support Tutorials CDs PPT mouthpieces
  • All posts re: Fake (counterfeit) saxophones and scams are now in their own subforum here:

    Fakes and Scams

Beginner Sax Cleaning sax and sax/mouthpiece combo ('returning player')

tommakesgames

New Member
Messages
8
Locality
London
Hi there,

New member, just introduced myself over on The Doorbell, but then saw I should ask questions elsewhere, thus - this!

I'm a 'returning player'. Played in school, left it for 20 years, still got it, moving from a flat to a house with garage - therefore opportunity to get back into sax.

I have two questions:

I opened up the case and the saxophone is pretty dirty. I never really looked after it that well as a kid. Bits of green in the bell and neck, lacquer bits missing, dust and dirt in the mechanisms etc. It does all work absolutely fine though.

I enquired of sax.co.uk and it would cost me about £200 to have it all deep cleaned. It's a B&H 400 Alto sax. A bit of digging (from other threads here) that it might have been made by Amati and stencilled for B&H. The serial number is 190902 - which I think (according to that very long vertical chart you can find on that .pdf of serial numbers) means it dates from 1961/62?

So, question number 1 is:
Is it worth getting this cleaned up? Is this a reasonable saxophone? Or would I be better getting one of the cheaper 'starter sax kits' off Amazon which I understand are not too bad these days?

(I'm leaning towards cleaning it up anyway, just in terms of non-wastage and I have a kind of 'all musical instruments are sort of special...because music!' kind of mindset)

Question number 2 is:

Given the saxophone and the mouthpiece (a Yamaha 4C, which I understand is perfectly okay), can I still get a good tone out of this?
(I'd like to play jazz - more straight ahead stuff rather than rock/80s fusion/smooth - more Sonny Rollins/Charlie Parker than Weather Report, if that makes sense?)

My tone back in the day was not that great, but upon doing some reading now I wonder if it's more to do with embrochure and technique (taught mainly by classically trained woodwind teachers whose specialty wasn't saxophone) rather than anything else.

Thought this would be THE place to ask! Thanks!
 

Jimmymack

Senior Member
Messages
1,318
Locality
London
It all depends really. If you can get it cleaned and,most importantly, set up for £200 then it may be worth it to get you back into playing, although from your description of the state of the horn it seems suspiciously cheap. If you stick with it you’ll want to upgrade within a year or so but if it can be got going the horn should be good enough to get you started. However, if you look around you might find something that’s decent quality at low cost but don’t buy one from Amazon. I don’t have any experience of beginner’s horns but some people here will have advice. Have a look at this one Alto Sax Zetland MK1, I can’t vouch for it but it comes from a shop run by people who know saxophones. There’s also this which would probably be a better bet Trevor James Classic II Alto Saxophone.

Getting a good tone depends on you, a 4C will get you blowing but to get the sound you want you are going to need something else and if you are looking for a teacher a classical teacher won’t cut it.
 

Clivey

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,401
Locality
Edinburgh/Hot Rock off African Coast
If the horn is playing reasonable up and down then ,Give it a nice clean over with some antiseptic.anti bacterial wipes being careful not to dislodge corks,felts and springs. Then get it into your mouth and play it like you mean it and that you are running out of time.

If you're still into it after a week or month or so it will consume your time and thoughts to the point where you will either love your horn or realize it's limitations.
Until then.
 

tommakesgames

New Member
Messages
8
Locality
London
thanks for the replies.

@Jimmymack I told them the same as I've said here and that's what they came back with. I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'set up' though. Is that recorking etc.?

Also, my understanding is that some (and only some) of the saxophones on amazon are not that bad. Obviously you have to do your research...but hasn't Jay Metcalf done a vid where he found a fairly good cheap one?

@Clivey. Thanks, will probably go with this. I'd like to see if I can get some of the grime around mechanisms and in the bell off. What to use here? Washing up liquid, water, brushes and sponges? Normal bottle brush sufficient?

My understanding is that I don't want to stab my fingers on the springs, and I don't want to get the cork in the neck wet. HAve I got that right?
 

Stephen Howard

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,361
Locality
UK
I could be wrong but I don't think it dates from 61/2 - I don't think Boosey's were carrying them back then. Early '70s at the earliest would be more likely.

As regards getting it done up - it's somewhat borderline. It's an OK horn - sturdy enough but a bit of a bland blow, and not fitted with the best pads in the world. You might find you can pick a tidier example up off ebay for £200 or less - and any amount of Trevor James' horns...which'll be a bit more of an involving blow.

I'd go with Clivey's suggestion; give it clean up yourself and a lube job - see how it goes.

For cleaning the keywork, some cheap artists brushes are ideal. For cleaning the bore a bottle brush will do nicely - but do it dry. Water and gunge down an assembled horn will get messy very quickly.
You can clean the body with soapy water. Some Q-Tips will help to get into nooks and crannies - and you can even clean the pads:


As for lubrication:


Don't worry about getting the crook cork wet.
 

Jimmymack

Senior Member
Messages
1,318
Locality
London
Set up is seating the pads properly, and checking and changing them as needed, along with corks and felts, adjusting the action and getting the mechanism as efficient as possible. I would guess that you will need some pads and probably a new neck cork. If you got the quote without them seeing it then they may have built some of this into their estimate.

I’m sure there are decent horns to be found on Amazon but I still wouldn’t recommend buying one blind. You aren’t Jay Metcalf.

Clivey’s suggestion is a good one, approach it with care and you may not need to do anything else. The green bits and missing lacquer aren’t a problem, the dust and dirt is. There are probably videos that will give guidance.

This sound a lot like the horn I started with, tough as boots, so give it a go.
 

tommakesgames

New Member
Messages
8
Locality
London
@Stephen Howard re: age, ah okay. Another site I found put it more at 1978 I think, so maybe that makes more sense?

So if I understand you correctly, Trevor James are better and not too pricey second hand? I won't be buying another one for a long time until I'm 110% sure I'm in this for the long-haul, but worth knowing.

Would a toothbrush be okay for getting the dust and dirt out of metal work? It's purely cosmetic - I can't detect anything amiss in how it plays with my fingers, just my tone (that'll be 20 years of no embrochure!).

Thanks for all your help!
 

Stephen Howard

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,361
Locality
UK
The TJ won't be as sturdy, but the action's a bit more modern - and the horn has more zip and zing.

I wouldn't normally recommend a toothbrush as the bristles are hard enough to leave scratches - but that might be academic for your horn. You might find, too, that the vertical bristles aren't so good at getting under and over some of the keys.
 

DavidUK

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
7,176
Locality
Near Lutterworth, Leics.
From what you say, in immaculate condition your horn would be worth perhaps £150-250.

It, and it's various incarnations, are quite popular. That is, there are many, many, of them for sale right now. As a serial sax buyer I'd never consider buying one.

I think you'd be better sticking it on eBay as a "barn find" and maybe getting £50 and then investing in something more modern and better playing.

Have a look at the alternative alto reviews here: www.shwoodwind.co.uk from @Stephen Howard

Oh... and don't think that just by cleaning it you'll have made it perfect. It's fairly likely to need some pads, corks, felts, adjustment too. Can you post some photos, or will we faint?
 

Jimmymack

Senior Member
Messages
1,318
Locality
London
You have a common dilemma I think, if you don't want to buy one until you are sure you're going to stick with it then that means you are playing a horn that is going to make it harder for you from the start and may make you think it's not worth the effort or not for you. If you're prepared to spend £200 on getting the one you have going then you are probably better off spending a bit more on something that will give you a better chance.
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
16,308
Locality
Burnley bb9 9dn
Some people pay a lot of money for a horn that plays great but looks grotty.
I have a similar alto to the one in question. My first alto. Not worth any money but I wouldn't part with it. Missing lacquer and green in the bell it sits on a stand in the music room and oozes memories.
Not worth spending £200 on imo but well worth giving a clean and a home fettle to get you going again. It may be all you need or want.
Things have moved on a great deal since this horn was standard kit for beginners. More hand friendly key positions. (Ergonomics) a better left hand pinky cluster and a high F#.
Give it a clean, give it a blow and see how you go. ;)
 

tommakesgames

New Member
Messages
8
Locality
London
@Jimmymack - I see your point. I think, for now, I have the advantage that I did spend 10 years playing it before, so I do know that it's for me - it was always a case of opportunity and 'wrong time in life' for one reason or another until recently.

But I do see what others are saying - a better saxophone might be more encouraging. However, I have a tendency to spend more time thinking and researching the 'things' rather than using them, so might just stick with this horn and change the mouthpiece before the horn (I understand that makes more difference to the sound?).

However, the advice here has been invaluable - it's not worth spending £200 fixing it up! Bit of elbow grease and save the cash for a new mouthpiece/horn if the practice sticks this time.

It is interesting what @Colin the Bear says about how starter horns have moved on - not surprising I suppose considering advances in mass manufacturing and price drops that would go with that. I'll see how I do between now and Christmas!

@stitch - I won't do too much to it. Just a buff up really I think will be fine. Point taken!
 
Last edited:

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
16,308
Locality
Burnley bb9 9dn
It's amazing what you can do to a mouthpiece with a small toothbrush and little tooth paste. A quick swill with an alcohol mouthwash after and Bob's your uncle. If there's no damage to rails etc an old mouthpiece is as good as a new one. Mine is just coming up 100 years old.
 

tommakesgames

New Member
Messages
8
Locality
London
Probably no rush for that ... you can go a long way on a 4C.
This has been a really good thread for me. Seems like there’s little point in spending anything - an hour or two with soap and water seems enough and it seems to play fine so I don’t think it needs a recondition yet. I fairly sure it’s me not the horn that needs an overhaul!

I’m getting the impression I have everything I need to go far before I upgrade anything. I’m planning on getting a teacher for a few lessons as well so they can advise.
 

Targa

Among the pigeons
Messages
10,072
Locality
KIC 8462852
Probably no rush for that ... you can go a long way on a 4C.
Bus - 4C

4C​

Lambourn - Newbury via Great Shefford, B4000​

 

MMM

Senior Member
Messages
1,139
Locality
SW of London Town
I find shaving brushes great for getting dust out of keywork without dismantling things, they are very soft so no danger of scratching or breaking anything. you can pick up cheap ones from Wilko, a couple of pounds I think. Do not however use an old one (that has been used with shaving foam) or you'll end up with lots of white powder everywhere!
 

nigeld

Too many mouthpieces
Café Supporter
Messages
8,012
Locality
Bristol, UK
I use a 1" paintbrush for cleaning my saxophones. I spray the brush with Mr Sheen furniture polish and it works a treat.
 
Top Bottom