I took my alto sax to the shop last week for pad replacements, key adjustments, etc. I've had it for 8 years and I've NEVER had any of the pads replaced, and I've NEVER owned a swab, just that pull through cloth thingy. When I first had the alto looked at like 3 weeks ago, I was given a $500-ish estimate on what it would take to take care of the horn. Mind you, the horn played just fine, it wasn't like there were any noticeable leaks or it was badly out of tune. I've been practicing more regularly over the past year and I've been playing at my church, and I sound pretty good. Of course the $500 shocked me and I didn't go for it. The guy told me that for around $200 he can do some stuff, change maybe 6-7 pads that really need it the most. At any rate, last week I took the horn in with a not-to-exceed repair cost of $300. Had maybe 8-10 pads replaced and the guy did something so that my keys would have a little less resistance or something. I got the horn back on Tuesday of this week, but I didn't get a chance to really practice until last night. And when I did, WOW. I couldn't notice it at first but halfway through my routineafter I've warmed up, the difference was HUGE. I feel like my playing and overall technique improved instantly, as though I put in 6 months of practice in 2 minutes! I never realized how much my horn's lack of maintenance was affecting my playing, I thought all the little problems I was having was due to my lack of practice and technique. I'm glad it wasn't the case. It was really my horn, and now I'm even more pumped to practice more.