Vintage Finishing Overhaul Saxophone With No Chemicals




Introduction: Vintage Finishing Overhaul Saxophone With No Chemicals

I wanted to restore the look of my old yamaha tenor saxophone because it was really ugly, for the lacquer being worn out. It also needed some pads to be replaced.

For this one I wanted a vintage look instead of just unlacquering and leaving the bare brass.

Researching, I've found another instructable: "Saxophone Alchemy" by joechacon98, which inspired me, but I didn't wanted to use any chemicals, and also didn't wanted to relacquer. (I am a strong believer that relaquering an unlacquered saxophone decreases its value and weakens the sound).

This Instructable can be performed at home, with no danger (dealing with boiling water in kitchen required), by anyone (who thinks is capable to disassembly and reassembly a saxophone, not that hard).


  • sandpaper medium (800 grit)
  • sandpaper fine grade (1200 grit)
  • steel wool
  • steel scouring pad
  • kitchen white vinegar
  • masking tape
  • automotive polish
  • cotton rag cloth
  • protective gloves to handle hot stuff


  • clamp
  • large kitchen pot (as large as half saxophone can be submerged)
  • heat gun (optional)
  • plastic pot
  • large plastic bags
  • saxophone stand (very useful)
  • jewellers screwdrivers
  • kitchen tongs

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Step 1: Test in the Neck

  • disassembly the neck octave mechanism (if niqueled as mine).
  • remove cork
  • remove lacquer:
    • put the neck in a boiling water pot
    • put gloves
    • wait like 5 minutes
    • remove from pot with kitchen tongs (don't shut fire off let water boiling)
    • wait a moment, it will cool down very fast with air
    • take back to boiling water 1 minute
    • take off water, let cool again
    • give this thermal shock 2 or 3 times no more is needed
    • with steel pad remove laquer (you will see it peels down very easy, even with your fingers touch)
  • if you think is scratched (not that easy, this is the moment to polish down with sandpaper, water and maybe some car polish)
  • optionally you can sand blast it off of course

Now to apply vintage finishing:

  • Mask all the open holes of the neck (mouthpiece end, saxophone end, and octave hole). This is to protect the inside of the neck from fumes.
  • Do this taking care that you don't let pieces of masking tape adhered to visible neck surface, wherever masked you won't get the vintage finishing.
  • inside a plastic bag put a small plastic container, with a little vinegar (maybe a couple oz) and fix the neck over the container, but not touching vinegar (not submerged). close airtight the bag. Idea is to keep vinegar fumes inside bag, with the neck
  • let stand like 8 hours. (it depends on room temperature and effect desired) If wanted, take a look every 3 hours
  • when finishing color is desired (the longer with fumes, the darker) rinse with cold water and cotton rag.
  • if green patina dust was created, make sure you remove it with water.
  • if shiny desired, polish very gently with rag and car polish
  • if finishing is no good it can be easily removed with fiber and water.


  • make sure plastic bag is not touching the neck, if so it will mask there.
  • you can use a big airtight container instead.

Step 2: Now Unlacquer Body

  • Remove nickeled parts, all keys, finger button (often by turning), finger rest, body guards if removable
    • make sure you take note of every part removed, in which order,and store safely every single screw, and picture everything in detail from several angles.
  • To unlacquer do the thermal shock thing than weakens the lacquer (see previous step) in a big pot. you can submerge half saxophone and then turn and submerge the other half. After this lacquer peels even with the bare fingers.
    • if you don't have that big pot, you can use heat gun.
    • Use gloves ! sax body will transfer heat very fast !
  • Then remove weakened lacquer with steel scouring pad or steel wool if prefered.
  • finish with sandpaper
  • polish with.. polish and rag


  • there is no need to remove sprins as they are steel, but be very carefull the can sting and harm during handling, polishing and cleaning, is up to you !
  • if you want to do keys as well, you will have to remove pads, if you don't know how to repad don't do it !

Step 3: Applying Vintage Finishing to Body

  • mask everything you don't want to have the finish
  • I decided to mask the bell ring to get color contrast
  • also mask tone openings to protect inside from fumes.
  • arrange it hanging from lyre slot ( I used a clamp and a piece of electric cord) and hanged it from a tall work bench. You could use a ladder or anything.
  • inside a bag put one or two plastic open containers with vinegar, and close the bag airtight with saxophone inside. (more on this refer to step 1 about the neck)
  • let stand for the same time you did with neck (I choose 8 hrs).
  • remove it, rinse with water and clean green powder if created.
  • gently polish if desired.
  • remember places touching something, including the plastic bag, the fume treatment wont act.

Step 4: Reassemble, Repad, Test

  • well..
  • review pads, replace if needed
  • reassemble keys, adjust key actions, adjust springs bending.
  • replace neck cork
  • test and enjoy ! ! !

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    5 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Cool project! I love the way it looks.


    3 years ago

    OMG what a way to destroy a fine instrument! And unless your a skilled repairman you have no business disassembling, reassembling! If you care to ever play it again, take it to a good repairman who will set pad height, etc. You're not getting near my 1970 Selmer Mark VI!


    Reply 3 years ago

    If you think a specially skilled and trained repairman is needed to remove some screws and replace them back on the same places, without messing mechanical actions, you better stop looking for instructions on saxophone repairing on a do-it-yourself enthusiasts web, save some money and take your mark vi with a professional for the repair you need.

    There is no reason for a cup action height to change after reassembly unless you bend something or change adjustment screws.

    Instrument will play the same than before after this job, but looking great.

    And let me clarify: to render a yamaha student model superior than the mark vi of a topton kid is not the goal intended for this instructable; after overhaul, it will still be a yamaha. Protip: Practice long notes and scales instead trolling on forums to defeat Pauls playing ;)

    Best regards!


    3 years ago

    Wow! I love it! I play the saxophone too! I will have to give that a try. If you like my instructables, please check out my website that goes with them. Thanks again for sharing!


    3 years ago

    This is an excellent refinish! Thanks for sharing your wonderful transformation!