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To seal or not to seal...

1509 Views 8 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  SaxJazz12
Yesterday I went to visit a friend, tenor (mostly) and alto player. I heard him play many times, and yesterday I heard a recording he made. On this recording he sounds very good. Actually, he always sounds good. Before I came, I asked if he wants me to bring a light to check his sax, so I did.

He has a Selmer SAIII. This guy is a master at improvisations on his saxophones. He has some sponge glued to all sorts of places on his sax to change key heights (palm keys) or to make some places feel better. He used epoxy to change the position of the low Bb and (one finger) high F keys. He has a lot more stuff glued all over his saxophone (inlcuding things like a pencil eraser).

He has this sax for about five years now, and he has never been to any repairer. Oh yea, the sax was seriously hit three times, including a fall from about a meter height, and each time the sax wouldn't play at all. Seems no bend is too much for a frying pan's handle! He used it to correct the bend in the body and bell. The sax plays. Still has some bends but....

He says he had a problem with his low C so he changed the pad. I checked, it didn't seal with the new pad, and it was by far the worst pad I've ever seen. No backing, just VERY soft felt with some leather(?) around it. Soft as a sponge. He got it (for free) from a guy who got it from a guy. Changed to a decent pad but....

So I started checking. Remember, he sounds great on this sax and other than struggling with playing the low notes piano, it doesn't sound like he has a srious problem with it. Looked at a couple of tone holes first, of course they are not level (all those falls)....

Continue to check the pads with a leak light. Again, he sounds very good when he is playing this sax. Palm D and Eb seal fine. G# seals fine. ALL other closed pads leak, some a little, and some A LOT. Not a single open key seals with a light touch. A few seal ok with a strong grip. Many don't seal at all, especially the low B and Bb have about a 1mm gap at least half around them when pressing very strong on the keys. He glued some papers on the pads to try to make them thicker... didn't work. Other major leaks are on the low Eb and high E, F and F# keys. Not to mention tons of play on many keys and the neck was very loose (with the screw tight the neck moved easily).

But he sounds very good on his sax... :)

I've heard him on a tenor in great condition that sealed, and he sounded about the same (he did say it was easier). I've tried the sax and could barely make a sound. Very few notes were easy. The rest played but with a struggle. Low F and under was a huge struggle, if they even came out. Low D and under didn't exist.

Who said a saxophone needs to seal... ;)
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Is your friend He-Man in disguise?

That is some major lung power! and uh yeah, its time for that horn to go in!
Wonder what he'd play like with a good horn.
With a well-adjusted horn he would probably squeeze the stack keys so hard that most of them would bend out of adjustment.
My understanding of playing styles is that if he were a classical player, he would have had his saxophone repaired to be leak free at the first sign of resistance on the low notes and then had it maintained to keep it that way.

This does not mean to imply that any accomplished jazz musician/improviser is not as good a musician as a fine classical player, it just illustrates the different demands made upon the instrument and the player for each style of music. There is an incredible player/mouthpiece maker who lives in my area who goes long periods between getting his sax worked on. He says that every time he does, the repaiman always says, "I don't know how you can even play on this thing!" I've heard him play on poorly adjusted horns in our shop and he just blows through the leaks without even thinking about it.

This reminds me of the story of the young Swiss boy whose job it was to carry the lame calf up and down the hill to the pasture every day. The lad became incredibly strong and didn't even notice the change. His strength grew gradually each day as the calf gained size and weight. Obviously the player you described unconsciously adapted his volume of air and breath support required to "pop out" the notes affected by the leaks gradually over time and became used to that feel. If he were to get his sax made leak free and play it for two weeks and then develop a big leak. I'll bet he has it back in the shop in a big hurry.

I am not saying here that there should be a different standard of repair done for a classical player than a jazz player, just that the jazz player can sound good on a leaking instrument but would not have to work as hard to sound as good on one that is airtight. By the way according to Benade, bassoon pads should be installed in such a way as to not seal airtight in order to have the proper sound and response on the instrument. :)

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He said that on a good sax it was much easier for him to play, but he could play pretty much everything on his sax. I honestly couldn't believe it. When your low B and Bb pads barely close and leave a huge leak around most of the pad, and a lot of other pads leak BADLY, it's pretty incredible that anyone is able to play the low notes!

John, I understand what you are saying, but I'm guessing you are talking about very specific jazz. For example I conisder my own music jazz, but I play just as subtle things as what you refer to in classical that need the best response. The music he plays is probably similar to what you mean when you say jazz.
clarnibass said:
He said that on a good sax it was much easier for him to play, but he could play pretty much everything on his sax. I honestly couldn't believe it. When your low B and Bb pads barely close and leave a huge leak around most of the pad, and a lot of other pads leak BADLY, it's pretty incredible that anyone is able to play the low notes!
Well, I believe it - low notes are much easier, even with less-than-perfect pads. It's a lot about leaking, but we shouldn't forget the aerodynamics. Sometimes just "less than a critical opening" is required to make your horn consider a pad to be closed.
And don't underestimate the "gorilla grip" either...
I don't think this is very analogous to the swiss boy story. Because in that story he is actually developing strength and efficiency which will be helpful in other things. In the case of the player mentioned he is overcompensating for an inefficient state of repair and is probably wrecking his hands in the process.
Finances allowing, it's always good to get your horn repaired at the first sight of a problem. "Playing through" a leak, etc might work for a couple gig, but can also lead to bad habits.
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