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The Eternal Conundrum of the Sticky G# Key

The first thing to remember is that you are not alone! This is a problem that affects all players, and all models of saxophone. Whether you have been playing for decades or just 10 days, whether you have bought the most expensive gold plated instrument or the lowliest Chinese import, the sticky G# is likely to rear its ugly head at the most in opportune moment.

However, in the same words spelled out by those big friendly letters on the front of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, ‘DONT PANIC’! This is something very easily rectified in the short term and may not require you to hot foot it to your nearest saxophone workshop fearing the worst.

The first thing that will help is to try and understand the mechanics of how the G# key functions, and how it interacts with some of the other keys on the saxophone. You will notice that most of the keys on your instrument are sprung open – that is, you need to depress them with your fingers in order to close the key over the tone hole. The G# key is not like this. It is instead sprung CLOSED, I.e. when you depress the G# touch with your finger, the G# key has to open to produce the desired note.

This is the reason the pad can become sticky. Over time whilst playing you are putting a lot of air and saliva down your instrument. This air condenses and and in combination with the saliva will leave a residue on the pads. Less of a problem with the keys that are usually spring open, but on a closed key this residue will build up on the pad and it will become very sticky.

Now for the really technical part: the G# also differs from other keys in that it is in 2 parts. The first part is the touch piece (the part you operate with your finger). The second is the cup (the part which holds the pad that closes over the tone hole). The touch piece acts like a lever, putting pressure on the cup to keep it closed until it is depressed, allowing the cup to open. This means that the lever key requires a strong spring acting in one direction, whilst the cup needs a slightly weaker spring acting in the opposite direction. The fact that the cup needs a weaker spring also adds to the problem, as once the pad has become sticky, the weaker spring is not strong enough to open the cup.

Time for a Solution!

So now that you have some idea of why the problem has occurred, its time to run through some of the solutions so that a sticky G# won’t hold you back in the future. Firstly, some preventative measures:

Pad Savers & Pull Throughs

When it comes to sticky pads, cleanliness is next to godliness: make sure you are implementing a thorough cleaning regime! Your sax should be cleaned out regularly after playing to minimise the amount of saliva left inside.

WORKSHOP RECOMMENDS: using a pad saver as a swab to clean out the inside of the main body, but not replacing in inside the Sax until it has dried. Using a crook swab for cleaning out the crook.

Oral Hygiene 

Your saliva is affected by what you are eating and drinking – try not to drink tea, coffee or consume sugary drinks and snacks whilst playing. 
 
 
 

Key Leaves

On most modern saxophones, the G# mechanism is also connected to the low C#, B and Bb keys. This is called an articulated system. It means that if any of these other three keys are operated, the G# key will also be opened at the same time. When putting your Sax away, after cleaning it out, you can place Key Leaves under the low C# pad. This will hold the both the C# and the G# pads slightly open, allowing them to dry without being under pressure and so help to prevent stickiness.  

Okay, so you’ve tried hard to keep everything clean but the G# has refused to co operate and has started to stick…

We need to clean any sticky residue off of the G# pad. There are a couple of products out there that can help with this:

Yamaha Powder Papers

Comes as a small booklet of sheets of paper coated with a talcum like powder. Take a single sheet, and place it under the offending pad. Close the pad onto the paper and then draw it out slowly. It will leave a small coating of powder on the pad that will prevent stickiness. WORKSHOP RATING: 3/5. Whilst powder paper can provide immediate relief from the problem, it can also create issues of its own. Firstly it does not clean the residue from the pad that is the main cause of the problem, and secondly if you are a particularly wet player then over use of this method will cause further build up of residue (imagine talcum power mixed with water being pasted over your pads and you get the idea). Best used sparingly and is only appropriate in certain situations. DO NOT USE IN CONJUNCTION WITH CLEANING FLUIDS.

Rizla Papers

The traditional method for de-sticking pads has always involved Rizla papers, and you may have noticed other players carrying packs of them in their cases. This is not because they’re heavy smokers, but as an emergency fix in the case of a sticky pad. WORKSHOP RATING 4/5 great as an emergency fix, but often too small and too thin to work effectively on saxophone pads. Better for smaller instruments, and the gummed edge can also cause issues. Can be used in conjunction with cleaning fluids.

Yamaha Cleaning Paper

Again comes as a booklet of sheets of thin absorbent paper sheets which can be torn off at the appropriate size for where ever you wish to use it. Can be used in conjunction with cleaning fluids WORKSHOP RATING 5/5 this stuff is much the same as using Rizla papers, the added bonus being that there is no glued edge and the larger size is much more appropriate for the saxophone.

Cotton Buds

Great for using to clean specific areas, both on the pad and on the tone hole. Can be used in conjunction with cleaning fluids WORKSHOP RATING 5/5 excellent for those hard to reach places, although you should still be wary not to knock any important adjustment corks or springs out of position.

Lighter Fluid

All of the above methods are best used in conjunction with liquid lighter fluid as a cleaning agent. It is usually available from any news agent – make sure you have the liquid and not the gas canister. Lighter fluid works well as a degreasing agent without being too harsh on the pads (methylated spirit is not recommended for this reason). It should be used sparingly, a little sprinkled onto the paper you are using and then the paper placed between the pad and the tone hole. As you slowly draw the paper out you may see green or black residue on the paper. This is evidence of the dirt you’re cleaning off! Repeat a few times if necessary, and the stickiness you are experiencing should resolve itself.

Well, that should hopefully bring an end to your trials and tribulations with sticky G# keys! Occasionally, if the problem is extremely persistent, then more drastic measures can be taken but these really do require a visit to the workshop!

Also it is worth noting that whilst we have been through the most common cause of sticky G#, it can sometimes turn out to be caused by a different issue. If the keywork has been bent, or if there is an issue with the spring then other problems can arise. In any case, it’s always a good idea to try these methods first, and if further issues continue then give the workshop a call and we will be happy to run through the issues with you!