Adding a Front F Key

Fabrication and installation of an extra key.

Modern saxophone keywork is fairly standardized, but there are some notable exceptions. On some saxophones, especially soprano instruments, there is no front F key. This key is useful for certain arpeggio patterns and is the basis of a number of altissimo fingerings, so it’s a pretty important feature for many players.

Recently, a tech contacted me about adding a front F key to a Borgani soprano sax. He was going to perform the rest of the overhaul but decided to outsource this part of the project. After some discussion of the task, we both agreed that a one-piece front F would be the best option for this instrument, mostly because there wasn’t a lot of available space to add a separate key and floating lever.

With some instruments, especially old American saxes, the front F key was optional, which means there are plenty of examples for study, analysis, and duplication. That wasn’t the case with this instrument. Newer Yamaha altos and tenors use a one-piece design, but their sopranos don’t, so there was no way to modify and install an existing part. Given these facts, the only option was to design and build the key from scratch.

This project required the installation of two posts along with the fabrication of the key and a rod to fasten the key to the posts. Because we chose the one-piece design, there was no need to modify anything on the left hand stack, which simplified the job quite a bit.

The first step was to find two posts of the appropriate size and shape. After a visit to my cabinet of spare parts, I found them. I bored one post to accept the rod I was going to use, and tapped threads in the other post to receive that end of the rod. These posts were unlacquered brass, so the next step was to polish and lacquer them to match the rest of the sax.

Once that was completed, I made a rod that would be used to hold the key to the posts, along with a key barrel that would be the foundation of the key.

Next, I soldered the posts to the body, using the rod and key barrel as a guide to ensure perfect alignment. There is always a risk of burning lacquer, so I proceeded carefully and applied most of the heat to the posts rather than the body; that way I could always relacquer the posts afterwards if needed. That turned out to be unnecessary.

The next part of the project was to build the rest of the key. In the parts drawer, I found some clarinet keys that were of a suitable size and shape to serve as donor parts. I needed a touch piece, which came from an “A” key, and enough material at the back end to balance the weight of touch piece and provide a flat surface which would allow for a bumper cork (to set the key height). The part that floats under the high F key was made from a piece of sheet brass, bent to match the radius of the sax body.

After selecting and modifying the pieces (the touch piece needed grinding on the bottom to clear the open C# key, and also needed a flat surface added to support the bumper material, so I brazed a piece of brass stock to provide that), I silver soldered everything together. Once I made sure the alignment and leverage was going to work, I cleaned, polished, and plated the key in nickel to match the rest of the sax’s keywork.

The rest of the job was easy: regulating the key. Teflon on the part that lifts the F key, teflon on a small piece of cork to close the B key, and a cork of the right thickness on the key foot to set the key height.

Then, the fun part – trying out the instrument. I received this sax in pre-overhaul condition and wasn’t contracted to do the overhaul, but I did a very quick playing condition repair to the top section of the sax so I could test the instrument. The result? Smooth action and very clear, in-tune altissimo E, F, F#, and G fingerings. Success!

A side project that was requested was to round out the flattened neck opening. This is a quick and easy procedure but is very important to the tone, pitch, and response of a saxophone.

If you’re a player who is missing a key, wants an existing key modified, or wishes to have a key added, I can help. And if you’re a tech, I’m happy to help you provide this service to your clients; the tech with whom I worked on this project is based on the other side of the US and shipping the instrument is never a problem. Tip: if you ship the instrument without the case it can actually be more secure and is certainly less expensive.

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