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Discussion Starter #1
I’m more experienced with guitars than I am with saxes. With guitars the action is very personal – some like a high action and some like a lower action - plus if you use different guage strings then this throws the action out completely. As an experienced player and indeed having worked in a guitar shop for a few years (Soho Soundhouse in London when it used to be in Soho Square if anyone remembers it back then) I was experienced enough to set up my own guitars how I wanted and wouldn’t need to visit a techie to get it done, which was just as well because pretty much every guitar I unpacked from Gibson, Fender or whoever was terrible.

OK so how about saxes? How individual is action, or is there one ideal action that suits everyone? Is it just a question of spring tension or is there more to it?

Also, with guitars, because they’re mostly wood if you ship a guitar across the world in a freezing cold aeroplane hold then even if it was perfectly set up in the States by the time it reached London it was dreadful – is this the same with saxes? Do they need to be set up after they have travelled?

I raise this because there have been comments on poor set ups of Taiwanese saxes (although I have to say that my KW SX90R needed a set up when I bought it) and I was wondering how best to avoid the problem, because it is my belief that for a beginner/intermediate a new sax should play well straight out of the box. For a pro I think it might be different as they might need more individual attention, but perhaps I’m wrong…
 

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I don't know about saxes, but my friend, an excellent guitar builder and tech, used to work at Rosetti setting up the Gibsons as they came in. The build quality would put you off ever buying one, and his boss would maintain the line's quality by staving in J45s with bad finish etc. But the ones that did get through were set up OK - and yet you found them out of adjustment by the time they got to Soho Soundhouse.

I suppose you may not have worked there when my friend was at the importers' but I assume that somebody was doing the same job. So could it be that our assessment of setup is more subjective than we like to think? It's hard to believe that if importers pay people to set up Gibbies before they get to the store, all the Selmers and Yamahas come into the country without anybody ever checking them out.

However, as a guitarist I'd agree with you that whereas I always set up my guitars to my own taste, I wouldn't know where to start on deciding how I wanted a sax set up, other than asking the tech to match my tenor which seems well-nigh perfect to me.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Interesting. The only guitars that I have ever seen well setup out of the box are carbon fibre ones from Parker Fly.

I worked at Soho Soundhouse when I was 19 to 21 - around 1989ish as I'll be 40 this year (gasp that's half my lifetime ago). :shock:
 

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You weren't selling Parker Flies in 1989! You're older than my friend though (but younger than me) so I'll continue to assume he's singlehandedly changed the retail quality of Gibsons (apart from cannibalising all the smashed up ones to make goodies). Rickies seem to come well set-up.

Still doesn't help us decide what a good sax setup is...
 

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Discussion Starter #5
No, that came later - they're great guitars!

Now anyone here know about sax set ups, or shall me 'n Potiphar talk guitars some more? :)
 

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Guitars are easy - adjustments are fairly global and straightforward in contrast to a saxophone: governing issues are scale length and string gage (string tension), trussrod, and bridge. Done. OK, if not done properly, you may need to level and crown some frets to get rid of high spots.

Action in a saxophone depends on pad height and spring tension (as far as user adjustments) and then so much more: weight of the moving mass, distance of that mass from the pivot, pivot friction. So, much of the action is determined in design with only a little left to adjust. Too much tweaking in pad height throws off intonation and clarity. Too little spring tension degrades mechanical response.
 

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part of the problem comes from the materials itself. all new horns have brand corks and felts on them and on most that is the only thing that regulates the key heights and action. corks and felts, like wood, can absorb and evaporate moisture and as such will swell or shrink accordingly with humidity and temperature changes.during shipping they can be exposed to all kinds of weather conditions ,particularly if they have been in a plane or ship or stored in a warehouse over the weekend, etc. as saxes and guitars string are subject to very fine adjustment it doesn't take much to throw them out of whack. on saxes, as they are played the corks and felts start compressing and leaks will develop. on some brands they have adjustment screws so you don't have to go to a tech. on guitars the strings will stretch and you have to constantly check the tuning anyway.so unitl the horn is in your hands, the regulation from the factory is just a starting point. it's up to the retailer or the consumer to go from there.
 

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Add to all that, the diameter to length ratio of springs. If that is high, as it often is, then the finger force needed to operate the key increases too much during the travel of the key, which most players "feel" as a very poor action.

Associated with this, is that for a good action, springs should operate near their elastic limit.

These issues affect how long hinge tubes need to be made, and where posts are positioned. In turn, this affects the weight of the keywork... etc, etc, etc.

Also, distance from spring cradle to axis of hinge, and the shape of the cradle itself. Low friction between springs and cradles.

Significant friction in pivots, and sloppiness in pivots, both affect action.

Basically, this is a mechanically complicated contraption, and seems to seldom receive sufficient engineering input.

Part of the Mark VI popularity is that some mechanical engineers with know-how were involved, and with a quantum leap, lifted the engineering standards. Selmer seems to have struggled to maintain them since.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks guys, this stuff is interesting. I have a number of specific questions:

Is there one ideal action that would be right for all musicians, or would there be variation in what individual musicians require in a set up (assuming all else is equal) and if so is the variation wide? (eg would a classical player want something very different to say a blues honker?)

Is it possible to have a factory set up in Taiwan and send the sax to America or Europe, get stored for three months, get purchased, get sent across the country and then finally received by it's owner and still have held it's set up?

If the answer to the above is "yes" then is that dependent upon any specifics (eg securing the keys in position during transit or something)?

If the answer to the above is "no" then is there any point in having a factory set up at all if a shop set up is required anyway? WOuld it not be better just to get the shop to do it and perhaps reduce costs by removing one step in the chain?
 

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Before my reply, let me offer some definition of terms for clarity of communication. To me as a player and repair tech "set-up" means the adjustment of the key heights and the spring tension. It could also mean bending some of the "independent" key touches or levers to better fit a player's hands. In the case of top level work on professional saxes "set-up" could also include replacing all of the key corks and felts with more advanced materials that make adjustments more stable and reduce friction.

The terms "regulation and adjustment" mean to reseat leaking pads by whatever means necessary, to bend keys and/or set adjusting screws so that keys close together, and to do what is necessary to remove "lost motion". Now to your questions...
Rick Adams said:
Is there one ideal action that would be right for all musicians, or would there be variation in what individual musicians require in a set up (assuming all else is equal) and if so is the variation wide? (eg would a classical player want something very different to say a blues honker?)
Generally speaking this is not an issue with beginning and intermediate players. For those players a "middle of the road" key height and spring tension set-up is adequate. For professional players it is another story. Their preferences can run from very stiff spring action to very light. Also some like more key opening on the stack for more "projection" and a free blowing feeling while others prefer closer keys that make it easier to play fast. Obviously a "factory" set-up could never accommodate a professional player's tastes as well as working with their favorite tech.
Rick Adams said:
Is it possible to have a factory set up in Taiwan and send the sax to America or Europe, get stored for three months, get purchased, get sent across the country and then finally received by it's owner and still have held it's set up?...If the answer to the above is "yes" then is that dependent upon any specifics (eg securing the keys in position during transit or something)?
I'm going to substitute the term "regulation and adjustment" here in place of your term "set-up" to answer this question. The short answer is no, but it is more complicated than that. The main problem I have seen with new saxes from overseas is that the open stack keys have been tightly closed for shipping using cork or wooden wedges under the key feet. This can put a very deep seat in the pad by the time the instrument reaches its destination. It can also compress any "squishy" linking material between keys causing the sax to go out of regulation. In our shop, (when time permits) we uncork new instruments and let the compressed pads and corks recover for a few weeks before doing any final adjustments. Part of the solution would be to use a firmer material than regular cork between key linkages and to clamp keys as lightly as possible for travel. Remember that as the package that the sax is in gets knocked around, that keys still can get bent inside the case---especially if the keys are a softer brass.
Rick Adams said:
If the answer to the above is "no" then is there any point in having a factory set up at all if a shop set up is required anyway? Would it not be better just to get the shop to do it and perhaps reduce costs by removing one step in the chain?
Using my definition of "set-up", the factory should "set-up" the sax as part of the manufacturing process in the "middle of the road" fashion mentioned above. In my opinion they should also be responsible to "adjust and regulate" the sax on site and to have a skilled player play test each instrument before it is packaged. The feedback from this adjustment process would be critical to see if parts are shaped and fit correctly, and that the pads are seating properly etc. If this is done well, and the sax is made with the best available materials, and the keys are not closed too tight for shipping, and if the cases are not handled roughly during transit then the final regulation and adjustments at the destination should be minor, but required nevertheless.

Good luck with your new business Rick. In my opinion Yamaha is a great role model for someone starting out in a business such as yours, they seem to "get it right" most of the time. By the way I miss your old Avatar.:)
 

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This is just once instance where purchasing from your local dealer (vs. mail-order or internet) is highly suggested. Most dealers will have a tech available for such tweeking, where as many times the other sources basically ship instruments to the purchaser in the same shipping carton in which they received it. Hence, instruments are often never even looked at, much less played, checked and adjusted as needed. Band instruments (especially woodwinds) are usually not simple "plug-n-play" items.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
JBT you are a star, thank you for such a comprehensive answer. It all makes sense, I'll pass your comments on about lightly securing the keys for transit and think about how best to offer local set up / adjustment and regulation options. Jerry thanks too, I agree with the sntiment of what you are saying. It's always a trade off between cost and benefit, but you can't beat having a local friendly techie!

Which one, the frog or Gomez Addams? Anyway, for obvious reasons this current one won't last long if this new venture takes off.

By the way I like your new avatar too - who do you think you are, Moses? Oh, you are Moses... fair enough then! :D
 

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Transit is often blamed for a whole host of problems that I believe go back to the factory.

I have adjusted and shipped many, many saxes around my country.

It is very, very rare for a customer to report dissatisfaction about that set-up when it arrives. And I never clamp keys in transit.

It is is also fairly obvious, next time I eventually see the instrument, that any changes in adjustment mostly happen from normal use rather than anything that could be attributed to transit.

On the other hand, take those horrible wedges out of a new instrument, leave it for a few hours, and it almost ALWAYS needs adjustment, adjustment of the type that was NEVER made at the factory. Example... a 0.5 mm leak at the back of a stack key pad just does not happen in transit. Take a Selmer Paris soprano... Ex-factory, it is NORMAL for ALL of the most inaccessible pads, most protected from transit damage, to seal poorly.

Don't too quickly blame the messenger!
 

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Discussion Starter #15
So Gordon, a decent set up at the factory and careful shipping without wedging and clamping would be your preference?
 

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I never wedge oboe, cor anglais or clarinet keys closed when they're being shipped all cased up, so I don't see the need for saxes or clarinets to have their keys jammed or held closed with composite cork or foam wedges (as well as elastic bands or some other over-engineered spring clamp device that Buffet use on their clarinets to hold the LH E/B lever closed, putting pressure on the nylon pin!) that compress the pads and the key corks.

There is much less force applied to a freely moving (unwedged) key in transit than there is to a key operated by the player as the usual knocks they'll encounter during transit won't do any harm to the keywork if it's left flapping about under it's normal spring tension.
 

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Rick Adams said:
So Gordon, a decent set up at the factory and careful shipping without wedging and clamping would be your preference?
Yes.

I totally agree with Chris. Nor are flute keys wedged closed during transit.

The normally closed pads do not actually need much resilience, but the normally-open pads do, especially with all the linkages involved. Wedging them closed damages the resilience in the pads. Wedging them closed while in a state of poor, or non adjustment, does a LOT of damage to them! Sometimes replacement is the only realistic solution.
 

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I, too, agree with Chris. I never wedge for shipping, and doesn't seem to be a problem. An hours worth of hard play by a professional musician beats on the action much harder than any 'shaking and jiggling' in transit. Clamping, especially at the key foot, is completely un-natural stress on the mechanism. If an excessively clamped horn gets hot (sitting on a pallet out on a tarmac or a dock) while clamped, all kinds of stuff can shift, as all the glues/adhesives are thermoplastic.
 

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So then, we must all wonder why it is that saxophone manufacturers feel that they must block/wedge their instruments prior to leaving their facility. I'd love to hear their reasoning. We've never had a problem shipping instruments as they are. :D
 

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Discussion Starter #20
By good fortune or good design, the sax I received from my Taiwanese manufacturer was not clamped or wedged. I'd like to improve the strength of the outside cardboard box and the action was quite stiff, but it played very well straight out of the box and it was certainly no stiffer than my new Keilwerth was, and that was after the shop setup for the Keilwerth!

Thanks everyone, this is very useful knowledge.
 
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