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Needle Springs

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#1
Saxophones, Clarinets, Flutes and other woodwind use these little obnoxious pointy things. But why ?

From what little I know, instruments started using needle springs because, well, someone decided to use sewing needles as a spring device for musical instruments in the "early" days, and no one has anything better to use since then. I don't really know the detailed history about them but that's what I heard. These little things are made of steel, then heat treated and quenched to give that nice bluish color.

Buy for the novice they certainly hurt. They are pointy and can prick your finger or worse, get stuck in a finger.

In a recent clarinet overhaul I had to change a needle spring. It broke off at the post. What fun, flush break at the post surface. The back of the needles are hammered flat to provide enough "wedging" to stop them in the hole and to hold them in place.

Back to the clarinet overhaul. I had the spring near perfect. After a while I was able to remove the flush spring remnants and select and prep a new spring. Got it in the post, used some spring bending pliers to give to a nice curve. All was well but the spring was a bit long and the cradle was only for the tip of the needle. So precsion work was needed. I refit everything but decided the spring needed a little extra curve up to provide the best fit for the surface cradle.

So I brought the pliers up to the spring, barely touched it,and it shattered to pieces. Great. back to square one.

So let's explore this little device and what options are used out there for springs on instruments ......

input from the masses is welcomed :D
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#2
While it may very well be true that the original-ish horns (or just old-tyme) used real needles as springs, a real needle isn't all that springy (at least, nowadays): they're quite rigid.

I also remember that bone was used for needles for a very long time -- and still is, for some applications. That's not exactly springy, either.

In other words, I'm iffy about your theory, Steve. Sounds good, tho!

(BTB, this is another reason to get a tetanus shot before starting your instrument repair biz.)


Ah. Google: "The needle spring was invented by Louis Auguste Buffet". Year of first use: 1840.

Have I mentioned that I love Google?

BTB, Bohem invented an iron smelting process. I wonder if that was related to Buffet's use of the springs ....
 

Groovekiller

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#3
The story about pointed springs and needles may be true. I've generally found pointed needle springs on older saxophones, but I have at least one saxophone from the 1800s that was made with springs that had no points.

Today we have several options:

1. Blued steel (pointed) needle springs

2. Phosphor bronze needle springs, cut from wire (no points)

3. Gold needle springs, cut from wire (no points)

4. Good stainless steel needle springs, (Kraus Musical Products, no points)

5. Bad stainless steel needle springs, (Ferree's, no points)

The Kraus springs are about the same strength per diameter as blued steel. When Benedikt Eppelsheim was looking for a spring to solve a problem on the Soprillo, I recommended Kraus springs to him, and he has told me that he has switched over to them.

The Ferree's springs suck.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
#4
I am a firm believer in making needle-ended springs a thing of the past. I have stabbed myself countless numbers of times over the years on my horns that have them. The worst offenders are my Mark VI soprano and my Martin Handcraft tenor. Both of these horns have left me with more than a couple of scars in my fingers because their spring tips are sharper than any needle I've ever run across.

I'm not clear on why the need for needle tips anyway. Other than "it's traditional", is there a good reason for the end that sticks up to be sharp? :?

Just as an aside, the best springs in any of my horns are in my Mark VI tenor. My tech in Halifax said he had never seen anything like them before. He was able to do things with them that he has never been able to do with other springs. They are incredibly durable and will not snap. Once the proper tension is set, it seems to hold for a long, long time. (This is my main workhorse, so it sees thousands of hours of use between adjustments.) And the best part, at least for my fingers, is they have no points. They are a dull grey in colour. I have had the horn since '81 and have never had the springs replaced, so I don't know if they were done before I got it or not. My horn is circa '72.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#5
I'm fairly fond of the Norton gold-plated screw-in springs on the Bueschers, myself.

I, too, don't see any real purpose in making the tips overly sharp. Except if the person that makes the springs just hates people.
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
#6
I've always thought that the Norton springs made a lot of sense. Even a mere human like me can change them!

I'm intrigued by the use of magnets and updated keywork mechanisms.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#7
Any adjustment of a magnetic opposition system (which would work like a spring in many ways) is going to be very limited indeed. Short of swapping out the slugs that make them work, you have no real means of adjustment save by adding a small spring in opposition (which then introduces a spring to the whole problem).

WIth the old saddle keys from the days of yore on clarinets, flutes, oboes and bassoons, we have come a long way. These days, you don't see too many flat springs on instruments, particularly on wooden ones as they present a wear problem not present with needles.

Howsabout torsion bars? A broken torsion bar would make working with a snapped needle spring look like child's play, but they work very well within in their limits. Plus, with "tube over bar" technology, you can pack a powerful amount of force in a very limited package.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#8
Well, do note that the Grafton Acrylic Alto (sax) has coil springs, as do some Vito clarinets (per http://www.ferreestools.com/Pg.113-167.pdf).

IIRC, the Selmer S80 II and newer have coil springs inside the keyrods. I'm pretty sure I've seen a couple ads talking about that.

I think most of the magnetic systems aren't really for "springy" as much as for sealing. I could definitely be wrong on that, but I think that's what magnets have been touted for.
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#9
Groovekiller said:
5. Bad stainless steel needle springs, (Ferree's, no points)
Technically, Ferree calls their stainless steel springs "Round Springs" and states that they are use mostly for student instruments. These are the same type of springs found on your Yamaha 23s. They are cut from a wire and they also slightly crimp one end.

But Ferree also sels a Blued Needle Spring. These are much hgher quality and POINTY for your finger pleasure !!

The 1930s Selmer clarinet i was just overhauling has very tight cradles in which only a needle point would fit. This is the one where it was slightly too long and even though it was slightly wider, it still would not fit the cradle thus a more precise length/cut was needed.

wow .. i didn't know there was such a large interest in Springs !!
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#10
pete said:
IIRC, the Selmer S80 II and newer have coil springs inside the keyrods. I'm pretty sure I've seen a couple ads talking about that.
I have not seen what you are talking about, but the Selmer saxes have coiled springs inside the long road to provide a consistent pressure for the pivot screws mechanisms - no adjustments necessary.

I have a schematic breakdown of this mechanism from years ago somewhere
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#11
SteveSklar said:
pete said:
IIRC, the Selmer S80 II and newer have coil springs inside the keyrods. I'm pretty sure I've seen a couple ads talking about that.
I have not seen what you are talking about, but the Selmer saxes have coiled springs inside the long road to provide a consistent pressure for the pivot screws mechanisms - no adjustments necessary.

I have a schematic breakdown of this mechanism from years ago somewhere
That's probably what I've seen. I remember the ads.
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
#12
SOTSDO said:
Any adjustment of a magnetic opposition system (which would work like a spring in many ways) is going to be very limited indeed. Short of swapping out the slugs that make them work, you have no real means of adjustment save by adding a small spring in opposition (which then introduces a spring to the whole problem).

WIth the old saddle keys from the days of yore on clarinets, flutes, oboes and bassoons, we have come a long way. These days, you don't see too many flat springs on instruments, particularly on wooden ones as they present a wear problem not present with needles.

Howsabout torsion bars? A broken torsion bar would make working with a snapped needle spring look like child's play, but they work very well within in their limits. Plus, with "tube over bar" technology, you can pack a powerful amount of force in a very limited package.
I think the saxophone holds an interesting challenge because of the amount of venting needed. The key heights have to be pretty high and that might be some kind of a challenge for a magnet system. The torsion bar idea sounds interesting.

Another crazy thought would be to design a system that employs the spring mechanism built into the rods. That could require some serious re thought on the way the keywork is designed.
 

sideC

Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
#13
My repair tech, Bill Singer, was obviously coveting a certain blue steel needle spring. He grinned at me conspiratorially as he poked through a small wooden box containing an assortment of needle springs. He triumphantly fished out his prize and set it down in the middle of the large desk which serves as his work bench. I pick it up and hold it up to the light. The thing seems to radiate a blueish glow, with gold highlights when seen in the dim New York mid winter sunlight. "I'll take it" I cried, fearing that some jealous saxophonistic operator would come barging through the door and usurp this juicy mechanical morsel from my quavering grip.

Bill carefully fitted the spring into the G# spring seat of my old gold plated mk6, a horn that seems to be half and half, mk6 and sba. It has a beautifully factory engraved sba neck and neck octave key, a feature that the original owner claimed came with the horn when he bought it new. He claimed that a few mk6 altos and tenors were sold new with this neck in 1954, and they were called "Super 54's".

So, to get back to the needle spring deal, Bill claims that Selmer spring quality is suffering because of the closing of a sewing machine factory down the road from the Selmer factory. This sewing machine factory supplied Selmer with high quality needle springs for years and when it closed, Selmer couldn't find good springs.





Julian
 
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Groovekiller

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#14
There are lots of arguments and tentative theories about needle springs. In general, I think blued steel needle springs with points are not as good today as they were 50 years ago, but they are not bad.

The stainless steel springs from Kraus are excellent, but available only to the professional repairman. They are consistent and they are come in every conceivable diameter. They don't rust, and although anything can break, they are as good as anything available today for durability.

Sometimes spring cradles have to be enlarged to accomodate stainless steel springs. Sometimes, as on the F#/C# key of a clarinet, stainless steel springs are hard to fit into the existing space.

I usually use the same kind of spring on an instrument that was used elsewhere on the horn. If nothing else, it helps resale value on a vintage horn. When I see a horn that has already been fitted with a conglomeration of different springs, and I have to replace a spring that is broken, I might suggest a different spring from the original factory stuff if I think it's better. In Florida we have rusty spring problems that don't occur elsewhere. I may suggest stainless steel springs even though I might not suggest them in Arizona. I just try to help the customer solve problems.

By the way, please don't contact me to fix your horn. I'm overwhelmed with work
 
#15
Old thread, so excuse the comments from a newbie.

Speaking about springs. The blue color comes from the tempering process and was/is used as an indicator for how successful the temper process is. Gold highlights come from the prior temper color which is a straw color.

Over tempering, i.e. too high a heat reached increases the hardness till the spring becomes brittle. Many needles suffer from this fault nowadays as their manufacture does not require the same levels of temper quality. Work hardening springs can also cause the spring to become brittle; cracks will form first and these existing cracks will cause the spring to shatter under stress. Retail needles are not blue because the needle is polished post tempering.

The needle spring is tapered to give the spring an even quality of bending. Does it have to be needle sharp? Absolutely not.
Consider two bending forms:
One), a fishing rod with a taper that allows the rod to bend further down the blank to meet greater pressure, but the bend is gently progressive as the force increases.

Two), A bow, or perhaps a pole; when held rigidly at one end and bent by pressure at the opposite tip. In this case the bend is restricted to a narrow area immediately surrounding where the pole is clamped. At all times it requires force equal to the strength of the entire pole to bend the pole. If and when failure comes it is nearest the clamp point. Frequent bending will cause the area near the clamp to work harden and fail.
 
#17
I have made my own blued springs from sewing needles in a pinch. I broke one on a sop sax regulating it the day before a gig. Not sure why I did not just rubber band it. I think I did the same thing for a piccolo once.

I read the procedure in an old instrument repair manual somewhere. I made a tray out of aluminum foil and heated a few sewing needles in it over a gas cooking flame until they blued a little. I clipped off the eye end to the length I needed and sanded down the point some. Hammered the end a little to make it flat to wedge in. Tapped out the broken off end in the post with another needle and pressed in the new spring. Still in use after many years. I was probably lucky that the old sewing needles we had on hand worked for this.
 
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