Making a good setup feel great.
This article describes some of the problems that an otherwise excellent vintage horn can have, and how we can improve the existing setup.
One of my regular clients just purchased a Selmer Mark VI tenor sax. He got it for great price and it’s structurally sound, but he reported a few problems…
When I examined the instrument, I found that the setup and regulation was not as bad as I had expected, but the key touches for each group of keys were not aligned to each other, meaning that each finger operated on a different (not parallel) plane than the others.
How does this happen? There are several possible causes, including bumper thickness, pad thickness, dented posts, and bent spatulas. To do the job correctly, we need to determine why the misalignment exists. A lot of players (and even some techs) will bend levers indiscriminately without checking to see if the problem is actually elsewhere.
This horn also “featured” Selmer’s infamous ball joint connectors for the side Bb and side C keys. Instead of the lever connecting directly to the pad cup, there is an extra piece inserted in between the lever and the pad cup. This design, which Selmer eventually discontinued, provides twice as many opportunities for noise and lost motion.
Additionally, the contact is metal-to-metal on both sides of this connector. Most other saxophones have side keys that can be set up with silencing materials (usually cork and/or teflon), but with this design, the pieces have to fit tight on their own. There’s no room to fill the gaps with anything. I’ve heard of techs packing these bearing surfaces with grease, but that wouldn’t be a permanent repair. Applying oil would be even more temporary. The only real solution is to swedge these parts to a perfect fit.
If you fit everything too tight as you’re swedging these parts, the whole mechanism binds so the keys will either feel sluggish or get stuck. To avoid this issue as you’re fitting this lovely contraption, you have to make sure both holes (one on the connector, one on the lever) and both pins (one on the pad cup, one on the connector) stay perfectly round.
Along with the key fitting, there was some typical leak work to be performed. A few minor dents. And an unusual cosmetic issue…
Somehow the surface of the bell was covered with pimples. Not “dimples” pushed in from the outside, but “pimples” popped out from the inside. I still can’t figure out how in the world they got there. Either someone did a terrible job with their dent rod when repairing something else in there, or more likely, the previous owner put something with sharp edges down the bell. A folding sax stand not in a padded bag would definitely be able to inflict this kind of damage.
The pictures show only two (2) pimples, but there were at least a dozen that had to be burnished out.
If you have a vintage sax (or flute, or trumpet, or bassoon, or…you get the picture) that is close but not quite there, it doesn’t always require an overhaul to fix these kinds of issues. Each situation is unique, but regardless of the cause(s), I can put the finishing touches on your existing setup to turn a horn that feels okay into a horn that feels impeccable.