#WednesdayWisdom: What You Can Learn With A Leak Light

In this article, we’re going to explore through observation and all you’ll need to have is a saxophone and a leak light, so this one is ideal for players, technicians, and for our customer who own our Saxophone Repair Kit.

When you put a leak light in a saxophone, you can learn a lot about the quality of the build, damage history, repair history, and current issues with the body.  It’s remarkable what you can glean by illuminating the inside of the body tube and studying it.  Let’s light up the body tube by placing a leak light in the bell for starters.

First, we can see if there has been a major impact.  The bell-to-body brace in the middle of the body tube is often a place where damage shows because the body bends around the brace.  An impact from a drop on the opposite side may show by the thumb rest being pushed into the body tube.  If that is dented, it’s good to check the neck too. Likely the body fell and the neck took a hit also.

Next, we can look for evidence of dent work having been done.  New instruments won’t have any vertical lines or scarring in the brass, but just about any other saxophone will have gotten some dents and dings removed over time.  The process of removing the dent from the inside leaves evidence in the brass, which is normal.  

You may be able to see where the posts are soldered on to the instrument. If you can see an outline of the base of the post foot, someone grabbed the post bent it or it fell. Look on the outside of the instrument and try to find the corresponding posts from the inside of the body tube. You can look at those posts and see why someone would have bent them after soldering them. Many times, it was done at the factory.

Look further down the tube to see the bell-to-bow joint.  Is it round?  Are there globs of hot glue or solder coming out?  The Low C and Eb have a post above this joint and one below this joint; can you find evidence of work having been done there?  Do these parts all work together?

Look further into the bow.  Is there damage on the inside of the bow, yet the outside of the bow guard looks great?  That is evidence of a major impact having occurred on the bottom of the instrument and the original bow guard was so damaged that it was replaced and the dent work wasn’t completed in the bow since it is not visible on the outside.

Look down the body tube all the way from the receiver to the bow: is the body tube straight?  Or is the top of the tube above the body-to-bell brace bent forward?  If you need help with how to sight the body, check out this VIDEO.

If you’re looking at a vintage instrument like a Martin or an early Buescher with soldered-on tone holes, look around the base of each tone hole and check if there are any gaps in the solder.  This is easier to see by looking on the outside of the instrument.

If the instrument has been re-lacquered during its life, you may see various levels of work that may have some curious incongruences when you inspect the inside of the instrument. This, one could write a book about!

Now check the receiver.  Look for damage around it.  Is it round?  Do you see wear patterns in the receiver?  Check the neck and the tenon.  Are there shiny spots on the tenon where the receiver on either side of the screw is digging into the tenon because it is out of round or crushed in?

Just past the receiver, look at the octave pip and check around it.  Is it leaking?  Can you see damage to it?  Damage to the octave pip indicates that it was damaged by a dent rod.

Move the light to the bell.  Check where the bell-to-body brace is attached to the bell- do you see evidence of an impact here?  Inspect the bell-to-bow joint for roundness.

We can learn so much just by observing with the aid of a leak light.  Very likely you’ve spotted some interesting evidence of work at occurring at the factory, work by a technician, or damage from a drop or impact. 

Using this technique when repairing an instrument or when thinking of purchasing an instrument will help you better assess its quality and condition.

MusicMedic Leak Lights


The SuperNova is MusicMedic.com’s 360 degree LED LeakLight. This is a small and super bright professional LED LeakLight. It does not give off heat and is extremely durable.


Great tool for finding leaks in woodwind instruments. We have found this leak light particularly useful for instruments such as, soprano sax, baritone sax, clarinet, flute, or any instrument whose shape or size prohibit the use of other leak lights. Because this leak light is flexible and durable, it is also a great for traveling.


The Flexi-Nova Leak Light System is a 10 inch flexible leak light with 15 LED lights on both sides. The lights are encased in a soft shrink tubing which will not mar or damage instruments. It comes with a 3 foot cord powered by USB connection.