Sax on the Web Forum banner

41 - 60 of 111 Posts

·
Distinguished SOTW Coffee Guru
Joined
·
39,538 Posts
....and the definition of “ bronze" really changes quite a bit from brand to brand to the point that things called bronze may not really be bronze at all.

Some metals called ” bronze” are, in fact, brass





“...
Commercial bronze (90% copper and 10% zinc) and architectural bronze (57% copper, 3% lead, 40% zinc) are more properly regarded as brass alloys because they contain zinc as the main alloying ingredient. They are commonly used in architectural applications.[14][15]

Plastic bronze contains a significant quantity of lead, which makes for improved plasticity[16] possibly used by the ancient Greeks in their ship construction.[17]

Silicon bronze has a composition of Si: 2.80–3.80%, Mn: 0.50–1.30%, Fe: 0.80% max., Zn: 1.50% max., Pb: 0.05% max., Cu: balance.[18]

Other bronze alloys include aluminium bronze, phosphor bronze, manganese bronze, bell metal, arsenical bronze, speculum metal and cymbal alloys...."



of course this has been discussed before too and very well explained here


There are numerous alloys of copper in common use for casting or as bar stock. As you probably know, "Brass" is used to describe an alloy whose main alloying element is zinc; and "Bronze" is used to describe an alloy whose main alloying element is tin. However, these are general terms which don't really carry any industrial meaning. The most common designation system (at least in the US) is the UNS system; there are different sets of numbers for cast vs. wrought alloys. So for example, a common alloy I specify a lot is C36000, "Free-Cutting Brass" which is about 60% copper and has a bit of lead and iron, the remainder being tin. There is also a common alloy called "Cartridge Brass" C26000 which is about 70% Cu and most of the remainder tin. It's easily formed, thus the name. I believe the use of the term "cartridge brass" is the source of the myth that certain Selmer saxophones were made from artillery shell casings. They weren't; Selmer bought sheet brass from a rolling mill through a metals distributor just like everyone else has since probably the first years of the twentieth century or before.

Looking quickly at bronzes, there appear to be multiple alloys all called "phosphor bronze"; so you don't really know what alloy you have when someone says it's made of "phosphor bronze" unless you know the alloy number.

Looking quickly at the UNS designations I didn't see one with common name "bell metal" but I did not search carefully. Like "phosphor bronze" there may be several alloys called "bell metal"; they probably all have roughly similar properties.

Keep in mind what I said above, that there are different alloys used for castings vs. bar stock, dozens in each category, so that also dictates which alloy has actually been used in making a brass (or bronze) mouthpiece. I believe Otto Link mouthpieces are made from two castings soldered together. There are other MPs, especially since the advent of CNC multi-axis machining, that are machined from bar stock.

It is possible that the alloy used in the Otto Link mouthpieces is one for which the common name is "bell metal"; but as noted that doesn't really tell you much. It's also, in my opinion, also possible that the alloy is one for which the common name is "plumbing goods brass" or something equally appetizing and the marketeers of yore decided "bell metal" sounded a lot better especially since the term "bell metal" is only weakly descriptive.

There is also no reason to assume that a given mouthpiece manufacturer doesn't change the alloy specification from time to time based on availability, supply chain (there are many cases where for example a JIS alloy does not exactly line up with a US alloy, so if you have castings made in Japan you may use a different grade), machinability. With cast parts, alloy choice is often driven by the alloys a given supplier is already using. Most casting vendors work in a limited number of alloys and for something like a saxophone mouthpiece (very low volumes and small revenues) few would set up a different furnace for a special alloy.

Of course, the actual effect of the material on the performance of a mouthpiece is probably vanishingly small, especially by comparison with all the other things that vary. There will be differences in the wear rate and the ability to withstand small drops without damage (I'm looking at you, Dukoff "Silverite") and corrosion resistance (Dukoff again). Between different brass/bronze alloys that are practical for MPs, you cannot speculate as to which would be harder unless you know the actual alloy and then you can look up the typical properties. It's EXTREMELY unlikely that any kind of heat treating is done to a saxophone mouthpiece.

Finally, I doubt very much whether there is enough difference in density among the different copper alloys to be distinguishable without careful measurements. If you think the MP is real heavy, that's because the walls are thick, not because it's made of one copper based alloy vs. another.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
23 Posts
Assess risk as you must and make the decision that is appropriate for you.

However, for others reading this, I'd like to point out that these spot tests are not reliable indicators of significant surface lead. In addition to the fact (as @Dr G points out) that the test result is qualitative (i.e., it provides no quantitative information about lead level) the type of test kit used here (a sodium rhodizonate swab spot test) has not been approved by the EPA, and for good reason. In particular, this NIST report published in 2000 recommended against the use of such kits after their controlled laboratory study (detailed in the report) found that they produced excessive false-positives (with false-positive rates exceeding 50% in several conditions!).
Thanks for adding useful information on the test. I don't so much mind false positives as I do false negatives, but is there a better test that you can recommend? By the way, some of my other unplated mouthpieces (CE Winds Guardala copies made of "silverite-like-stuff" very similar to Dukoffs (really mostly tin) and "bronze" (this particular mouthpiece claimed to be lead-free) are both correctly negative with this test, I believe I recall. I might post these results in a few days after verifying.

Whether or not this test is accurate, we have every reason to believe there is lead on the surface of bare brass mouthpieces, and no evidence that it should not be a safety concern. Another interesting question is whether lead leaches through plating, as CEH testing found. I am sure no one wants to hear that!
 

·
Registered
S: SA II. A+T: Martin HC1 T: Mark VI A:39 King Zephyr B: Martin HC imperial
Joined
·
75 Posts
What's the story on lead content for bronze mouthpieces?
I would assume that bronze, brass, and stainless steel all contain lead. Note. “Lead free brass” used in plumbing actually contains lead. The government has a definition of amount of lead that n alloy can contain to be considered lead free.

The EPA is aware that all these alloys contain lead but holds them to a higher threshold before lead reporting standards kick in.

 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
13,089 Posts
Stainless has no lead. It does contain nickel and chromium.

incan tell you from experience, there is nothing added to stainless to make it softer or easy to work.
 

·
Registered
Keilwerth saxes (S/A/T), Selmer clarinets (S/B), Altus Azumi flute
Joined
·
1,194 Posts
Thanks for adding useful information on the test. I don't so much mind false positives as I do false negatives, but is there a better test that you can recommend?
Not a consumer test, not that I know of.

Whether or not this test is accurate, we have every reason to believe there is lead on the surface of bare brass mouthpieces, and no counter-evidence that it should not be a safety concern. Another interesting question is whether lead leaches through plating, as CEH testing found. I am sure no one wants to hear that!
You're of course correct that there is some lead on the surface of bare brass mouthpieces. Since the brass the mouthpiece is made of contains lead, there must be at least trace amounts on the surface.

I think the problem is the jump to the notion that this is necessarily a safety concern. As the adage says: "the poison is in the dose". There are many compounds that are completely harmless to us (some of which are even produced as metabolites in our bodies, and some of which are essential micronutrients) in small quantities, but are harmful or deadly in sufficiently large doses (IMO, this is the problem with "zero-tolerance" warnings like California's prop 65). The question is whether the concentration of surface lead is large enough to be a health concern.

If you're worried about any exposure to lead (i.e., in trace amounts), then you should probably avoid playing (brass) saxophones at all, especially if you believe that lead may diffuse through the plating/lacquer. Moreover, the inside of most saxophones (including necks) is unplated, which means that there's almost certainly trace amounts of lead inside your HR/resin mouthpieces (i.e., from dissolved lead compounds that make their way into the mouthpiece via condensate in the neck). You're also doubtlessly getting trace amounts of lead on your fingers from touching the instrument itself.
 

·
Registered
S: SA II. A+T: Martin HC1 T: Mark VI A:39 King Zephyr B: Martin HC imperial
Joined
·
75 Posts
Stainless has no lead. It does contain nickel and chromium.

incan tell you from experience, there is nothing added to stainless to make it softer or easy to work.
The EPA article I attached contains the following. “For stainless steel, brass, or bronze alloys that contain lead, the quantity of lead contained in these alloys is still applied to the 25,000 pound and 10,000 pound reporting thresholds. These three alloys, when they contain lead, are referred to in this document as the “qualified alloys”.”

The article further states. “ Trace concentrations of lead may be contained in stainless steel as an impurity. The main reason for the existence of stainless steels is their resistance to corrosion. “

If you are using a stainless steel mouthpiece you are likely not using a 100% lead free alloy. There is likely trace amounts in there.

If you are worried about lead exposure then the solution is to use a ebonite mouthpiece.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
23 Posts
Not a consumer test, not that I know of.



You're of course correct that there is some lead on the surface of bare brass mouthpieces. Since the brass the mouthpiece is made of contains lead, there must be at least trace amounts on the surface.

I think the problem is the jump to the notion that this is necessarily a safety concern. As the adage says: "the poison is in the dose". There are many compounds that are completely harmless to us (some of which are even produced as metabolites in our bodies, and some of which are essential micronutrients) in small quantities, but are harmful or deadly in sufficiently large doses (IMO, this is the problem with "zero-tolerance" warnings like California's prop 65). The question is whether the concentration of surface lead is large enough to be a health concern.

If you're worried about any exposure to lead (i.e., in trace amounts), then you should probably avoid playing (brass) saxophones at all, especially if you believe that lead may diffuse through the plating/lacquer. Moreover, the inside of most saxophones (including necks) is unplated, which means that there's almost certainly trace amounts of lead inside your HR/resin mouthpieces (i.e., from dissolved lead compounds that make their way into the mouthpiece via condensate in the neck). You're also doubtlessly getting trace amounts of lead on your fingers from touching the instrument itself.
I have no doubt that I get some lead on my hands playing my Mark VI with much of the lacquer worn off. But I am not putting my hands in my mouth and I can wash my hands. Maybe it's a good idea not to handle a reed with such hands. Interesting point about the condensate from inside of the neck, one that I have thought about, and why I don't suck air through my mouthpiece when it starts gurgling. I take it off and blow through it instead. If you read my earlier posts in this thread you will see why I think bare brass mouthpieces are a particularly significant risk, but it is a judgement call.

There is a lab I often take paint samples to when I want to know the actual lead concentration. If their method could determine the surface concentration of lead on brass, maybe it would be a good illustration to test this or other mouthpieces. Later on I may follow up on that.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
13,089 Posts
My grandfather used to say “Sooner or later something is gonna get you”

Ive got too many other things to worry about. If you have time to worry about trace amounts of anything you probably have too much time on your hands.
 

·
Registered
Keilwerth saxes (S/A/T), Selmer clarinets (S/B), Altus Azumi flute
Joined
·
1,194 Posts
There is a lab I often take paint samples to when I want to know the actual lead concentration. If their method could determine the surface concentration of lead on brass, maybe it would be a good illustration to test this or other mouthpieces. Later on I may follow up on that.
That seems like a great idea. Please report the results here if you do follow through.

In the interim, it might be worth pointing out that @Grumps linked to what seems like a very pertinent government study (one examining the rate at which various metals from cut brass fittings leached into water) in one of the previous threads on this topic that @milandro mentioned here. I read the study at the time and concluded that there seemed to be little danger. You can access and read the original study yourself here; my summary of its relevant results at the time appear below:

Based on my quick reading, the "cut brass" point seems to be fairly straightforward and agrees with one's intuition: that freshly cut (or polished) brass surfaces leach metal at a faster rate than surfaces that have developed a layer of corrosion products (i.e., oxides and/or carbonates). The surprising finding wasn't that lead (and zinc) leaching slowed as corrosion products formed, but that the rate of copper leaching was basically flat.

In any case, you should note that the samples in these studies were measured after filling brass pipes with water and letting the water sit in the pipes for 24 hours. Moreover, even under these conditions, the amount of lead leached was miniscule, with average maximum concentrations (i.e., at the start of the study, before the formation of oxide layers) of well under 100 micrograms per liter (or roughly 100 parts per billion). For comparison, natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400 parts per million.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2015-
Joined
·
33,586 Posts
I have no doubt that I get some lead on my hands playing my Mark VI with much of the lacquer worn off. But I am not putting my hands in my mouth and I can wash my hands. Maybe it's a good idea not to handle a reed with such hands. Interesting point about the condensate from inside of the neck, one that I have thought about, and why I don't suck air through my mouthpiece when it starts gurgling. I take it off and blow through it instead. If you read my earlier posts in this thread you will see why I think bare brass mouthpieces are a particularly significant risk, but it is a judgement call.

There is a lab I often take paint samples to when I want to know the actual lead concentration. If their method could determine the surface concentration of lead on brass, maybe it would be a good illustration to test this or other mouthpieces. Later on I may follow up on that.
It is easy to confuse these potential physiological pathways and the relevant concerns. One has to examine and appreciate how the lead gets into the blood system.

Regarding touching an unlacquered horn: One has to consider whether sheet brass has the same lead content as brass stock made for machining (it doesn’t), and whether the uptake through the skin is the same as swallowing lead in solution (it isn’t).

Similarly, regarding paint, it is a matter of solubility as well as physiological uptake - again not the same. If the same weight percent of lead is in paint and metal, the metal will be several orders of magnitude slower to release its lead via bulk diffusion.
 

·
Forum Contributor 2014-2015
Joined
·
879 Posts
“The concentration of the lead in the material is secondary to the most important consideration, which is the blood serum concentration of lead and whether such reaches elevated levels. Distinct from children, trace blood levels of lead in adults is inconsequential. If a player is worried about her health and lead levels, she should seek medical care and undergo a blood test.” That’s a quote from an ER doctor and toxicologist who also plays the saxophone and is a customer of mine.
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
1,481 Posts
Yes, bronze also contains low levels of lead.
Well, crap. This is like the worst discussion I've read on SOTW ever.

I only have two metal mouthpieces: a bronze Lawton for my tenor and a bronze or brass Otto Link for bari. I'm pretty sure my Lawton is not gold plated. I know my Otto Link isn't gold plated because it tarnishes.

But I guess I'll be looking to buy some stainless steel mouthpieces now.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
13,089 Posts
Im personally not going to lose any sleep over it. As of yet no one has any proof that levels of lead in your system are being impacted.
Studies also say that if you live in a major city you are smoking a pack a day in terms of ozone.
Something is going to kill you...or a myriad of things.
I say life is short...enjoy.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2015-
Joined
·
33,586 Posts
Well, crap. This is like the worst discussion I've read on SOTW ever.

I only have two metal mouthpieces: a bronze Lawton for my tenor and a bronze or brass Otto Link for bari. I'm pretty sure my Lawton is not gold plated. I know my Otto Link isn't gold plated because it tarnishes.

But I guess I'll be looking to buy some stainless steel mouthpieces now.
If you have been playing these for some time and are concerned, get your blood tested to check whether you have any issues or detectable blood serum levels. You are a data point.

Consider also the other potential sources of lead in your life. Paint, plumbing, etc. Do you shoot a firearm? Do you reload ammunition?
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2015-
Joined
·
33,586 Posts
Im personally not going to lose any sleep over it. As of yet no one has any proof that levels of lead in your system are being impacted.
Studies also say that if you live in a major city you are smoking a pack a day in terms of ozone.
Something is going to kill you...or a myriad of things.
I say life is short...enjoy.
Given the developing information on phthalates, I am more concerned about whether there exist toxic chemicals in the emerging class of 3D-printed mouthpieces - especially in the instance of their marketing to younger users.

 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
13,089 Posts
True...the same people who are abandoning cheap plastics for water bottles are sucking on cheap, soft plastics. I guess we all pick our poison.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
23 Posts
“The concentration of the lead in the material is secondary to the most important consideration, which is the blood serum concentration of lead and whether such reaches elevated levels. Distinct from children, trace blood levels of lead in adults is inconsequential. If a player is worried about her health and lead levels, she should seek medical care and undergo a blood test.” That’s a quote from an ER doctor and toxicologist who also plays the saxophone and is a customer of mine.
Definitely it is the blood lead concentration that matters, but there are so many variables and it seems not many studies. If lead is present on the surface of a mouthpiece in significant concentrations, in the presence of saliva for extended periods of time, it could potentially be absorbed by the saliva and swallowed. From the discussion, there is both doubt and concern that this could be a significant source of exposure.

I would like to hear more about what constitutes a trace blood lead level -- less than 5 micrograms/deciliter? I have read that one reason lead absorption is cumulative is that within times of order a month, the lead is stored in bone marrow and no longer circulates in the bloodstream (this is well outside my expertise). So a blood test has to be performed very close in time to potential lead exposure. I have also read articles that say trace lead levels are not inconsequential in adults; but they may not produce clinical symptoms, which would appear only in more acute exposures. To me there are many unknowns here, covered by the last sentence in the doctor's statement. Maybe he has some references to studies that might clarify this issue? Thanks for conveying his opinion.
 

·
Registered
S: SA II. A+T: Martin HC1 T: Mark VI A:39 King Zephyr B: Martin HC imperial
Joined
·
75 Posts
Well, crap. This is like the worst discussion I've read on SOTW ever.

I only have two metal mouthpieces: a bronze Lawton for my tenor and a bronze or brass Otto Link for bari. I'm pretty sure my Lawton is not gold plated. I know my Otto Link isn't gold plated because it tarnishes.
When things got you down time to play the Blues. I am going to pull out my Bari and put my 1930 Master Link “Bell Metal” Mouthpiece on it. Yes it contains lead but I am not worried.

Realize that we have not even broached the possibility that our metal mouthpieces could be made with radioactive scrap metal

Radioactive scrap metal - Wikipedia

Howeve, I have no doubt that if some testing group went out looking for radiation in metal mouthpiece they would find it.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2015-
Joined
·
33,586 Posts
When things got you down time to play the Blues. I am going to pull out my Bari and put my 1930 Master Link “Bell Metal” Mouthpiece on it. Yes it contains lead but I am not worried.

Realize that we have not even broached the possibility that our metal mouthpieces could be made with radioactive scrap metal

Radioactive scrap metal - Wikipedia

Howeve, I have no doubt that if some testing group went out looking for radiation in metal mouthpiece they would find it.
Compare that to the radiation you get from hiking on a granite mountain, or flying in an airplane.

Ever consider the issues associated with hold a cell phone next to your head?
 
41 - 60 of 111 Posts
Top