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Discussion Starter #1
A lot of folks are probably familiar with the book The Saxophone is my Voice, by Ernest Ferron. What's nice about his work is that he takes acoustic principles and applies them specifically to saxophones. As an instrument maker, he understands the imperfections of design and the compromises involved in attaining the delicate balances in improving performance. In regard to performance, he has an interesting take on the height of tone holes when discussing the acoustic affects when they're closed that he expresses as follows:
The height of a closed tone hole, depending on the raised part must be absolutely precise. Variations of a few hundreaths of a millimeter can modify the filtering function, and are sufficient to make the difference between a good or mediocre instrument.
I think we could all agree that leveling tone holes as a matter of course when repadding a saxophone, whether they need it or not, would be ill-advised. Now I realize significantly uneven tone holes must be addressed, but given Ferron's conclusions as stated above, should altering the height of tone holes by leveling them even in the slightest be safely considered only as a last resort? That is, if you consider him to have expertise in this regard.
 

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While I agree that levelling tone holes when they're already level is a waste of time, I can't say that my empirical data matches Ferron's claim.
I've never had one single instance of a horn sounding worse after having wonky tone holes fixed.

Regards,
 

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I wonder if that is why people often complain of a stuffy 'D', which is
essentially many of the tone holes closed.

Perhaps because of poor design, or the designers were unaware of the implications,
incorrect height of the tone holes is filtering the sound, making it 'stuffy' ???

I wonder also what would be the effect of curved pads that cover a tone hole
that is not raised, or only slightly with a ridged edge in order to provide a good air seal ???
 

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I wonder if that is why people often complain of a stuffy 'D', which is
essentially many of the tone holes closed.
That would imply that the makers of such horns didn't know what they were doing, and simple threw the whole thing together.
That might be true of a company that merely copies horns, but I wouldn't like to bet that the boys in the backroom of many branded horn factories don't know a thing or two about acoustics.
The sax is a compromise, and the D is one of the notes where the compromises show up most. (Cue big pointy hand directed at octave key mech).

The comment about pads raises an interesting point. If, as Ferron claims, differences of a few hundredths of a millimetre will make a difference, then changing a pad (or even a reflector) is going to have an effect.

I think it's high time there was a word for all this malarkey - maybe Gnardling is a good one - the pre-occupation with minutea, the effect of which can be countered with a change of reed or five minutes' practice.

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...I think we could all agree that leveling tone holes as a matter of course when repadding a saxophone, whether they need it or not, would be ill-advised.
no we don't agree. I think that the part of hundredths of a mm poducing drastic effects is BS. And contradicting of empirical data, as Steph mentions.
 

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no we don't agree. I think that the part of hundredths of a mm poducing drastic effects is BS. And contradicting of empirical data, as Steph mentions.
A superb demonstration of this is the Keilwerth SX90R.
The tone holes are fitted with rings, which are soldered on after the hole has been levelled.
Now, notwithstanding the fact that some of them ended up wonky, it would be difficult if not impossible to ensure that each tone hole ring fitted precisely to the rim of the hole. I've seen variations that ranged from a precise fit through to more than a millimetre of space - but I can guarantee that on every SX90R there will be a variance between the fit of the tone hole rings that exceeds Ferron's limit.

And yet there's no doubting the tonal qualities of the horn. It was/is good enough to raise them up sufficiently for the 'big 3' to become the 'big 4'.
If Ferron's limit was that critical there would be a general consensus by now that some SX90Rs are great blowers and some aren't - but for all their build-related problems they don't seem to have been tarred with the claim of tonal inconsistency.

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His logic is flawed here.

The bore volume lost by even a very aggressive tonehole leveling is less than the volume lost by installing a domed resonator. Or a deep seat in a pad. Or the total volume of spit dripping down the bore halfway through a gig. And way less than the volume added by pushing a low spot up.

Even the craziest aggressive tonehole leveling is going to be WAY less than the thickness of pad leather.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I've never had one single instance of a horn sounding worse after having wonky tone holes fixed.
Well, if it's "wonky", then leveling it could very well be one of those compromises that's an overall improvement. You can even consider that perhaps in some cases tone holes are made a bit higher in the first place where taking a few hundredths of a millimeter might be an improvement; as it could certainly work the other way around in making what could have been a mediocre horn into a good one.

no we don't agree.
Read the quote that you reprinted and disagreed with. It's in regard to leveling tone holes as a matter of course with a repad, that may not in fact need leveling.

The bore volume lost by even a very aggressive tonehole leveling is less than the volume lost by installing a domed resonator.
That could very well be why different styles of resonators can improve a horn for some, and not for others. Ferron takes this into account as well when describing the enlargement of the bore inside closed toneholes and the affects upon harmonics and high partials: "When closed by a pad, a tone hole creates a volume of air lateral to the bore that varies according to tone hole height and diameter, and the type of resonator entering into the tone hole."

I would hope that Ferron wouldn't just be pulling this out of his lower tone hole, so to speak, and that he actually did some experimenting while making instruments. Just a consideration before taking actions that can't easily be undone.
 

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Ferron's book contains a lot of helpful general information for the novice who wants to begin to learn about the acoustics of the saxophone, but it also contains many errors and opinions not supported by acoustical science.

A good example is the illustrations of the sensitive harmonic positions in the neck on pages 19 and 106 that has been widely distributed by a well known saxophone repairman. An error in Ferron's mathematical computations make these illustrations worthless. It is simply not possible to have 4 octaves of node and/or antinode positions inside a tenor neck or 3 octaves in an alto neck.

Other examples of Ferron's misinformation include:

P. 38 - "Harder metal causes the pitch to rise, softer metal lowers it."

p. 25 - "Metal provides greater intertia to pressure inside the mouthpiece, which explains why some jazz players prefer it."

p. 102 - Concluding that the measured physical volume of the mouthpiece minus the part displaced by the neck should match the volume of the missing cone completely ignoring the "equivalent" volume which includes that added by the beating reed and the player's oral cavity.

p. 21 - "The height of a closed tone hole, depending on the raised part must be absolutely precise. Variations of a few hundredths of a millimeter can modify the filtering function, and are sufficient to make the difference between a good or mediocre instrument."

There is no such thing as a "filtering function" of a tonehole, either closed or open. One hundredth of a millimeter is 1/10 the thickness of a sheet of paper. There are tested and proven mathematical formulas by both Benade and Nederveen concerning the effects of height of both open and closed toneholes which show the above statement by Ferron to be completely ridiculous.

For those interested in learning more about woodwind acoustics, the Ferron book is a good place to start
but it cannot be considered an "authoritative source."

Benade's "Horns, Strings, and Harmony" is another excellent introduction to musical acoustics. For those who want to go to the next level Benade's "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" is an excellent resource which avoids the advanced math whenever possible. From there Nederveen's "Acoustical Aspects of Musical Instruments" goes to the next level, but is challenging to understand because of the mathematics involved.
 

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I think his reasoning is er, sound- change the bore and you will change the sound. I also think that the bore is changed in many ways throughout one evening of playing (condensation, spit, expansion of the metal due to warming up), and that while care must be taken, fear of changing a few hundred thousandths cannot get in the way of making the horn right.

And yeah, of course, "leveling" toneholes that are already level is moronic. Even if you don't care about the horn, why waste the time? That said, I have never seen level toneholes that weren't previously done by a good repairman with the right tools, and from what I see on my bench historically most people aren't doing it at all- less than 1% of horns I see that have been "overhauled" in the past have properly level toneholes. (FWIW I work on mostly "pro" horns, and mostly vintage)
 

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Discussion Starter #11
And yeah, of course, "leveling" toneholes that are already level is moronic. Even if you don't care about the horn, why waste the time?
I've often wondered myself when I've seen this set forth as a standard practice. But that aside, Ferron is discussing raised toneholes in particular to saxophones and their unique bore. I don't think there's a wealth of study in this specific regard which makes his points rather fascinating.
 

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Well, if it's "wonky", then leveling it could very well be one of those compromises that's an overall improvement. You can even consider that perhaps in some cases tone holes are made a bit higher in the first place where taking a few hundredths of a millimeter might be an improvement; as it could certainly work the other way around in making what could have been a mediocre horn into a good one.
A reasonable point - but there are many, many times where a slight warp only causes the player to have to use excessive pressure to close a key. Such horns will play perfectly well provided you don't mind using a gorilla's grip.
Once the tone hole warp has been addressed it becomes far easier to play the horn - and yet there's no change in the tone.

And as has been suggested, the volume change incurred through moisture in the bore will far exceed that of any reasonable tone hole adjustment.

I call this myth busted.

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In the thread "The Difference Between a Repad and a Complete Mechanical Overhaul" I wrote the following comments:

Repad
-Toneholes are leveled as needed. This means that the toneholes of keys that are regulated to close together are always leveled if they are not level already and the independent closed keys such as the palms that are slightly out of level are left alone as long as the pads seat ok (not perfect, but ok.)

Mechanical Overhaul
- All tone holes are leveled to perfection, and burrs removed inside and out. This means, of course, that all toneholes that are not already perfectly flat and level are brought to that level. It certainly does not mean that a tonehole that is perfect to begin with is filed just for the hell of it. That is just nonsense.

I regret that some have misinterpreted my statements to mean that I use the diamond tonehole files to level toneholes that are already level and flat. I might just add that the tonehole leveling tools that most techs use today were designed by Jim Schmidt---instrument maker and designer extraordinaire. If leveling toneholes were bad for instruments such as saxophones, why would Jim make and sell tools for doing so?

There is a wealth of study with regard to the effect and influence of raised toneholes on the soundwave produced on both conical and cylindrical woodwinds if one has a genuine interest and takes the trouble to do the research.
 

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Grumps re readed, yes it's moronic to level a leveled tone hole, but I have yet to see a horn coming in with a perfect tone hole in the entire instrument. The only times in wich I have zero leveling to do, is when I'm repadding a horn I overhauled myself years ago (but not so many years in wich I had no acess to the tooling I started to use about 10 years ago for tone hole leveling)
 

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Haha, exactly Juan.

The saxophone bore is not all that unique. Its conical with toneholes, like an oboe, bassoon, ophicleide, sarrusophone...

If you want to get worried about tiny changes in measurements- musical instruments are a bad place to do it (unless you want to profit from paranoia). Saxophones themselves are all different- even one serial number apart from a largely mechanized production line, let alone handmade horns. Not to mention since we are part of the instrument while the reed is open (which is most of the time) and we change as we practice, age, get colds.... Even glass looks like a mountain range when you get close enough.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
And as has been suggested, the volume change incurred through moisture in the bore will far exceed that of any reasonable tone hole adjustment... I call this myth busted.
That's not what Ferron was considering when making his point as what goes on in the main bore is unlike the wind in the alley effects he describes within a raised tone hole that is closed. The comment I quoted was in regard to the filtering of high partials and harmonics solely within a raised tone hole when closed and the subtlety involved in what he considers what can make a good horn as compared to a mediocre one considering only that relative vaccum. You don't have to agree with his experiences however, and his conclusions reached, but I wouldn't consider his claims busted by off base comparisons. Sure, there are all kinds of other things that can affect a horn.
 

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it is my belief and experience that leveling a horn's tone holes will ALWAYS result in a better playing horn. Wavy tone holes leads to leaks sooner than later, and leaks are quite more definitory of tonal characteristics than a few thousands of milimeters.
 

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Closed tone holes do not trap or filter high partials or overtones. The sound waves of those frequencies that are above "cutoff" are not affected by tone holes either open or closed and are all radiated through the bell. The average cutoff frequency of alto saxophones is approximately 837 HZ. The average cutoff frequency for tenor saxophones is approximately 618.
 

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I've actually wondered what a sax with no raised toneholes would sound like. Just holes in the bore, and a curved pad (more like a neoprene disc or something) on a curved keycup to seal it. It would be a ridiculous amount of work to try it and make it work well enough to actually be able to A/B and judge it. Maybe when I get rich.
 

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I'm thinking there is probably a very good reason no one has tried that in the past. Without the raised tone holes it would be necessary to space and size the tone holes much differently in order to produce a scale that plays in tune. Unfortunately you couldn't just take an old Martin body, unsolder the tone hole chimneys and convert it.

Maybe Jim Schmidt is bored and needs something to do. :)
 
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