Introduction: Saxophone Repair: How to Replace the Neck Cork

Here is a step by step guide to replacing the neck cork on your saxophone. The neck cork is a very important piece to maintaining you saxophone. If there are any inconsistencies in the cork on your saxophone neck it will definitely cause problems. inexperienced players, and experienced ones alike may notice a problem, and misdiagnose it as a leaky pad, but if you have air leaking from the neck/mouthpiece connection, the first thing you need to do is replace the faulty neck cork. Every single place where air or water is able to leak will cause your saxophone to be harder to play, and could even cause some notes to play out of tune or sound inconsistent.

You can expect to pay about $20 USD to get a repair shop to replace the neck cork for you, or you can buy a sheet of cork (for around $8-10 USD) and do it yourself. One sheet of cork will be enough material to replace the cork five or six times. Most of the other materials you will need are fairly common household items.

What you will need:
-1/16" thick premium sheet cork (this is the only thing you probably won't be able to find locally, everything else can probably come from a local hardware store.)
-Razor blade
-Knife or scraper
-Contact cement
-Precision screwdriver
-Ruler or straight edge
-An assortment of coarse and fine sand paper
-Alcohol (I use denatured alcohol from the local hardware store, but rubbing alcohol works too.)

Step 1: Get Rid of the Old Cork and Clean the Area Thoroughly

1. Using your screwdriver, locate and remove the rod screw that holds the octave mechanism. Don't lose it! 
Take the octave mechanism off and put it aside for now.

Scrape off the old cork with a sharp knife. Be careful not to scratch up any of the area that will be visible. Make sure you remove all the material and clean the area well or the new cork will not bond to the brass!

Tip: If you want to make sure you don't scratch up the visible areas, wrap some masking tape around the neck while you scrape the old cork and glue off, and scrape away from the exposed area.

You can use the alcohol and a coarse rag or some fine grit sandpaper to make sure the brass is really clean of any dirt, glue, or old cork.

2. When the area is clean, Measure how much cork you want to cut as pictured, and make a mark with your pencil on the cork. Use the straight edge or ruler to make the cut. The measurements will vary from neck to neck, and also depend on what type of mouthpiece you use.

3. Using a very sharp razor, bevel one of the short sides of the cork (shown in the third picture). This allows you to wrap the cork around itself without leaving a gap for air or water to leak through. I use the corner of my bench anvil to do this, but you can just as easily use the edge of the table to hold the razor as close to a 45 degree angle as you can.

Step 2: Apply the Glue, Let It Dry, and Then the Apply the Cork.

1. Apply a thin layer of contact cement to the neck and the back of the cork, and don't forget to put a little bit on the beveled edge.

Important: let the glue dry for 10-15 minutes before proceeding

2. When the glue is dry, you are ready to wrap the cork around the neck. Take your time because the glue will bond instantly, and if you mess up, you will have to start over from the beginning. Start with the beveled end of the cork, line it up with the neck, and then press firmly with your thumbs. Then, continue working the cork around the neck slowly by pressing firmly with your thumbs.

Some saxophone necks have a little brass lip on the very edge like the one shown (from my Buffet saxophone), these can be difficult to wrap, so just take your time when you do this part. If your neck doesn't have the lip you can let just a little bit of cork hang over that edge, and easily trim it back later with a sharp razor blade.

3. you'll want to have enough cork so that when you finish wrapping the neck up in cork, there will be some excess material hanging over. Now is the time to trim it back with your razor blade.

Step 3: Finishing the Job, and Setting Intonation for Your Mouthpiece

1. Get some coarse sandpaper ( I used 150 grit 3M paper). Sand down the edge that you trimmed until it looks nice and even. Be careful not to take off too much material.

2. Now get your mouthpiece and gently see if it will fit on the cork. If you used 1/16" thick cork it probably won't just from smoothing out the cork. Now, get your fine sand paper (I used 300 grit 3M paper cut to size) and go around the neck cork. Try to be very even and sand all of the cork , but just use a few strokes at a time. Try your mouthpiece again. If it doesn't fit, go back to the fine sandpaper and take off a little more material.

Important tip: Cork compresses over time and has a memory. Ideally you shoudn't sand the neck cork down to the point where the mouthpiece plays in tune, you want it to be real snug at that point, so stop sanding before you get there or the seal won't last a very long time.

Finishing up:

When you get to the point where you can fit your mouthpiece on the neck, you should put the octave mechanism back on and play a little bit with a tuner. At first the mouthpiece should be really snug when pushed in, and your saxophone will play flat. This is normal, repeat the last two steps until you reach the desired intonation with your mouthpiece.

Remember you can always take off material, but you can't add it back so err on the side of caution when finishing the job up. No one wants their horn to play sharp all the time, and you certainly don't want to have to start over from scratch. Now you can add a little bit of cork grease and you are back to shedding some licks!

Here are two links to online repair suppliers that you can order natural sheet cork from:

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, or suggestions for my guide, feel free to send me a message or leave a comment!