Oboes! Are they Satan’s Instrument? Well, yea!

Here’s one that you don’t see everyday. These photos are of a student model oboe specifically the upper and lower joints of the oboe. I am focusing on the center of the photo where the upper and lower joints come together. The upper photo is a little further away from the oboe. Do you see anything odd or out of the ordinary? Now look at the lower photo. Where the two joints, or sections, meet you will see two rods that have backed out of their designated locations. Still focusing on the center of the photo, the rod on the left is protruding out of the silver plated post on the upper joint. On the right the same thing is happening, the lower joint rod is protruding out of the post. This can cause several problems but the biggest issue is when you put the two joints together these two rods now hit each other. This hinders some keys from lining up properly which means that the keys don’t operate correctly or they don’t operate at all. Needless to say the Satanic instrument will not play the way it should play. Luckily, or maybe not so luckily, this is an easy fix. img_20161012_1347465591img_20161012_1348581

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Seasonal Saxes

As the seasons change so does my Saxophone Yard Art. All summer my trio of green Bundy II alto saxes greeted my clients as they entered my driveway. Now that it’s fall the saxes have changed to reflect the season. As you see the trees and leaves behind the saxes you will notice the yellowish, greenish-brown coloration. Well, these altos have become chameleons as they attempt to blend in with the surrounding flora in the neighborhood.


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Somebody Mugged My Trombone

The continuing Before & After photos. These parts are from the same trombone. Photo 1 is of a dented trombone bell. When the student put the horn in the case he didn’t remove the mouthpiece from the hand slide section of the horn. Consequently, when he closed the case, each and every time, the mouthpiece smashed into the bell and dented it. Obviously he must have played quite a bit. Photo 2 shows the bell de-dented, at least as much as I could de-dent it. Plus, the lacquer finish is badly scratched. Next, the hand slide. Photo 3 is the inner hand slide which has become un-soldered from itself. This shouldn’t happen unless the horn was mistreated. This inner slide section goes into the outer slide. The outer slide is the part of the horn you see the trombonist move back and forth when he is playing. In photo 4 I reassembled and re-soldered the inner slide. Not only does the inner slide have to be attached solidly to itself but it also must be perfectly aligned with the outer slide. Ideally it should move almost effortlessly.


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An Old Red Saxophone. Why is it red?

This is an old Buescher tenor sax that is from one of the local schools. Normally when you see a sax it is a shiny, gold color which is actually brass. The sax is shiny because the brass has been buffed to a high luster and then the brass is covered with a type of lacquer which is either sprayed on or baked on. This lacquer finish keeps the brass looking shiny for many years. The sax in the photo was made in 1928 or 1929, making this an 88 year old instrument. After decades and decades of being handled by a multitude of students, who never wipe off the horn after playing it, the lacquer deteriorates. It wears off or it simply flakes off leaving the raw brass subject to the elements or to the students, which ever get to it first. The reddish color is a chemical reaction called oxidation which primarily affects the surface of the metal. Now, brass is an alloy consisting of copper and zinc. Depending on the proportion of copper to zinc in the brass the oxidation can appear quite different from horn to horn. This one has a lovely reddish patina, however it can also appear as a greenish-yellow or any shade in between. This horn, and many like it which I continue to cobble together, are still being used in all of our local schools. Our students deserve new and better horns. Why are they still playing on instruments that their grandparents most likely played? The budgets allocated to a majority of the local band programs is shameful. Many band programs, especially the high school bands, are relegated to having bake sales or selling fruit or light bulbs or whatever to raise enough money to purchase much needed equipment, music, etc. This has not changed since I was a young, 10 year old beginning player. Music, and the arts in general, have always been treated like the “red-headed stepchild”. After 48 years of playing saxophone and 44 years of repairing band instruments I just haven’t seen that much improvement in what students and band directors have to deal with in the world of music education. More to come.



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You have a dirty, dirty horn!

Once again I present to you some “Before & After” photos. These are the rotors from a Paxman French horn that came into the shop last week. The first photo shows the rotors from a double horn and as you can see there is a significant amount of bluish/green buildup on both the four rotors and the back bearings which are the pieces directly above the rotors. In the second photo, abracadabra, like magic the rotors and back bearings are clean as a whistle. Actually it’s far from magic. The rotors were scoured using a dremel with a small brass brush then they were put into a de-greaser to remove all unwanted sludge & grit and finally they go into a chemical cleaner designed to clean brass parts. The same procedure was also done to the rotor casings which are attached to the French horn itself. Next, I wipe everything down with denatured alcohol and then reassemble the horn. Nothing to it, a piece of cake, etc., etc., etc. The majority of French horns that come into my shop need this same procedure.
Paxman horns are British made and seem to be nice instruments. They are not as common in this country but they do pop up now and then.


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What Happened to my Bass Clarinet?

Before and After pictures. Aren’t they the best? Today you are looking at a Vito bass clarinet which is made of ABS plastic. This bass clarinet has an upper joint & a lower joint just like a regular Bb clarinet but this bass clarinet was designed to stay together, in other words, not to be taken apart. However, someone decided to push this instrument past its physical limits and they broke it right where the two joints meet. My photos are of the low C# or upper G# tone hole, depending on which register you are playing in. Obviously a chunk of plastic was broken out of the aforementioned tone hole. Luckily, as I scoured through the case I found the missing piece, still intact. So, this was a moderately easy fix because I was able to “super-glue” the missing piece back into place. A little bit of clean up where the seams met but that was it. This horn will live for another school year to be mauled by another non-caring, oblivious high school student that doesn’t have to pay for such damage. Oh yeah, this is not a privately owned instrument, this is an instrument that is owned by the school and our tax dollars pay for.


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What Brands Of Horns Should Be Avoided!

Here is a list that I put together, in about an hour this morning, of instrument brands that should be avoided like the plague. I’m sure that there are other brands that I have missed but this list should cover a majority of the “super hideous horns” that no one should buy. Some of the sellers of these instruments will say that they are made in Kansas City, Missouri, Rancho Cucamonga, California or wherever but they are lying through their digital teeth. Most of the Chinese horns are probably made in the same factory but they simply stamp a different brand name on the horn before it gets shipped out to unsuspecting and musically uneducated parents. Just because it’s “shiny” doesn’t mean that it’s good. Most decent horns will be brass, gold colored. that is lacquered. A few decent horns might have a black lacquer. However, when you see instruments that come in red, green, blue, yellow or purple you should run away screaming. Those horns are nothing but junk and would be best used as a doorstop or a wall hanging. Later today I’ll put together a list of brand name instruments that are OK and I’ll send that to you also. Now that I’m letting parents know “what brands not to buy” I guess I should tell them “what brands to buy”.  If you have questions please contact me.

Michael Elswick

Elswick Band Instrument Repair
434-973-4299 – shop

Allora – Chinese
Amati-Kraslice – Czechoslovakian
Antigua – Chinese
Artemis – Chinese
BandNow – Chinese
Bentley – Chinese
Berkley – Chinese
Bestler – Chinese
Blue Moon – Chinese
Bridgecraft – Chinese
Cecilio – Chinese
Cibaili – Chinese
Diamond – Chinese
Earlham – Chinese
Etude – Taiwanese
First Act – Chinese
Glory – Chinese
Grand – Chinese
Gruskin – Chinese
Harmony – Chinese
Hawk – Chinese
Heimer – Chinese
Heinse – Chinese
Iolite – Chinese
Jean Baptiste – Chinese
Jean Paul – Chinese
Jinyin – Chinese
Johnson – Chinese
Lark – Chinese
Laval – Chinese
Lindo – Chinese
Maxtone – Chinese
Mendini by Cecilio – Chinese
Monique – Chinese
Palatino – Chinese
Parrot – Chinese
Rex – Chinese
Roy Benson – Chinese
Schill – Chinese
Selman – Chinese
Simba – Chinese
Sky – Chinese
Steuben – Chinese
TaiShan – Chinese
Top Tone – Chinese
Venus – Chinese
Wexler – Chinese
Weimer – Chinese
Wernburg – Chinese

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Acclimating to Your Horn

Even after 43 years of repairing wind instruments, I continue to be reminded of subtle details of playing these instruments. Today I am addressing woodwind instruments and specifically saxophones because I have had so many sax repad jobs come into my shop in a very short period of time. Plus, I have recently repadded my personal saxes during this onslaught of sax repadding. Time and time again I notice how your, or my, playing changes as our horns age or more precisely as the pads age or maybe as we both age. These changes occur so gradually that you don’t notice anything different from one gig to the other.

First, let’s look more closely at a pad and we’ll dissect it to see what we’re dealing with. This is the part of a pad that you mostly see, the leather.



Here is the pad you saw above simply cut in half.



A pad consists of a cardboard back (R), a felt disk on top of that (C) then those two are covered or wrapped with a layer of leather (L).



The deterioration of the pads starts when you blow into your sax. The warm air you blow into the horn is filled with moisture or water vapor. As the warm air cools it loses the ability to hold the water vapor consequently, the vapor condenses and forms water droplets on the inside of your horn and on your pads. Every time you play your horn this process occurs. After the leather covering of the pads get wet and dries out, repeatedly, it eventually causes the leather to lose its suppleness. When this happens there is no longer a tight seal between the pad and the tone hole on the sax body. This is what we call a leak. The leaks start small…… a little pin hole leak here and there or a crack in the leather. So, you unconsciously blow a little bit harder assuming that the problem is you or your reed or the humidity level that day or whatever. The leaking has begun and progressively worsens over a period of months or years. On top of this, let’s say you leave your horn in your car when it’s really cold or really hot. Well, this just exacerbates the leaking issues causing the pads to deteriorate more quickly.

You don’t realize it but you have gotten used to this “love/hate” relationship with your sax. You like the sound of the horn but you hate the way it now plays. Some notes play well and others don’t. Next you bring your horn to me for repair. It might just need a few choice pads replaced and a bit of adjustment or it might need a complete repad.

Ok, we are going to jump ahead. I won’t bore you with all the minutia involved with pad replacement and all the work involved with a complete repad. Let’s just say that all the pads have been replaced and your sax should play like it did when it was new. So, you show up at my shop to retrieve your horn. Of course you want to play it just to confirm that it plays correctly and I also would like you to play it just in case you have any questions about what was done. Initially it seems ok but then you delve into the areas of your horn where you were compensating the most and it doesn’t play right. Why? Because you’re still compensating and you don’t need to compensate any more. Now, let the acclimating begin! It’s like starting out with a new instrument. You might even suspect that I didn’t do a good job or I missed something. Hey, I’ll be more than glad to look over your horn again. However, I can guarantee you that I have looked at every key, every pad, every tone hole, every post and every spring dozens of times. What this all comes down to is you need to unlearn a bunch of bad habits that you have progressively adopted over a long period of time. This can easily happen to all of us.

Here’s another scenario, let’s say you have just “had it” with your horn and you decide to buy a brand new sax. You are going for top of the line, Selmer Reference 54 or maybe a Yamaha Custom Z, 875EX or whatever. The point is it’s brand new, not a leak anywhere on this horn. So you try out this new AX and you don’t really like it that much. Why? Again, because you’re still playing like you did on your old horn. You wouldn’t think there is a “learning curve” or a “get used to it curve” but there is. This situation is neither good or bad it’s simply just the way it is.

In closing I am reminded of the immortal words of Buckaroo Bonzai, “No matter where you go, there you are”!


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A recent repair. A 1944 Selmer “55” Clarinet

This is a Selmer “model 55” clarinet that came into the shop last week. I did an overhaul on it meaning it was disassembled, the instrument is washed to remove the mold, (see the lower photo) the barrel, body and bell which are grenadilla wood are all saturated with bore oil. This keeps the wood supple so it does not split or crack. Then the keys, which are solid silver, are buffed, all the key corks and tenon corks are replaced and finally all the pads are replaced. Keys are straightened, if needed, and I regulate and adjust all the mechanisms.

This clarinet was made near the end of the second World War, circa 1944 -1945. I don’t always do research on all the instruments that come into my shop but I did on this one. One reason is I was recently reading about the history of the Selmer company and this clarinet just happened to arrive during my research. The gentleman that owns it wants it to go to someone that will actually use it. A man after my own heart. Horns/instruments should be used and not sit in closets or basements and deteriorate.




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Heading to a Wedding on the Outer Banks

I will be out of the shop Friday the 3rd and Monday the 6th. However, the wild and ever vigilant Martha will be here, both days, from 8:30am – 1:30pm. So, please call for an appointment if you have something to drop off or pick up. I will be back bright and early on Tuesday morning ready to do estimates on the previous weekends ill gotten booty, or is it ill booten gotty, Party On and remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

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