Saxophone repair pro Steve Crow shares his tips on how to fix problems with your saxophone octave key.
An easy fix
“My saxophone worked fine yesterday but today I can’t get a note out of it.”
As a saxophone repairman, this is something I hear all the time, especially when buying a beginner saxophone. The good news is that more often than not, this is due to saxophone octave key problems – and they are easy to fix when you know how. The octave key will cause problems with your higher notes on the sax.
Saxophone octave key issues are most commonly caused by how the saxophone neck is handled when assembling the instrument. The octave key stretches over the top of the saxophone neck, and it can easily be bent out of shape if you squeeze the neck too hard. This is going to cause the octave key not to work properly. Octave key issues are a particularly common problem on newer Chinese saxophones.
Find the lifter under the “U” bend of your neck octave mechanism
Identify the problem
Find the small pad on top of your neck, just down from where your mouthpiece cork ends. That is your neck octave mechanism. Follow it down to where it goes around the neck in a “U” shape. Underneath you’ll see a lifter key coming up from the body. That lifter key should not be touching the neck octave mechanism if everything is setup correctly.
If yours is touching, don’t worry. I’ll get to how you fix this in a minute.
How the lifter works
The key lifter has basically got two different functions. Firstly, with no keys pressed, the lifter should sit behind the octave key but not touching it. As you press down just the octave key with your right thumb, the lifter should firstly move about a millimeter to touch the neck octave mechanism. Then as you continue to press the octave key, the lifter should move further and lift the neck octave mechanism so it is clear of the pad on the top of your neck that we first identified.
The second function works if you press your G as well as your octave key. Now the lifter should return to the sax’s body, allowing the neck octave mechanism to lower and close the octave pad.
With these two keys still pressed you should be able to easily move the lifter back and forth. This shows us that the neck octave mechanism is fully closed and sealing the pad on top of your neck.
How to fix it
Suppose your lifter isn’t working like this, then it’s relatively easy to fix. We need to bend the neck octave key mechanism, so it is in the right shape. Don’t panic – this is easy to do, and if you’re careful, you won’t do any lasting damage to your instrument!
Squeeze gently to close down the neck octave key.
Put both of your thumbs under the “U” bend on the neck octave mechanism and your first two fingers on the top of it up near the neck pad. Gently squeeze the neck octave mechanism to slightly make it less of a “C” shape. Always just make a small change then check your lifter again to see if the problem has been corrected.
Gone too far? Don’t worry.
You can open out the “C” shape of the neck octave mechanism by placing one thumb under the top of the neck octave mechanism near the neck pad, and the other thumb on the “U” bend. Gently push your two thumbs apart to open out the “C” shape of the neck octave mechanism.
Use your thumbs to gently open the octave key up.
Once you do this a few times you will find it really easy and quick to do.
Got problems playing the low notes on your sax or the low notes won’t work on your saxophone? – check out this article.
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