|saxophones, flutes, clarinets, oboes
Anatomy Of A Saxophone Overhaul
This is what I do on every saxophone overhaul:
Visual inspection. The horn is looked over for serious problems (bent body, large dents, unsoldered braces or
key guards). Bent keys are re-aligned.
Strip-down. The horn is completely dis-assembled. Loose, sloppy keys are swedged (stretched) to re-establish a
nice, snug fit. Keys that bind on the steel rods are straightened so that they hinge smoothly. All needle springs
are removed and their condition noted (rusty or sound). All old pads are removed and key cups are cleaned of all
old glue or shellac. All corks, felts, plastic tubing, etc are removed from the keys, body and neck, and all glue or
shellac is scraped away to the bare metal. All key rollers are removed.
Body work. Large dents are not only unsightly, they can effect the pitch and playability of the saxophone. So can
a bent body. There are special tools used to pop up the dents from the inside of the horn, and to straighten a
bent body. Over time, braces and key guards can become unsoldered. They must be removed, cleaned, and
Cleaning. The body and keys are dipped in a special chemical solution that removes the "green grunge" from the
inside and outside of the horn. They are then rinsed, washed with a gentle dish detergent, rinsed again, and
thoroughly dried. The insides of the hinge tubes are scrubbed clean with a pipe cleaner dipped in solvent
alcohol. All the steel rods and pivot screws are degreased with a clean rag and solvent alcohol.
Re-springing. The springs are re-fitted to the body in their proper positions. Any rusty, cracked or badly-fitting
springs are replaced with the proper diameter spring, or, if needed, an entire new set of springs is fitted. Spring
tensions are set slightly "stiff" until the final adjustments are made, later in the process.
Re-corking. A new neck cork is applied. All keys are fitted with the appropriate size and type of cork, felt, teflon
or plastic tubing. All are razor-trimmed for neat appearance and proper fit.
Fitting the pads. I buy my saxophone pads from Kraus Music Products in Oregon. They are thin, Yamaha-style
pads with a brown, plastic, Selmer-type resonator. If custom resonators are requested, the brown plastic ones
are removed and the custom set is fitted. The thin pads give a nice, firm seat. They are harder to work with than
the thicker, mushy pads some repair people use, but, once seated they tend to stay seated for a very long time.
These pads are nicely made, with top-grade leather that is glued flat on the bottom. This is important because
you can't get the pad to seat evenly, all around the tone-hole, unless it is sitting flat in the key cup. I stock every
half-millimeter size, from 8 to 70, so that I can select a pad that fits the key-cup perfectly because the pad will not
seat properly if it is too small or too large for the cup. The pads are carefully glued into the cups with a special
hot-melt type glue. I stopped using the traditional glue, shellac, over ten years ago because shellac becomes
brittle when the temperature drops below freezing. Here in the Northeast, that happens every winter. When the
shellac turns brittle, the pads can easily pop out of the key cups if the horn is bumped, even in the case. The
synthetic cements are much more tolerant of cold weather. I have not had a pad pop out since I made the switch!
Re-assembly. Here's where the fun begins! Following a specific order, each key is lubricated and fitted to the
body. I use motor oil, in several different weights, for key oil. Today's motor oils are the longest lasting, most
highly tested and refined lubricants on the market. They work great on saxophones! Next, I hook the spring to
the key and test the action. Each key should be smooth and responsive, and balanced with the others to produce
a "feel" for the player. Now, with the key fitted and a leak light inside the body of the horn, I check the pad to see
where it is hitting the tone hole, and where it is not. Using a bunsen burner, I heat up the key cup to soften the
hot melt glue, then shift the position of the pad so that it covers the tone-hole completely. Once it's in the right
position, I "seat" the pad, giving it the impression of the tone-hole it covers. Once I'm satisfied I've got it right, I go
on to the next key until all of the two dozen or so pads are seated. Wherever two or more pads work together,
they must be regulated to ensure that they all come down at exactly the same time. This is done either with
regulating screws, or by carefully bending the keys. It must be done precisely, or the horn will not play. After
regulating, I set the key hight by adding or removing cork from the "foot" of the key, or felt from the bumper. Key
height determines how much of an opening there is between the tone-hole and the pad. Too little and the horn
feels "stuffy". Too much and the pitch suffers. I usually set a horn up to be "medium-open" unless the player
gives me a specific request for "close" or "open". Once this is done, I close up all the pads against their
tone-holes with wedges or corks and let the horn settle for a day.
Final adjustments and play testing. After the horn has settled, I open it back up and re-check all my work, making
any final adjustments that may be needed. Then I play it for a half hour or so, checking for even feel, intonation
and resistance. If I make any adjustments, I play the horn again to check them. Once I'm satisfied that I have it
right, I swab the instrument out, put it in its case, and call the owner to come pick it up. I then work with the owner
to make sure the horn feels right to him/her. Everyone plays differently; a softer or harder touch, a softer or
harder reed, classical, jazz, rock-n-roll. These variable can effect how the horn responds, so there are often
some player-oriented adjustments that must be made. When the player is fully satisfied that I've got it right, the
overhaul is complete! Then it's on to the next one.....
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