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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I recently picked up a USA Conn 16nm whilst passing though LA (see other thread). Very happy with it so far. I have only had to replace one pad, do some minor re-alignment of a few keys, and what I have now plays 'up and down'. But with some resistance!

Now I've not played for a LONG time (20 years) but last night had my first real practice session for several hours. Guess the fingerwork is like riding a bike and is not too bad, but the embrochure and associated muscles need time!

Question is how much of the forementioned 'resistance' (sometimes 'stuffiness', sometimes hard to reach the lower notes but they can be 'persuaded') is my embrochure and how much is due to any remaining leaks? I've noticed in the past that playing an instrument improves what can appear to be leaks, both temporarily and in some cases permanently. My theory is that old dried out pads become damp with spit and condensation resulting in them becoming more flexible, softer and swollen, thus forming better seals.

Is this right? It made me wonder if there is some way of rejuvinating pads - a liquid perhaps that mimics what I mentioned above (or some iother aspect) and brings old dried up pads back to life?

I don't really want to have to re-pad the whole lot! The pads look mostly pretty good to me.

Cheers
 

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That doesn't sound like 'resistance' to me...it sounds like leaks you are managing to blow thru. Stuffiness might be the result of some keyheights being maladjusted

(!!!! ...it's not their fault, they had a terrible family life)...

...um...misadjusted.

There are threads here on leather rejuvinators and such...the Jury generally finds that the better ones may give some temporary benefit....but just as many do not. You see, the thang is..it's not just the leather tops which need to be resuscitated....it's the felts beneath as well...and nothing in a bottle can do that (damn, if it could, I'd be retired !).

I...for one....agree with the gist of what you are saying (although you may also get a bit flamed for it): old pads can actually do a quite adequate job of sealing even if they look like hell. If they seal, they seal...and there's no necessary rush to change 'em if you don't have to.

If they don't seal...it's about a 50-50 proposition that some tweaking can get them to perform adequately, however. OK, actually more like 40-60.

If you are outta money, go do a search here for the leather treatment stuff, pick the one which gets the best accolades and give it a shot. If you have $100 or two kickin' around, I'd take it to a tech and ask him/her to replace the worst offenders and try to do a quick tweak up and down the horn to get it playing better.

If you can spring $250+...that should get you about a half-dozen new pads and a pretty darn good re-regulation.....

I give you my boilerplate warning: when a lotta techs see a new, unfamiliar customer walk in with an old horn...ca-ching !!!!

They may well try to give you a hard sell on a repad. Most times, as you suspect...it ain't close to being necessary.

My boilerplate advice is to let 'em have their say...and then ask them if they can get the horn speaking up and down better than it currently does, for $XXX...with the understanding that they start on the top priorities....& you can cover the conditions of lesser priority another day, when you return to them again....to give them your biz....again.
Honest techs will give you an honest answer on that....
 

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I agree that the problem can be from leaks but not playing for 20 years it can be the player. It can also be a mouthpiece and/or reed issue that the player isn't aware of since they haven't played for so long. Though it can be from leaks :)

If they don't seal...it's about a 50-50 proposition that some tweaking can get them to perform adequately, however. OK, actually more like 40-60.
I don't know about the % but I agree that sometimes it's possible to adjust without changing and sometimes changing is necessary. Sometimes it's possible to get an acceptable adjustment (i.e. a tiny bit more than optimal force is needed to close the pad) for a low budget but for optimal changing the pad is needed.

If you can spring $250+...that should get you about a half-dozen new pads and a pretty darn good re-regulation.....
Prices vary too much but I think pretty much everywhere changing, let's say, the five higher pads (with F#), with the same additional work necessary (e.g. key fitting, tone holes, etc.), would cost significantly less than, let's say, the five pads for D to the G# keys. At least I can't give a price based on the number of pads that are changed. Many times $250 can cover a lot more than six pads changed and regulation.

I give you my boilerplate warning: when a lotta techs see a new, unfamiliar customer walk in with an old horn...ca-ching !!!!
...and many techs won't discriminate against new customers and won't try to weasel out of them more money in any way. At least techs that are also nice and honest people are this way.
 

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I like the 50/50 player horn thing going on here.

If it were me I would have a tech give it a look. There is always the chance that there is a niggling little issue that was overlooked.
Get a ball park estimate for putting it into good playing condition and go from there.
It may just need a quick tweak here and there and it's good to go.

Twenty years is a long time between 'toots'. Feels good to be back playing?
 

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...and many techs won't discriminate against new customers and won't try to weasel out of them more money in any way. At least techs that are also nice and honest people are this way.
...and those are the guys who, happily, now get 100% of my business (sadly - they also, numerically speaking, total only 2 of the 6 reputable techs in the Bay Area).

More often than not you can avoid a repad with no ill effects whatsoever. Sometimes, it's true...as much as I tried to insist a particular horn wasn't lost in the existing pad dept., in the end there was only one correct thing to do, and that was pull 'em all, or almost all.

But more often than not, it doesn't get close to that case....

Let us know what a tech says.....
 

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I give you my boilerplate warning: when a lotta techs see a new, unfamiliar customer walk in with an old horn...ca-ching !!!!
They may well try to give you a hard sell on a repad. Most times, as you suspect...it ain't close to being necessary.
Im sorry youve been exposed to some bad techs, or that you feel this way. I would hope there is a general consensus that this is not common practice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Well I put together a cheap leak light based on this thread:
http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?152446-An-inexpensive-homemade-LED-leak-light
and bingo - found two leaky pads. Just goes to show what you can do with the right tool (and it doesn't have to be an expensive one $7.50 to be precise).

So you are right I was probably 'blowing through them'. I also found that replacing some corks that had become permanently compressed improved but did not completely fix one of the leaks.

I should probably mention that it is in my nature to want to learn how to repair this myself. It's not just about saving $, it's about learning about the instrument and learning a new skill.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Oh and bandmommy - yes it does feel great to be playing again. Thing is whilst I put the sax down for 20 years I never stopped playing piano, in fact I studied jazz piano quite seriously for a number of years and play regularly in a (not jazz!) band. Great thing is the theory is already there especially regarding what scale alternatives can be used over what chords, how to play bebop scales, arpegiation, etc. It's just a matter of applying these to my old friend, though technique will still take time. The other thing is that with the internet I just have to type in 'how to make a saxophone growl' and bingo - youtube has the answer. So the learning curve is not so steep and the answers are easier to find.

Problem is finding the time. With 2 young kids, a wife and a day job I find practice time often doesn't start until around 11pm!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
So back to fixing these pads...

The two pads in question are the LH 1st finger 'B' button pad (by far the worst offender), and the pad directly above the pad that is operated by the RH 1st finger. In both cases the pad itself looks in OK condition. Could it just be a matter of 're-floating' these pads?

If I have to replace the pads I'm currently dwelling over the old debate - shellac or hot glue/george's glue? Shellac for some reason scares me but is it just as easy to use as hot glue?
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thought I'd post an update. A few tips from one beginner to another so to speak.

1. A leak light is invaluable and inexpensive (especially if you make it yourself).
2. Not all problems are leak-related. A difficult/stuffy note can be due to a normally open pad not lifting far enough away from the hole in its resting position.
3. I tried both hot glue and shellac. I definitely prefer the latter (and the smell) – removed the hot glue in the end.
4. A spring can be bent carefully to increase the tension if required.

Still I am sure there are many subtleties I’ve yet to learn. I was lucky that this job required no solder / brazing work. I did have one hole to repair and easing that back with a smooth circular rod was not difficult.

I used the cheap Chinese pads you find on Ebay. They seem OK to me and are good if you are learning how to re-pad (but make sure you get the real leather ones – lamb skin apparently; others on Ebay are advertised as imitation leather). They are fairly forgiving for imperfect levelling of the pads (since they are fairly soft). I can’t say how long they will last though, but they do appear to be genuine leather (as I cut a strip off the back of one pad for a more careful ‘strength test’). Don’t count on them all fitting your pad cups perfectly though since the sets come as ‘one set to fit all’!

So I've been practicing playing the instrument at the same time as I renovate this horn, which I think has benefits – has helped me understand the horn, which should also help my playing.

Currently I still am trying to determine what is causing the lowest few notes to have a tendency to sound an octave higher than intended (Bb, B, C). I can overcome it with my embouchure but I really don’t think it should be that hard. This problem is a lot less noticeable after playing for a couple of minutes. It seems like a leak problem but the leak light reveals nothing – though I suspect a leaky Eb key.

I don’t have a lot to compare with (it’s my only Tenor instrument) but IMO this is a very nice horn for very little money. It really does have a big sound especially down low. I suspect the key action is pretty basic and clunky compared with a higher end horn but having nothing to compare with I don’t know what I am missing! Perhaps the tone is not perfectly consistent over the range as well – again something you probably expect in a more expensive instrument. The important thing is I really enjoy playing it.

One thing I have found is how easy I am able to make this horn ‘growl’ – something that as a kid I had no idea how to do (I wish someone had told me). With forums like this and youtube it is so much easier nowadays!
 

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... I used the cheap Chinese pads you find on Ebay. They seem OK to me and are good if you are learning how to re-pad (but make sure you get the real leather ones - lamb skin apparently; others on Ebay are advertised as imitation leather). They are fairly forgiving for imperfect levelling of the pads (since they are fairly soft). I can't say how long they will last though, but they do appear to be genuine leather...
They vary. The worst ones I have come across look great, but they consisted of a sort of ultra-thin papier mâché posing as leather, covered with a brown plastic membrane just as thin and no more durable than cling film. The paper mâché material itself was a lot weaker than a low grade, thick paper! The membrane tends to cut through within months if not weeks.

Another feature of the worst ones is that they do not contain wool felt, but some other springy, otherwise felt-like material. This does not permanently accommodate minor irregularity like wool felt does. You think you have it adjusted, but the material changes in seat depth over the next few hours or days, messing up all those adjustments, which could well bed responsible for....

...Currently I still am trying to determine what is causing the lowest few notes to have a tendency to sound an octave higher than intended (Bb, B, C)...."
They do that when there is a leak acting as an octave vent. Consider how small an octave vent is, an equivalent could be a 0.02 mm thick sliver of leak around part of a pad

Does your leak light throw a lot of local light (i.e. not the Christmas decoration type) under any pad being tested, and are you doing the testing in a dark room? If not, then you are almost certainly missing the small leaks.

Other possibilities are a leaking neck tenon, a leaking solder joint at the neck socket or octave vent, or a neck cork that does not seal well at the end that goes furthest into the mouthpiece.

I can overcome it with my embouchure but I really don't think it should be that hard. This problem is a lot less noticeable after playing for a couple of minutes. It seems like a leak problem but the leak light reveals nothing - though I suspect a leaky Eb key.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks Gordon

As a matter of fact I am sure I saw another post of yours regarding the Chinese pads. Someone else was a lot more positive so I pulled the trigger and purhased a set (they were only $15 delivered) - the Ebay post specifically stated that they were genuine lamb skin. Not saying that what is stated is always what you get (especially when it is from China), but in this case I think I did. As soon as they arrived I took a llittle slice of the outer skin material off the back of the pad, examined it and it looks genuine and reasonably tough to me. I could be wrong.

I have a few left over so if you are interested I could do a bit more 'research' on one and maybe post a photo. May also take one apart to see what that the inner material is.

Your advice regarding the potential leak is very much appreciated - I'll check tonight.

Greg
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Gordon you may be onto something. I'd noticed that the changes I had noticed after playing would happen quite quickly - before the moisture or warmth had gotten far into the horn. So your commnents on the neck region made sense. The tenon looks like an excellent seal to me. Which leaves the mouthpiece end. Any small about of spit would fairly quickly seal any gaps.

So I had a quick play just now without giving any time to allow the spit or warmth to have an effect. But I pushed the mouthpiece as far on as it would go (plenty of cork grease), so that the corked end was 'fully home' in the mouthpiece. Suddenly the bottom notes were a lot easier. Backing the mouthpiece off a bit restored the problem (though it was back in tune).

Now I've just uploaded some photos of the neck you can see here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

Interestingly the light from the flash has just revealed the crud inside it (sorry about that :) ) - could that be it? Cleaning is the first thing I'll try!

To me the cork does not look all that bad, although it is a bit rounded on the bottom edge. You can see the two ridges - one where the mouthpiece normally sits and the second when I pushed it fully home as per above.

Or could the fact that the opening is not perfectly round be the culprit?

Is there an easy way of testing this short of swapping the neck over?
 

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quite apart from the state of the end of the cork, which as far as I can tell from the photo seems good providing it is not loose at the open end, the low notes on all saxes are affected if the mouthpiece is not in a suitable position on the neck. I think that is to do with the location along the air column where there is a sudden step in bore diameter. Some models of sax are much fussier than others. Sometimes a band-aid fix is to drop a wine cork, mouthpiece cap, or similar into the bow of the sax. (But this band-aid may improve the response caused by leaks too.)

And it certainly does not look as if the mouthpiece has been pushed on very far. Some players use a too-tight embouchure, which sharpens notes, and therefore they pull the mouthpiece out to re-tune them, but that can introduce low note problems.

BTW, I cannot tell nothing about the pads from the photos. i.e. type of felt, porosity of leather, evenness of thickness, whether the leather is fake, seal around the resonator rivet, cutting of the leather by the edge of the resonator, etc, etc. But usually if you pay a fraction of the normal price for something, there are significant compromises.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Last night I experimented with plumbers tape to prove to myself whether or not the problem is there. Turns out it is. I also pulled out my electronic tuner to check intonation from the low end up to the very top. I did find that the mouthpiece had been pushed too far in. When in the right position and with a good seal the problem virtually dissappears. Now whether or not I bother to change the neck cork or be happy with plumbers tape is the next question.
As for the pads, I examined them fairly well myself and was pretty well convinced they were real leather, and had a decent woollen pad. I thought the photos went a long way to documenting this in as best a fashion as I was able. I had thought about examining the skin under a microscope but figured it was not necessary after I'd pulled one apart and tested a piece of the skin for strength. I'm sure they are not up to the standard you would expect from a proper supplier but I do believe they are fine for someone who is learning the process as I am. I figured I would not pursue the pad question in this thread as I had already answered my own question which was 'are they the crap ones Gordon has seen or not?' - I believe not.
Next time I do this (I have a more valuable horn in mind for my next project) I probably will purchase a better set and will feel a lot more comfortable with the process.
 

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Good that things are improving.

It's pretty well impossible to tell the quality of pad materials by looking at them.

Many cheaper (but not the worst) pads have a thin coating of polymer over a chamois-like leather base. I suppose heating that coating at a distance from a flame may reveal a reaction that is un-leatherlike.

Felt: IIMO... It can look like woven wool felt, but may consist of stuff that is mainly not wool. The properties we require of felt in pads is provided by the wool (with little hook-like appendages along the fibres). (Although some expensive synthetics are now successfully used in top line pads.) You cannot tell by looking. There may be a clue in what happens if you heat or burn it. But it is the performance of the felt that is the really important thing.
 
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