Do you ever find your low notes aren’t working properly on your saxophone?
In this video you’ll learn how to fix leaky low notes on sax. We’ll show you how to identify the cause of your leak, and how to fix it fast.
We talk about the different keys and fingerings on your sax in this lesson. Grab our free fingering chart from our Locker using the yellow button above. There’s loads of great free saxophone resources in there for you to explore too.
Low Note Problems
Just about every player at some point has an issue with the low notes not working on their saxophone. Specifically, I’m talking about low C down to low Bb.
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner saxophone player or a seasoned pro, a low note leak can happen to anyone. I hear it a lot from my Sax School students. And if it’s happened to you, you’re going to find this really useful because you’re going to learn how to fix it. The good news is it can be an easy fix.
Introducing Steve Crow
To help me with this, I’ve got my mate and master saxophone repair, Steve Crow in the studio.
Steve’s a great repairer. And he’s the guy that I trust with all my saxophones. It’s one of the top guys in England for sax repairs.
The Low B problem
It’s a really common problem, when you find that everything below a C doesn’t work. And there’s a couple of common causes. “Usually, it’s the regulation bar,” explains Steve. “It’s above the F sharp but covers the G”.
You can find the regulation bar between your right hand and left hand.
The problem can be with the regulation screws. “Any saxophone made after the 1950s will have two regulation screws. The bottom regulation screw is for the for the long B flat, but the top regulation screw is for the G sharp,” says Steve.
To check if this is the cause, play down to C and then past C, so you have engaged any table key on the left hand (try a low B or B flat). If the regulation screw is the problem, your sax won’t voice properly.
“If you gently touch the G sharp pad cup, so as it shuts as it should do, and then your notes should improve,” says Steve. “And if they do, then that’s where the problem is.”
Watch the video to hear the difference in sound when Steve touches the G sharp pad cup. When Steve isn’t touching it, the B sounds “warbly” instead of making a nice clear sound. You may have had that same problem. It’s really common with the low B and the B flat. And this is what is causing that problem.
How to fix the Low B Problem
So we’ve identified the problem causing your leaky low notes on sax, how do we go about fixing it?
You should have a screw with a pice of cork under it. (Some older saxophones don’t have this).
However if you’ve got this screw, you need two screwdrivers.
You need to be careful not to squash the cork, because that then will throw the regulation out even more and cause problems with the F sharp. Don’t just stick your screwdriver in and start turning.
“If you can turn the screw, put something underneath the bar in between the two screws, on top of the G sharp pad cup to prevent the bar from shutting down. And then just turn the screw clockwise… maybe a second on a clock at a time. … Then try to play your bottom notes again, if they then come out clearly, then leave it alone. If they’re getting better, then maybe turn it another second on a clock. And it’s always clockwise as you’re looking down.”
So we’re just trying to wind the screw in a a little bit to make sure it’s sealing.
This is a great fix for if you’re at a gig and you just need to get your sax working, or if haven’t got the time to go to a repairer to get it checked properly. It’s to get your saxophone playing well enough until you can get time to get it checked out properly.
If you adjust it too far, what happens?
Listen on the video to what your saxophone will sound like if you’ve turned the screw too far.
It feels stodgy right from the F down. So before, everything was working down to the C, and it was the bottom that weren’t working.
And now, everything below a G isn’t not working. So if that happens, you will know the screw has gone in too far.
” So [in the same way] I’m going to put the little screwdriver in between the two screws to hold the bar back, and then I’m just going to back off the regulation screw,” says Steve.
That should get your saxophone sounding clearer.
The G Sharp Key Problem
Sometimes you can see what’s causing leaky low notes on sax just by looking at the keys.
To check whether your G sharp key is causing your leaky low notes on sax, try this:
The G sharp key operates the pad for the low notes (between your left and right hand) and moves it up and down. The F Key pushes this pad down.
If you hold down your F key, then press up and on your G sharp key, watch the see if there is any movement in this pad. If there’s movement, then this could be the cause of your low notes problems.
“It could be two things,” says Steve. “It could be the screw that’s come loose, or normally it’s the cork that’s come away from the screw. It’ll be somewhere on the floor where you can’t find it.”
How to Fix The G Sharp Key Problem
Most people don’t carry a piece of cork and some glue around to gigs. Although it’s a great idea to carry an emergency repair kit with elastic bands, a little bit of cork with self-adhesive tape on both sides, and maybe some insulation tape. It could mean you can quickly get your instrument back on track, or at least finish the gig.
So, if the cork has disappeared, you can use insulation tape to fill the gap where the cork should be. Take a small piece of tape and use it to replace the missing cork.
Watch as Steve demonstrates this.
Test your sax to see if the lower notes play properly. If not, add another piece of tape.
This has the same effect as adjusting the screw, but from the opposite end.
Some repairers or even instrument makers will put Loctite on screws so you physically can’t turn them. In that situation, this is a great alternative fix you can use.
It’s a good idea to carry some insulation tape in your sax case. In fact, most pro players carry an emergency repair kit with them for these kind of fixes.
Insulation tape won’t affect the lacquer on your saxophone, and it’s a quick fix until you can get your sax to the repairer.
So that’s 2 fixes you can use if you’ve got leaky low notes on sax.
The Bell Problem
Another cause of leaky low notes on sax is where the bell of the saxophone is out of alignment.
If you’re a relatively new saxophone, it sounds alarming that the bell and the body on your sax could be out of alignment. But they aren’t necessarily welded together.
“The thing that holds up the bell in place is this bracket here,” says Steve. “f I just took the bracket away, I could move the bell very easily left to right. So if it gets a knock, the problem can be that this has been strained and pushed one way or the other.”
If the bell is out of alignment, this will affect how the keys work on the saxophone.
“So, if it gets pushed [to the right], then the bass keys are very heavy at the back and light at the front. And if it gets pushed [left], it’s the opposite. So you’re going to be very heavy at the front and light at the back,’ Steve explains.
This can easily happen in you pick up your sax by the bell, or if you knock your saxophone on something. It can even happen in the case, if it gets knocked.
“It’s just amazing how easily it is to knock the bell out of alignment,” says Steve. “When instruments come in to be serviced, you can guarantee quite a few of them are off.”
Adjusting the alignment of your bell and your body isn’t the sort of thing you do yourself. It’s a better idea to take it to a repairer.
But It might be important to know how to identify that that is the issue, so you know that it’s time to take it for repair.
How to Check Bell Alignment
So if your low notes aren’t working, and you’ve you’ve tried the G sharp key and that’s not fixed it, how could you check to see if it was an alignment issue?
“You need to get a light – either in the bell so you can see the light from outside. Or you can shine the light from the front and look down the bell, and see if it shows through,” says Steve.
You could use the torch on your mobile phone for this. Shine the light onto the pads from the outside of the bell. Close the pads, and look down the bell. If you can see light coming through, that’s a good indication that’s an alignment issue. Or you can shine the light from inside the bell, close the keys and look for light coming through to the outside. Now you’ve confirmed the source of the problem, you can take your sax to the repairer to get it fixed.
So hopefully that’s been helpful – and there are some great tips for you here to fix leaky low notes on sax. Try these things out, see how they work for you.
And remember it is really important as a saxophone player, that you learn a little bit about the mechanics of your instrument. Then you can fix these issues when they happen, and keep you up and running and enjoying playing your saxophone.
If you live in England, check out Steve’s website if you need to get your saxophone repaired.
Don’t forget to sign up for our Locker, to get our free fingering chart and loads of other free resources. Click the yellow button above.
And if you want to find out a bit more about Sax School, and start making some serious progress on your saxophone come and have a look around with our 14 day free trial here.