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


22/08/2017: It's been a good few weeks since my last blog update, and I've had quite a few emails asking me when/if I'm planning the next update - or whether I've simply given up on the whole idea. Fear not - my lack of updates is down to the sheer workload I've got on at the moment.
It's a combination of student work that gets dumped on me while the owners bugger off on holiday and pros who aren't working the summer season - and are thus taking the opportunity to get their horns serviced well before the Christmas season kicks off. And when you factor in all the usual work, it all adds up to quite a busy time of year.

However, I had a job come in that featured a couple of bodges - and I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to share them with you.
I've spoken about bodges before, and noted that there are two categories into which they fall; the out-and-out plain old cack-handed lashup job, and the "It ain't pretty, but it works - and it'll get you out of a spot" fix.
I mention this in passing because what you're about to see could fit into either camp, depending on the circumstances at the time the work was carried out - and it might be interesting to examine the whys and wherefores.

The horn in question is a very nice old Selmer MkVI alto, which came in for a one-day-turnaround rush service.
Work like this can be frustrating, because you simply haven't got time to do everything - but by the same token it's also quite interesting and challenging because you have to make on-the-spot decisions as to what work will bring the most benefit in the short amount of time available.
I guess everyone will have their own approach, but I tend to prioritise mechanical integrity above all else. Fix the underlying structure and you've at least got a stable base from which to work outwards - and I apply it in a top-down fashion, which is to say that problems at the top end of the horn have a higher priority than those at the bottom end. After all, there's little point in having perfectly-seating bell key pads when there's a handful of leaks on the top stack. Right?

Bottom bow patchIt's a system that seems to work quite well for me, but sometimes you're forced off the beaten track by problems that have to be dealt with before you can make a start on the servicing - and this case the first thing I had to deal with was a parted stay on the low Eb key.
This is a simple job ordinarily, but someone's been here before...
At some point in the horn's past it's copped a whack to the bottom bow, and the resultant dent (and most likely the removal process) has split the seam. This seam runs all the way around the very bottom of the bow and, rather inconveniently, right through the centre of the low Eb tone hole.
Most of it's protected by the bottom bow plate - but the stretch that runs from the end of the plate to the tonehole is exposed, and has a guard stay sitting right across it.
If the guard takes a hit (as it often does...sometimes even while the horn's in its case), the stay can be driven into the body. In itself this isn't much of a problem, but it usually takes the lower side of the tonehole with it - and that's definitely a problem. This means the dent has to be taken out - and if you repeat this process enough times, the metal soon becomes quite brittle...with every impact (intended or otherwise) increasing the propensity for the seam to split. And this is what's happened.

There are a couple of ways to fix this. You could run some silver solder into the seam, but this means bringing the area up to red heat - which means you'll have to remove any adjacent fittings (otherwise they'll fall off) - and you can kiss goodbye to a major portion of the finish surrounding the area. Or you can fit a patch over the seam and secure it in place with soft solder. The latter option tends to be the most popular and, provided it's done with care, can look quite neat and tidy.
But that's not what's been done here.

What we have is a strip of wonky brass that runs from the tip of the bow plate to the tonehole, and then up the tonehole wall. In so doing it cuts right through the spot where the lower guard stay sits - and to get around this annoying obstruction the guard stay foot has been cut in half.
Leaving aside the obvious (it looks pants), there are a number of issues with this fix - the foremost in my mind is that the guard stay's been butchered. I don't really want to come across as a saxophone snowflake, but hacking into original parts is something that I tend to frown upon.
To be fair you sometimes have no choice - but in this instance there are several ways in which this could have been avoided.
You could have made the patch in two sections, allowing for the placement of the stay - or you could have made the patch wider and cut a notch in it to accomodate the stay.

It's also not ideal to run the patch up the side of the tonehole. It looks odd and it adds a complication to the pad seat. The crack in the tonehole would have been fine with just a drop of solder to seal it up - and if you were fast and hot enough, you could even have popped a drop of silver solder here.
Anyway - safe to say that it's a bit of a scruffy job...but is it a bodge, or is it a rush job?
I'm inclined to go for the cack-handed bodge - because the lower end of the patch has been shaped to sit around the tip of the bottom bow plate.
Why go to all the trouble of profiling the patch here, and then hack the stay in half? It would have taken you almost as long to hack the stay as it would to file a notch in a wider patch.
And then there's the portion that runs up the tonehole wall. It's five minute's work to taper the patch off so that the tonehole rim remains the same width all the way round.
I didn't have time to sort it out properly, so I had to settle for refitting the stay and filing the portion that runs up the tonehole wall into a taper.
It'll do. It'll have to...for the time being.

Hollow rod screwThe next bodge is a real eye-popper - and it's the low C# rod screw. Or rather, the low C# rod tube.
Yep, that's right - rod tube. It's not a rod's a piece of tube.
I had to fully dismantle the horn to service it, and had a proper 'what the...?' moment when it came to removing the low C# key cup.
At first I thought it was merely a chewed-up rod screw head - but once I got it out I spotted the hole right through the centre...and the unusual yellow tint of the rod (I thought maybe some strange kind of grease had been used to lubricate the screw).

But no, it's rod screw made out of a piece of brass tube.
Why would you do such a thing? Well, you're not likely to find a piece of brass tube lying around that just so happens to be A: of the right diameter, and B: have the right thread on the end of it. No - this has been custom made for the job, and probably because whoever made it simply didn't have a suitably-sized piece of steel rod in stock.
This got me wondering, because any repairer who's been in the business for more than a couple of weeks will have a stock of old rods screws, if not a supply of rod screw steel in all the common sizes. It also puzzled me because the thread on the end of the rod was an exact match to all the other (large) rod screws. Who would have the means to cut such a thread, and yet not have the right sized stock on the shelf?
It's a bit like a chef who has a chopping block...but no knife. It just doesn't add up.
But it might add up if you were someone with engineering skills in a different trade. You might well have a lathe, or a collection of suitable taps and dies...but you might not have a stock of steel rod in the right size - so you'd be hunting around for anything at all that was of the right diameter.

It does the job well enough, but I figured it'd be as well to replace it with a stock screw. However, none of them fitted...the key barrel was oversize - so it would need a custom-made rod screw. This would take time, which was something I didn't have a lot of - so I decided to defer it until I'd sorted out the rest of the horn and come back to it at the end. And in the end there simply wasn't enough time. I'd barely got the last key fitted when the client arrived to collect the horn, so it had to go down as an advisory for the next service.
Maybe this is what happened to whoever made the rod screw - a case of doing the best you can in a very limited time.
As for the patch, I recommended leaving it well alone. It's doing its job, and it might as well be left until such time as the horn takes a knock and needs some bottom bow work.

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