Being that I have the fortune (or misfortune depending on the day) of living and working right outside of Philadelphia, I’ve worked on more bass saxophones in a few years than most repair people will in a career. The Mummers are a big deal in Philadelphia and boy do they love their saxophones. The Mummers parade is on New Years day and is basically a bunch of men dressed up in feathers and sequins dancing down the street stone drunk. Somewhere in that mess are a few string bands, also drunk and dressed all fancy. These guys are a tad rough with their horns and the bass saxes the have are pretty much all in the century old category. So when they come into the shop, they are in really bad shape.
This one (the one on the chair in the picture) has soldered tone holes. Let me tell you, this sax has been a nightmare. Pretty much every tone hole has big gaps where the soldered has crumbled away between the body and the tone hole. How the horn played a single note at this point is beyond explanation. So yesterday I was going around every tone hole and filling in all the missing solder. Today I started replacing most of the pads; the horn really needs an overhaul but the band doesn’t want to shell out the cash so I was told to ‘make it play’. Thankfully I’m doing this bass at my full time job instead of at my shop so the couple of days this work is taking me isn’t on my dime. I expect to finish the job tomorrow by lunch time and I’ll be glad to be finished with this one.
So if you have a saxophone, a Martin for instance, with soldered on tone holes and you have a mysterious leak that you just can’t seem to pin down, there’s a good chance that the solder joint between the tone hole and the body has a leak somewhere. Make sure your repair checks when you bring your horn in, especially if it’s a vintage horn.
Poor poor saxophone, what have they done to you?!
So here’s a Yamaha 52 Bari sax that came in from a school who had previously had work done by Music and Arts. Apparently they needed to replace a post. It looks like they just took a post off a silver horn and soldered it onto the sax without bothering to fit it whatsoever to the key or rod. This is why you don’t get repairs done by people who don’t know or don’t care about what they’re doing. A word of advice: If you need work done on your horn and you care about quality repairs, please stay away from stores that do school rentals. Now this isn’t always absolutely the case; there are some stores that rent instruments that actually have good repair departments, but generally, you’re going to run into a bunch of hacks if you go to a store that derives the majority of it’s profit from rentals. There’s nothing wrong with rental shops if you want to rent an instrument, but if you want quality repairs, go to a dedicated repair shop. Look at the picture and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Here’s a tuba I just finished removing all the dents from. This tuba was a mess as you can see in the pictures. Apparently the kids at the school have named this tuba, ‘The Beast’. I understand the name: This thing was a full size tuba and it had been beat up very badly over the years. I had to take the beast completely apart to get at all the dents. It was a pretty tedious job but it turned out all right in the end.
The other day I replaced the bell tenon on a clarinet. First I used the lathe to cut off the old tenon so it was flush with the clarinet body. Then I used a cutter to bore the right size and depth hole into the body to fit the replacement tenon. Finally, I glued the new tenon in with epoxy. This was a replacement tenon sold by Votaw Tool. You could manufacture a tenon yourself from plastic stock but its much easier to just buy one if you can.
This is a plastic clarinet, on a wood clarinet it would be more difficult to repair a broken tenon. Not impossible, but would be much more time consuming.
Here’s the neck strap ring on a Yamaha Custom Z alto sax that I was working on today. Notice that it’s made of stainless steel and not brass like on most other horns. If you have a quality neck strap with a stainless steel hook, after a lot of use, the stainless steel hook will eventually wear through the brass ring on the horn and you’ll have to have the ring replaced or risk dropping your horn. Yamaha was smart and added this nice little feature so you won’t have that problem. I wish more companies would put this much thought into their designs.
When you put a mouthpiece into your trumpet, there is a space between the end of the mouthpiece and the lead pipe inside of the mouthpiece receiver. This space is know as the “gap” or by the more fancy name “annulus”. You can see the space below:
The theory is that if you can find the right amount of gap, the instrument will perform optimally: Notes will slot better, the scale will be more in tune, and the horn will be more resonant.
Since every trumpet, mouthpiece, and player is different, there is no gap that will work best for everyone. The only way to find that sweet spot is by trial and error, adjusting the gap and seeing what works for you.
A simple way to test different gap settings is to wrap a strip of paper around the shank of the mouthpiece and insert it into the receiver. By adding more paper or taking paper away, you can adjust the gap. If you have too much gap, you’ll have to have metal removed from the shank. Once you do find the optimal gap, you can make the change permanent by having the mouthpiece altered.
Pictured above is an all too common sight on modern horns: Brown discoloration beneath the lacquer that shows up after a while. I see this on low quality horns as well as the name brand pro level horns. My own Bach Stradivarius trumpet had this issue around the bell wire. This is what happens when you speed up production and don’t properly prep a horn before lacquering. Soldering flux is very acidic and if you don’t completely wash it off and neutralize it after soldering, you get discoloration of the metal and the finish. This can happen with repairs and it happens at the factory when the instrument is built. In this case, after the neck was soldered together with the neck tenon it wasn’t properly cleaned and they lacquered over the metal while there was still soldering acid on the joint. At first, the horn looked fine but after a while the acid reacted with the lacquer and produced this gross brown stuff. You can see how it’s spread out from the joint where the acid was concentrated at. This is easily preventable with proper cleaning and neutralization of the part before it is lacquered. Unfortunately, you can’t repair this issue without removing the original lacquer from the area and re-lacquering it, which in most cases isn’t worth doing. So you’re stuck with this ugly mess.