I often tell people that I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica with a saxophone (a true fact), and this has taught be a lot of do’s and don’ts about traveling with a horn. I’ve also been in the saxophone repair business since right after the Earth cooled, and have learned a thing or two about what damages saxophones and how to avoid this damage. Here’s a few things you should think about.
GET A PROPER CASE
The #1 cause of serious damage to saxophones is case failure. By failure, I mean any incidence of the case failing to fully protect the horn while it’s in transit. Before you read any further, get your case out and let’s examine a few things. Correcting them can save you BIG MONEY down the road! First, does your horn fit inside the case absolutely tight or can it move? If it can move, you’re asking for trouble. Either add additional padding so the horn absolutely can’t move at all, replace the case, or start saving money now for a big repair bill in the future. Next, take the horn out of the case, close it, and see if it flexes even a little bit when pressure is applied. If it does, either replace the case or call your repairman and ask how much he charges to straighten a bent body tube. A big number? The you better start saving now! Now let’s carefully examine the interior of your case. Where is the horn most vulnerable to body bends? Ups at the neck receiver end, right? And your case DOES have an extra layer protection there, correct? Not just an extra piece of foam, but a real, rigid barrier. It doesn’t? Start saving!
Many players make the mistake of carrying lots of accessories and junk in their case, and leaving the neck to rattle around loosely. Those accessories have the knack of working their way under keys, and loose necks have a nasty habit of bending. If you have nice mouthpieces, particularly if you are traveling with more than one, get a hard sided, well padded mouthpiece case. ALWAYS carry your neck in a hard sided, padded case, not in a sock or a Crown Royal bag. Take a look at the neck prices at www.nationofmusic.com if you need further convincing. Loose mouthpieces invariably end up with chipped side or tip rails.
OK, so what case is best? If you’re doing any traveling at all, you need an “Anvil-type” flight case. I’ve got Anvils for my horns, and they hold the horns inside Walt Johnson (simply the best) cases. I’ve NEVER had any case related damage. Inconvenient? Well, maybe a little, but that’s what roadies are for…..put all the small, loose stuff in a separate case, and get separate cases for your mouthpieces and necks.
BTW, if you like soft sided gig bags, call your repairman…..he’ll probably give you one…..repairman consider having customers use gig bags “retirement planning”.
USE KEY CLAMPS
Do you REALLY think having your keys flap around whenever the horn is being moved in its case is good for it? Seriously, think about it……there are lots of other benefits to using key clamps as well, but that’s another topic for another day. This is the least expensive anti-saxophone damage insurance you can buy!
GET THE VERY BEST STAND AVAILABLE
I don’t know how many times I’ve had to do major and expensive repairs to someone’s horn because “it fell off the stand”……now go take a look at that stand you bought on sale…..try to imagine the many ways you horn could fall off or out of the stand……get yourself a proper stand, and don’t cheap out. There’s one and one only brand that has my blessing: SaxRax. I’ve used them for years. You can place the horn on the stand at any ridiculous angle and it CAN’T fall out. The base is huge, so it CAN’T tip over. They have lots of available accessories. For example, my SaxRax all have red LED’s on the hoops so I can find my horns when the stage is totally blacked out before we go on; they have a built in cooler for bottled water and pints of single barrel Bourbon; they have a bag for my cell phone; they have a built in cell phone bag……and they make proper stands for all my horns from sopranino to bass, including my saxello! SaxRax are not cheap……however, they cost far less than a visit to my repair shop. Get a SaxRax, fool……
Now don’t treat me like I haven’t read the new regulations concerning carry-on instruments. I have. Yes, they do say you can carry your instrument on SUBJECT TO THE CARRIERS REGULATIONS for carry on items. This means that should the carrier decide to enforce the letter of the law on a whim, your horn has to fit inside that little box at the gate, and that if it doesn’t, you will have to check it. Granted, they will often let you slide, BUT IF THEY DON’T. and they have e very right in the world to refuse you, what is your plan of action? Remember, they are not going to hold the plane on the tarmac while you argue with them……they don’t care how many copies of the letter from the AFM you have in your wallet…..if they let you carry your horn on and put it in the overhead, it’s strictly because they are being nice…..it’s NOT because they have to do so, so don’t get confused……plan ahead, and assume that you will have to turn your horn over to those gorillas they call “baggage handlers” so they can play catch. Get the aforementioned Anvil case and the other accouterments previously mentioned……here’s another tip, one that I’ve really appreciated since I’ve gotten older: get wheels on your cases…..they’re much easier for the crew to schlep through the airport that way.
This should get you started. I think if I’ve learned anything about traveling with a saxophone, it’s to plan ahead for the worst! Let me know your comments and questions!