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Brain Applied to Sax- Neil Slade's Amazing Brain Music Adventure

Brain Applied to Sax

The human brain can easily find new solutions to age old problems- just one amygdala click away. When normally dormant frontal lobes creativity circuits are accessed, unexpected superior solutions come to light. Here is one such example below.
(Hmmmm... When else might alternative solutions come in handy?)


In 1973, I was a college music student looking for an alternative to replacing the tone hole pads on my newly acquired alto saxophone, a 1952 Selmer Super Balanced Action model (below). Traditionally animal product leather and/or calf skin pads were used for this job. However, I was a dedicated tree hugging vegetarian and had reservations about using meat by-products to make music. After a bit of asking around the music community, Richard W. Johnston of nearby Boulder, Colorado came to my aid. He was woodwind repair genius who regularly was sent instrument rebuilding jobs from around the world, and he had a unique proposal for my problem.

Mr. Johnston developed a new type of woodwind pad construction to solve the problem of specific difficult water soaked keys that do not seal properly on orchestral instruments such as bassoons, clarinets and oboes, and he had made such pads for major orchestra woodwind players.

The unique pad material used in his design was closed cell neoprene rubber, used typicaly in skin diving suits and IBM computer padding. It's advantage over animal materials is that it is totally waterproof and extremely durable. Each pad is constructed of a layer of this material glued to a backing of cardboard, the thickness determined by the individual key and its position on the instrument.

Together we decided to re-pad my entire saxophone as an experiment to see if this pad material would work replacing all of an instrument's pads- something never before tried back in 1973.

The experiment was a resounding success. Not only did the pad material seal all of the tone holes with excellent results, but the action of the saxophone was quieter and the instrument itself resonated with superb tone with a measurable improvement over the standard pad material response. Johnston, a master craftsman with decades of experience, was extremely satisfied with the results, remarking "This whole instrument vibrates when you play it now, quite incredible."
Listen to N.S. play this Sax

Subsequently, Johnston re-padded two of my flutes, a clarinet, and a Selmer Mark VI soprano saxophone. Normal leather, calf skin, and fish skin pads routinely need replacement every few years or even more frequently. Incredibly, these neoprene/skin diver suit pads from the 1970's have all retained their original suppleness, usefulness, and seal. Incredibly, thirty years later, none have needed replacement, and the pads work as well as when they were first installed, despite decades of regular playing and use.

In 1999 I obtained a 1920's Buesher Soprano Saxophone (below) from Blinky's Antique Shop in Denver, Colorado. The shop owner (actually Blinky the Clown of TV fame) recently had brought it back having purchased it from the original owner in a small Kansas town earlier that year. This time I performed the overhaul and re-pad myself, with the same excellent results as all of the previous horns. It just goes to show you what can be accomplished when you are willing to try something new.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS

 


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Its closed cell neoprene-- the last time I got some, it was offered with a shiny smooth version as well as a matte rougher skinned version. You need the shiny stuff which will seal perfectly at the tone hole edges.
The shiny stuff is about $6-$8 a square foot at 1/8" thickness. I use thinner material for the smaller pads 1/16" and 3/32" for my soprano. 1/16" will be too thin for any of your tenor pads, and you will mostly use the 1/8".

If you have never taken your tenor apart before-- be CAREFUL. The key and rod setup can be extremely confusing. Don't mix up the rods, keep everything neat and lay it down the same order that it came off your horn. I warned you. don't bend anything. If you have any doubts about your ability to do this- forget it.
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You will make pads based on the thickness of the leather pad at the seat impression- the round circle that meets at the tone hole edge. When you remove a pad from the cup measure carefully and eyeball this thickness. Then construct a pad using layers of cardboard or poster board, with the top layer being the rubber. Just ordinary quick dry all purpose cement or contact glue will work. You can seat the pad in the tone hole cup with the same cement- I have even used Elmer's glue for this as well.

The hardest part-- and this can be VERY VERY tricky and takes lots of patience, is to make sure there are no leaks after the pad is in place and he horn back together.
I suggest you make and replace ONE PAD AT A TIME. Disassemble, then do another, reassemble, fix for leaks, etc.

Also-- GET RESONATORS for your sax. these are plastic cone shaped inserts that reflect the sound off the pad back into the horn and significantly improve the sound. All the best horns have them. You have to get them from Feree's music supply: 1-800-253-2261 You can tell them you need them for a tenor- get the CONE shaped plastic ones- they sound the very best.
They are not too expensive, but you will probably have to buy more than you need. Make sure the resonator you pick for each pad CLEARS the tone hole-- if it barely fits, its too big, because often a key/pad will not sit exactly center on a tone hole edge. Make sure you have a little extra room around each resonator. fit resonators on every pad you can. Skip the octave keys of course.


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You will need to make a leak light which goes inside the horn. Use a long thin 12 volt fluorescent bulb or a VERY VERY bright incandescent bulb. Get parts from the hardware store. The leak light has to be thin enough to slide all the way down into the narrow end of your horn. I've taken apart a small fluorescent lantern, and jury rigged the light to hang from wires to do this.


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Turn off the room lights, look all around to see if any light escapes the closed tone hole. If you see any light - BAD.
You must adjust the tone hole cup/pad so no light escapes at all with regular pressure on the key.

If you have made the pad the right thickness, it should sit on the tone hole edge with minimal light, or no light, coming out the edge.

If you see a sliver of light-- place a very thin knife blade (THIN blade knife, not a screwdriver which will damage the tone hole edge) on the OPPOSITE SIDE FROM THE LEAK-- press done gently but firmly ON THE LEAK SIDE, remove the blade, and then close the key again. This will adjust the angle of the key cup so that the pad sits flat on the tone hole edge all around. It make take a few tries till you get it perfect. You might shift the leak to another side-- practice makes perfect.

You have to check every pad this way. If the leak is too big-- you have made your pad too thick or too thin. Start again and adjust the thickness of the pad by removing some of the poster board layer- you can usually peel this away-- or add a thin layer of paper or board to make the pad thicker.

Pads up to 1 inch diameter are best cut out with a leather punch set. The only set I know of is a Maun Wad Punch Kit Imperial

http://www.axminster.co.uk/default.asp?part=MAUWPKI  

Send this company an email and they will give you the address/phone of the U.S. distributor for this kit.

It is ESSENTIAL for this job.  Use it on a very soft wood surface so you don't damage the edges of the punch rings.

The larger pads over 1" (many on a tenor) must be cut out carefully with a scissor. This is impossible to do with a scissors and get a nice round pad for the small pads. Get the punch, absolutely.

 Also very handy is a much more common smaller hole punch for punching out the center hole to put in the resonators (there is a 1/8" inch pin that

holds the resonator to the pad)  this looks like pliers looking http://www.tooldealz.com/leatherpunch.html this is a cheap one- your local hobby shop should have one that will last.


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This is a BIG job which takes lots of coordination, dexterity, and patience, as well as the right materials.  IF you are up to it however, you will have a superior sounding horn, with pads you will never ever need to replace as long as you live.

Almost nobody knows about this procedure, it comes as no surprise your typical repairman has never heard of it. But it works better than anything. Often evolution of this sort takes decades before everybody catches on. And of course, using neoprene pads will put a lot of horn repairman out of this kind of job, as well as the pad manufactures. Nobody is rushing to change. although the pads will never wear out- you will periodically have to check for leaks, just with any other normal pad, and adjust.

HAVE FUN!
Neil

 


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