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Distinguished SOTW Member/Technician
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Recent topics have arisen the question of key fitting and mechanical perfection.

On a standard key, that is a key pivoted by an end screw mounted into a post, how tight is tight, has anyone measured how tight there keywork is.

Also Im curious amongst others, what is the most elaborate key pivoting system you have come across. How good was it.

The most elaborate Ive seen as I showed in another topic was a pivot screw, that screwed into the end of the hinge tube and that screw sat in a swivel bearing mounted into the post, I found the gains provided by the swivel bearing really did not contribute any more function or speed to the key, it did not appear to have a lighter action.
 

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Forum Contributor 2012, SOTW Saxophone Whisperer,
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3,350 Posts
My take on what you call "standard keys" is that all the effort we do for a proper fit - would result in the key not wobbling back and forth (as much as it would do on a loose fit) and thus creating a consistent seal on the tone hole. Any benefits to the "feel" would be secondary.
 

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Forum Contributor 2007-2012, Distinguished SOTW Te
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It's all tied together. The bore is the foundation for the sound and tuning, mechanical perfection is the foundation for everything else- pad sealing, the feel of the action, the longevity of the work, the quietness of the action... everything.

I have never measured it. I don't think I have a measuring tool capable of measuring tolerances that low- you'd probably need a laser or something to measure key fit accurately- and I'm not just saying that because I am super awesome, I do think for good key fit done by anybody that is the case.

I do know that when I do a good job, the heat from seating pads will cause the key to be a little sluggish until it cools down. I imagine that is a very, very, very tiny amount of expansion from the gentle heat of padwork, so going on that assumption the tolerances must be close to zero.


As far as elaborate pivot systems, the best I've seen are the simplest. Less parts all made durably of solid metal, a nice large tapered bearing surface on the screw and receiver (e.g. a Mark VI), and a perfect fit between the screw and receiver will do the job extremely well for a very long time when having its oil changed at appropriate intervals. Anything else seems to just be introducing unnecessary variables- the ball bearing system in the first post and Selmer's spring-loaded pivots come to mind.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Coffee Guru
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You know certain things are oblivious to " perfecting" because in all systems perfecting can only really happen if you perfect all parts of the system at once otherwise perfecting (whatever that means ) is hampered by the proverbial weakest link of the chain.

In other words the saxophone is an instrument build for longer than a century with pretty much the same technique and few real innovations gathered along the way, its versatility and relative low cost (for both making and running) are based on a relative simple level of technology.Clocks or pocket watches built 1 century (and earlier!) before the invention of the saxophone had more complex and sensitive mechanics than the saxophone has 1,5 century after the invention of the first saxophone.



Substantial progress could be achieved but only if someone will take the saxophone under the loupe and improve it as a whole and not just improving single bits and pieces
 

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Distinguished SOTW Columnist/Official SOTW Guru
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Is anyone here old enough to remember the cut throat razor?

A cut throat in the hands of a good barber is still the best shave you'll ever get.

Then we had the single blade disposable razor, then the twin blade, then 4 blades, now 5 blades. Sometimes simpler IS better and all the so called improvements are nothing more than marketing hype. As it is with razors, so it is with saxophones.....and many other things
 

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Forum Contributor 2007-2012, Distinguished SOTW Te
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Substantial progress could be achieved but only if someone will take the saxophone under the loupe and improve it as a whole and not just improving single bits and pieces
IMHO, the high-end saxophone has already seen (continues to see) designs that are really, really excellent. But the immediate problem in the mass market professional saxophone is not in improving the design but building it better- making it as its designers dreamed it would be before the little mistakes and time-crunches and it'll-do's of the assembly line dilute its genius. This is actually my goal in overhauls: make it so that if the lead designer came and saw my work he would feel that his dream has been brought to life, that his saxophone is as it should be.

Again IMHO there is a lot of time spent working on things that sound good in advertising copy or look good to a consumer's untrained eye, but when the horns are apart on the bench WAY too many of them fail the test: were these built as good as they should have been? Yamaha on their high-end horns and Yanagisawa come close, but I could still overhaul most any new horn right out of the box (and again, so could lots of other folks) and make it a lot better. In other words, until the pads seal and the mechanics are tight and the posts are aligned and the rods are straight and the adjustment materials are not squishy and ill-fit and the neck tenon is sealing on a new saxophone out of the box, I think that the weak link in the chain is more often the build quality than the design.
 

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Distiguished SOTW Tech
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I'm pretty sure there is no "perfection". Those repairman that understand the difference between the materials being used in a sax and their linear expansion and the causes behind key binding and a good quality action will reach an acceptable compromise that the player will consider "perfection" So, one could setup a fixture and an indicator to measure end play and lateral play much like is done on crankshafts of engines or possibly even "plastigage" pivot tolerances and come up with an agreeable standard for a given sax but I doubt the numbers would be universal for perfection and only those that get the $UBERHAUL$" prices could take the time to do it.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member/Technician
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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Good to see we are all on the same page.

The sax has stood the test of time, even with its simplistic mechanics. The constant redevelopment of its mechanism's in todys markets, appear to be ""sales gimicks"" , trying to get something over the others.

Now if only I can stop cheap saxes getting made with rolled tone holes.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Coffee Guru
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I think that the weak link in the chain is more often the build quality than the design.
and so it is, but that is what gives the maker a certain amount of profit, if they were to improve that significantly, the cost (depending on a more qualified operator spending X amount of extra time to achieve an improved build quality) would also rise significantly.

The makers of many things provide an item made at a cost with a certain amount of quality, if they cannot improve the efficiency within that cost they have to reduce the quality to still make a sale but also a profit.

This is what a famous German car manufacturer did to still offer their products at an affordable price and that was to increase the tolerances in production which automatically cut cost.

A lot of people don't realise that in many systems improving performance 10% can easily make the cost levitate 50%. So to go on with the watch analogy. It is relatively easy and cheap t produce if you allow a limited amount of precision if you want that to be increased to certain standards the cost is increased exponentially.

Design incorporates also the way in which a product can be put together in a cost effective way.

The way one produces a product in not what most people think and that is producing it and then see what the cost is. Industrial products are first positioned in a market segment THEN they are designed to be produced and built to fit that particular segment and still deliver a profit.

...Now if only I can stop cheap saxes getting made with rolled tone holes.
Makers only do what they think gives them an edge over other makers or sellers, if buyers would stop buying nonsense then makers would stop making nonsense.
 

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Distinguished Technician & SOTW Columnist. RIP, Yo
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I agree with all of the above.

And the sax can never be high precision throughout. It's all about flex. EVery material has to be treated as if it were springy, because it is! Some more so than others.

  1. The body is plain flimsy. It has to be, otherwise it would be ridiculously heavy. Every time you change your grasp on it when you pick it up, it must flex.
  2. Saxes are large, so they have some long keys. These flex. I have probably mentioned this demo before: Adjust a sax as well as possible. Then press the low Bb key cup closed. Note that the B key's pad should be closing with the Bb, but it does not. (For a baritone sax it could be still open 2 or 3 mm!) That is because when operated this way, the Bb key is flexing (torqing) the opposite way from what it would during normal use. With that much flex clearly occurring in the mechanism, an accuracy to microns in the pivots is not going to help much. The flex of the metal is a fundamental weakness. (Compare with most linkages on an oboe, where the keys are very rigid.)
  3. Some "give" (flex again) is involved whenever we have a silencing material involved in a linkage, and that is for all linked keys. And because of this, and the flex in the metal of the keys, the two ideals (if we seek perfection) of simultaneous contact of pads with tone holes, along with equal closing pressure, have to be mutually exclusive. (A leak light tests for the former, while a "feeler" tests for the latter.)
  4. Similarly, because a key does not lift vertical to a tone hole, and also probably some flex in the key cup and cup arm of larger keys, again, simultaneous contact of the pad with the entire circumference of the tone hole, along with equal closing pressure right around the tone hole, are also mutually exclusive to some extent.

There is a lot going on that is not immediately and visually apparent. A good technician is aware of these phenomena, and works to achieve a best compromise, which will be different in different parts of the mechanism, and different for different models of sax.

BTW ball bearings are not necessarily the ultimate. Unless they are quite firm to turn, and are press-fitted(or "Loctited" to the shaft and the housing, ball bearings have play. My pendant drill handpiece, with its long, precision sleeve bearing, is far more accurate after decades of hiding than my micromotor with its "precision" ball bearings is after similar treatment.

Some technicians talk of spending a heap of time re-bushing surfaces that rotate on the points of pivot screws. It is highly unlikely that the result will be a profile that exactly matches the surface of the rounded/tapered screw. So a pivot that is accurate for longer, because of larger bearing surface, may well be obtained by simply putting a "dolly" behind the head of the mounted screw and quite vigorously tapping the key against it, to make the metal of the key better fit the screw, and burnish the brass surface at the same time.

Once we are talking about accuracy that is durable, there are a huge number of technical issues to consider.

Simple procesess, done with skill, awareness, and experience, are often the best. As long as a sax is fundamentally such an imperfect instrument , it cannot be brought to any perfection other than that of best compromise. And the customer's wallet is a major consideration in meeting this compromise.
 

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.....
Simple procesess, done with skill, awareness, and experience, are often the best. As long as a sax is fundamentally such an imperfect instrument , it cannot be brought to any perfection other than that of best compromise. And the customer's wallet is a major consideration in meeting this compromise.
This encompasses the reason why the instrument is as it is because it needs to be to fit all these criteria, uncompromising instruments would be incredibly difficult and expensive to to produce and to maintain at that level op non compromises kind of build.
 

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Distinguished Technician & SOTW Columnist. RIP, Yo
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I can see no reason not to mention names. By not mentioning, you are casting suspicion on others.

Sloppy fits inside posts are standard for student Yamaha sax lower stack keys. But not for their flutes. Go figure.
For higher models there is accuracy, but do we see in the specs for these higher models that they have post holes fitting the pivot rods? No, that would highlight the scruffiness in the cheaper models. A shame, because Yamaha student saxes are otherwise such well made instruments (Overlooking their excessively hard pads.)

Some Chinese horns are much better regarding fit. Some are far worse.

Also standard for the G key of student Pearl flutes. And it matters there because the flute has a split E mechanism.

Yes, correction is expensive, and without it, reliability will always be compromised.

A quick, cheap solution but with slightly precariousness during horn reassembly, is to bush the post holes with superglue. (Smearing a trace of grease on the rod stops the glue sticking to that if you're lucky. As in all repair work operations, the success or failure is in the detail.)
 

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Forum Contributor 2007-2012, Distinguished SOTW Te
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I can see no reason not to mention names. By not mentioning, you are casting suspicion on others.
I don't mention names because I don't want to be threatened with legal action. I would think this is obvious. And besides, the video doesn't just point out the problem- it educates the consumer on what it is and why it is bad and different ways it could be fixed. So in exchange for three minutes of the viewers time, they can now figure out if they do have that problem and get it fixed if need be- a method to acquire proof and if needed to implement a solution, which is rather different than suspicion. Knowledge is power.

Anyways it was supposed to be an example of major manufacturing flaws that should be simple to avoid in the context of our current conversation, not a lesson. I know you guys know about this stuff and how to fix it.

So to swing the conversation back closer to what I was saying before: I feel like I have seen a lot of treasure spent on design changes- from the Leblanc System to the Apogee System, from Snap-Ons to Res-O-Pads, from the Conn 28M to the 26M to the Buffet-Powell, from soldered toneholes to brazed toneholes to rolled toneholes, the sublime keywork design of the Balanced Action/SBA/VI- I mean the list goes on and on and on and on. And a lot of it is really great stuff! But I feel like the precision with which keywork is made has not changed much, posts are still misaligned, rods don't fit in posts precisely every time, and padwork has perhaps actually gotten worse, etc. etc. etc. So much advancement in so many places, but so little in others.
 
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