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Thread: Evaluating a Saxophone Overhaul

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    Default Evaluating a Saxophone Overhaul

    These are some things that you can check yourself both before and after you pay to have your sax overhauled. The definition of that term in this instance is that all of the pads have been replaced, the keywork has been tightened, the keys have been regulated, and all of the necessary body and dent work has been completed.

    Key noise
    Without playing, finger some scales on the sax using every possible key going both fast and slow. Listen to the noise individual keys make---especially the side keys, low Eb and the fork F#. Record this sound if you have the set up to do so.

    Key play
    Beginning with the palm keys, try to "waggle" each key from right to left, and then try to slide the key back and forth on its rod or between its pivot screws. Make a list of the keys and mark the ones that have any movement at all.

    Pad seating
    For this you will need a bright leak light (or a dull leak light in a pitch dark room). Check all of the independent normally closed keys first to see if there are any leaks. Then go to the normally open individual keys such as low C, B, and Bb. Close each of these with the lightest possible pressure on the key and see if the light eclipses at exactly the same instant all 360 degrees. Next do the same with the upper and lower stack keys, closing each key individually with the lightest pressure. On the C and F# you will need to press the key cup to get the key to close by itself. Remember, the lightest possible pressure and instant closure 360 degrees is the standard.

    Key regulation
    This is the critical area in saxophone repair and involves many variables that are all interrelated. These are key tightness, pad seating/level keys and tone holes, spring tension, and the adjustments themselves. If one or more of the variables are lacking then perfect regulation is not possible. First check the B to C key closing. Again, with the lightest possible key pressure both keys should eclipse the light completely at exactly the same time. Next check the A to C and Bis closing using the same standard.

    Go to the bottom stack and check the F to F# and Bis key closing. Then hold down the G# key and check to see that key closes with the other two. Perform the same check pressing the E key. It should also close the F#, Bis, and G# perfectly at exactly the same time with the lightest possible pressure on the key. You can also check the same key regulation when you press the D key by itself if you like. Some techs adjust this firm, and some leave the D to F# closing light or even open.

    The bell keys regulation is next. Press the low Bb key and check with the leak light that the lightest possible key pressure closes the Bb and the B keys perfectly around their circumference at exactly the same time. Then hold the low C# key down and press the low B key. Using light pressure, the B and C# should close together at exactly the same time.

    Neck tenon fit
    The neck tenon should go in smooth and feel very snug without tightening the screw. Without tightening the screw, gently try to rock the neck up and down by holding it near the opening. The movement, if any, should be minute. Next tighten the screw just 1/4 to 1/2 turn. The neck at this point should not rotate right or left.

    I'm sure others can add to this list. I left out key heights and spring tension on purpose because those areas can be subjective depending upon the taste of the player.

    Summary

    Making a check list of these things both before and after an overhaul will give not only a way to measure the quality and thoroughness of the work, but will also give the player or novice repair person some idea of the detail that goes into a quality overhaul on their saxophone.

    (this is a reprint of a post I wrote on SOTW a few years back)

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    Hey, he's airing repeats!

    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on September 7, 2014: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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    Hey, he's airing repeats!
    But is he being paid royalties?

    That's a really good list JBT, thanks. I think it's important that this be written about, because the term "overhaul" means different things to different people. In some places overhaul also includes a refinish--either a relacquer or replating--of the horn, so clarifying this is not included really important. (At least it is in my world, since I certainly wouldn't want my horn refinished if I drop it off for an "overhaul".)

    What you're calling an overhaul is what is often referred to as a "restoration" in vintage saxophones. I tend to use the terms interchangeably.
    One day the bass saxophone will make a comeback and rule the world.
    Bassic Sax (The Website) The Bassic Sax Blog (The Weblog: part of website, but updated daily) Bassic Sax Pix (Lots and lots of pretty sax pics)

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    IMO, definitions:

    RESTORATION: would mean putting the horn into new or better than new condition. That means cosmetic condition, too.

    OVERHAUL: get the horn into perfect mechanical and playing condition. No worries on the cosmetic condition.

    I think either of the above should include new springs, if needed.

    However, I also do believe that it's always a good idea to find out what's going to be done up front. Communication is a wonderful thing.

    Additionally, I don't think either the tech or the customer should assume anything. As an example, I'm a computer tech. I assume all people know absolutely zero about computers until proven otherwise. That means that instead of spending four hours trying to determine what hardware's failed, I check to make sure the user's plugged in the computer and that he's actually got power. So, please don't assume that if I ask for an overhaul that you're going to file the toneholes on my 30M flat.

    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on September 7, 2014: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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    Thanks Helen for the compliment. In my use of the term, "restoration" of a vintage instrument includes restoring the cosmetics as well as the mechanics to the state that it came out of the factory, (or in some instances better).

    Since I have dealt mainly with silver plated vintage saxes, my shop's "restoration" would include touching up areas where the silver plating has been worn away with brush plating, and then polishing the body inside and out along with the keys.

    Since re-lacquering (buffing) has such a negative reputation in the saxophone marketplace, I have leaned toward stripping the remaining lacquer on lacquered saxophones and giving the sax a "brushed brass" finish to develop an even patina over time. I would call this a "mechanical overhaul" with a new finish and not a "restoration" per se.

    Different terms are used by different techs and in different parts of the country. This is why good communication is important to prevent misunderstandings about the work to be done.

    P.S. Pete thinks and types faster than I do so if I have repeated something he said it is because "great minds think alike" not because I am copying his ideas. . . I think.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jbtsax View Post
    P.S. Pete thinks and types faster than I do so if I have repeated something he said it is because "great minds think alike" not because I am copying his ideas. . . I think.
    Or, as my mom says when I hang out with my sister, "[Our] minds malfunction in tandem."

    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on September 7, 2014: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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    Upon further review, I also think there should be a little qualification to my post. That's because I do know that the only way to make one of those Indian saxophone shaped instruments to be "perfect" is to replace it with a better horn. I do know that some design problems affecting pitch (for instance) can be corrected, but I'm not expecting Miracle Max.

    Again, it's the communication thing.

    As another computer techie example, I've had people come up to me and ask me to make their computer "faster." Yes, I can probably make your computer as fast as it's capable of, but I'm not going to be able to make your 1986 computer work as fast as any 2012 computer, without replacing it. Additionally, if we chat and you say something like, "You cannot reimage (remove and reinstall the operating system and all applications) the computer," you've severely restricted what I can do. That'll severely restrict your results, too.

    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on September 7, 2014: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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