it easy and just give it a shot. However, you should be aware that increasing the tension by too much will make it so the entire set of spatula keys requires more pressure, so easy does it here. Also, this should only be considered a long term fix if the spring tension was too light to begin with.

First, find the spring that lifts, or is suppose to, life the G-sharp pad open. Depending on your saxophone the easiest access to the spring may be on the left or right side of the bell. Then, lift the spring off of the little metal protrusion holding it in place and let it bend freely. Next, bend the spring near its base further in the same direction that opens the G-sharp pad. Repair techs generally bend the spring with needle nose pliers or a similar tool, but anything will work in a pinch including your fingers. Don't put a crimp in the spring or overbend. All that is needed is a slight adjustment. Next, applying pressure at the end of the spring, so as not to undo the work you just did, put the spring back against the little metal protrusion where you found it. Again, repair techs use a spring hook tool, but you can do it with just your fingers if you have to. It seats easily into the little ridge, and your G-sharp key is now ready to go again, now with more pressure!

Power Combo
All of the above will get your G-sharp key functioning better. If you have a reoccurring and frustrating G-sharp problem, then I'd suggest the following process: 
  1. If the spring tension is too light, bend the spring as outlined above.
  2. Clean with liquid soap, water, and toothbrush.
  3. Dry clean a few times with a fresh dollar bill or pad cleaning paper.
  4. Apply some light oil.
If that doesn't do it, stop chewing gum and playing sax at the same time!


  1. This is good info. I just had excellent results using a lenticular business cards (a plastic card that shows different images when you change the viewing angle). I cut off a strip so the ridges would pass over the pad opening, and this lightly "sanded" the gunk off. So a dollar bill took gunk off the pad, an the lenticular plastic took the gunk off of the metal, with no damage.