Restoring a Broken Saxophone Key

An overhaul is more than just replacing the pads…

Recently I took in an ailing Selmer Mark VI tenor for an overhaul. One of the steps during disassembly is to fit the keys tightly to the posts. The keys and posts wear down over years of use, so we correct this by swedging the hinge tubes and countersinking the posts.

During this step, I discovered a major problem that required attention. The front F bridge (the key that connects the front F key to the high F key) was broken at the small end of the hinge tube. While both pieces were there, the broken end was too short and misshapen. Due to this damage, it would have been difficult to solder the pieces in a manner that would last, and no amount of swedging was going to make the key fit properly.

In some cases, a new key can be obtained and used in place of the broken one. But this is hard to find for a fifty-year-old Mark VI. While I could probably get a key for a current Selmer model and coerce it to fit, the original condition and value of the horn would then be in jeopardy.

The best solution was to make a new part to replace the broken hinge tube section. So I took a piece of brass, chucked it in the lathe, and machined a part that would match the outer diameter of the existing key. Then I machined one end to have a narrower diameter, to fit inside the key as a pilot. This step makes alignment, soldering, and drilling easier and more accurate.

After the drilling was completed, I fitted the key to the posts using a variety of specialized hand tools. When making a new part, it’s always a good idea to keep it a little bit long so it can be fitted exactly. Removing material is much easier than putting it back. After fitting, I polished the new part of the key to remove any soldering residue. The key was left unlacquered because the other keys on the horn had little to no lacquer. Before long, the new part will oxidize and match the existing patina, resulting in a repair that should be nearly impossible to detect.

When you make the commitment to have your irreplaceable vintage sax overhauled, be sure that your tech won’t just throw in new pads. Most of the really important steps of the overhaul take place before the padding and regulating, and if done properly, result in a sax that is easy for the tech to set up and will stay in excellent adjustment for many years.

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