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A friend of mine and fellow sax player was supposed to take his Selmer BA to the shop after it suddenly started acting up at our last quartet rehearsal. He comes back this week with no sax and no repair done yet because apparently he was told that the sax needed a complete overhaul + tone hole levelling – This, for what should have been no more than replacing a pad and maybe tweak a few things here and there – He went for second advice where after inspecting the horn, the technician over there estimated the repair to be worth about 100$ (about what I expected) but then, it probably didn’t help that my friend asked for how much an overhaul would cost and if the sax would need one, to which the technician said yes, yes, yes :faceinpalm:

While after discussing with my friends at tonight's rehersal, I can agree to the possibility that the sax might be in need of a complete repad, but suggesting an overhaul is clearly over the top. As for the tone hole levelling, I’ve always been sceptical about that (I feel that some technicians are like Dentists; always need to find something to fix that will cost you) My friend however thinks that his sax could use a tone hole levelling because he was once told that his sax could use it.

So seriously, what’s the deal for tone hole levelling? What is it for? When is it necessary? What are the pros and cons and why can’t they just level the darn things at the factory?
 

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It comes with a decent premium repad.
If I do a m.a.s.h unit repad, I don't address tone holes, but I don't normally do that kind of work unless the customer requests a cheapie job. Any reputable repairman doing a proper build not only levels tone holes, but also corrects any pad cups that are not flat as well. A well done rebuild will make a horn's mechanics better than original. almost every horn made has imperfections from the factory, yes even selmers. A good tech will repair and correct these imperfections during an overhaul. All horns that have never had an overhaul need one whether you want to admit it or not. I am just a hack repairman and I can easily spend 30 hours on any horn I do a build on. I am starting a build on my own cannonball stone series soprano this week and the pads look new, but they are cheap and they make noise and I will do the tone holes, replace all corks and pads and swedge keys as needed, and the horn is only two years old.
 

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Sounds like Bay Area Tech disease has spread to the Great White North.

Contact Canada's Center for Disease Control immediately. It's airborne.....this could be a continental disaster.

Well, it's a vintage horn...so, yes...once upon a time the holes were level. But, said horn has been knocked, impacted, dinged, etc. over its life, no ? I'd say that on 75% plus of the horns I get here, some leveling is required on a significant # of holes. This can be by filing or by using tools to 'push back up" the hole stack if it has been knocked unlevel some time in its life.

Now...one CAN sometimes get away with keycup bending and pad shimming to get an unlevel hole to seal...but it becomes a bit of smoke and mirrors and really what you wanna do is get the hole level and (as William says) get the cup nice and level, and work it all from there.

Funny, I remember a few years ago I'd take a horn in and a tech would look at it and immediately say "oooh, that hole is outta level badly", pointing to a tonehole chimney which looked hella OK to me. But nowadays, I can begin to see it w/o having to take a leveling plate to it any longer....it's just sumthin' which looks wrong....

So...perhaps not 'necessary'....but a good idea to do when the opportunity arises.....So, if you are replacing the pad anyway, why hobble yourself by not addressing the tonehole as well, since it's gonna be sittin' there, exposed ?
 

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It sounds like your starting to get the same advice from several techs, the sax must need some work, perhaps its the pads or some mechanical work, including leveling the tone holes. I would ask when it was last repadded,if its was a long time ago then its time..........
 

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I think the REAL question your friend needs to determine is, "do I trust my tech?" If the answer is no, then start looking for a new one.

The short answer to your specific question is yes, tone holes sometimes need leveling, and most of the techs I'd consider working with would include this in a full repad. Even if it's not a full repad, sometimes the tonehole needs work: I remember nearly drop-kicking a Yamaha tenor I once owned after a frustrating practice session, but instead of doing that I called my tech. Turns out one of the right side keys had a tonehole that looked like someone had taken a swipe at it with a rasp. After the horn spent less than an hour on the bench, I discovered I really DON'T suck at playing tenor--it was the sax. It happens.

That said, I think any serious woodwind player needs to find a tech they can trust enough that you don't feel like you're biting your tongue when you have your sax on his bench. It's TOTALLY worth spending the time to find the right guy/gal. I own and play a LOT of horns, and although (laying my cards on the table here) I do some accounting work for my tech now, it's because he's been working on my horns for years and I know he doesn't B.S. his customers. When something needs fixing he fixes it, charges reasonable rates (his own kids are musicians, so he understands how expensive it can be), and he figures that by doing a good job and treating his players right, they'll come back and send their friends. He's also not afraid to tell a player when the problem might be a poor horn/mouthpiece combo, or when a problem might be better solved with some woodshed time. Nor is he hostile to suggestions, and he's got a few really picky players (I'm not the worst of the lot) who go to him because he'll work with them to get horns playing right. None of this is possible without good communication, though, and if your friend feels like the tech he saw was "getting commercial" on him, maybe he's right... but then he needs to find someone who he CAN trust enough to be candid with.

Hope this helps....
 

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I understand that some techs insist for creating the ideal conditions throughout the horn (which sometimes has never existed to start with with the horn even when new because even new horns are known not to have perfectly straight toneholes ) and that means that all the toneholes have to be levelled and all the keycups have to be straight . This as opposed to shim and or float every pad and bend keycups to balance for toneholes not being levelled.
A horn that has been around much and has seen many repairs and has been knocked about several times in its long life reaches a point where all the partial repairs which addressed very often a momentary problem, have made it necessary to say, ok, until here and no further.
This might very well be the case with your friend's BA.

Ultimately it comes down to how much you trust your tech. For all intents and purposes it is a similar situation as the one that you face when going to see a Medical Doctor or a Car Mechanic , you will find several opinions, some of which are just interested in relieving you from a conspicuous amount of money and some which will genuinely address your need for improved health or a functioning car.

It comes down to trust and there is not much to do about it than having complete trust in someone (not just in one who tells you what you want to hear) and do what they say it is in your best interest.
 

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If your freind asked "How much an overhaul costs and does it need one" then its not surprising the answers he got particularly on a horn that is 60+ years old.

However without seeing the horn it would be difficult for anyone to guess the state of the horn and comment on what may or may not need to be done.

There are many factors which would cause a sax to not play at 100% here are just a few:
Pads- e.g. hard, torn, dirty wrong thickness,
Keywork - lateral and horizontal looseness, binding keywork, bent keys etc
Body tube - bent, toneholes not level
regulation materials - cork/tech cork/ultrasuede/synthetic felt etc - missing, not at the right thickness etc

It is more than likely - particularly on a vintage horn that many of the above will be evident. Unless it has previously been overhauled.



As far as tonehole levelling goes - I wouldnt dream of fitting a new pad without checking the tone hole is level first and ensuring that any looseness or play is removed from the key - either situation is likely to cause leaks - even with a new pad fitted.
I always explain this to customers and for the rare occasions a customer just want's a pad fitted and not any of the remedial work mentioned above- I will fit one with the caveat that I type on their invoice " Not covered by warranty - pad fiitted without addressing the necessary remedial work on the instructions of the customer"
 

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There isn't really anything to be sceptible about - the relationship between the tone hole rim, the pad and the key cup relies on each part being of a known and matching quantity. If any one part is out of whack then either the whole system fails to work at its best, or steps have to be taken to compensate for the lack of accuracy.
This could involve a 'workaround' fix, such as putting shims under the pad to raise it in particular areas, or simply leaving it to the player to press the keys down harder.

A level key cup holding a level pad that presses down against a level tone hole gives you the best possible chance of achieving a 100% seal - and more than that, it dramatically increases the amount of time over which the pad will continue to do so.
As pads get wet (and then dry out) they swell and contract...as they get older they get stiffer. If there are any warps present they will show up as leaks - and a conscientious tech will always want to do a job that they know is going to last.

As for whether a horn requires an overhaul - it's something that's often less than clear cut. You could take a horn to two of the world's best and most trusted techs for a quote and find that one says it need a jolly good service and the other a complete overhaul. What this tends to be based on is the tech's opinion of which job will give the best value for money in the long term - but both would be happy to do an overhaul if the client indicated that they'd be willing to cough for it.

Regards,
 

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A flat pad on a warped or non level tone hole requires firmer pressure to get a perfect seal,

A flat tone hole with a flat pad should seal exactly all at once with no more pressure than whats required to overcome the tension of the spring

A soft pad will work on a warped tone hole but can then become sticky easily becuase the pad wraps around the rim of the tone hole

A hard pad will not seal well on a warped tone hole very well, and the player will always sound airy

A hard pad on a flat tone hole will not stick if levelled correclty and not impressioned it will also allow the sax to respond exceptionally well.

Long story short, a good tech will level the tone hole as part of the pad change, be it one pad or all of them, rolled tone holes are a different story
 

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I include checking and levelling toneholes as part of a full overhaul (complete repad) to be sure they are all level so it makes seating pads onto them much easier. The majority of the time toneholes will be uneven to some degree and ones that have suffered as a result of trauma will also need levelling.

On rolled toneholes I'd probably leave them as they might already be left too thin as a result of previous levelling and I wouldn't want the rolled over edge coming away. I've seen old Conns where the once rolled toneholes are now straight because they've been filed within a millimetre of their lives.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Thanks for all the replies; those are really helpful.

To clarify, I said Selmer BA but I didn’t know what I was saying. I’m not sure exactly what he’s got. It’s a Selmer for sure but it definitely is not 60+ years old. Having belonged to his teacher before, the sax was played a lot, hence why it was suggested that it could use a repad eventually. I think it is likely that the tone hole levelling was suggested along with the repad, but that my friend mentioned only, or emphasised more on the tone hole work, which then sounded to me like it was a really big issue. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what the tech really said and how it was said. I gather that there’s a difference between “That tone hole needs serious levelling” and speaking of tone hole levelling as part of a repad, but for someone who’s at one of his first experience dealing with a sax tech, one can be easily impressionable upon hearing all of that tech talk.

What really surprised me in all of this was that 3 weeks ago, although it had its little quirks and could be improved, the horn played fine. The week that followed it had an obvious leak, enough to lend him another sax for the rehearsal and where our group’s leader requested to have that leak fixed as soon as possible because we’re playing at this venue coming soon. And finally this week we learn that our friend didn’t get his sax fixed, he’s undecided and overwhelmed because of all of this overhaul/repad/tone hole stuff – That outcome was rather unexpected.
 

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Personally, I haven't ever met a repairman that I would let take any kind of file to my horn. Get a good re pad and play it.
 

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Sometimes, there's 'glue, rubberbands, and tape' keeping the sax together and the tech just doesn't want to put more lipstick (and his name) on the same pig. It's a dilemma every tech faces -- the difference being where each draws that line in the same.

Some techs refuse completely to be problem solvers and only want to do overhauls even when all your horn needs is an Eb pad. Personally I prefer a tech that leans more towards problem solving, but at the same time I trust his opinion when he says "I think it's time to do a re-pad".
 

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Thanks for all the replies; those are really helpful.

What really surprised me in all of this was that 3 weeks ago, although it had its little quirks and could be improved, the horn played fine. The week that followed it had an obvious leak, enough to lend him another sax for the rehearsal and where our group’s leader requested to have that leak fixed as soon as possible because we’re playing at this venue coming soon. And finally this week we learn that our friend didn’t get his sax fixed, he’s undecided and overwhelmed because of all of this overhaul/repad/tone hole stuff – That outcome was rather unexpected.
While not the only scenario, here is my best guess.

Horn Played Fine weeks ago. Normal pad use over many years results in a deep seat in the pad. Now, the tone hole and the pad have changed together (maybe with alittle help from a tech here and there). The end result for this portion of my explanation results in a warped tone hole with a pad that has been conditioned to match.

Obvious leak. Pad ripped. Needs replacing.

The claim of needing tone hole leveled. A new pad of reasonable quality probably did not have enough "give" in the felt to compensate for the unlevel tone hole. thus the "need" to level the hole.

It is not unreasonable for the tech to assume if one tone hole is like this, several more will be found, especially on older saxophones.

Again, this is only an educated guess on somebody else's opinion on a horn I never saw.

Charlie
 

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A new pad of reasonable quality probably did not have enough "give" in the felt to compensate for the unlevel tone hole. thus the "need" to level the hole.
I'm glad to see this finally come up - if the player is requesting the trendy new "hard" pads, they require a much more level tone hole than the original, more supple, pads. It's not about whether the pad is of "reasonable quality" but rather how well it can accommodate the as-built tone hole.
 

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Kim, they do level them at the factory. But the way they do it is fast and factory-style, usually with a modified drill press while the horn body is mounted on a mandrel. Brass is soft, and a cylinder has varying degrees of stiffness depending on the angle of the energy applied. The mandrel doesn't usually fit perfect, so the longitudinal axis of the toneholes (north/south) gets pushed in while the leveling press is applied and springs back when it leaves, giving you high spots north/south. Not to mention buffing before lacquering- the thin edge of a tonehole will wear much faster than something with more surface area. And then if its relacquered, you compound that problem. Not to mention any past damage, visible or otherwise. Not to mention any imperfections in technique or build at all from the factory. So almost every saxophone that hasn't had its toneholes hand-leveled with precision tools by an accomplished repairman will have unlevel toneholes.

But can you play a horn with unlevel toneholes? Certainly. Depending on how bad they are and how sensitive you are, you may never notice. Their primary effect is that pads don't seal as well for as long, and may feel gummy under the fingers as different parts of the pad hit at different times (but this can also happen from lumpy pads or bad padwork). But IMHO, why pay to get new pads if the toneholes are a weak spot in the job? The extra effort and time required (and thus $$ on the customer end) pays for itself in the long run because your pads last longer sealing better. And of course, it enables me to do a better job, which means the horn plays and feels better.

Also regarding padwork- many of the keys are connected to each other, yes? So if I replace your F# key, I have to make sure it is in adjustment with the rest of the lower stack. If you come back a month later to do your F, I have to make sure it is in adjustment with the rest of the lower stack. If you come back a month later and get your E done....a month later to get your D done... you get the picture. If I do the whole stack at once, I seat the pads, then make sure they are all in adjustment with each other. Less time overall for the same end result = cheaper in the long run. Not to mention better since all the pads are the same age and if they change or settle over time they should do it in a similar way.

Now the case for disassembly! It is possible to replace your pads one by one over a long timespan, and continue doing this for many many years. However, this has one serious drawback- you never clean the horn! Just as the oil in your car builds up particulate and becomes instead of a lubricant an abrasive and the oil must be changed, the oil inside your key rods will do the same. If you just keep adding key oil every year without ever taking it apart and cleaning it out, you are simply getting a more and more abrasive mixture in your keys, contributing to wear, which will turn into play in the keys, which will invite more particulate into the gaps and dry out the oil faster and the problem will accelerate and get worse over time and eventually need remedied by an expensive mechanical reconstruction of your keywork sooner than you would have needed one otherwise.

So your friends horn is at least 30 years old, and it seems like it has been played for much of that time. If you had been driving a car for 30 years and you took it somewhere for an oil change, would you be surprised to have the mechanic tell you that your car could use a lot more?

Unless your friends horn has been fully repadded or overhauled sometime in the last 5-10 years, it is entirely feasible to do so again. Not only feasible, but good for the horn and a sound financial investment. With a good repad or overhaul, assuming the horn is not damaged later on, many of the larger procedures such as leveling toneholes, fixing dents, body bends, and mechanical reconstruction of the keywork only need to be done once every half-century!

I can't speak for all techs, but there are real and very well thought-out reasons I recommend what I recommend. I have your horns interest in mind. I am very aware of the high initial cost of doing things right, but it WILL save you money in the long run, and in the meantime your horn will be playing better.
 
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