I have learned a lot about Lance over the last 3 years both from having read all the threads by and about him during that time and from having bought 2 of his mods myself: the Martin comfort thumb hook and the basic modded LH pinky table that he used to use as his avatar. My own experiences were basically positive, with only minor sidetrips into the area of gross business malpractice and dishonesty that he has unleashed on Environguy,Conn-Hunter, Walter Webb and a number of other members, but at the time I didn't know about their experiences, for if I had I would never have risked doing business with him.
I think I only avoided their fate because I didn't send him my entire sax for the pinky key table, although as you will see in one of his emails he tries to entice me into doing just that even though he was willing to do the basic pinky key set for me with only the keys themselves. I'm sure that my sax would have been up there on that top shelf right next to Walter's if I had sent it to him. Right after he did my job, he changed that policy and said he would only do them with the horn sent to him. I pity anyone who does that because it is clear as day what will happen to your sax, not just from what has been explained and shown on this and the earlier thread but from his very own words in one of the emails he sent me about "chopping the bodies in half and off-setting the lower stack 25 degrees, ala Mk6." At the time he wrote me that I didn't realize exactly what that implied for the poor sax and its owner, but now just the thought that he might have done that on my horn if I had been in a position to send it to him makes me shudder.
I will describe my two transactions below, using lances own emails, so you can see that even with his basic stock mods (advertised on SOTW and EBay) he is incapable of giving the customer what they think they are ordering even when it is what he himself actually promotes with photos, descriptions and ad copy.
The reason for this IMO is that he very clearly considers himself THE expert on saxophone acoustics and mechanics and a pioneering visionary in the field of mechanical redesign and perfection of the instrument. You only need to read some of his longwinded argumentative posts (and ranting attacks on others) on various acoustic and tech threads to see that. What you
think your horn needs, or what you
want him to do, has little bearing on what will actually happen to it because as the true illuminated seer of saxes, in his mind you don't really know what it needs whereas he knows everything there is to know and more.
For this reason, when people send him their horn for modification, it does not matter in the least what they themselves have said either verbally or in writing they want done, because he is going to give you what he feels that the horn needs. This of course may also have less to do with your particular horn than with some specific "improvement" in fabrication of parts or of remodelling technique that he suddently wants to try out or perfect as he goes along, because his work method involves making much of it up as he goes along like some type of action painter or collage artist, working in the moment. He is an INVENTOR and follows his inspiration. That would be fine and dandy if the saxes were all his own and not the property of clients who think they are getting a specific job done in a specific time frame. So he starts to work, remodelling it as he sees fit, sometimes following the customer's plan, but generally not, because as he goes along he constantly changes his own advertised mods an habit that he considers and justifies as "perfecting" them.
This is what happened to me.
Round 1 (small potatoes):
About 3 years ago the thumb hook on my The Martin tenor was killing me. I searched around for a way to replace it that wouldn't involve altering the body tube of the horn by soldering on one of those modern 4-way adjustable ones with a flat plate. I surmised though that one of those Selmer, Music Medic or SG ones could in fact be soldered to a bar of metal that could then slide into the slot where the original Maring thumb hook bar goes. That's when I discovered Lance and his website. On his site it said that a modded thumb hook was a future project, but was not in fact yet available. I wrote him and asked if he could do one and he agreed that that he could and that my idea was what he could do and even sent me a photo of the Selmer style adjustable hook as the type he would attach to a brass bar to fit into the Martin socket.
Several days later he sent me a photo of the finished hook and it was nothing like the above discussed one, but rather a modified copy of the original curved Martin hook minus the convex underside, which after all was the cause of all the pain. Basically he just used the same martin design and made the underside flat and smooth, but other than being able to slide up and down like the original there is no side to side or off axis adjustment available. His proud description in explanation of this "prototype" hook was that it maintained the look of the original sax and didn't look like the typical ugly add-on mod. Nothing about not having given me what we had discussed beforehand and nothing about the lack of full adjustability that we had talked about.
To be honest, I didn't protest or question him about it or complain that it wasn't adjustable like he had led me to believe it would be, the reason being that it only cost me $25 and I liked that fact that it matched the horn and didn't look like one of those ugly mods I had seen done on some 10M's. When I received it it definitely eased my thumb problems and looked original, so I was happy enough and forgot about his change-up on me. Soon after he began advertising it as his "Comfort Thumb Hook" and I must admit that I even posted about my satisfaction with his work since mine was the very first one and he did in essence come through and very quickly too. Little did I know the truth about him or what he was doing meanwhile to others, and I am sorry if my endorsement of him caused anyone who has gotten screwed to decide to deal with him.
Round 2 (His famous bigger/better enchilada):
I was dissatisfied with the original flat LH The Martin pinky table and after reading about the benefits of his modded ones on SOTW and on his website, and after PMing back and forth to another member who had posted about the one Lance did for him, I decided to get the basic unarticulated model. Since I live in Europe there was no way I was going to ship my horn to him but he said that all he needed was the keys themselves to do the job. I didn't even want to chance shipping those from here, but since we go to the USA every summer for July and August and this was in the spring (of 2010) I saw that I could take them with me on the plane mail them to Lance and get them back from him in the mail there, and then bring them back on the place on our return flight. The only question was whether he could do the job and return them to me in that time frame. He said he could and so I sent him the money which he asked for in advance to buy the stock and start making the keys even before getting mine.
Here are the pertinent emails during the discussion of the job:
I prefer to fit the keys on the original horn, or at least do the work on the original keys. This way the work can be fine adjusted and the keys polished. If I just send the unpolished parts, then the end result, both functionally and cosmetically, which always reflects directly back on me, is up to the installing tech, and that has proven to be other than favorable, too often. I have seen rough, crooked, unpolished key picts, circulating online, and one can't help but get the impression that that is what MartinMods is selling. I can't afford that.
The best solution is, you send me your Bb, B C# and G# spatula keys, so I can modify them and fit/adjust them on my horn here. There would be no customs duty on such a "repair" shipment.
....Options: I have the original Vintage, ala my avatar, a Deluxe Vintage model (adds articulated C# and tilting Bb spatula), and a Contemporary (Mk6 adaptation) version. The Deluxe and Contemporary are much more complex designs, and require that I have your horn here and take quite a bit more time. The Vintage is still a dramatic improvement over the original keywork. I'm certain you will be happy with it.
I'm no longer offering complete key sets. The modded keys double the value of the instrument. There's no reason to go back to the original.
Time required - 2 to 3 weeks once I start. If you want to pay now, I can start now and have all the spatula, roller, and arm parts ready to attach when your keys get here. I could then send them back to you in NY within 1 week. Let me know and I'll send you a Paypal invoice. I like to avoid ebay fees if possible.
I'm happy you are going for them! You are in for more comfort!
....You say you would go for the Contemporary.....why don't you just bring your sax with you to NY as Carry-On luggage? Once in NY on the 4th, you send it to me (without the case, bubble-wrapped and double boxed, it is a very light and smaller package and very safe (and cheaper) to ship. I can have most of the parts ready when your horn arrives. When it's done (before Aug. 29th), I ship it to you in NY, so you get it before you leave. No duty.
I"m also chopping the bodies in half and off-setting the lower stack 25 degrees, ala Mk6. Other options: silver solder all tone hole rings, Delaquer with raw brass or dark brown/black patina, special engraving.
The Contemporary is about 10x more parts and work than the Vintage. It costs $600. Chopping and offset - $100.
Since I didn't have that much to spend and since I had no other need or desire to bring my tenor on the flights to and from the US both because of new international baggage restrictions and because my wife would have killed me, I stuck with the original plan. In hindsight: Thank God I did, because I'd probably still be waiting to get my sax back.
Anyway, he had the money by July 1st and once in the US I sent him the keys, very carefully packed, and he started on the job and by mid-August he wrote that they were almost ready to be shipped out. Most of our emails by this time were about shipping payment and methods to ensure I would be get them in time because we were flying out on the 29th of August and living in a rural area, receiving packages was more problematic.
All set to go and then he send me a photo of the finished table. !!!!! Unfortunately that jpeg is no longer in the original PM because of upgrades to the forum platform, but suffice it to say that it didn't look at all like the table advertised on his website or in his SOTW avatar photo, and that was a big unexpected surprise. Whereas his advertised design had a upcurved bottom edge to the Bb key, touted in his ad as giving better leverage than the original flat key, this one was flat as a board with some kind or raised rippled surface to it.
Here is our email exchange about it on August 19 with only 1 week to go and my keys still in Seattle:
Looking at the photo, one question I have is about the Bb key. In your avatar photo it has that curled bevel, and mine appears to be flat like the original. I'm just wondering about the reason for the design change and the difference in fingering ease between the two. I was under the impression that the upward curl improved the leverage and action of the key and helped keep the pinky from sliding off the bottom of the key (and is more like modern Bb keys). Maybe I'm wrong about that but in any case I'm sure you'll understand that I'm a bit curious about it since I was assuming that the way it is in your avatar is how you always make them.
As you see, I was being diplomatic to avoid getting the guy's back up.
I went to using thicker (3/16" instead of 1/8") brass for the spatulas, as there just wasn't enough material to support the roller screws after filing and buffing. The thicker brass just won't bend when the pieces are that small. Instead, I grind the surface of the spatulas down 1/8", giving them a contour. It's not visually as dramatic as my avatar, but still feels very nice.
Looked flat to me! And definitely not what I had ordered! His excuse was that he had changed his material and the thicker brass couldn't be bent. This begs the question of how he had been able to fabricate the the earlier key sets and how good they had been. At this point it would be good to mention that my LH table set was only the 3rd one he had ever done of this style, so as you can see it was really a work in progress or an ongoing prototype and not really a product that should have been marketed as the "definitive" answer to problems using the original Martin table. Yeah, companies constantly upgrade and improve their products, but usually they have them pretty well perfected before putting them on the market as anything other than a Beta version.
Anyway, I was nervous as hell about not getting the keys back in time and was willing to take them as they were so wrote him that I understood, and that he should get them in to FedX asap.I was really worried at this point because we live in the country and the Verizon DSL connection kept going out and I had to drive around to find unsecured connections to use to email him. And I was on vacation with my wife and young son and supposed to be doing family stuff not hassling with a sax problem and shippìng deadlines.
However, the guy either has a conscience or it was just his tinkering nature to keep "perfecting" things because he emails me back:
But....thinking about it....I can put some matching silver solder on the surface of the Bb to build it up on the back edge some more. It is really more cosmetic than functional at that point (you have to be really sloppy for your finger to slide off the spatula) but it does look nice. Will take just a few minutes.
I guess being diplomatic was a good thing because it put a wild hair up his azz and next thing I know he writes me the next day, Aug 20th:
I spent all day trying to add that raised portion to the existing Bb spatula. No problem to get it there, but no way to keep the Finish perfect. So, now I'm going to make a new Bb spatula out of the 1/8" stuff, so it will bend and the upper surface will be one solid piece of brass, and I'll braze a smaller, 1/16" piece on the bottom so the roller screw holes have enough material in which to exist. You get the avatar look.
I added the bold to highlight that sentence because isn't that what he was selling in the first f#cking place and what I had ordered and he had taken my money to make????? It's like he's saying, "Well it's not what I was making for you (or where circumstances took the project) but if that is really what you want I've decided to bend to your wishes and give it to you because I'm such a nice guy (and you haven't complained and pissed me off).
So on Aug 22nd I get this mail:
Nice new Bb spatula with the same bend as my avatar is finished. Will send keys via Express Mail with "hold for pickup", so they won't be sitting in the public area.
On 8/23 when I was sweating bullets with just 6 days to go before we were going to be on the plane, I get the mail saying he has sent it and the tracking number. Two days before our flight I got the keys back, breathed a very deep sigh of relief and took a look at them. Unfortunately my camera wasn't working so I couldn't take pictures of it but one of the pads, which had still been in very serviceable condition when sent, was burned. I was shocked and could only assume that while he was soldering the keys the flame from his torch must have passed over it and melted and charred the leather and the inner padding. This guy is a self-proclaimed craftsman and he burns a pad while making his touted keyset and mails it back to me in that condition, neither replacing it nor even mentioning it to me???? ***? But I had no time to write him about it then and wasn't able to until we had been back here in Spain for a couple of days.
Lance, Sorry for the delay in writing to you....things were really hectic during our last days in the US and since we got back home we have been knocked out due to jetlag and getting back to the regular routine.
I got the package unscathed. The mods look excellent. I put the keys together so that the table was like it will be on the horn and it looks fantastic. The Bb looks simply great and I appreciate you reworking it. I know it is going to be so much better playing this table now than the overly-big awkward original one. I'm anxious to try it out but I'll have to wait till we're settled and I can get a slot with my tech to have the keys installed.
Also, while I am very satisfied with the Mod, I am really perplexed about what happened to the C# pad. I was kind of surprised to discover that it is partly burned to a degree that I'll need to replace it. I know those pads aren't the newest, but they were all still soft, never had problems with leaks, and still had life left to them. I understand that accidents can happen, but I don't understand why you didn't say anything about it to me and then replace it, since it happened while you were working on it. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt here, so I really hope you will address this issue.
As you can see instead of being angry I was still being cordial, why I don't know, but probably because he had done the job within the agreed on time frame and the keys were, in the end, pretty much what they were supposed to be, even if he had taken the project offtrack by himself. At that point I still thought that he was basically a decent sort, if just a bit less than clear and straighforward in his dealings.
Here is his convenient self-serving answer to that legitimate query/complaint:
Glad you made it back safely.
To tell you the truth, I didn't inspect the pads when the keys arrived. I never get the torch close to that end so I don't know how it happened. I noticed it when packing the things up, but by then, the package had to be leaving. No matter anyway. Those 3 pads should be replaced since the whole C#/B/Bb mechanism is being adjusted back to your horn.
They were seated on your sax originally, but since then, the keys were fitted on another horn, and no two horns are identical. The slightest bump against a post will cause a slight bend in the body, causing a much larger shift in alignment where the pad cup meets the tone hole rim. All I can do is align the keys to the horn that I have and that means little bends here and there. No worries. Bending is a normal part of key adjustment.
Your tech is going to have to realign the pad cups with your tone holes. The the adjustments are only minor, he will never get them back to the exact same place they were originally, so new pads need to have a fresh seating once things are lined up, for optimal results. The spatula placement and angle are good, but he will have to adjust the heights of the spatulas in relation to the key cups (by holding the key cup in one hand, the spatula in the other, and twisting them one way or the other a little), so the keys close with the spatulas at exactly the right height. This has to be done each horn individually. That also includes sanding the new corks. It's complicated to explain, but your tech will know what to do.
Yippee. New pinkie keys!
I love that gung ho Yippie
. This guy really believes his own BS to the hilt with bells and whistles. Kind of reminds me of that other shyster down in NOLA, who really takes it to a P.T. Barnum level. What Lance was saying in other words was that, "it doesn't matter if I was sloppy because you would have had to had new pads anyway." This of course wasn't totally true because of the 4 pads, my tech only changed the Bb pad in addition to the burned C#, and that I think because it was not seating as well as it could have and he put in a thinner one than the original. In hindsight I see that at that point I probably should have told him to reimburse me for the C# pad--I mean he burned it--which cost me extra on top of the rest of my tech's fee for removing and reinstalling the keys. But I doubt now that he would have done it even if I had.
The other thing I found not very good nor like the originally advertised design, was that the surface of the G# key was lower than the level of the C# and B keys because of the thicknesses of the brass he used for it and the linkage piece under it. It meant that I couldnt easily slide my pinky back and forth between the G# and the other two and sometimes when I went for the B or C# I hit the top edge and my pinky tip would slip off and down onto the G#. To solve this problem my tech added a piece of MOP to the surface of the G# which brought it up to the same level, although it gives it a different look than you normally see. You can see this in these two photos.
Correcting for this badly finished work naturally meant a new trip to my tech and a little bit more money than originally expected.
All in all, while I am basically happy with the mods I got--they have after all improved my sax--I think it was only through luck that it turned out that way and I didn't get screwed over like the other people he has bilked into giving him their horns. It was really a surprise and then a shock to learn well after the fact that at the same time he took on and did my job within the agreed on time frame, he was holding a number of other people's saxes hostage and perpetrating various types of barbaric operations on them and/or cannibalizing their parts for other projects. I feel really bad for those people and ask their pardon for ever having talked about Lance and his work in positive terms. I just didn't know how whacked out and unethical the guy really is.
I certainly hope Conn-Hunter and Eric and any other people whose horns are still in this guy's possession can find a way get either monetary or legal satisfaction to compensate for the hell he has put them through (if they can't just go there and get it with their fists). Perhaps an online campaign to alert the sax community on all the other forums and sites to steer them away from him would be a good way to prevent others from being bilked in the future because he still is in business as far as I can see and he really deserves not to be.