Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

A rolling blog of everyday life on and around the workbench (Archived - April 2017)


Clapped out sling ring29/04/2017: Metal sling hooks. Why are people still using 'em?
Fair enough - skip back fifty or so years and you really didn't have much choice. You could have a metal sling hook or metal sling hook with a lock. And if you didn't fancy either of those, well...tough. If you were canny you'd use a metal hook with a plastic sleeve fitted over it. These offered a degree of least while the sleeve remained intact. Unfortunately it tended to wear away - and players paid as much attention to it as they did the ever-widening groove in the sling ring.

When the first plastic (nylon) hooks appeared I can well understand that some players were reluctant to trust their pride and joy to a 'piece of plastic' - but technology and materials have moved on, and there's now no reason whatsoever to use a metal sling hook.

But people do, and time and again I get to see (and fix) the results - and I thought it might be kinda fun to take you through the process.
Look! No ring.We'll take it as read that I've given the client the standard lecture about the folly of using a steel hook in a brass ring, and that I've asked then why on earth they didn't switch to a plastic hook the moment they noticed the groove being chewed through the sling ring - and we'll also take it as read that I've done that 'sucking in of the breath' when they've asked if the repair will affect the finish.

In this case the patient is a lovely old Selmer Balanced Action alto. It's in fairly good shape - a bit tired and worn in places, but otherwise looking quite presentable in its relacquered coat. Sad to say, it's not going to like being heated up; this old cellulose lacquer is quite brittle and borders on the flammable - and whereas with a modern horn you might speculate as to how likely you are to be able to do the job with no loss of lacquer, on a horn like this it's very much a case of just how much lacquer you're going to lose. Some? Much? A lot? Depends how much of the damn stuff catches fire.
It's very common to see such horns sporting burnt key cups - you only need a second or two of carelessness and pwooofff...there goes the lacquer.

In the jaws of doomSo, the first job is to remove the sling ring. It can't be repaired in-situ; the groove needs to be filled with silver solder...which requires bringing the ring up to red heat. You simply can't do that while it's fitted to the horn (it would fall off...and so would everything adjacent to it).
The ring has come off reasonably neatly. At this point you might think that it bodes well for refitting it without too much lacquer loss...but it'd be a vain hope. It's not just the heat that matters, it's the length of time it's applied - and we're only halfway through the job. And it's going to take a lot more heat to refit the ring than it does to remove it.

The hook's been cleaned up (it's important to remove the old solder) and the groove has been lightly filed to give it some 'key' - and it's been mounted in the 'jaws of doom' ready for soldering. Getting the 'hang' right is crucial - you want the solder to pool dead centre in the groove. If you put just the right amount of solder on it'll fill the gap and the surface tension of the molten solder will force it to take on the profile of the ring. This means a lot less cleaning up later.
If you overdo it you'll end up with a barrel-shaped lump in the ring - and if you don't use enough solder you'll leave a notch in the ring.

The finishing mountThe next step is to mount the ring on a piece of tube.
It's going to need some cleaning up, and - if you were a bit heavy-handed with the solder - some filing down to size. Soldering the ring onto a finishing tube makes it a lot easier to handle, and it can be mounted in a vice. It also kills two birds with one stone, as the base of the ring will need to be tinned (coated with a thin layer of soft solder) to ensure a reliable joint when it's fitted back onto the horn - and this can be done by wiping away the excess when the ring is unsoldered from the finishing tube. I reckon I got the silver soldering just about spot on - there's little if any excess, and the most it'll need is a bit of smoothing off and blending in.

Ta-dah! Shiny, shiny.And here's the completed job.
As per my usual practice, I like to flip the ring so that the repaired section is at the rear. Although silver solder is pretty tough stuff, it's not usually as tough as plain brass. You could argue that I might just as well simply flip the ring around without filling in the groove - but if you've gone to all the trouble of taking the ring off, it's not much extra work to restore it before refitting. And on a horn like this, it's worth the effort.

Note the graduation in colour at the bottom tip of the patch, just before it hits the reflection of the studio light - there's a slightly lighter coat of lacquer beneath the top coat. This horn's clearly had a relacquer (the engraving on the bell is quite faded in places, which suggests it's been polished out), but it looks like it was a two-coat process. A lower 'colour coat' and a gloss top coat. I doubt anyone would simply apply fresh lacquer over an existing finish, as it would look bloody awful.

I don't think I did too badly with the flammable lacquer. I could have got away with a slightly smaller bare patch, but it would have meant leaving an area of rather discoloured lacquer...which would have flaked off fairly quickly anyway. Better to go for a slightly wider but neater patch that won't grow of its own accord. I'll knock some points off because the Bb pillar took a bit of a hit from the heat and the lacquer flaked even though I kept a direct flame away from it. But that's the nature of this kind of job - it's part technique, part luck.


26/04/2017: Finishing up the 'Underhaul' on the old Borgani soprano, and one of the very last jobs was to sort out the manky thumb rest.
It's clearly seen better days, and in an effort to keep it all together someone's slapped what appears to be a load of tar over it...and when this hasn't worked they've topped it off with a dollop of old toffee. As a thumb rest it looks bloody awful - but as a small cake it looks exactly like the sort of thing I'd buy. But even I can't fix this mess - so it's out with the old and in with the new. Unfortunately such parts aren't exactly available off the shelf - so it's a job for the lathe and a lump of Delrin.
Manky old Borgani thumb restEasy-peasy - you just need a rod of Delrin turned to the diameter of the original rest with a hole drilled in it to sit over the body stub. But I figured that if I was going to go to all the trouble of making a new rest I might as well tweak the design a little. The original rest is a bit poxy, being about the same diameter as a standard key pearl, and wouldn't have been very supportive or comfortable on a long gig. So I decided to up the diameter a little.
This makes things a little more complicated because the distance between the stub and the octave key touchpiece limits the maximum diameter - so if you want to make the thumb rest any larger you're going to have to offset the stub hole. Put simply this means more 'meat' at the rear of the rest than at the front.

As any DIYer knows, it's a complete doddle to drill an off-centre can do it with your eyes closed (which is probably why so many holes end up off-centre) - but when you want to do it all 'officially', like, it's a task for the four-jaw chuck.
The chuck on a typical drill is a three-jaw self-centering job. As the name suggests, it has three jaws...and when you put a drill in the chuck the three jaws close equally so that the drill is automatically centred. A four jaw chuck has an extra jaw, and they all move independently of each other - and this means you have to manually adjust each jaw in turn in order to centre something. It's a lot more hassle but tends to be rather more accurate than the average three-jaw chuck, and it allows you to hold parts that wouldn't fit in the three-jaw chuck (such as square bars). It also means you can choose to set something off the centre. AKA wonky.

Turning the new thumb restHere's the thumb rest stub hole being turned out. The Delrin bar was set to turn on centre and then turned to the required diameter. The chuck was then adjusted to shift the centre of the piece slightly over before cutting the stub hole. As you can see, it looks a bit cockeyed - the wall of the rest near the toolpiece is thinner than the wall on the other side.
Having turned out the hole the only thing left to do is to cut the piece to the correct height and we're good to go.
Well, not quite - because it won't look very the next job is to turn a taper from the base of the rest to its top.
Good to go now?
No, not quite - because the base of the new rest is dead flat...and if you look at the shot above you can see that the bottom of the rest needs to follow the shape of the horn's body tube.
New thumb rest, all clean and shinyI say 'needs to' because it doesn't really need to (yeah, I know) but it would look a bit odd if it didn't - so the last part of the job is to file away the base until it sits flush with the body. Once that's done, and everything lines up nicely, it can be glued in place.

It's a surprising amount of work for what looks like a chuckaway part but I think you'll agree it looks the business. It's nicely proportioned and the slight taper has a sympathetic resonance with the taper of the body tube. And yes, that's bullshit...but what's the betting it'll turn up in some manufacturer's blurb down the line?

Was it worth the effort?
I think so. It seldom takes much longer to add these little touches over making a basic but wholly functional part, and it brings an extra sense of satisfaction with the job. I also quite like the fact that no-one (at least no-one who hasn't read this blog) will know that there's an offset hole underneath the rest. It's the sort of thing that may, one day, cause another repairer to raise an appreciative eyebrow in a sort of "Oooh, look what he's done there" kinda way.
As opposed to an "Oooh, look what he's done there!"...which is an entirely different reaction.

And as my forthcoming review of this Borgani will was definitely worth spending a few bob on it to get it going again.


20/04/17: As many regular readers will know, I've always tried to take a balanced approach the issue of cheap horns. I mean - what else can you do?
I often see rants about these things - and for sure, I'm not averse to pointing out some spectacularly bad examples in The Black Museum - but the hard fact is that there's a ready market for instruments on a very tight budget. T'was ever thus, t'will ever be.
The most common argument against them is that they're likely to be so crappy they'll put people off playing, but I think the more powerful counter-argument is that instruments that are genuinely affordable has resulted in a very much larger user base. Anyway, the things are here - so you either deal with them or you don't. And if you don't, there are others who do.
Gear4Music alto saxBut another common argument against them is that they won't last - they'll fall apart in no time at all. The first part of the argument has some merit, because (let's face it) spending £300 on a brand new horn is always going to mean some compromises have been made. And with such a low purchase price you're going to run into the economics wall that much sooner than you would had your horn cost £600, or £1000. No point in spending a couple of hundred quid to fix up a horn that can be bought brand new for not much more. But then that's not how these things are supposed to work. You buy 'em, you try 'em, and if you make any progress you ditch 'em and go buy something better.

As for the second part - I've often wondered about that. Horns don't routinely fall apart. In fact they don't really fall apart at all. Things sometimes drop off, but that's been true of cheap horns ever since Weltklang dominated the student market back in the '70s...and people are still quite happy to recommend these mediocre old bangers as viable starter horns. It's unfortunate, but it's seldom a very big deal. It might surprise you to learn that the worst-built horns I've ever worked on were those made by Adolphe Sax himself - and yet many of them are still plodding along 150 years later.

So I was quite keen to have a look at an Ultra Cheap horn that a client brought in the other day, because it's about ten years old. In Ultra-Cheap horn terms that makes it practically vintage. And it's been no closet queen either - it's had to pay its dues down the decade.
Would it be a pile of bits? Will it have any lacquer left on it? Will the pads have evolved into a strange new life-form??
Well, no - in fact it was just like any other horn...a few pads had gone west, some of the corks had got tired and ten years of use had left some wear and tear behind. But it still (mostly) worked. It just needed a general service to put it back in good working order, and maybe it'll see another ten years worth of use. Assuming the pads last (and I don't see why they wouldn't) there really isn't much else that's going to stop it in its tracks - and just like any other horn I'm sure it'll have its issues...but I really don't think it's going to magically dissolve into a pool of metallic goo any time soon.

But what a bargain, eh? Ten years of use for a little over £200. I think that deserves a medal - though I think the owner deserves one too...I noticed they'd been using the stock mouthpiece all this time. I suggested that a new (decent) one would be an improvement - and despite the horn having done so well, I also suggested that it might just be time to think about a better horn.
After all, if you've been playing for a decade I think it's safe to say it's not likely to be just a fad.


12/04/2017: D'you like gadgets? I do. I'm a sucker for a good gadget - in fact even a cheap one can bring a smile to my least until it breaks (the gadget, not my face). And one of the best gadgets I've got my greasy paws on in the last few years is one of those very snazzy tablet computers.
Like all the best gadgets it should have more than one purpose - and while having a relatively powerful touch-screen computer that's thinner than a magazine is a whole lot of fun, my main interest in it was to see whether it'd form the basis of a digital manuscript engine. I've been using computers to write scores on for years now, and while I wouldn't say it's faster (for me) than handwriting them, it does tend to mean that I (and everyone else) can at least read them. It also means it's much less of a hassle when changes have to be made to the score.
However, such setups have never been that portable - or at least terribly functional 'in the field'. Even the slimmest laptop is a bit of a handful, and seldom sits well on a music stand...and you can pretty much forget about doing any editing on the fly.
Which is where the tablet comes in. The model I have, a Lenovo Miix, comes with a Wacom pen - and with the right software it becomes almost as easy to use as a sheet of paper. It's light, compact and has a good battery life - and a screen that's just about large enough to show an A4 sheet at full size. Perfect.

And it was too, up until the point where it suddenly stopped working. I thought (hoped) it might be a Windows hiccup - but a few days of poking the power button didn't help, and I resigned myself to having to send it back to Lenovo for a warranty repair. Bit of a nuisance, but these things happen. Having seen what couriers can do to a horn I decided not to take any chances with the tablet and set about double-boxing it - and just for good measure I thought I'd take some shots of the blank screen. It's always good to have some evidence that the box of shattered bits that arrives at the destination was in good condition when it was shipped.
Taking a photo of a highly reflective piece of black glass isn't least not if you want to be able to show that there are no cracks in it. I tried a few 'backgrounds', but eventually decided that the reflection of a sunlit brick wall would be the ideal way to highlight the integrity of the screen - which is when I traipsed outside, with the Miix in one hand and my big 'ol Nikon in the other.
And it was at this point that the tablet slipped out of my hand.

Busted MiixWell, sort of...y'see, I still had hold of half of it. I comes with a detachable keyboard, which is held in place by a bunch of strong magnets. These are easily strong enough to keep the keyboard secured during normal use - but not so strong that they can safely support the weight of the screen. I'd fumbled my grip, managed to hang onto the keyboard...but the business end hit the garden path. The one bloody part of the garden that's stone. Typical.
It landed face not only did I have that awful slow-mo 'Noooooooooooooooooooo' moment, I also had to endure the cringeworthy process of lifting the screen up and turning it over. I had my buttocks clenched as tightly as I could, but to no avail...the screen was a goner. And so was my warranty.
Given that I'd reported the fault a few days before, I supposed there might still be some grounds for sending it back - but it essentially boils down to my word against theirs as to when the tablet was dropped...and I'm pretty sure that's an argument I'm unlikely to win.

So - plan B. If I can at least find and fix the fault I can still use the thing with an external screen...and with its HDMI output it'd make a decent media centre. But first I'd need to fix that fault.
I'd had some encouragement inasmuch as the damn thing started up after I dropped it, which suggests the issue is a dry joint somewhere. And now that the warranty's toast I guessed I had nothing to lose by taking it apart. Which I did.
Couldn't find a dry solder joint though, even after an hour of peering at the motherboard through a loupe. And then I remembered that I'd picked up a shonky old microscope from the tip a couple of years ago that had a USB camera attachment. This could, potentially, make an ideal tool for examining the board in detail. However, there was no way the board would fit under the lens - so I'd have to rig something up.
It's a very simple affair - there's a lens at the top of the viewer (which you can replace with the camera), a prism to bend the light and then the magnification lens. I wouldn't need the prism - so all I really wanted was a tube with a lens in one end at the camera at the other. A quick spell on the lathe with a lump of Delrin sorted out a nifty adapter, and with the aid of a table vice I was in business.

Sort of. It kinda fact it kinda worked very well, and would have done had there not been hundreds of components to examine. If you've ever used a microscope you'll know that the depth of field (the amount of stuff actually in focus) is minute - fractions of a fraction of a millimetre. This is why microscopes have an adjustable you can tweak the focus as you go. All I had was a cheaparse table vice, which made the whole operation painfully slow.
But between the microscope lash-up and more peering through a loupe I think I'm pretty confident that the issue isn't a dry solder joint, and is more likely to be a broken trace in one of the (many) layers inside the board. Which means it's a write-off...or a Miix fix nix.
I'm not going to chuck it away though - at some point these things will start turning up on ebay at sensible prices, and I might be able to snag a replacement board on the cheap. And then I can think about that broken screen. In the meantime it can sit on the pile with all the other laptops I keep meaning to sort out...


10/04/2017: Terrible news! One of my 'regular' clients (and he'll get that reference, even if no-one else will) has nipped off to sunnier climes for an extended stay...and has taken his baritone sax with him (as you do).We discussed the risks and problems when he popped in to get the horn serviced prior to the trip. Shipping a horn in the hold of a plane is always a risky business, but the risk increases proportionally to the size of the instrument. One thing's for sure, you need a pretty solid case (which he has) and a fair amount of good luck.
As it turns out his luck wasn't quite firing on all four, and just after his arrival I got an email requesting urgent help. I dropped everything, called the travel agent and booked a flight...then set about packing a selection of tools and my swimming trunks. And then I noticed the email said "Can you just give me some advice?". Damn.

Well, it seems the horn's had a bit of a knock and the top F# key sticks open occasionally. Could be a minor problem, could be a major one. If it's minor it probably means the cup key (which sits right on the top bow) copped a whack and the key barrel's been bent a little. Not enough to stop it working, but just enough to make it catch every now and again. Upping the spring tension would probably overcome the friction in the short term. If it's major it might mean the entire top bow's been knocked out of line...but then that usually means that the horn stops working altogether.

Mmmmmm....cuuuuustardBut I digress - because that's not the terrible news. Oh no.
Y'see it's well known that I appreciate the finer things in life...such as single malt whisky and cakes. Every once in a while a client will feel that I've done them a particularly good service and will surprise me with a nice bottle or a sticky bun. And when it comes to cakes I have a particular passion for custard slices (or vanilla slices, if you must). And I'm not the only one. It seems that the search for the perfect custard slice is a popular pastime around the world - and there's even an entire blog devoted to it.
And I understand it completely. The custard slice, while quite simple on the face of it, is fiendishly difficult to get right. It's also complicated by virtue of everyone having their own idea as to what constitutes the perfect specimen. One layer of custard...or two? Thick icing, or thin? White or pink? Solid, gelatinous custard...or soft and creamy? Stiff pastry..or pliable and crumbly?
My personal preference is for crisp, crumbly pastry with a thin layer of white icing and one or two layers of medium firm custard. Not too sweet. At least that's my preference today. It may change tomorrow.

I've had some truly great slices (there is, or was, a small cafe on one of the Welsh railways that currently holds a gold medal) and some truly awful ones...but the ones the baritone client would always bring with him were among the very best, made by an independent baker down on the south coast.
These are utterly, utterly gorgeous. The perfect balance of pastry to custard, with just enough 'ooze factor' to make them fun but not too messy to eat...and not so sweet that it drowns the subtlety of the custard and the freshness of the pastry. And the 'rustic' presentation is a tour de force. No artisan slices are these - they're hewn from the slab and need no fripperies to detract from their honest perfection. A ten out of ten, every time. Just take a moment out of your busy day to gaze upon their beauty. Feel free to drool, I know I am.

So it was with incredible sadness that I reached the end of his email and saw the dreadful P.S. The lady who makes these beauties has retired. They are no more. The sun has set on a corner of the custard slice empire, and it may never rise again. I'm heartbroken. And he's pretty worried too...because he knows that turning up with a bag that says 'Greggs' on it ain't gonna cut any mustard come bari servicing time.

Oh, and the bari? Upping the spring tension solved the immediate problem. Sorted (for now).


06/04/2017: Had an email from a chap a couple of weeks ago who wanted some advice on whether to get his Yamaha 275 tenor fixed...or simply throw it away. Sounds like simple enough question to answer - but here's the rub...he'd already had it fixed recently. Three times.
The low notes were giving him gyp, so he took it along to a repairer and had £80's worth of work done to it...but still it warbled down the bottom end. The standard advice when a repair fails to fix the problem is to take the horn back. We all make mistakes, we all have bad days - but anyone who cares about their work will always welcome the opportunity to correct such errors. The chap decided not to go back, which is kind of understandable - it's that "If they can't get it right first time, are they going to do any better the second time?" thing. Maybe? Hopefully?
Anyway, another repairer was entrusted with the work - and another £80 shelled out. And still the low notes were gyppy. This time he went back - and after some remedial work failed to cure the problem he was handed a couple of wine corks to pop down the bell. This ol' trick upsets the standing wave in the bore of the horn and can tame a slight warble...but it's still a trick, and not a fix.

£160 down, and still no reliable low notes. So he tried again.
This time it cost an eye-watering £200 - and guess what? Yep, still warbled. Which is why the poor bloke emailed me to ask whether he should give up any hope of ever getting the damn thing working.
YTS 275 A key padNow, I won't say I took pity on him - but I'll admit I was incredibly keen to see what three repairers and £360 had left him with. I mean, you would, wouldn't you?
So the horn was lugged all the way down to Hampshire and hoisted onto the bench - and the first thing I noticed were lots of little marker pen marks on a number of the key cups. He'd been so frustrated with the outcome that he'd built a leaklight (using my article on building the same) and gone right down the horn, marking the leaks. He'd got most of them.

I knew there was a problem before the horn even hit the workbench. As soon as I lift a horn out of its case I run my fingers down the action and listen/feel for the response - it should be percussive, a distinct pop-pop-pop as each pad hits home. It got down to G before the mushiness set in. The client and I set about diagnosing the problems and drew up a list of all the issues: Top Eb slight (leak), Aux. B slight, B middling, BisBb middling, A middling overthick and undersized, G# slight overthick, Aux. F major, F major overthick, E middling, low D slight, low Eb major, low C major, low C# slight, low B major and low Bb major. And the new crook cork was too thin. I also felt the palm key springs were too light, as was the Aux. F spring. That's quite a hefty list for a horn that's seen £360's worth of recent repairs.

The last repairer had put the pads he'd removed in a bag, and I noticed that seven of them were original and three were previous replacements. I had a bit of a chuckle at the A key pad. It had previously been replaced with a Pisoni Pro pad (a good pad) - but this had been removed and replaced with a Martin Chanu pad. It's a good pad - but it's way too thick for a Yamaha, and was rather undersized. And it leaked.
So there were clear problems even before the hapless player got anywhere near the low notes. And then it got worse. Now, whenever I see 'a quartet of bell leaks' my first instinct is to suspect a knock to the bell. Such a knock will typically throw out the low Bb, B, C and Eb pads. But none of the leaks fitted the pattern. The pads were simply the original ones that probably hadn't been thoroughly seated in the first place and had thrown leaks as they shrank slightly over time (and it wasn't a very old horn).
YTS 275 low CTake a look at the low C. This is a classic Yamaha low C leak. They haven't quite got the length of the low C cup arm quite right (too short) - or the position/angle of the lower pillar - which means the low C key pad is always trying to seat right on the area of the pad where it begins to roll off down the sides. It's doable, but it's not ideal...and it takes a lot (and I mean a lot) of prodding and poking to achieve a reliable and stable seal. This level of work is not something you typically get with a factory pad job.
The big question is how the hell did this one (and it's the original factory-fitted pad) get past the last repairer - and perhaps the previous two? Looking at the leak I can see that it's not even across its width...which it would be were it a bent key or body tube. There's a noticeable 'hump' in the centre. That'll be down to shrinkage.
I also don't like the way the leak drops out rapidly at the sides of the key cup - it's a dead ringer for a slightly warped tonehole (which it was).

We agreed on a price - on two conditions; that I would guarantee - so help me God, hand on heart and a copy of the Haynes Saxophone Manual - that I would return the horn in working order...low notes and all - and that the client would divulge the names of the previous three repairers. Which he did. I raised an eyebrow, and then raised another - and not having anything else to raise I settled for a quiet "Well ^&%$ me!". And were I to tell you who they were, I think that'd be your reaction too. Suffice to say they should all have done better.
I'm all for giving the benefit of the doubt, and there may be many reasons why a successful repair wasn't forthcoming - but when you see factory-fitted pads with leaks it does rather suggest that the problems have been there for quite some time.

I set about sorting the thing out. I removed the low Bb, B, top B, Eb and C pads - all original. Very surprised at the low Eb being's a pad you almost replace at every service as a matter of course because it lives a very hard life. I also whipped out the undersized A pad and the overthick G#. I figured I could work around the slightly fat low F pad.
The G# key barrel was bent. I suspected a naughty tap with a mallet to try to cure the leak at the rear.
I won't say the job was easy - in fact I lost out big time on this one. The low C proved to be its usual difficult self, and despite spending more than an hour trying to get a new pad to seat I eventually had to call it a day and fit another one. It happens. You can really only move a pad around so many times before it gets messy, and despite losing the cost of a pad (around a fiver) it's cheaper to whip it out and start again with a fresh one.
And then I cocked up the A key pad (entirely my fault) and had to start over (meh).
YTS 275 padsAnd it's always tricky sorting out someone else's work. You never really know what they've done, what corners they've cut, what their approach was. If you're trying to reseat a pad, do you know what's behind it...has the key been bent to fit?
I wasn't at all surprised, though, to see that the Chanu pads had been fitted with shims (bottom left in photo). This is precisely what happens when you fit pads that are too thick or thin - you end up having to take up a gap of a millimetre or more at the front or back of the pad. Some repairers refuse to use shims, but like most techniques they have a time and a place - but if you end up using them on a modern horn like a Yamaha then there's a problem.

Note the low C key pad (bottom right) - and note how close the tonehole impression is to the edge of the pad (and how far away it is at the opposite end).
They don't look too shabby though, do they? The Eb and B pads (centre) are visibly grubby, but the rest look quite clean. That's pretty typical of shrinkage...the pad looks fine, but on proper inspection it fails the test.

I got the Yamaha back together and gave it a blow, and after a couple of regulation tweaks the low notes popped right out of the horn.
There's a very distinct feel to the way these basic Yamahas punt out the low notes - it's quite a light horn with a strident tone, and when you hit the bell notes you should feel the horn almost trying to vibrate itself out of your hands. You should also hear the note ring; it's almost as if it carries on for a fraction of a second after you stop blowing. It's immensely satisfying - which, given the amount of time I spent on this job, is all I got to take home with me. And sometimes...just sometimes...that's enough.
When the client called to collect the horn I turned off all the workshop lights and handed him my leaklight. "Knock yerself out" I said. Given the poor service he'd received in the past I wanted to make sure he could see, hear and feel the difference. He spent a few minutes looking for leaks, then I blew the horn and then he blew it. I don't know who was more relieved, but he hit the low notes bang on. I made him a promise when I took the job on - that I'd return the horn in 100% working order. No ifs, no buts - it'd work, and it'd work properly. And it did.


04/04/2017: It's school holiday time again, and while the actual holiday is only a fortnight long I find it often means an influx of work in both the week preceding it and the one following it. This is because there's a mix of state and private schools around here and their term times often differ - but it's also down to conscientious parents seeking to get ahead of the rush (very wise) and (shall we say) rather busy ones who choose to come in after the break. And then there are those parents whose children forget to inform them until the start of the new term that Smythe minor stamped on their flute during band practice a couple of weeks ago.

It's also time for the 'Uni crowd' to pitch up...or rather for their parents to be left with the job of getting their horns sorted - while they themselves take the opportunity to nip abroad for a spot of potclimbing or caveholing, or whatever it is that the bright young things get up to these days. This often puts an interesting slant on the relationship between responsibility and cost, because uni students are generally old enough not to have to answer to their parents (quite so much, at least) and yet are still young enough to claim 'income support'. Which simply means they go out and have lots of a fun while their parents foot the bill.
They're also savvy enough to write little notes about what needs fixing, which sometimes leads to some interesting conversations with the parent who's been assigned the duty of 'Chief Courier'.

Yamaha YAS62 damaged crookHere's a typical example. It's the crook from a Yamaha 62 alto. The note accompanying the horn referred to a problem with the Bis Bb key, which was highlighted by the placement of a large elastic band. The spring had gone. In fact it hadn't gone, it had simply come off its cradle. This was a bit of a puzzle. Sure - springs can sometimes be dislodged from their cradles if, say, the horn has copped a whack. If a spring is poorly aligned (i.e. it tends to point downwards when at rest, unhitched from the cradle), a knock can provide enough energy to 'bounce' the key and thus in turn flick the spring off. But this spring was set pointing upwards...which means it'll never fly off on its own accord. I was suspicious - and then I noticed that the Bis key's lower point screw was half out of the pillar. Had someone been fiddling with the key? Seems a likely bet - Yamaha point screws have a nylon locking collar and don't usually work loose all by themselves.
Anyway, an easy-peasy fix. And then I looked at the crook.

Oh my. Was this the smoking gun? Well, it's certainly had a bit of a whack, and such an impact could well explain why the Bis key was out of sorts...but a couple of things didn't add up.
For a start there was no other damage to the horn. The sort of knock that can put a dent like this in a crook indicates a hard impact...and if you're lucky that's going to mean your main stacks will be shunted out of regulation. If you're less lucky you'll have another dent (or two) where the horn came to rest - and if you're really unlucky you'll have a bent body too.
But apart from the Bis key spring there really wasn't much else wrong with the horn, aside from a year's worth of fair wear and tear.
Yamaha YAS62 crook saddle mountThe real telltale, however, was the crook key pad. There were two impressions in it; the original one in the centre of the pad and a secondary one at the rear - the latter cause by the dent shunting the key cup forward. And it had been there for quite some time. Clearly the horn had been playable up until recently (when the Bis spring failed) - but there was no mention of a mangled crook on the player's list of things that need fixing. But how d'you get such a whack in the first place? Drop the crook? I think it's unlikely - the crook isn't very heavy, so it doesn't have a particularly large 'terminal velocity'. Sure, you'd dent it if you dropped it, but I don't think you'd stove the tube in.

There's a slight pause here, because it suddenly occurred to me that I'd never actually tested that I dug out a couple of old crooks and spent a very entertaining few minutes dropping them from various heights. And no - even a drop from ceiling height wouldn't cause anywhere near that level of damage.
Which means either something hit the crook (that's possible, I once had a speaker fall on mine at gig) or there was more mass behind the crook when it hit the deck. I'm inclined to go with the latter. Maybe the player was tipping out the condensation at the end of the gig and the thing slipped out of the hands. It'd hit the floor crook end first, but probably saved from tumbling over.

Yamaha YAS62 fixed crookThere's another pause here while I dug out those poor old crooks again and a scrap alto...and yeah, if dropped from chest height you'd put a dent like this into a crook. It's a hell of an impact though, and I'd really expect to see the regulation shot to buggery afterwards as well as the bell key pillars shunted out of line.

Anyway. I sorted the damage out. It didn't go too badly...I was expecting worse. Big dents like this often have creases around the edges. A dent is a gentle thing, as curvaceous as any of England's rolling hills. Removing them is also a gentle process, one of easing the metal back where it belongs. But a crease is an entirely different kettle of fish - it's a sharp bend...and when you bend a piece of brass like that it hardens on the apex. Being gentle with a crease just isn't going to work, but you always have the added complication of the adjacent dent. I won't go into detail as to the whole approach of tackling such things - suffice to say that 'good cop - bad cop' fits the bill nicely.
I'm pretty pleased with the results. There's always a degree of luck just never know how the metal will behave, so I always expect the worst so that I can be surprised when it all goes to plan. The crease and the dent are mostly gone. When you put a dent in metal you're effectively stretching it, and when you take the dent out you're left with slightly more surface area than you started with. Unless you're prepared to file it (you can also shrink it slightly by bringing it up to red hot) you'll nearly always have stretch marks and ripples. But the lacquer's held up very well, even through the soldering process.
The only thing left to to find out how that dent got there in the first place.

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