This is a 1941 Buescher “Big B” Alto Sax which some consider to be a tremendous playing instrument. As I got into disassembling it, cleaning it, repadding it, etc., I ran into more problems than I initially saw during my estimate. A couple of the pivot screws, they hold the keys onto the horn, were rusted into the posts. Not only that but, someone had tried to get the rusted screws out and proceeded to gnarl up the head of the screw. Now, no kind of screw driver would fit the screw slot. Hell, the screw slot was gone. Luckily, after I extracted the stuck screws I did have replacement screws for this 77 year old horn.
Next, this sax originally had pads that were held into the keys using a domed metal snap. The snaps double as a device not only to hold the pad in place but also as a resonator. A resonator is on most all pads, these days, and is used to reflect the sound out of the horn. Many years ago sax pads did not have resonators. Pads were basically a piece of round, flat felt that were wrapped with leather. The leather soaked up a majority of the sound so, the horns sounded more muffled. The resonators helped give the instrument more volume and more clarity. The reason I mention the domed metal snaps (resonators) is because they held the pads in by snapping to a spud that was soldered inside the pad cup (key). Whoever did the last work on this horn attempted to cut out or grind out the spuds so they could use conventional, current day pads that don’t use snaps. Unfortunately, they did not completely grind out the spuds in any of the keys. This is a problem because the pads that you are now putting into the horn will not lay perfectly flat inside the pad cup (key). If it doesn’t lay flat in the key then it won’t evenly cover the tone hole…….this is bad. Consequently, I had to regrind the spuds out of every key with a pad in it. That’s 24 keys.
My next hurdle was I also had to fabricate a piece, that had been broken off, for the octave mechanism. Fortunately I keep pieces of brass rod in stock and with the assistance of my metal lathe I was able to make a suitable replacement part.
I would venture to say that this complete repad adventure took about 20 hours. That’s quite a bit longer than most repads take. In the final analysis the horn did play well. It has a big, fat ol’ sound for an alto sax.
I would like to add recorders to my resume of instruments, and other things, that I repair. This particular one is a Kung bass recorder which is Swiss made, three piece instrument. I’m sure you are asking yourself, “What does one need to repair on a recorder”? Look at the first photo with the recorder disassembled. The piece closest to you has stripes of cork attached to each end. These are called tenon corks. They provide enough traction or friction to hold the other two pieces in place securely when the instrument is completely assembled, as in the second photo. These tenon corks can become compressed or chipped which hinders them from holding the other pieces securely. Then the piece closest to you, again, has three keys on it. Each key has a pad in it that covers a “tone hole”. A “tone hole” is an opening in the body of the instrument. Now the piece farthest away from you is the bell. It, also, has a key on it that has a pad. After much use the “pads” become dry and less brittle. This impedes their ability to properly seal around the tone holes which causes leaks. Then, leaks affect the pitch, tonality and play-ability of the instrument. So, I replaced all the tenon corks and all the pads. Now the recorder plays as good as it did when it was new.
Last week I had this leviathan of an instrument come into the shop for repair. It is truely a contrabass flute. You probably will not see someone busking on a street corner with one of these however, if you get to see a flute choir then it is possible that they will have one of these playing the bass parts. Notice in the first photo, I laid a regular flute in the case with the disassembled contrabass flute. In the second photo my resident administrative wench and contrabass flute holder, Martha, is wishing she were as tall as this instrument. If you would like one of these they only cost $15,000.00! Such a deal.
I was at a NAPBIRT seminar a few weeks ago and saw this. Oh, NAPBIRT stands for National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians. Really! The seminar was at UNC Greensboro, NC. One of the speakers was Chip Owen who is one of the main bassoon makers at Fox Bassoons. He has worked there for 50 years. The photo shows his personal contrabassoon which he made himself. I was at the seminar for two days and during that time I talked with a bunch of “repair geeks”. Some were even bigger “geeks” than me. Turns out that Chip and I had worked in the same repair shop in Libertyville, IL, Sage Band Instrument Repair, but at different times. Hey, how often do you get to see a contrabassoon.
I had an interesting sax come into the shop a couple of weeks ago. It is a Selmer “Cigar Cutter” sometimes called a Selmer “Super” sax. I haven’t seen many of these, over my 45 years of repairing, primarily because they’re old and there weren’t many made. For example, the Mark VI’s Selmer’s Best Sax, were made for 20 years before they were discontinued. The “Cigar Cutters” were only made from 1930 – 1933. These were the third incarnation of Selmer saxes. The first being the Model 22 which was appropiately named since it was originally made in 1922. The second one was the Model 26. And yes, it was made in 1926. Now we’re up to the “Cigar Cutter/Super”. Each model brought an improvement or two over the previous model. The engraving on this one looks almost exactly the same as my Model 22. Anyway, just an interesting horn from days goneby and part of a legacy of some of the best saxophones ever made.
In the process of replacing the inner slide I ended up on a bizarre treasure hunt, as you will see below. I knew that something was stuck inside the inner slide but I didn’t know what and didn’t really care. In the photo below, the item on top is the new inner slide, fresh and undamaged. On the bottom is the old, severely damaged inner slide. And yes, I changed my mind and really did wonder what was stuck in it. I tried to poke things out but to no avail. It was jammed up tight. So, I started cutting it apart, in sections, with a tube cutter and finally a pair of metal shears. Ok, from the left…..the first section which is about 9″ long has two yellow pencils jammed in it. The next two sections, each about 4’5″ to 6″ long had a blue pencil and something else shoved into it. The next three sections to the right had a piece of white cleaning cloth, I assume, and the orangish/reddish piece of a cleaning brush with a short metal stem that was broken off. I gather that one item got stuck and as they attempted to extract that piece the next piece got stuck and then the next piece got stuck, etc. So, all this prodding and jamming and shoving ended up denting the inner slide from the inside/out. In other words, it wasn’t dented in, it was dented out. That caused the outer slide to be damaged consequently both pieces of the hand slide had to be replaced. Who says horn repair isn’t exciting!
Here is a Conn 10M tenor sax which was made in the 1936. It was in the shop last week for a little tune up. Notice in the midst of the engraving on the bell there is a pentagon. Inside the pentagon is an image of a woman. She is referred to as the Naked Lady. Why? I don’t know. She doesn’t look naked to me. Maybe she is naked from the waist down and we just can’t see it. The story I have heard for years is the image of the woman is of the wife, of the guy who did the actual engraving. At any rate, many sax players think these Conn 10M’s are the best sounding horns ever made. I will say that after I repaired the horn I did give it a play and for an 81 year old horn it does have a BIG sound, which is good.
My wife, Vanessa, was on the hunt for a nice trash can for a house warming gift, specifically a metalic one. All the ones she found were crazy expensive. Finally she discovered this one which was marked down because of the damage. So, she says to herself, “Maybe Mikey can fix this”. Over the years I have repaired everything, besides wind instruments, from a Porsche manifold to a silver tea pot. Why not give it a try! The top photo is obviously the “Before” and the lower photo is the “After”. I think it came out pretty well.