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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A little history on this horn .. it was my paternal grandfather's personal sax and hasn't been played probably since the 40s or so. Looking it over, nothing is frozen and everything moves freely and returns to position ... Although a few return slowly most likely due to needing cleaning and lubrication.It's been stored in climate controlled environments, and I was happy to see nothing is seized due to rust.

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My wife and I are both long time musicians, although we play stringed instruments ... I don't know much about horns. Both my kids play horns though. My daughter is a 5th year trumpet player (who plays on her maternal grandfather's 1960 Selmer trumpet) and my 14 year old son is a 3rd year saxophone student who primarily plays a Yamaha YAS200AD student alto, sometimes the school's bari sax, and most recently we picked up a Yamaha 62III tenor for him.

All that said ... His great grandfather's C Melody has been hanging on the wall over his bed as a decorative piece for a couple of years, and he really, really wants to play it. I've brought it to a couple of repair shops and they all give me quotes around $850 - $1k to make it playable and tell me it's not worth repairing.

Now I'm a mechanically capable guy, and have done many restorations of stringed instruments with an appropriate toolset to do so ... but have never worked on a horn. I'm not one who has ever let "not knowing how to do something" stop me from doing it though :)

Considering I've nothing to lose from trying to get this sax playing for my son, and it would be really great for him to be able to play around on his great-grandfathers saxophone, I decided I'd give it a go ... hence joining this forum and making this initial post :)

I've watched a few videos and read up a little bit on what this will take, knowing I'm starting from zero knowledge, expecting to make a few mistakes along the way ... but my goal is really to just have it playable even if it still has issues. My son won't be able to use it for band or UIL or anything like that, but it would be nice if it was playable.

So I've ordered a digital caliper, a Wiha screwdriver set, a LED leak light kit and started looking at re-pad kits. I came across this "Shopforband" website which sells C Melody pad kits, but I've no idea if this is a good place to get them.

C-Melody sax pads, saxaphone pads

My thought is to take lots of pictures, and take my time doing a section at a time. Removing the keys, rods etc .. a section at a time and replacing the pads while cleaning and lubing it up.

Will I get in over my head here? I read a good tip is to take a picture of the sax and print it out. Then affix it to a block of foam so I can insert the parts into the foam, on the picture, corresponding to where they were removed. This seemed like a smart approach to keeping everything organized.

Would it be a good idea to soak the entire horn in water with dish soap before I begin any work to it .. or is it best to just clean things in sections as I go along?

Here's a few more pictures of the horn ... I think it's a 1923 based on the serial number.

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oh. Dad. ANOTHER one? You haven't gotten the first one back together yet!
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What has been working for me:

Matt Stohrer's videos.
Curt and co's MusicMedic videos.
Wes Lee's videos- although, he uses far more force than I seem to need.
I'm also not reshaping tuba bells.

GOOD QUALITY supplies- it might cost an extra $40
to get pads from someone like MM, but when you email them
to ask about something, you get a real, intelligent, helpful answer.
Plus, the 'kits' are pretty generic- as in, many pads don't fit.

Parallel pliers are really useful. I like the bigger 6" ones, just for hand fit.

I work on junkers for fun, for similar reasons-
I wouldn't think of wrecking a good horn, but repairing one that
wouldn't otherwise be worth fixing is rewarding. And low risk.

Have at it!

t
 

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I love those old chrome plated Conns. They manage to look great even after 100 years. Yes, it could do with a bath and polish, after removing all the keys/rods of course so as not to gum up the works. I'll leave the details to others who have restored many of these horns.

You are smart to do this yourself since after spending $1k on repairs, you'll still have a $500 horn.
 

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Than sax looks to be in really good condition. Even the pads don't look so bad. You probably could get it playing without a complete overhaul but sure you can do it. Can't go wrong MusicMedic pads.
 

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My first rebuild was a Buescher CMel. I didn't know how to play. I didn't even know it was a CMel. I didn't have any books or even know of SOTW. So it can be done. I'll list a few things, not in any particular order, that have helped me over the years.

1. While pictures are nice (maybe even essential), video is even better. And talk while you are making your videos.
2. Buy some Ziplock baggies and label them with a Sharpie when you take things apart. You can even number them so that you can reinstall in reverse order. It is frustrating and time consuming to put a group of keys on only to realize that they all have to be removed to put on the next key.
3. Check the body tube for straight and the tone holes for level. This is probably getting towards the limits on a first time DIY, but both can make big differences if the sax is intended to be played.
4. Don't buy a pad kit for a vintage horn. Chances are that several pads won't be right and you'll be screwing around trying to locate what you need. The exception might be pads from Music Medic if they list a set for your sax. The reason is that Music Medic will guarantee fitment and send additional pads free if something doesn't fit. But the better practice would be to measure each with a caliper.
5. I haven't seen this for awhile, but one of the old repair manuals had a picture of a generic saxophone with room to notate pad sizes, spring damage, etc. In addition to your video recording, you can create a list of pads, felts, parts, problems, etc.
6. Don't do this on the kitchen table, unless you don't need to use it for a month. Do it in an area that has a hard clean-swept floor. You will still spend some time on your hands and knees searching for tiny parts that bounced off the work surface, but will have a perfect recovery record.

Mark
 

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Check the calibration of your digital caliper before measuring your pad cups to order new pads. Mine were out by enough to mean that the replacement pads I bought for my first horn were undersized enough to be a pain to float. Luckily MM had a policy to send up to 6 (I think?) additional pads if some don't end up fitting and I got through. Was a massive pain though, one I would have avoided by checking my calipers.
 

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My first rebuild was a Buescher CMel. I didn't know how to play. I didn't even know it was a CMel. I didn't have any books or even know of SOTW. So it can be done. I'll list a few things, not in any particular order, that have helped me over the years.

1. While pictures are nice (maybe even essential), video is even better. And talk while you are making your videos.
2. Buy some Ziplock baggies and label them with a Sharpie when you take things apart. You can even number them so that you can reinstall in reverse order. It is frustrating and time consuming to put a group of keys on only to realize that they all have to be removed to put on the next key.
3. Check the body tube for straight and the tone holes for level. This is probably getting towards the limits on a first time DIY, but both can make big differences if the sax is intended to be played.
4. Don't buy a pad kit for a vintage horn. Chances are that several pads won't be right and you'll be screwing around trying to locate what you need. The exception might be pads from Music Medic if they list a set for your sax. The reason is that Music Medic will guarantee fitment and send additional pads free if something doesn't fit. But the better practice would be to measure each with a caliper.
5. I haven't seen this for awhile, but one of the old repair manuals had a picture of a generic saxophone with room to notate pad sizes, spring damage, etc. In addition to your video recording, you can create a list of pads, felts, parts, problems, etc.
6. Don't do this on the kitchen table, unless you don't need to use it for a month. Do it in an area that has a hard clean-swept floor. You will still spend some time on your hands and knees searching for tiny parts that bounced off the work surface, but will have a perfect recovery record.

Mark
Keep a magnet handy for your dropsies
 

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Buffet Clarinet, Conn Soprano Sax, Buescher Alto Sax, 2 Bundy One Tenor Saxes, Conn C Melody Sax,
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Don't buy "pad sets" based on the make and model; take each and every pad cup off, measure the ID at two crossed diameters, pick the average dimension, order the next increment down.
Good Luck! I have a similar C Mel. It was black when I got it, so I stripped it, polished it and took it to my tech to reassemble. As I said, Good Luck🤓!
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks guys, for all the great input and tips, I truly appreciate it!

The sax is in pretty good shape for being 100 years old, although the pads are pretty torn up and even missing a few. Some of the key cork/felt pieces are missing too ... But to an untrained eye, nothing looks bent or out of shape.

I'll be sure to calibrate the digital caliper before using it to measure the cups, good point. I have my luthier tools I can use for this.

The zip lock bags is a great idea. Maybe I'll take pictures of the sax, label the picture with #s at key points, and then number the zip locks with the components from that point. This should be a good way to keep it all organized, while also allowing me to fully disassemble it for a deep clean and polish.

Speaking of cleaning and polish ... what is good to use for this? On my guitars, I use car care products but I don't think those would be good to use here. For the initial cleaning to remove the 80 or so years of build-up ... do I just use dish soap and water?

What about cleaning the inside ... is it recommended to get the inside just as clean as the outside, and if so, how do you go about scrubbing that down in there? Does the smoothness of the inside affect the sound at all, or is it just cosmetic?

I read somewhere (or maybe saw it in one of the YouTube videos I watched) that I shouldn't use any liquid based polishes. So is there a gold standard for dry polish which is good to use on nickel horns, or maybe a particular type of cloth?

As for pads ... it sounds like the best bet is to measure every one of the cups, document it, and then reach out to MM for replacements. It looks like they have several different types. Is the Neo pad a good choice for something like this? Meaning for a horn which won't be used for performance, and for someone who will be doing this for the 1st time. They seem to promote "auto-leveling" for the neo pads, which to me, sounds like a great thing ... but maybe it's a gimmick? It looks like you put the pad on the spud, then glue the spud onto the cup, so the pad can tilt/float on it. Seems like a good idea to me and would make it easier for someone who's never leveled tone holes before ... but I realize I have a lot to learn.

For replacing the missing key cork, is there a standard thickness to use for that, or is each setup a little different and requires measuring and choosing the correct thickness for each replacement piece?

I saw in some videos where the technician is wrapping felt around some of the rods in particular locations. I don't see any felt on any of the rods, or even any indication there ever was any on the rods. So is this just a feature of some horns and not all ... or is it a preference thing, or maybe a higher end trait?

Thanks again for all the great info .. it's a big help to this newbie ... and my son will thank you if I can pull this off :)
 

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@Stoopalini welcome to SOTW. You’re going to have a great time repairing this fine C melody.
It’s a 1923/24 in what looks like nickel plated finish.
Have you ever made a jigsaw puzzle? I don’t believe they come with instructions ! Don’t freak out about all the key parts not going back together. put them in one big pile. Then refer back to your pictures to sort them out. You will learn much quicker this way. Do keep all the hardware in the same sequence/ order. Make yourself a caddy from scrap wood.
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Although not exactly the same Saxophone here’s a quick primer.

Make a spring tool. Lots to learn from Steve Howard.

What little I can see down the body tube picture does not appear that it is bent. Still take LOTS of pictures! Make notes of the cork thicknesses and locations. Can be done directly on the pictures. Note the height opening of the keys. Typically it is a unnecessary to level rolled tone holes. I am unfamiliar with the source you listed for pads. As others have suggested the Music Medic pads are a good quality and they are service oriented people. I suggest going with the soft feel pads. Not the soft feel thick or regular tan. The soft feel have a little more give for the DIY repairer. Although I wouldn’t hesitate to give Neo pads a try. I just can’t recommend them as I have no experience with their use.

Matt Sthorer has some excellent videos on servicing the neck micro tuner. Pay special close attention to the set screw position in the retaining ring !


Once you have it apart clean it in the bathtub in tepid water and Dawn dish soap. If you use a brush be gentle so you don’t end up with swirl marks in the plating. You can use a long brush to clean out the interior.
After washing blow the unit off with compressed air. A hair dryer on low heat and high fan is another good option. Once dry coat the springs with a WD-40 pen applicator to prevent rusting.
Regarding getting stabbed to death by the springs. Learn to pick up the instrument by the bell end. There’s no springs in the bell 😉

You’re welcome to send me a PM if you get stuck.

Good luck on your repair journey.
 

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@Stoopalini
... But to an untrained eye, nothing looks bent or out of shape.
looks to be in great shape !

I'll be sure to calibrate the digital caliper before using it to measure the cups, good point. I have my luthier tools I can use for this.
Digital calipers should have a reset to zero function. Just make sure the jaws are clean when it’s closed when resetting.

Speaking of cleaning and polish ... what is good to use for this? On my guitars, I use car care products but I don't think those would be good to use here. For the initial cleaning to remove the 80 or so years of build-up ... do I just use dish soap and water?
Dawn dish soap. Rinse well. Polish? Be careful what you use it could leave a rainbow petroleum residue look. Waxes on nickel can become blotchy. Whatever your choice make it non-abrasive.

Does the smoothness of the inside affect the sound at all, or is it just cosmetic?
No. I guess cosmetic could be one reason. A clean interior prevents it from generating a foul smell that makes your pads stink.

I read somewhere (or maybe saw it in one of the YouTube videos I watched) that I shouldn't use any liquid based polishes. So is there a gold standard for dry polish which is good to use on nickel horns, or maybe a particular type of cloth?
i’d be interested in your findings on what works.

For replacing the missing key cork, is there a standard thickness to use for that, or is each setup a little different and requires measuring and choosing the correct thickness for each replacement piece?
I believe Music Medic has a starter assortment. If I remember correctly it’s enough to do a couple-4 horns. Pay attention to the thicknesses you are removing.

I saw in some videos where the technician is wrapping felt around some of the rods in particular locations. I don't see any felt on any of the rods, or even any indication there ever was any on the rods. So is this just a feature of some horns and not all ... or is it a preference thing, or maybe a higher end trait?
this doesn’t apply to your instrument. This is usually an application to reduce noise. You will have two saddle supports that will be lined with cork. Occasionally felt is used in this position.

Thanks again for all the great info .. it's a big help to this newbie ... and my son will thank you if I can pull this off :)
A great father son project 🙌
 

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All that said ... His great grandfather's C Melody has been hanging on the wall over his bed as a decorative piece for a couple of years, and he really, really wants to play it. I've brought it to a couple of repair shops and they all give me quotes around $850 - $1k to make it playable and tell me it's not worth repairing.

Now I'm a mechanically capable guy, and have done many restorations of stringed instruments with an appropriate toolset to do so ... but have never worked on a horn. I'm not one who has ever let "not knowing how to do something" stop me from doing it though :)

Considering I've nothing to lose from trying to get this sax playing for my son, and it would be really great for him to be able to play around on his great-grandfathers saxophone, I decided I'd give it a go ... hence joining this forum and making this initial post :)
Folks 'round these parts generally give me grief for being a C melody hater, but you have a really good reason for wanting to put money into this horn and get it back into shape. Just know of course, there will be no place in school band for its use. That being said, you're probably going to end up spending even more money than that which was quoted getting the right tools and parts. It will be time consuming and you're not likely to do a good job given the particulars of regulating a saxophone. There are those on this site however, in particular one JayeLID, who can probably give you a better estimate for repair and can get the horn shipped back to you in fine playing shape. I know what you're considering could be a fun family project... but by the time you're done, your kid may have quit the horn.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thank you @PigSquealer , I appreciate the your input and encouragement :)

I ordered a saxophone spring tool set today instead of trying to make one myself. My wife is also an avid knitter with many knit and croquet tools ... so if I get stuck, I can always commandeer one of them, ha!

The digital caliper is scheduled for delivery today, although I have an event to play tonight ... so hopefully I can begin the measurement and documentation process tomorrow.

When I get to reassembly, should I be using some sort of machine oil on pivot points and friction areas? If so, any particular brand/type which is best?

It looks like MM has a pad kit specifically for the Conn straight neck c-mel:

Font Circle Brand Logo Screenshot


Although several folks above have said not to order a kit. I plan to measure everything anyway, so maybe I can order the kit and send all my measurements to MM as additional info?

In terms of ordering the pads, I did a bit of reading about resonators. Without getting into all the contentious points about their value or impact to the sound and sealing properties ... I would like to know if this horn had any resonators from the factory.

I did a quick Google search for "1923 Conn C Melody" to see if I could find out, but it's tough to tell. I do see some results with a description stating "all original" which shows resonators, but most results do not.

I think this is a "New Wonder I" horn, correct? Although it doesn't have any engraving on it.

Here's an example of one of the images I found which states its all original:

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My thought was to order the Softfeel pads with whatever resonator option most closely matches what it would have had from the factory.
 

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Music Medic has a program where you send them all the measurements and they put together a set in accordance with your measurements. Manufacturers change pad cup sizes on occasion and these don't always get documented. MM probably have measurements from the horns they've overhauled, so I'd guess a lot of data on some horns and less on others. Plus that doesn't account for the day in the factory when they were out of 1 1/8" cups and used a 1 3/16" cup. Measure them all and send those measurements.

I've ordered pad sets from them twice - first for a Buescher soprano - surely a well documented instrument - ordered by serial number - and got sets with one pad of grossly wrong size (see above note on "that one day at the factory". The second time I provided all the measurements and they fit perfectly.

My recommendation would be to order the completely standard tan leather pads, with flat metal boosters. This closely approximates the Conn Res-O-pads that might or might not have been used originally. At any rate, whenever Conn went from plain rivet pads to flat metal boosters on the pads, there's no evidence that they changed anything else about the horns, so you'll get a more modern and projecting sound with the boosters.

One possible gotcha to watch out for is if any of your pads has a really big keycup with a tiny tone hole, then a standard booster may interfere with the tone hole. In that case you may want to buy one pad with plain center hole and one small booster (or you can use, for just one position, a fender washer from the hardware store).

Also as you're disassembling check that the pad impressions are more or less centered - if not, something's probably bent and needs to be corrected.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Thanks @Grumps ... I've come across your posts in my reading through the site, and can appreciate your point of view. The C Melody seems to be a niche, and agreed, will have no value for my son in his school's band. This year he is 1st chair alto, but he'll be switching to tenor for his freshman year of high school next year. Hence we bought him the Yani 62III recently which he'll start using during his weekly private lessons.

As a musical family, we have dozens of instruments (guitars, basses, cello, violins, ukulele, trumpets, saxophones, keyboards, etc, etc, etc ...). Some vintage, some modern. I typically like all of them to be playable, and have built a skillset in repairing and restoring stringed instruments over the years.

With both of my kiddos playing horns, and each with a passion for music (my son actually spent his allowance $$ and commissioned a full score piece from Jon Burr so his school band could play it), I see some long term value in acquiring the tools and some experience in working on horns. Doing it along with my son will also give him some knowledge on being able to care for his own as he matures as well.

And ... using my grandfather's c-melody as the learning piece really brings zero risk in my opinion. If I can at least get it cleaned up and repadded, maybe getting a shop to do the final adjustments would be a good approach?

I also have a dedicated workspace in my home office for working on instruments, so I can take my time and be in no rush as i go through it and learn.
 

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If I can at least get it cleaned up and repadded, maybe getting a shop to do the final adjustments would be a good approach?
No. Sax techs will charge you more if you did your own work prior to bringing one in...

But seriously, I also come from a musical family and we had all sorts of instruments in the house. My father was a physician whose patients often repaid his courtesy with gifts of instruments. I came across at least a half dozen horns this way and grew up playing them all from sopranino to bari. It's a good skill for your son to be flexible, going from alto to tenor. When I made it to college, though I wanted to play tenor in the jazz band, the only seat available to me was bari. Could I play bari, the director asked? Heck yeah, I can play bari!

Good luck with the project.
 

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...It's a good skill for your son to be flexible, going from alto to tenor. When I made it to college, though I wanted to play tenor in the jazz band, the only seat available to me was bari. Could I play bari, the director asked? Heck yeah, I can play bari!
That kind of thing's how I've gotten the majority of gigs; on the other hand, I think it's kept me from truly focusing on one voice which may have been detrimental to some extent. Any time I say "you know, I think I'm just gonna play baritone [or alto, or whatever]" invariably someone calls up and says "hey, we need a tenor who can read and solo" and I don't have the guts to say no.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Great points @turf3. When I'm documenting the details, I'll take measurements of both the cups and the tone holes. This way, I can be sure any resonator or booster won't interfere. I did do a quick look over the ports and all of the pads seem to be well centered with exception of the two larger ones closest to the bell. But even those are only off by maybe 1/2mm or so.

Nice @Grumps ... I love having so many instruments around. My son learned on an Alto in 6th grade, and then within the first week of his 2nd year, he tried the bari sax and fell in love with the tone. So he switched and played bari sax all of his 2nd year. Then on the 3rd year, the director asked him if he would switch back to alto instead, as they had two bari payers (him included) and were short an alto; so he switched back.

He's been wanting to play tenor all year though, but the 8th grade director said they really needed him to stay on alto. My daughter is 1st chair trumpet in 10th grade, and my wife and I are heavily involved in the marching band ... so I spoke to the high school director about my son playing tenor next year for both marching and concert, and he said no problem.

This is why we bought him a tenor now, and will have him start using it during his weekly private lessons. So by the time he starts 9th grade next year, he'll be in good shape.

We all play various instruments (my daughter also plays melophone, a little but of acoustic guitar, as well as electric bass guitar in a jazz band, all in addition to trumpet) and I've always instilled the value of learning as many instruments as you can with my kids. The biggest weakness I consistently see in other musicians I've played with isn't their skill with their own instrument, but is a full understanding of the music itself. Knowing when to play and when not to, knowing each instruments place in the overall mix, being able to ad-lib (tastefully) when called for, etc ... Of course, music theory classes can help here, but really, just learning new instruments and playing with diverse groups has always been the best teacher to me.

My son's latest instrument is actually harmonica. I came home one day to find him on YouTube with a harmonica in his hand ... He had bought himself a harmonica and was watching online lessons to learn how to play it :)
 

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oh. Dad. ANOTHER one? You haven't gotten the first one back together yet!
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I can order the kit and send all my measurements to MM as additional info?
Absolutely! And if your measurements don't agree with what they've found in past,
you'll get a response to confirm that's really what you want. And extra help you might
not have known you needed. At least, that's been my experience, so far (thanks, Jeff!)
To be fair, I've also had great luck with JLSmith, Votaw (OMG- the best packaging I've ever seen!)
and Instrument Clinic, and I'm forgetting...at least one...
this is why I save receipts...

As to add to all the good advise above, I've also found almost every horn
I've taken apart has some bent key cups.
After finding out why on a couple, I've started looking before I take the old pads off. If it
was done before the pad was installed, (the pad's seated flat, the cup's arced,)
it's done to change key height. When (if) you flatten the cup, you next have to be ready to
reset the height. I dunno about Conns, but the King cups are far softer than the rest of the horn,
so THAT becomes a real project, to bend the arm without distorting anything else.

Matt has a good video on straightening rods and posts- I'm starting to think that his standards
are higher than the instrument companies' were!

t
 
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