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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I've seen several posts over the years (I read much, post very little) about using gun bluing products to darken brass but not many actual experiences.

Quick story first. Skip the next paragraph if you don't care to hear the typical disclaimer story regarding how the horn came to be in such bad shape.

I bought a Series I Buescher Ari alto at Goodwill for next-to-nothing. Well, little enough to risk experimenting anyway. The horn needed so much work it was probably a total loss, but I figured I play around with it, take it apart, and learn some stuff.:geek: The lacquer wasn't in awful shape, maybe original but probably not, at least not factory original. But no evidence of buffing; nice, sharp engraving. The horn had a funky yellow/brown/blue/purple/black heat patina under the lacquer like it had sat in someone's 120F attic for several years worth of Texas summers. Snaps and Nortons were all there. No obvious body damage other than the low C keyguard. However, there was quite a bit of verdigris inside the bore, especially in the bow, and it was oozing out the C and Eb tone holes. The Eb chimney was nearly engulfed and the edges were under the lacquer. So I agonized a bit then took some 0000 steel wool to the verdigris. It all came off revealing solid shiny brass underneath. Now I had a funky purple horn with bright shiny gold spots.:rolleyes: So I went all in for a de-lacquer and return to factory original bare brass. Completely disassembled, removed all pads and material, springs and rollers and boiled all parts to remove the lacquer. Big pot of saxophone soup. I removed the heat patina with a dip in a vinegar/salt solution, buffed lightly with 0000 steel wool and polished with Brasso on sonic toothbrush. Bada Boom...shiny horn. Didn't think to take a "before" pic. Shoulda. Sorry.

9004


Coulda left it at that. Maybe shoulda left it at that. But I tried the gun blue. I cleaned all parts with hot water and dish soap, dried and soaked all parts in acetone for about 5 minutes. I used Birchwood Casey Super Blue at a roughly 1% dilution, so 5ml per 500ml of water. So for the body I used 9 gallons of distilled water with 12oz (4x 3oz bottles) of Super Blue in a 40qt plastic storage container. I left it in for 10 minutes. Now it worked great on the keys when I did them individually in a smaller container (same solution). They came out a nicely subtle chestnut brown color with good depth. This what I was hoping for. Here's a side-by-side with a treated and untreated key.

9005


Now HERE'S THE BIG CAVEAT. Super Blue contains phosphoric acid to chemically etch the metal and enhance the reaction. Works great on steel and brass (too good on brass at full strength). It reacts with the tin in soft solder to form a soft, wispy white precipitate around the joint. It wasn't an issue with the keys as I guess they're silver soldered, but the posts and guard feet on the neck and body must be soft soldered. It's not sufficient to weaken the joint as it only reacts with the little ribbon of exposed solder at the edges, but anywhere the precipitate formed IT STOPPED THE BRASS FROM DARKENING. I discovered that it helped to keep the part moving while it was submerged to prevent the precipitate for building up on surface. I had to work with it a bit to blend the light areas with the 0000 steel wool. I know from working with this stuff on steel that, despite being a cold process, the finish gets darker and tends to be more durable if you bake it on after applying. I put the horn in the oven at 325F for about 8 minutes. The heat helped darken the light areas and smooth out the finish. Here's what I ended up with. Second pic is color balanced a little better than the first.

EDIT: Better pics in post #21

9016

9017
 

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Interesting experiment. Definitely a marked change in the visual character of the horn. 50 years from now there'll be a thread on here in which members try to help the new owner figure out what this horn's finish is.

The talk of saxophone soup and baked saxophone is making me hungry.
 

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On rusted blue steel springs that are still in good condition, I remove the rust with 0000 steel wool and then apply a gun bluing solution to add color to the now shiny metal. It is more black than blue, but it is close to the original look. Once it dries it goes to a dull finish, but I have found that Renaissance Wax restores the "shine" of a new spring. If the rust is very minor, I skip the steel wool since the Renaissance Wax serves as a good rust remover as well.
 

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Does the blue process stop it from future tarnishing?
 

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Yes, it stops further tarnishing. I still have the Martin shown in the last picture in this blog. The date stamp on the picture is from 2011. I've polished it with Pledge two or three times. That's it. It still looks exactly the same. I poured the mixture over the sax, which gives it a more mottled look and hides any little dings better. I did a little lighter patina on this Martin, but it has only been three years. No change. With the mottled effect, if any area starts to look like clean and shiny brass (yuk), it is easy to spot tarnish.

Mark
 

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On rusted blue steel springs that are still in good condition, I remove the rust with 0000 steel wool and then apply a gun bluing solution to add color to the now shiny metal. It is more black than blue, but it is close to the original look. Once it dries it goes to a dull finish, but I have found that Renaissance Wax restores the "shine" of a new spring. If the rust is very minor, I skip the steel wool since the Renaissance Wax serves as a good rust remover as well.
I would have bet that I was the only one going into that level of detail. Great to know there's another one out there!
 

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There are other choices for brass than gun blue - they are made for brass. One is for turning it brown, for example. Anyway, what you did looks pretty good.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
I'm not sure yet how durable the finish is. I lightly oiled the hinge rods while reassembling the keys and a little oil from my fingers got on he neck octave key. When I wiped it off it took some of the finish with it. Not that the horn is exposed to a lot of oil during normal use, but it's something to think about. A coat of wax would probably deter that a bit.
 

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I'm not sure yet how durable the finish is. I lightly oiled the hinge rods while reassembling the keys and a little oil from my fingers got on he neck octave key. When I wiped it off it took some of the finish with it. Not that the horn is exposed to a lot of oil during normal use, but it's something to think about. A coat of wax would probably deter that a bit.
Maybe it's normal for the outer surface of the patina to wipe off leaving a certain amount permanently bonded to the brass. I like the color you got there, but a touch lighter would look great also IMO. It looks similar in color to my 32 Conn that has darkened and blued beneath the lacquer. Some areas even have a purplish under-tones. You could probably give it another soak if you wanted it darker though. A final waxing seems like a great idea.
 

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I like the look, myself. As noted, however, if durability of finish is iffy, then really it ends up being not significantly better than other faux finishes.
I would be interested in hearing a report from OP after it is assembled and has been played for a few months.


Maybe it's normal for the outer surface of the patina to wipe off leaving a certain amount permanently bonded to the brass.
Another option would be to actually go at it not gently, but a bit more aggressively just with a soap and water wash a couple of times...see what sloughs off, what stays.

If I had done this, just to experiment I might even give it a 30-second dunk in my chem bath then soap rinse it off...see how durable the finish really is....
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I would be interested in hearing a report from OP after it is assembled and has been played for a few months.

Another option would be to actually go at it not gently, but a bit more aggressively just with a soap and water wash a couple of times...see what soughs off, what stays.
That's a really good idea, actually. I'll get a couple pics with the keys back on then assault it and see what happens.

It needs a complete mechanical overhaul to be playable again. The keys are a bent up mess. That was kinda the point of experimenting--not being afraid to screw up a broken horn. I'm still debating if it's worth fixing. It's such a shame to see one of these old horns put out to pasture though. It's not like they're making any more of them.
 

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I'm not sure yet how durable the finish is. I lightly oiled the hinge rods while reassembling the keys and a little oil from my fingers got on he neck octave key. When I wiped it off it took some of the finish with it. Not that the horn is exposed to a lot of oil during normal use, but it's something to think about. A coat of wax would probably deter that a bit.
Check how it responds to fingerprints. I don’t believe that this finish will prove impervious to corrosion.
 

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I'm still debating if it's worth fixing. It's such a shame to see one of these old horns put out to pasture though. It's not like they're making any more of them.
Assuming you can put it into good playing condition, that horn is definitely worth fixing! Those series one Aristocrats are great horns, both the altos & tenors. Regardless of how the finish turns out...
 

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I would have bet that I was the only one going into that level of detail. Great to know there's another one out there!
We OCD sax players need to stick together. I used to say "anal retentive" but I have cleaned up my language since then. ;)
 

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That's a really good idea, actually. I'll get a couple pics with the keys back on then assault it and see what happens.

It needs a complete mechanical overhaul to be playable again. The keys are a bent up mess. That was kinda the point of experimenting--not being afraid to screw up a broken horn. I'm still debating if it's worth fixing. It's such a shame to see one of these old horns put out to pasture though. It's not like they're making any more of them.
Those are GREAT horns, as JL said. I know the Big B's and THC's get all the ga-ga love online...BUT....those earlier 'Crats are excellent horns.

PM me if you like, I'd be happy to finish her up, pad, lube, regulate, etc. get her going for you on the cheap side. She has already been cleaned and had her pads out so you have saved someone a fair amount of labor right there.
 

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It's a cool finish but I also like the brighter pre-bluing better. I know it is too late for that now but what would have been really cool would have been to tape off the engraved part of the bell and go for that MusicMedic stye appearance only in that case a two-tone instead of matte-shiny

Good thing you got all the snaps and can get her done with those snap-ins. I know JayeLID is going to argue about this :cool:
 
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