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Super Action 80 Tenor, Yamaha Vito YAS-21 prototype, Kessler Soprano, Superba II Bari, Fender J-Bass
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Just a general question for the elite tech, or the advanced tinkerer. Do you do your own work on your horn. In my case, the answer is yes, unless it becomes uneconomical to do so. I've always had an interest in how the horn works, and have been decent in identifying mechanical issues from a young age. As the years went by, I learned a ton from several wonderful techs who were very open with what they do, how they do it, and why they do it that way. I still get my horns fully rebuilt about every decade, but do all of the inbetween work myself. In my opinion, it's important to be able to identify and repair issues in the mechanisms timing, which usually pop up due to bumper material compressing or expanding. I'll do light pad work up until the point where the stack keys fail. After that, it's just time to let someone do a full repad. To date, I've successfully repadded an old True Tone alto, and am capable of doing the job on my primary horns. However, and this is where economics pop in, it's just less cost effective for me to purchase the required pads several times over in order to make sure that I have pads that fit my particular keycups properly. Once I do this, and factor in the time it takes me to do the job, it's considerably cheaper to let the more experienced tech take over. Outside of that, the only other thing I won't touch is metal work. I have neither the tools, hands on know how, or enough parts horns to experiment on to even think about attempting that work on my primary saxophones. Part of me has always wanted to go down the "full time tech" route, but I just enjoy playing too much. I am grateful in learning from many of the true craftsmen both on and offline, and am grateful that I can handle most issues myself if they pop up on gig day.
 

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Well said. You are to be commended for learning from competent people how to perform many tasks yourself. I am a professional tech and I take care of other peoples saxes much better than I do my own. For example my Conn 10M I play gigs on still has a cork closing the Eb trill key because I am too busy with customer repairs to take the time to get it to work properly. My bari neck cork has been wrapped with post-it notes ever since I bought a new mouthpiece with a larger shank. The most useful knowledge in saxophone repair is "to know what you don't know" and it sounds as if you have accomplished that goal.

As an afterthought in this thread, there is another point that doesn't get brought up very often. That is, even when a mechanically inclined player learns a basic set of skills and techniques, that player' ability to do repair is still limited by the tools that he/she owns---many of which can be quite expensive. Tonehole files, swedging tools, key bending pliers, hammers of all types and sizes, dent tools and magnets, hinge tube shorteners, taps and dies just to name a few, and the list can go on. The occasional DIY repair person can argue that he can do a "playable" repad without leveling toneholes, or doing careful key fitting, etc. and that person is correct. But to take the work to a higher level requires the tools that professionals use on a daily basis.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Well said. You are to be commended for learning from competent people how to perform many tasks yourself. I am a professional tech and I take care of other peoples saxes much better than I do my own. For example my Conn 10M I play gigs on still has a cork closing the Eb trill key because I am too busy with customer repairs to take the time to get it to work properly. My bari neck cork has been wrapped with post-it notes ever since I bought a new mouthpiece with a larger shank. The most useful knowledge in saxophone repair is "to know what you don't know" and it sounds as if you have accomplished that goal.
Many thanks! Word of advice from someone who has had the compressed cork blues, plumbers tape is your best friend when you don't feel like recorking a neck. It's waterproof, and easy to remove.

See, something as simple as recorking a neck can be a challenge when you're using multiple pieces. I've gotten to the point where I can find a spot where all three of my mouthpieces are snug. My primary piece has the mid sized shank, so it's a challenge getting this right so that it and my second most used piece with the most narrow shank can work interchangeably over an extended period of time. My last recorking lasted for 18 months. I'm hoping that I can get my newly installed cork to last for 24. I've also becoming more conscientious with my cork grease, and often check my tuning with a Snark tuner so that I'm never pushing in more than need be. It's an ongoing learning process for the admittingly fussy. :lol:
 

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I get most of what I need from Music Medic. I've even used Dental Wax,Sand Paper and a file to craft my own tenor mouthpiece. I've replaced pads, felts and adjusted key work myself. I often check all the screws and tighten if needed. I use a leak light to maintain pad seal. Great discussion topic.
 

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I do my own work. I was employed as a mechanic before. This is not rocket science. I won't say its easy. However there is enough info out there to learn this. When techs charge 1k + for an overhaul there is not many situations where that is more economical than doing it myself. I don't need to do it quickly because I have my other horns I can play. I have a couple people I can ask for help on tough issues.
 

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I am a mechanical engineer (now retired) and I have done lots of work on my own horns over the years. In fact, in my retirement I have a small word-of-mouth kind of a home based repair business. I buy, re-hab and sell Flutes, Clarinets and Saxophones. Mostly I deal in student model musical instruments. I also fix small things gone wrong with musical instruments in our local community band.

I can usually find decent condition instruments for sale at the end of the school year that need 'tweaking'...maybe replace a pad or two, fix them then move them on to another student. The buyers get a decent musical instrument that plays well for a reasonable price. I don't make a lot of money but it is enjoyable and I learn a little each time.

I do pads and corks. I have a leak light and a small ultrasonic cleaner. I have a buffing wheel...a hot air torch and a butane powered torch. Recently I bought a lot of about 1200 miscellaneous pads from a small shop that was closing down...mostly Flute, Clarinet and Sax pads. So I am probably set for pads for the rest of my life !

This fall I sold two Flutes and a Clarinet to school music students. At last count I have 24 Clarinets of various makes and conditions in line to be re-habbed. I seem to run across a lot of Clarinets for sale.

A couple of years ago I decided to re-pad a Flute...how hard can it be...right ? Well, using the paper shims to fit the pads, I probably had that Flute apart 25 times trying to get it sealed up ! Finally though I got it playing well.

As the OP mentioned I also take my main players to a professional repair guy every so often to keep them playing at their best.

And as the OP also mentioned, I don't have metal working skills or equipment so I take dent and solder work to the local repair shop (which in my case is 90 miles away !!!)
 

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Many thanks! Word of advice from someone who has had the compressed cork blues, plumbers tape is your best friend when you don't feel like recorking a neck. It's waterproof, and easy to remove.

See, something as simple as recorking a neck can be a challenge when you're using multiple pieces. I've gotten to the point where I can find a spot where all three of my mouthpieces are snug. My primary piece has the mid sized shank, so it's a challenge getting this right so that it and my second most used piece with the most narrow shank can work interchangeably over an extended period of time. My last recorking lasted for 18 months. I'm hoping that I can get my newly installed cork to last for 24. I've also becoming more conscientious with my cork grease, and often check my tuning with a Snark tuner so that I'm never pushing in more than need be. It's an ongoing learning process for the admittingly fussy. :lol:
I am having good success with the Valentino Synthetic neck cork from JLSmith. Valentino Neck Cork It compresses to accommodate a smaller diameter shank mp and then recovers to its original thickness so other mouthpiece fit snug as well. The only downside is they are a bit expensive, but they seem to last a long time on the customer's necks I have installed them on. If you do buy some, be sure to watch Jeff's video on tips to install the synthetic cork.
 

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Just a general question for the elite tech, or the advanced tinkerer. Do you do your own work on your horn. In my case, the answer is yes, unless it becomes uneconomical to do so.
Same here. I was "repairing" my horn and peers horns in middle school - I was doing metal work before I was driving! But, I've never done a full rebuild, or a repad. I was largely transferring skills from other trades at that point, and picking up some knowledge from our techs. I got a real respect for how much goes into a real adjustment, and decided it wasn't economic for me to attempt too much more without a full commitment to learn it all. Maybe when I retire, I might consider working up to near-full service. I've got some great techs in my area, and thankfully one big shop has some young folks.

I use my skills in a different way now. I like finding good candidates by assessing what's needed, having my techs work them into playable condition, and enjoying them before passing them on to others. Restoring or repairing a quality older horn is a beautiful thing, hearing it sing at its full potential, and showing off how good it can sound (and did sound in its day). Recently, I picked up a 20A, that needed about 70 bucks of work, and it just sang. It sounded just as bright and direct as a new Yamaha. I gave it to a good-but-starving-musician who didn't have an alto. I also feel compelled to support my local techs, and what looks like a dying industry (horn repair). The payback, is a resource that can do the harder stuff when we need it, on time and efficiently.
 

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I stay busy going behind 'pros' to repair the horn so its playable or to replace/remove ridiculous things like gluing a key foot cork to the body of the sax or a felt to the top of the lower pad cup instead of the bottom of the upper key. I have seen some crazy stuff and from 'top' shops. Things like this indicate an ignorance of how premium saxes are set up originally and are an insult to anyone who knows better. And there are many more examples, like ruined screw/rod slots, screws left loose, screws over-tightened and stripping the brass threads, pivot screws mixed up with corresponding play in the action, needle point of all springs clipped off, etc., etc.
 

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The only thing I do, when something suddenly doesn't seem to be working right, is to try to find what might be causing it. If it's something within my realm of mechanical ability to easily fix, like a sticky pad, I fix it. Otherwise I bring it to a tech and tell him what I think is happening, but defer judgement to him.
 

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I do most of my own repairs. I started by repairing bumper corks and felts and, over the years have added neck corks, repads, and even some light swedging.

For me, the main reason was the need for rapid repairs coupled with the low availability of local reputable pros. I never attempt work for which I do not have the proper tools, but I've acquired a number of tools over the years by buying them as I needed them (mostly from MusicMedic).

Now that I live in NJ it's a quick train ride to NYC, so I have John Ledbetter (of JL Woodwind Repair) take care of any major work on my main horn, but I take care of my other instruments (and of any small repairs on my main horn) myself.

One advantage of this is that it allows me to rehabilitate old or inexpensive horns on which repairs would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

Another advantage is that I can be sure the work is reasonably well done. I'll probably never do as good a job as a tech who works on full-time on professional horns, but I'm careful and I've been told by reputable pro techs that my amateur work is better than a lot of what they have seen from careless LMS techs.
 

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This is a GREAT thread, really. IMHO every musician should have at least a basic knowledge of how the mechanics of their instrument works. Yes, to be able to do their own repair on it (within the limits of their available tools), but also it can just give a player peace of mind knowing what the issue is.

I always applaud folks who have endeavored to do such.
 

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I’m not scared to try most repairs. If / when I screw it up, I just take it to a tech.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
This is a GREAT thread, really. IMHO every musician should have at least a basic knowledge of how the mechanics of their instrument works. Yes, to be able to do their own repair on it (within the limits of their available tools), but also it can just give a player peace of mind knowing what the issue is.

I always applaud folks who have endeavored to do such.
The funny thing is that I've always felt that sax players lacked in this area. If you look at most every other popular instrument, bass, guitar, drummer, keys, even mediocre players have a good grasp on how to work with their instruments and amps. Some of these guys also build their own equipment, and are excellent techs by any measurable standard. Conversely, I know a lot of world class saxophonists who refuse to even do the most basic of repair jobs. Granted, the sax is a little more challenging to work on, but not impossible. Of course, this may be an age thing, as a lot of the older guys, who were in big bands when such a thing was stylish, seem to know how to do a great deal of work. With all the info out there these days, I don't know why so many people refuse to figure this out. You don't need to be Stohrer or Carlo, as they're masters of their craft, but learn some of the basic things. Heck, start with putting a little oil on those springs to prevent them from rusting! 😂
 

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I used to be an electro/mechanical drafter/designer. I've designed parts for satellites from wave guide assemblies to thermal blankets. I've re-padded a couple saxophones and frankly I'd rather leave it to my tech to do repairs. I'm fortunate to have a good repair person even though I've retired to the sticks and I like to support him as much as I can because I feel lucky to have him near and I want him to stay in business. Plus I like visiting him and shooting the sh*t with him. I'm also too lazy to want to do it myself. I'll replace a neck cork and other simple fixes but that's about it. I'm just not that interested in doing involved repairs when my tech can do it in a fraction of the time for a reasonable rate. I'd rather spend my time playing music. I still say to be really good at sax repair you have to be doing it all the time. But each to their own as they are wont to say. And if I had a dime for every time I've heard someone say they are mechanically inclined I wouldn't have had to retire in the sticks. I tightened a screw, I'm mechanically inclined!!! Yeah, sure.
 

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Many sax players, different situations
Busy professional musicians usually have too little time to repair and maintain (in a broader sense) on their own.
As mentioned above, it requires years of practice, knowledge and tools.
But, less busy pro, semi-professionals and amateurs often perform maintenance and (minor ?) repairs and modifications on their own.
I think, often the question is: Do you like it?
I believe that to achieve the goal and good results for technical work on the instrument is also needed passion, patience and love for sax as.
"Technician Love" - I mean sense of material, understanding of mechanics, sense of pleasure in solving a technical problem and its positive finalization.
The sense of perfect work of mechanics, air flow, etc. (as a result of maintenance or repair instrument or mouthpiece) in some sense can be compared to the pleasure of a successful performance of a song or a neat implementation of improvisation.
 

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"Technician Love" - I mean sense of material, understanding of mechanics, sense of pleasure in solving a technical problem and its positive finalization.
The sense of perfect work of mechanics, air flow, etc. (as a result of maintenance or repair instrument or mouthpiece) in some sense can be compared to the pleasure of a successful performance of a song or a neat implementation of improvisation.
"Technician Love" KeyPi you hit home with that description. Whether it’s a 60 foot 45 ton printing press, a car, motorcycle, pocket/wrist watch or saxophone. I get great satisfaction from a well sorted machine. Just don’t ask me to paint the house.
 

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This is a GREAT thread, really. IMHO every musician should have at least a basic knowledge of how the mechanics of their instrument works. Yes, to be able to do their own repair on it (within the limits of their available tools), but also it can just give a player peace of mind knowing what the issue is.

I always applaud folks who have endeavored to do such.
Gordon from NZ yelled at me in another thread where I made this exact point. My clarinet teacher showed me how to take the instrument apart for cleaning and oiling within a couple months of my starting lessons. I think it's important for every woodwind player, saxophone players especially, to be able to do the same.
 

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Gordon from NZ yelled at me in another thread where I made this exact point. My clarinet teacher showed me how to take the instrument apart for cleaning and oiling within a couple months of my starting lessons. I think it's important for every woodwind player, saxophone players especially, to be able to do the same.
Please do not misrepresent me. I did not yell at you. I disagreed with you and gave detailed reasons, including an anecdote to highlight just how NON-mechanical people can be. I was supported by some others.
Instead of misrepresenting me with your post it would have been better to provide a link to that relevant discussion.

I had an extremely "mechanical" mechanical childhood. My flute teacher, when I was 15, noted that and showed me how to take a key off and re-cover a flute pad with "goldbeater's skin", which never works as well as installing a new pad made by experts.) That was perhaps the third step in my journey to becoming a professional tech. (The first was taking my first flute, school owned, apart within weeks of receiving it, at age 13.) I was really grateful to him. But he had the sense not to do that with ALL his pupils!

Yes, many basic jobs could be likened to fixing a puncture on a bicycle. But instrument servicing that involves only basic processes are actually not that common. Many DIY people have no idea what they could have done but have not done. The non-basic processes could be more likened to changing the rim of a bicycle wheel, which I don't think many DIY guys would attempt or do a good job of. (I know this because I attempted it at age about 13.)

Another issue is that DIY guys typically attend to problems as they arise. What they typically don't do is get an instrument into a state where problems will not arise for years into the future. and that is a pretty important thing for serious players, and may well account for so many NOT doing their own servicing. And yes, before you tell me so, clearly some techs are no better than the average DIY guy.

Over the decades I have serviced the instruments of many DIYers. They appreciate the reliability I establish and tend to do a lot less DIY work after that.

To establish a high standard of reliability I have to re-do most DIY work, but yes, there is the notable exception, where their DIY skills are as good as you portray yours to be. Definitely the exception.
However I would never diss a practical player attending to crises on their instrument. Perhaps players should be taught more ideas for band-aiding in emergencies as a priority. That is very different to good servicing.
 
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