Whilst the craft of sax repair undoubtedly consists of a motley collection of arcane skills, unusual tools and noxious potions, there are a number of highly effective techniques that are nothing more than plain old-fashioned housekeeping - and if there's a surefire way to rejuvenate a grubby old horn it's to give its crook (or neck) a really good clean.
It really doesn't take long for crud to build up in this part of a horn, but no matter how fastidious you are with mopping the thing out you can't really do much to prevent scale forming - which shows itself as little whitish grey deposits. Even if there isn't any scale there's often a film of grease and fat and assorted other nasties that get left behind after a normal clean out.
So here's a safe and simple way of restoring a bit of sparkle to the
bore of the crook - and thus to your tone.
Vinegar is ideal for this job. It's a weak acid - just about strong enough to soften or dissolve calcium carbonate (scale) and weaken the grip of fats and grease, but certainly not strong enough to do any harm to the metal or the finish on the horn - at least not unless you have a spare couple of weeks and a great deal of vinegar. It also acts in an anti-microbial fashion and is an effective agent for reducing the risk of contamination from the various bugs that thrive in the warm and wet environment of the crook's bore.
The first thing you'll need to do is remove the octave key.
You now have a 'bare' crook.
You now need to stop up the mouthpiece end. I use a small cork, which
is ideal if you have such a thing lying around, but if not you'll just
have to improvise. You can use a large lump of blu-tack, or plasticine...or
even a potato or piece of apple! All you really need is something that's
going to be watertight for half an hour or so. Clingfilm might work, but
I find the vinegar often seeps out over the cork and leaves it smelling
What you need now is a sufficient quantity of vinegar to fill the crook.
If you really want to go the whole hog you can warm the vinegar before
pouring it into the crook. I find this helps the cleaning process and
speeds it up. For lacquered crooks I wouldn't heat the vinegar to anything
more than 'hand hot'...i.e. you can place a finger in the heated vinegar
and hold it there with no discomfort.
While the vinegar's heating, consider how you're going to prop the crook
up. It's got to stand for about half an hour and hold the vinegar in,
so you need some way to support it. I have a very special tool for this
- it's called 'a plate'. Yep, I just pop the pillars up on a plate and
the crook sits there quite happily. Tenor crooks will need a slightly
steeper angler because of that air gap (two plates).
So, fill the crook with the vinegar (hold it by the mouthpiece cork if
using hot vinegar) and pop it down to rest.
When the time comes to pour out the vinegar you might like to pour it
into a cup. There's no real reason for doing this other that it might
give you a small sense of satisfaction as you note just how dirty the
vinegar looks (certainly works for me!).
Refitting the key is easy enough - poke the tenon through the 'ring'
of the key and lift the key up and over the crook...being careful not
to let the spring scratch the crook surface. The crucial part is to ensure
that the spring seats on the little channel on the top of the crook. If
the spring is loose, tighten up the screw a little (it's only small, so
don't overdo it). Doesn't hurt to wipe the spring over with a little oil
to help prevent it rusting...and pop a small drop of oil on the rod screw
before you refit it. If you have a spare pipecleaner, clean out the key
barrel beforehand...and give the screw a wipe too.
If there's one drawback to this method it's that the extreme tip of the crook might not get cleaned, due to the bung preventing the vinegar reaching it (though I generally find that some vinegar always manages to seep right to the end of the tip). You can either wipe a little vinegar in the tip before you pop the bung in, or you can coat the last centimetre or so of the mouthpiece cork liberally in vaseline and simply up-end the crook in a centimetre of cold vinegar for half an hour or so.
If the job's been a success you should be able to see that the bore of
the crook is nice and clean. It won't be bright and shiny (as I I said
as the start, vinegar simply isn't that powerful), but it should be free
of those whitish/grey deposits.
If you really must leave the octave key on I'd advise thoroughly wrapping it up in clingfilm, being very careful with the washout procedure, and leaving it wrapped until the last washout is complete...and giving the screw and spring a good oil afterwards, just in case.