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


Bar rash27/01/2018: Had a client drop by the workshop while I was working on a baritone, and - as is often the case - they took an interest in the dismantled horn on the workbench. I'm always happy to answer questions and indulge their curiosity because while a 'naked' sax is a very common sight for me, many players will go their entire life without seeing a dismantled horn up close.
It was while we were discussing various fittings and features on the body that they commented on an impressive collection of scratch marks on the interior rear of the horn's bell - and wondered what on earth the player had done to make such a mess of the finish.

It was with a heavy heart that I had to say that the marks hadn't been put there by the player but rather by someone who'd repaired the horn in the past - and that it's something I call 'Bar Rash'.
"You mean it's deliberate?"
That's a good question, because there's often a fine line between a deliberate act and one that comes about through negligence - even if the outcome is the same. I think it's reasonable to assume it wasn't deliberate - because no-one's that mad - and because there's a very simple explanation as to how the marks got there...

There are a number of methods of removing dents from horns, the most common of which is the use of dent balls. As the name suggests, these are balls - of various shapes and sizes, typically made from steel or brass - which are threaded onto a bar which is then inserted into the bore of the horn so that the ball may be positioned beneath the dent. There are a few risks associated with the technique, one of which is that while it's (obviously) important to be aware of where the ball is, it's equally important to keep an eye on the bar itself...especially where it enters the bore.

You can do a lot of damage to a horn with the wrong end of a dent bar, and if you're not careful you can end up putting as many dents into the horn as you're trying to remove.
Bar rash is slightly less serious (but usually cosmetically catastrophic) and comes about due to an unprotected bar rubbing against the bore. There are ways to avoid it, of course - the most simple of which is to cover the bar with a sleeve or wrap some tape around it. And/or choose a bar with a different profile (slightly curved instead of straight). Even then such measures should be considered precautionary - a fail-safe in addition to the preferred option of keeping a watchful eye on both ends of the bar during the dent removal process.

Dent bar in bellWhat's happened here is that someone's gone down the bell with a straight bar - probably to tackle some dents in the front of the bottom bow - and has been so busy concentrating on the dents that they've not noticed the other end of the bar chewing into the bell flare.
You can see that most of the marks run in a line down the bore, and these were made as the horn was pushed back and forth over the dent ball. The side-to-side marks would have been made as the bell was tilted to allow the ball to tackle the area around the dent.
There are also several dents just below the marks, which might indicate that part of the bar was protected...but equally they might have been caused by ramming the bell onto a wooden mandrel (usually a large, tapered piece of wood - placed in a vice and used to support the horn while work is carried out on it).
Another common place you'll find bar rash is halfway down the bore of the bell. The further the dent ball is pushed around the bottom bow, the closer the bar gets to the bell wall. Again, it's completely avoidable.

"Surely the owner would have kicked up hell when they got the horn back?"
I'd like to think so, but there's a very fair chance that this baritone saw service as a marching band or school horn - and no-one would have complained on its behalf. It's often the case that such organisations are happy enough to get the horn back in 'reasonable' working order in as short a timescale as possible...and for the least possible cost. In short, no-one cares...and the baritone has the scars to prove it.


07/01/2018: Every now and then a horn comes in that sets my nose a-twitching...and I don't mean the ones that haven't seen a lick of spit and polish in the last ten years. No, I mean the ones that aren't what they seem to be.
In some cases it's merely a case of doubly mistaken identity, such as the client who's bought an A clarinet instead of a Bb, or a C-Melody instead of a tenor. Why doubly? Because while buyers sometimes have no idea what they're buying, sellers sometimes don't know what they're selling.
And in some cases it's rather more nefarious.

A Conn 12M baritone came in for a service the other day, and straightaway it was clear it wasn't one of the 'Classic' models. It equally quickly became clear it wasn't one of the 'Not Classic - but still classic' models...which sounds terribly complicated, but essentially boils down to three models. Classic (with a capital C) is any example with rolled toneholes (pre 1947) - classic (with a small c) is any example without rolled toneholes built in the period between 1947(ish) and 1960. Anything built post 1960 is generally considered to be 'so-so' - and when production was moved to Nogales, Mexico in 1970 it pretty much signalled the end of a once-great marque.
It's simplistic overview, admittedly - but it serves to add some perspective to what follows...

Take a look at the area below the serial number. You can see that the lacquer's been buffed off - and the pertinent question is "Why?'
Maybe it copped a whack here and needed some dent work - but then the rest of the body was bristling with dents, some of which have evidently been there for a very long time. It's the only spot on the body that's been buffed in the last few years - all the other patches of bare brass sport a nice red/brown tarnish.
Conn 12M buffed areaBut why would you buff a dent repair on a lacquered horn anyway? It serves no purpose other than to strip the lacquer. Maybe it needed a soldering job here, and the lacquer got burnt off - but there's nothing soldered on here, aside from the bottom bow joint (at the bottom of the photo)...and that's still got lacquer around it.

If you take a really, really close look at the buffed area you can juuuuuust about make out the vestiges of a stamp or a mark in the centre.
And here's a couple of top investigative tips for you. When marks or stamps are filed or buffed away, there are often 'tells' left behind. This is typically because the marks run so deep that whoever's doing the erasing realises that they're going to have to file much deeper than they thought - and nothing ruins the value of a horn quite as much as a hole in the body...or a very obviously shallow spot. So they bottle out as soon as they think the job's good enough to fool the inexperienced eye.
If you gently polish the area with a bit of metal polish (such as Brasso) it will increase the contrast between the metal and any imperfections in it by virtue of the dark residue from the polish filling the pits.
This may be enough to make any lettering visible with the aid of a magnifying glass - and changing the angle of the light shining on the body will help to accentuate it. But the best method is to take a macro photo of the area and then blow it up on screen.

And here's what we find.
Now, does that say Mexico...or does that say Mexico? One thing's very clear - it's not stamped, it's engraved. This was common practice on Nogales horns of this era.
There's only one reason you'd buff the nuts out of this area of the body, and that's if you were trying to remove something. The serial number's it's not a case of trying to hide who the horn might have belonged to - which leaves three other possibilities.
Conn 12M Mexico stampThe first is that there was a model number there. I really can't imagine why anyone would want to remove such a thing - it'd be like taking the badge off your Ford in the hope that everyone thinks it's a Mercedes. It ain't gonna happen.
The second is that someone engraved a unique identifying mark on the horn, such as a name or number. This is a more likely possibility...and I well remember likely lads trying to sell me horns back in the '80s that had been stolen from London schools - the big giveaway being a dirty great filed area where the letters I.L.E.A (Inner London Education Authority) would have been. This is a pretty pointless exercise if you don't also remove the serial number...and a horn with a removed serial number is about as hot as a bucket of chillies. And the third possibility is that the mark says where the horn was made.

Conn aficionados will immediately know than the N prefix puts the build date in the 1970s - and thus likely pins down the location of build as Mexico.
However, there's some confusion over the exact dates when production changed - and some N prefix models are marked as being built in the US...and I suspect that someone thought the serial number was low enough to pass the horn off as one of the very last US built models. Maybe they did a little bit of research and figured that all it takes to turn a 'Mexiconn' into a US one is to remove 'Mexico' from the body. Either way I think it's pretty clear that the intention was to disguise the horn's origins and thus raise its value.
I suspect, too, that whoever did it had access to a buffing machine of some sort - given the size of the bare patch. This means it's likely that someone 'in the trade' did it.
And they'd have gotten away with it if it hadn't have been for this meddling kid...

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