Brass Rot (Red Rot) Removal, Surface Treatment & Prevent [Archive] - Sax on the Web Forum

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07-13-2003, 09:38 PM
I do not have this case in any of my saxes but while browsing on ebay I saw a handful of vintage and not-so-vintage saxes with brown-reddish tinges on the surface. All my searches showed how it eats the brass alloy (w/ zinc) and there is no way to stop it once it begins eating up on the brass. Looks like those guys either neglect or do not know how to take care of their instruments. I didn't know what it is until I further made web searches. Gordon, your comments, suggestions, please. Or anyone? :?

Hurling Frootmig
07-13-2003, 10:21 PM
I think it is more of a function of the make up of the brass allow in question more than improper care. I have a vintage Yani that came to me with some red rot. I have a 1950's aristocrat alto that is basically bare brass and shows no evidence of red rot neither does my aristocrat tenor which appears to have lived at a school at some point.

I've also read that it would take a very long time for red rot to do significant damage. That may or may not be correct - I look forward to the thoughts of some of our well respected techs as well.

07-13-2003, 10:38 PM
Red rot does seem to have to do with the newer brall alloys. It is the result of dezincification(spelling?) , but really seems to show up more on newer horns, in the brass family, as well as saxophones. It seems to attack smaller tubing the most, which makes me believe the saliva must be the culprit. I have no knowledge of any way to stop it, besides replacing the metal of the affected area, or patching over the area. It seems that preventive measures are the best bet overall. Wipe out the neck after playing, maybe even get a extra swab and pull through a wet swab, with some water on it, then dry the neck with another swab, just to be extra carefull. Thankfully most of the newer horns still have necks in production.

Gordon (NZ)
07-14-2003, 02:12 AM
I agree with Saxdaddy.

But the dezincification process needs some agent to make the chemical reaction happen. Perhaps acid, enzymes, other chemicals, or even bacteria in saliva or perspiration, which is much more corrosive for some people than others. At least a few of my customers blow nose liquids &/or saliva over the OUTSIDE of their horns while playing.

Surely, if the corrosive agent no longer has access to the brass surface, then the corrosion will not continue.

A good case for a decent lacquer, yet players seem hell-bent on removing it!

And sure, it may depend on the particular brass alloy used.

07-14-2003, 04:50 AM
I just bought an old bari with a fair amount of red rust around the top end. This is not a valuable collector horn, so would a brass polishing compound e.g. Brasso, remove the tarnish to the point where wax, or a light touch up with lacquer would protect it from further deterioration? I have no issues with resale value, etc, I just don't want it to look so bad, or get any worse.

07-14-2003, 05:41 AM
Red rot is most common on the leadpipe of trumpets.I think it is helped along by saliva.

Gordon (NZ)
07-14-2003, 05:51 AM
pfox, I don't know. I have not met enough of it to know. I don't know how superficial or deep this stuff can get. I'd try Brasso. If you do any sealing, be careful, because sealing can seal in the agent that causes the deterioration.

07-14-2003, 05:18 PM
Collinite metal wax takes the redrot off. Available from Caswell Electroplating

3M Tarni-shield For Brass also works. Available from Ferrees.

Both of these products act as a one-step nonabrasive cleaner/sealer.
The Tarni-shield smells worse and you have to buy separate versions of Tarni-shield for brass and silver; where one bottle of Collinite is good for both types of surface.

07-14-2003, 05:37 PM
What trade or hobby is the Collinite usually used in - the website you gave is in the USA, I'd like to find an outlet for the stuff in the UK and wondered where I would start looking?

07-14-2003, 06:37 PM
That stuff may be able to polish the metal, and hopefully protect the metal as well, but it can't actually remove the red rot, unless it can replace the zinc that is missing, and somehow remix it with the copper that is still there. Make sure that if you try this, get the inside surface as well as the outside, since red rot starts off inside the tubing, and comes to the surface through the metal, many time you will see it under the lacquer.

07-23-2003, 07:04 AM
From some research:-
Dezincification selectively removes zinc from the alloy, leaving behind a porous, copper-rich structure that has little mechanical strength, exhibiting a white powdery substance or mineral stains on its exterior surface.
The cure is a specification that limits brass alloys to those containing no more than 15% zinc, or specification of proven dezincification-resistant yellow brass alloys.

You may find the use of this product helpful though I should omit the steel wool!

Gordon (NZ)
07-23-2003, 02:11 PM
If dezincification is a significantly damaging process, then I would like to know if it is actually carried out by the muriatic or phosphoric acid baths used by many repairers for routine cleaning of brass instruments, especially the slide and valve instruments.

Some repairers do this annually to school instruments.

Others use ultrasonic cleaning, which I believe may dezincify also. After all, it quickly punches holes through aluminium foil.

I brought these issues up in a repairers' forum but disappointingly, little interest was shown. The same forum discusses the severe corrosion that occurs in valves of brass instruments. Hmmm!! A bit worrying?

07-23-2003, 06:19 PM
I would have to give that one a big NO. If this was the case, then it would be found all over the instrument, but it isn't. It tends to be most common in the smaller tubing, where direct contact with the spit, and condensation is the greatest.

Gordon (NZ)
07-23-2003, 06:33 PM
Perhaps it IS all over the non-lacquered/plated surfaces?

08-09-2003, 06:08 PM
Not really. You will see pitting, but not red rot. Don't get me wrong, it will show up anywhere, but it is most common, on smaller tubing, close to where the mouthpiece connects to the instrument, or areas where the condensation collects, like around water keys on brass horns or in the lead pipe, the necks of saxophones. Unless it is pink in color, its not red rot. And it seems to work from the inside out.

Gordon (NZ)
08-10-2003, 09:48 AM
What I am saying is that red rot does not SUDDENLY become visually apparent. It must have already developed to some degree BEFORE it is visually red, and its small beginnings may well be on any unprotected surface after acid treatment.

Just because something happening at a molecular level cannot be seen, does mean that it does not exist.

08-10-2003, 02:21 PM
And all I am saying is thatsince the entire inside of the instrument insn't lacquered, and the red rot shows up in instruments often only few years old, which also have been chem cleaned, that if it were from the acid, then it wouldn't show up in just the smaller tubing. The smaller diameter tubing isn't any thinner, yet it seems to get the red rot very quickly. The shop I am in services 5 stores, a rental fleet, and alot of walk ins, we also track all of out instruments with a computer, so If I look up the repair history on a horn, I can see what has happened before. This really helps one to see patterens, now you are right in saying that a chem clean could cause it, there is no doubt in my mind that it can, and does happen, but only if the job was substandard. Poor rinsing is the biggest mess up that could happen, then you have, too long in the bath, too strong of a bath, the failure to soak in some kind of nutralizing bath(for more than just a few seconds). Alot of things can go wrong, but I have seen plenty instrument with red rott, that have never had a chem clean, just alot of condensation. Who knows how strong of an acid might come from your mouth, as your breath collects on the walls of the neck, or lead pipe.

08-10-2003, 09:27 PM
It's my experience that red rot is associated with spittle ( which has a bit of hdrochloric acid in it's makeup as I recall) and it is interesting that my muriatic acid also contains Hydrochloric Acid. You also see a red surface corrosion on some older horns that I assumed came from the individuals perspiration with the understanding that everybodies metabolism is so different . For example look at how a small percentage of people have such a reaction with silver...sometimes just with the liplate of their flute or one hand and not the other. I have a clarinet in right now with the keywork covered with corriosion spots that would correspond quite nicely with the spray of spittle coming from the players mouth.
After many years of acid bathing I was getting frustrated by horns that came out of the bath, were rinsed/flushed and when dissembled for dentwork had a cosiderable amount of the green monster still present. I always attributed this to the fact I was bathing the horn in a bathtub of the same chemical (HCl acid) that caused the problem in the first place. This is why I switched to ultrasonic cleaning. I just took apart a tuba for some dentwork and it is amazingly clean.

Gordon (NZ)
08-11-2003, 02:17 AM
Whether it be hydrochloric or muriatic (sulphuric) or nitric or phosphoric, these are 'strong' (technical term) acids which attack zinc very fast. The moment you put zinc in these acids it starts fizzing , as the zinc chemically reacts and effectively dissolves. Copper is attacked more slowly. How much these acids attack zinc when the molecules of zinc are interspersed with copper molecules, I do not know.

The condensation from moist breath would be pretty pure water. However some players put significant saliva down (and even over - yuck!) their instruments.

I don't think there is sufficient acid in saliva to cause a problem. However there are enzymes, and who knows what they may do to metals.

I think the saliva reaction is probably not because of the saliva itself, but a similar action to what destroys teeth. Then bacteria in the saliva feed on nutrients in the saliva, producing acid waste products, which attack the metal, possibly with the assistance of the enzymes.

The more the surface of the metal is compromised at a microscopic level (INVISIBLE the naked eye) the more these bacteria are able to take up residence, just as they do in the plaque on teeth.

As you know, I highly suspect ultrasonic cleaners for providing a surface that is better for bacteria, acids, etc to collect, just as high pressure water blasting of concrete washes away cement, making the surface better for moulds and lichen to take purchase.

11-13-2007, 09:21 AM
Nice to read information on brass corrosion.

Saliva doesn't contain any acids as such , in fact,healthy saliva, is incredibly close to neutral PH.

I talked about that in a thread concerning mouthpieces. here an extract from that topic

......The saliva PH varies from very mild acid to very mild alkaline. .......In healthy individuals, saliva PH stays within range between 6,5 and 7,5. Hardly an aggressive chemical....

However red rot or other forms of corrosion of the brass happens, no doubt about that.

I have this Baritone where the brown stains are all on the outside of the tubing, the inside is in a pristine state, in fact, it is much better than most saxophones I ever owned.

So obviously condesation or saliva play no role, at least in this case, It should happen from inside out unless we postulate that someone has been licking his horn clean. I think that red rod is very often caused by a combination of condesantion and chemicals (gasses?) forming or present in the case or in the lacquer itself. This will explain how red rot is almost always on the outside of an instrument and almost never in the inside.

However, what to do about it? Do any of the repaires and restorers of the forum deal wit it successfully and how?

11-13-2007, 10:31 AM
Can i wade in with something a little controversal here.

"Show me the evidence"

Yes i know red rot exists but where are the mounds of horns rendered unplayable by this awful affliction? Well, i suspect they don't exist.

I've seen red rot on saxs but really struggle to see how it would spread to an extent where it was a problem.

Anyone care to comment?

11-13-2007, 10:33 AM
no, I don't believe it is a problem, In fact I asked a reputable technician here in Holland and he says it is only a problem which will affect the looks but not much else

Gordon (NZ)
11-13-2007, 10:38 AM
"I have this Baritone where the brown stains are all on the outside of the tubing"

Well then, if it is on the outside, what about the action of the fumes given off by materials used for the construction of the case - plastics, glues, etc? Such fumes have been conclusively incriminated in the past for pitting of the silver plating of flutes, and severe tarnish of the nickel plating of various instruments. I for one, have experienced the fumes from fresh polyurethane varnish tarnishing bright nickel plating to a dull, off-white, rough tarnish overnight.

What about perspiration? Any experienced tech has customers whose perspiration wrecks the surface of every instrument they own. I can handle steel without a problem, but a piano tuner friend daren't touch ANY steel tool or piano string, because within hours it will be rusty.

What about the corrosive vapours that are now common pollutants in our atmosphere?

11-13-2007, 01:50 PM
No expert on this, but I've seen my share of it. Back in the 60's & 70's I had a friend who loved King Super 20 saxes - the ones with silver neck and bell, I believe (tenor). The rest of us played MK VI but he insisted on his King. Unfortunately, for him, he had excema (sp?). he could destroy the finish on his horn very quickly, to the point where he had to buy another. A bit extreme, perhaps, but, obviously, body excretions can have a great effect on horns. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but anyone removing all the lacquer from a horn is nuts, as far as I'm concerned. A lot of you here are collectors and nothing I could say would convince you that it isn't necessary to leave all the grunge and rot on a horn. I know, it's worth more if you leave it alone. I wouldn't hesitate to clean any of these horns and, perhaps re-lacquer. Most here wouldn't hear of it. Carry on buying and selling folks. I just want a great playing horn. If it looks good too- so much the better. Now clean all that red grunge off and spray a bit of lacquer.

11-13-2007, 02:25 PM
I was just on the phone with another technician who recommended exactly the same, which is to buff all the the red rot away ( he too went for the idea that it is mainly the skin oils which do the damage or perhaps the sulphur in the air....he couldn't elaborate on why would the airborne sulphur not react with the inside of the horn while it did on the outside...) and than relaquer the whole horn.
This is what The Britannica has to say about sweat:

"....The composition of sweat is similar to that of plasma except that sweat does not contain proteins. After secretion, the fluid moves through the sweat duct, where salt and water are reabsorbed. The exact mechanism of sweat secretion is not known. It appears that sweat is a filtrate of plasma that contains electrolytes(such as potassium, sodium, and chloride) and metabolic wastes (like urea and lactic acid).Because sweat resembles a filtrate of plasma,water-soluble chemicals, like some drugs and metal ions, are found in sweat. Sweat is not a major route of excretion of chemicals, however...."

I kind of doubt that the sole culprit is sweat but it might very well play a role in it.

I too think that removing the laquer and buffing would , in the end have no deep harmful effect on the sound and certainly looks are important to me.;)

11-13-2007, 05:25 PM
It seems to me and correct me if I'm wrong, that I think that "red rot" is a little more specific than some people may think. And not necessarily an "general explanation" for unsightly blemishes.

I agree with Ken K that especially on trumpets it is found mostly on the inside of the leadpipe and also on trombone on the inside of main slide. I also agree with saxdaddy re it attacking smaller tubing, which would suggest to me that spit could be a factor in the process as well as the make up of the materails used. e.g Getzen and Bach in particular are more succeptible to this problem than other makes _ I say this because the majority of instances I have encountered this it has been on those two makes.

I think that on some areas on saxophones where people may believe they have red rot it could actually be something else as Gordon suggests like acid bleed for example - where maybe a flux wasnts properly cleaned in the manufacturing process and the lacquer was applied on top and the mark shows after time.

11-13-2007, 06:07 PM
My MkVI alto didn't start turning reddish where the lacquer was rubbed off until I moved to Hawaii--the one with the volcano. I think a combination of sulphur dioxide 'vog' and salt air started the reddishness.

11-13-2007, 06:46 PM
Used to wax my Selmer with Simoniz paste wax years ago. Haven't for awhile, but I have very little red stuff on the keys. Cleaned it off (the red stuff) last year and shot a couple coats of lacquer on the spots I had cleaned. Looks good to me. Sounds as good as ever.

11-13-2007, 06:51 PM
Used to wax my Selmer with Simoniz paste wax years ago. Haven't for awhile, but I have very little red stuff on the keys. Cleaned it off (the red stuff) last year and shot a couple coats of lacquer on the spots I had cleaned. Looks good to me. Sounds as good as ever.

Well, I'm not going to 'shoot a couple of shots of lacquer' on an original lacquer MKVI!! I experimented with some fine steel wool on the neck. It removed the red. Now we'll see.

11-13-2007, 06:55 PM
Historically, Yamaha brass instruments were probably the worst offenders in terms of red-rot starting back in the 1970's. Ask Hans. He's doing 2 leadpipe replacements at this moment on old YTR-232's. :D

11-13-2007, 07:12 PM
Historically, Yamaha brass instruments were probably the worst offenders in terms of red-rot starting back in the 1970's. Ask Hans. He's doing 2 leadpipe replacements at this moment on old YTR-232's. :D

My YTS 52 has a pretty big splotch of "red rot" on the body of the horn near the strap hook, as you can see in this pic:

Doesn't seem to be causing any trouble and Hans didn't seem to think it was a big deal when he had a look at it a month or so ago ;) Should I be doing something with this, I don't have this horn for its looks.

11-13-2007, 08:54 PM
That's where the brass has oxidized from exposure to the air where the lacquer has worn off. Like Hans said, no big deal. It will darken further with age however. These are what give each individual horn it's own "character". :D

Henry D
11-13-2007, 10:08 PM
With apologies to the techs who already know this- red rot is really something that is of concern to the brass community. With older trumpets and cornets its not unusual to have the leadpipes actually perforate as the instrument collapses. Replacing leadpipes as a result is not that unusual. The "from the inside to the outside" is the rot that is of concern; lost laquer and various reddish hues over broad areas on the outside are merely cosmetic stuff. When you get bubbling up on the outside as a result of corrosion working its way through the brass from the interior you've got the same issues my '64 Buick Special did- right before the left headlight collapsed into the fender after I hit a big pothole..... Though I may simply have led a sheltered existence I don't think this kind of structural collapse is an issue with virtually any sax that anyone is liable to still be considering playing- even in the narrow and humid neck area. There are corrosion issues centering on joints and old solder- especially on the Martin type tone holes of course- but that's a different deal.

11-13-2007, 10:36 PM
Haduran you are correct for the most part. Also the brass thickness difference between a sax neck and a trumpet leadpipe is huge. But since all sax players swab their necks faithfully after each use, it's not a problem, right? ;) One thing I have long wondered;

Since a trumpet mouthpiece is played on the outer exterior of the lips while blowing air directly outwards, (on the outside of the teeth) everything and anything caught in your teeth will/could possibly end up in the instrument itself. Literally, chunks. Our ultrasonic cleaners removes this foreign debris everyday and it's not pretty when it smokes out.

Whereas when you are playing a reed instrument the mouthpiece opening is behind the teeth and less likely to pick up teeth filtered debris and thus not blow heavy concentrations of crap directly into the instrument. (Due to the mouthpiece tip/opening being on the backside of the teeth.) Saliva, yes, but not major food particles like in a brass instrument.

This question has drawn several interesting discussions amongst technicians, players, and educators. (Especially those who have band directly after lunch.) :shock:

And right after this, the conversation for some reason always ends in debate over germs, cleanliness, and "sterilization". :D

Here's how we describe red-rot to the general population on our website;

Here's a short good read on germs in musical instruments;

Gordon (NZ)
11-14-2007, 12:52 AM
..... "...Sweat is not a major route of excretion of chemicals, however..." ...;)

Iwonder what that is supposed to mean. Every component of sweat is a chemical.

Gordon (NZ)
11-14-2007, 01:01 AM
My MkVI alto didn't start turning reddish where the lacquer was rubbed off until I moved to Hawaii--the one with the volcano. I think a combination of sulphur dioxide 'vog' and salt air started the reddishness.

I guess it could also be Hydrogen Sulphide + moisture = Sulphuric Acid.

11-14-2007, 01:06 AM
I guess it could also be Hydrogen Sulphide + moisture = Sulphuric Acid.

Yep, could be that, too. There's all sorts of gasses spewing from that crazy volcano.

11-14-2007, 01:26 AM
This is like a scary story before bed time!

11-14-2007, 07:18 AM
on the other hand, significant levels of Sulphuric and Nitric Acid in the atmosphere used to be reached also in " acid rain" of time past (The presence of acids in the rain was discovered in England in 1852) and present. Acid rain is a constant feature associated to pollution, in particular of fossile fuels such as Coal (production and usage of which is only increasing throughout the world) and Diesel fuel.

The question is why certain horns seem to be affected by red rot and others don't.
Is there anyone who can shed some light on it? Are ther comparative studies out there?

11-14-2007, 07:22 AM
To tell the truth, I expect I'll be long gone before my sax rots through. I'm not overly worried about it. Shoots, I might just have my VI cremated with me!

11-14-2007, 01:11 PM
You have to wonder why you guys wouldn't shoot a bit of lacquer on the 'wonderful' old Selmer lacquer. Especially after you rubbed it with steel wool (or completely stripped it of lacquer for whatever imaginary reason.) They don't use that lacquer anymore, for good reason. You just look at it and it burns. Phil Woods had his VI gold plated. Sounded great when I heard him live. Then he went and bought a new Yamaha which sounds just as great and he loves it. Believe it or not things can be made better as the technology improves. I think he loves the feel of a new horn. He also practices and gigs a lot, which is the rel reason he sounds so good. I know I love that new horn feel. I bought my VI tenor (76,300) at Rayburns in the late 50's for $400 while attending Berklee in Boston. Tried at least 10 of them. They all played differently, sounded differently. I still remember how great that new horn felt and smelled. Anybody want to pay me $10,000 for my VI and I will rush out and buy the Yamaha (after trying 10 or so). I LOVE that feel of a brand new horn.
I re-padded with with 'roo pads last year. Needed to brighten it a bit as I'm going deaf as I get older. Brightened it just enough and it plays very well. Surprised that a lot of the original pads were still on it and still in good shape. Thought I had replaced them long ago. All we used in the Canadian Air Force were MKVI horns. Played 100's of them in my 30 years in the military.
Anyway, starting to ramble. Do as you will guys. I'm happily repairing these vintage horns as you hype them higher and higher in price.
Still insist that shooting a bit of lacquer doesn't hurt a thing except the hyped up value of these horns. Old Conns, Beuschers, Martins all have their good points, but ALL of their mechanisms are way out dated and awkward. So, go for it guys. keep buying and selling. I love it and will keep making lots of money re-building them to the original ebay hype.
By the way, It sounds like the best favour you could do that horn and yourself would be to move away from that volcano. ;)

06-10-2008, 01:24 PM
Sorry to bump an old thread, but I need some advice concerning a modern unlacquered sax with some red corrosion on it that I am thinking about buying.

Here is a photo of it.

Is that stuff red rot? And should it put me off buying this sax?

06-10-2008, 01:57 PM
Why would you want to buy an unlacquered sax?

06-10-2008, 02:03 PM
Some people like the look. I for one, am looking for a CJS... pretty rare from dealers, and finish isn't a huge issue, unless it starts degrading and going red. I'm not looking at it because it's unlacquered...

06-10-2008, 02:09 PM
Is that stuff red rot?

I would call it tarnish.

I for one, am looking for a CJS
Why don't you want a Yamaha?

06-10-2008, 03:12 PM
Me and the Yamaha just don't get along....

Anyway, back to the topic.
Is this red rot, or just something to be expected with an unlacquered horn?

06-10-2008, 03:17 PM
Do you know how they took the lacquer off?
Did they dip it in some kind of chemical after they removed the lacquer?
It kinda looks like it may be acid left on the horn starting to eat the brass away.
Make sure they dipped it in some kind of acid neutralizer.

06-11-2008, 12:32 AM
I agree with horn fixer that looks more like some left over chemical on the surface or a point of localised heavy attack. Should be able to buff that away. Might even be flux left over from when the band was soldered on and not cleaned up properly

Red rot as previously pointed out is the loss of zinc from the brass (copper and zinc), when zinc is lost it goes back to its natural copper look "red", its when you start getting some black points within the red, you really need to worry, this is when the copper is breaking down and the horn is stuffed.

Good reason to lacquer horns

Why does red rot occur, I suspect "not based on any proof" it is a chemical and electrical reaction, spit goes down the spout, exposed brass on the outside and inside allows the flow of electricity, the contaminants on the outside draw or leach the zinc out for sacrificial protection, and eventually zinc is gone and copper is left, a lot like using a sacrificial zinc anode on a boat motor, you can actually see them dissapear very quickly


06-11-2008, 01:05 AM
Red rot is usually found on Trumpet mouthpipes, not very often on saxophones.
It usually starts from the inside.

06-11-2008, 02:27 AM
Can i wade in with something a little controversal here.

"Show me the evidence"

Yes i know red rot exists but where are the mounds of horns rendered unplayable by this awful affliction? Well, i suspect they don't exist.

I've seen red rot on saxs but really struggle to see how it would spread to an extent where it was a problem.

Anyone care to comment?

Red rot can wear through an instrument. I can't say what factors that will lead to this eventually, i.e. metal composition, reactive agents ... But I did have a Conn trumpet that had a lead pipe that had worn through in several places. It also had several patches where someone had tried, in vain, to patch the holes. The lead pipe looked like a rusty old car fender.
It literally crumbled in my hands. I can't say how long, and what caused this to happen, but it did happen.

I also read that saxismyaxe had a rotted horn at one time. I think his may have been a sax. I don't recall exactly.

06-11-2008, 02:54 AM
I can't say how long, and what caused this to happen, but it did happen.
It takes a while to get that bad.
caused by enzymes in your saliva.
Prevented by cleaning out your mouthpipe often.

06-11-2008, 02:58 AM
It takes a while to get that bad.
caused by enzymes in your saliva.
Prevented by cleaning out your mouthpipe often.

This horn was given to me. It was far gone long before I laid eyes on it.
Must have been stored for decades after countless years of nobody cleaning it for this to happen.