Edgware Cares No. 4: How to deal with a sticky G# key

Let’s set the scene. You’re minding your own business playing your saxophone. You’re getting really into it when suddenly, out of nowhere, a G sounds rather than a G#! Shock! Horror! Maybe it started off as a G, then suddenly corrected itself to a G# without any action from yourself. Or maybe it remained as a G for what felt like an eternity.

Strange. Embarrassing. Confusing. Awkward.

You start to think you’re going crazy, and that you may as well never play the saxophone again, it’s just too embarrassing. It’s at that very moment that you look down at your saxophone, finger a G, then watch your little finger press your G# touch piece. It’s then that you realise that something isn’t quite right…

The only good thing about sticky G# keys is that we can blame some of our mistakes on them!
The only good thing about sticky G# keys is that we can blame some of our mistakes on them!

How does the G# key work?

Other than being a right pain in the backside, the G# key is unique for another reason – it is sprung closed. This means that pressing your G# touch piece will open a pad to create a note, unlike most of the other keys that are sprung open, which touch piece’s close a pad to create the desired note.

Why does the G# pad get sticky?

As a result of the G# key being sprung closed, it means that the pad is down the majority of the time. This means that the air and saliva that you’re sending down your sax as you play leaves more residue on this pad than any other – making it a lot stickier!

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.

Is it just me that has a sticky G#?

This is an issue that almost ALL saxophonists face, regardless of their age, ability or type of saxophone. Not one single manufacturer can promise hand on heart that their saxophones won’t encounter this problem, so anyone that tells you otherwise is telling porkies!

The good news is that this small, but particularly irritating issue can be easily fixed. We’re going to outline the different options in this blog post for you!

Baritone Saxophone [Photo by Jens Thekkeveettil on Unsplash]
Baritone Saxophone [Photo by Jens Thekkeveettil on Unsplash]

Preventing a Sticky G#:

Drying Your Instrument

We’ve mentioned this in a recent blog on how to clean your woodwind mouthpiece, but the same applies here. You should be cleaning and drying your instrument every single time you play. We recommend doing this with a pull-through several times, but there are also specific pad dryers on the market that are perfectly shaped to dry that pesky G# pad.

Special Gear and Gadgets

As a recurring problem that affects saxophonists all over the world, it was only a matter of time before some clever person came up with a device to minimise the issue. Key leaves slide under the key arms of Eb and Low C# to open up the G# key, preventing bacteria and yeast growth that causes sticky keys in the first place. 

Food and Drink

Believe it or not, what you eat or drink can have an impact on your instrument. Try to refrain from consuming sugary snacks and drinks before or whilst you play. You’ll end up blowing these straight down your horn, and they can make sticky pads far more likely. Some wind musicians actually brush their teeth before they play…

Regular Servicing

As with any instrument issues, if in doubt, show it to a professional! By having your saxophone regularly serviced, your repairer will be able to check the condition of your pads. They will be able to clean or replace them is necessary, and know to keep a close eye on that pesky sticky G# key!

Consuming sugary snacks and drinks before playing isn't good or your saxophone! [Photo by Luis Aguila on Unsplash]
Consuming sugary snacks and drinks before playing isn’t good or your saxophone! [Photo by Luis Aguila on Unsplash]

Quick Fixes for a Sticky G#:

With the best will in the world, sometimes we will end up with a sticky G# key, no matter how well we maintain our instrument, buy fancy gear, and brush our teeth. If you end up in a sticky situation (quite literally), here are a few things you can do!

Immediate Relief

To get your sticky G~ key moving again in a hurry, you can use powder paper. These small sheets leave a small coating of powder on the pad, which will stop it from sticking temporarily. The downside of these is that they aren’t removing any of the offending sticky material, in fact, they are most likely adding another layer to it!

Cleaning the Pad

If you’ve got a little more time, we would recommend taking the time to clean your sticky G# key pad. You can do this with cleaning papers (or Rizla paper if you’re old school!) and a cleaning fluid such as lighter fluid. Cotton buds can also come in handy for particularly hard to reach places!

Saxophone Pads [Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash]
Saxophone Pads [Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash]

So, there you have it – some top tips on how to deal with a sticky G# key. If you have any requests, feel free to let us know here or reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook!