Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
The Haynes Saxophone Manual - the step-by-step guide to care & maintenance
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

Questions - and answers

On this page you'll find answers to questions sent in by readers or prospective buyers of the Haynes Saxophone Manual. If you have any questions relating to the content of the book, or as a result of applying any of the techniques, please feel free to drop me a line.

? Does the book tell me how to regulate the cork and keys on the saxophone ? I can remove the keywork and I can change a pad but I do not know how to regulate the upper and lower stack. There must be some rules how much cork there should be on the keys. Some of the keys works in combination and the cork over the key foot can be used to regulate it. The cork under the key foot has to do with key height. I know I can put some thicker cork on or sand it but I do not know how thick it should be. P. Olsen - Denmark

A Yes, it contains a sizeable section that deals with fitting and regulating key corks, along with all the information you need to know about how 'regulation' affects the keywork. It shows you how to distinguish between problems caused by build issues and faulty pads and those caused by poor regulation.

? I'd like to buy the saxophone manual for my son, but I'm a bit worried that he might start messing with his saxophone and end up breaking it, though I want him to know how to take care of it. What would you advise? Mr. Leedy - Canada

A You'd have to go some to physically break a saxophone - it something I've never seen professionally other than from a deliberate attempt to damage the instrument ( with a hammer ) or from a nasty accident - but there's certainly plenty you can do to stop a horn working by poking about without knowing quite what you're doing. The manual helps to avoid this by explaining how the instrument works and showing what all the component parts do. I would recommend starting with the basic care projects ( like cleaning and oiling ) and then moving on to the testing section. This will help players familiarise themselves with the instrument's mechanism and become more confident about handling it - at which point it will become far less likely that they'll make any major mistakes. In any event the diagnostic techniques show how to check for and correct any such problems.
The bottom line is the care techniques alone will make a significant difference to the playability and reliability of the instrument, and anything that furthers a player's understanding of how their instruments works has to be a good thing. If any mistakes are made, they won't be serious!

? I bought a cheap Chinese sax ( before I read your article! ) and have always had trouble playing F,E and D in the low and mid range. I bought your book and did the test for leaks and found all the pads on the lower stack were leaking. Worse than that, I found the tone holes were not level. Will it cost a great deal to have it repaired, and is it worth it? J. Finch - UK

A If you've found warped tone holes on the lower stack then it's a good bet that some of the others will be similarly warped. If you're lucky and it's only the lower stack holes at fault then you can probably reckon on spending about £40-£60 to have the lower stack stripped, the tone holes levelled and the pads reset.
If the horn is still under guarantee you could argue that it's unfit for purpose, or negotiate sharing the cost of the repairs. Whether it's worth it depends on how much you paid for the horn, bearing in mind that a ( good ) replacement can be had for just over £200.

? I was checking my action and found little bits of paper stuck to some of the corks. This can't be right, can it? S. Foster - UK

A It's not ideal, but sometimes a repairer will find that a cork needs thickening up by only a very tiny amount. In order to save on the bother of replacing the cork they stick a piece of paper over the existing one. It's a bit of a bodge coming from a professional, but it's a common technique used by many home repairers - and if it gets them out of trouble then all well and good. What tends to happen though is because the paper is less resistant to oil and water, it can disintegrate - usually on a gig. For reliability, and a quieter action, fit a new cork.

? I've been using thin oil on my keys for a while now and I want to start using a thicker oil. Will I need to have the action degreased first? K. Tomas - Germany

A You shouldn't need to - most oils will mix quite happily unless you've used something unusual. Degreasing would help in that when you apply new oil ( thicker or otherwise ) it will push out any thin oil present in the keywork, so unless you remove the thin oil it's likely to migrate out for a while longer. It's not a big problem, it just means you'll have to keep cleaning the instrument until the thin oil has been replaced. It will take some time before you feel the full benefit of a thicker oil though.

? My low F key pad has a tear in it that goes right over the tone hole mark. The leather is pretty good though, is there anything I can do to save it? The sax seems to play ok. Mr. Jeffreys - Ireland

A A tear in a pad will reduce its ability to fully seal over the tone hole, especially if the tear goes over the seat. It really needs replacing, even if it's quite new.
You can improve things slightly by gluing the leather to the pad felt. Apply some contact adhesive to a small stick or the tip of a screwdriver and very carefully wipe a thin smear of it on to the felt beneath the tear, ensuring the glue covers slightly more than the torn area. Press the pad leather down onto the felt and align it as best you can - then hold it in place for a minute or two. Be very careful not to get any glue on the face of the leather - it will be very hard to remove and could make the leak even worse. You should consider it a 'get you out of trouble' fix, and have the pad replaced as soon as possible.

? My husband is a professional sax player, I was thinking of buying a copy of the manual for him for his birthday. Would it be something he'd find useful? Anon - USA

A Strange as it might sound, professional players often know very little about how their instruments work, and many of them play on instruments that have so many small faults that most beginners would struggle to play them. It's because they get used to working around the faults ( we call it 'compensating' ). They also hate leaving their instruments with repairers - and anything that keeps them away from us is worth its weight in gold to them! He'll love it.

? In the exploded saxophone diagram on page 25 the palm Eb key is marked as the E key. J. Oakely - UK

A Technically, yes, it is the top Eb key - in order to play an E you have to press down the side top E key as well as the palm Eb. However, whenever players refer to the palm keys they always talk in terms of the 'top D, E and F keys'. It's one of those technical inaccuracies that seems to have become common parlance. To avoid confusion I have changed all references to this key to Eb.

? Is the Haynes Saxophone Manual a proper repair manual? Phil Carter, USA

A No, it's a maintenance manual. Maintenance deals with keeping what's working in good order and fixing small problems - as well as diagnosing larger ones. Repair deals with fixing things that are broken or damaged. Repair techniques often require expensive tools and well-honed skills. You can buy repair manuals if you wish to do more than maintenance, and I recommend the Reg Thorp Woodwind Repair Manual (£45).

? English is not my first language so do you have any plans to do translated editions? H. Bloch - Germany

A It's up to publishers to produce translated editions. They will buy the rights to a number of copies and have the text translated. If you know of a publisher in your country who specialises in either music books or technical manuals, you can ask them if they'd consider producing an edition in your local language.

? I want to buy a 'beater' horn cheap to do up, will your manual be the right thing for this? Richard Levy - USA

A It depends on how beaten up your 'beater' horn is. Assuming at has no serious mechanical or structural defects then I suspect you could get pretty far with the manual. If you have to invest in a full-blown repair manual and some specialist tools it will probably end up costing you more than buying a decent horn in the first place.

? Oh no! Your manuals are out of print! How do I get hold of a copy?

A If you're lucky you might find somewhere that still has a stock of manuals, but it's more likely that as time goes by you'll have to resort to hunting down a copy on the secondhand market.

  Unfortunately, both books are quite unique in the field - and as such you may find that prices are rather steep.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015