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Bench Notes #15

Issue #15 - May 2015

Sax ProShop Restoration and Plating Procedure

"Refinished" used to be one of the dirtiest words to be paired with "saxophone". Not any more. Well, at least not at the Sax ProShop. Introducing the only refinishing process fully integrated into an overhaul resulting in an instrument that is not damaged in any way, with a beautiful satin silver finish and mechanical perfection.

"Re-plate" and "re-lacquer" will send chills down the spines of players and technicians alike: metal from the body buffed away, wildly unlevel tone holes, bent bodies, misaligned posts, ill-fitting keys. An instrument that looks great and will never play well again. Here at the Sax ProShop, we used to never recommend that someone have an instrument refinished, because the buffing and prep procedure was too damaging to the horn to be worth the added value of beauty. Until now, that is!

We were tired of mechanically restoring a vintage instrument without being able to restore or even seriously improve the overall look of it. So we began to research and experiment. The problem seemed to be simple: Every shop everywhere finishes the mechanical work on a saxophone, then buffs and plates. Basically, the instrument gets fully restored and then it's pressed into a buffing wheel that moves all the posts, distorts the body, un-levels the tone holes, and bends the keys. The horn looks beautiful, but it's a real mess. At this point, it gets sent to a plater or lacquer shop, where it is covered in a shiny coat. Now this shiny piece of jewelry needs to be bent back into position to function as a saxophone. The whole process leaves it in worse shape than ever. No wonder it doesn't play well anymore.

The solution was obvious: We needed to prep the instrument in such a way that the plater receives it in perfectly restored condition, so when it comes back to us it doesn't require any bending. To turn this theory into reality was the goal of the Sax ProShop for years. We have been working away building a lacquer room, a buffing room, and setting up the sandblaster for an extra-cool finish. We've been experimenting with different approaches to prepping the instruments. And finally, we have found a solution that grants consistent success! Finally, there is a repair shop in the world where you can send an instrument to be refinished without having to worry that it won't play well anymore when you get it back. The saxophone will play great, it will be in better-than-new mechanical condition, and it will look beautiful.

With our integrated finishing process and series of special tooling, we are proud to say that we've reached our goal and the results are astounding. We are now offering our service to both players (with instruments that we Uberhaul in the shop) as well as technicians. If you are a technician, check out our extensive refinishing process - this service allows you to offer the finest plating and prep work to your customers no matter how many jobs you do each year.

Pad Adhesives

There are a lot of pad adhesives floating around in the market today. Knowing the differences between the various kinds of adhesive and how they work will help you choose the best type of adhesive for your specific job.

Natural Shellac
The earliest pad adhesive was natural shellac. This is a resin made of secretions from a type of beetle mixed with fillers, wax, and alcohol. While useful for its immediate adhesive qualities and a firm feel behind pads, it has long been overshadowed as superior pad adhesives were introduced to the market. This type shellac breaks down over time as the alcohol evaporates, leaving behind a brittle brown mess in the back of the pad cup that is difficult to remove and impossible to reheat. This material must be entirely removed from the cup when a new pad is installed.

Natural shellac is available in stick, flake, and liquid form and is easily identifiable by its earthy smell, often with a hint of pine, which is one of the many fillers contained in it. The stick version is most common and easy to apply. It turns to a liquid when heated and hardens again when cooled. Flake shellac is often dissolved in alcohol to form liquid shellac. Liquid shellac is then "painted" into a pad cup and the pad is set into it. Some companies sell a liquid shellac that is pre-mixed. Of all the types, liquid shellac is the easiest to use as it requires no heat to install. However, it is also the least stable and predictable. The stability of the liquid shellac depends on how fast the alcohol evaporates. Often the technician will believe the shellac is set when, in fact, it is still a liquid behind the pad. All natural shellac expands when heated.

Hot Glue
Hot glue is the most commonly used adhesive because of its ease of use and sticky, flexible hold. It comes in stick and pellet form. These are both very useful for padding clarinets and for some saxophone work. Hot Glue is often used in rental shops and student repairs due to its low cost, availability, and easy dispensing.

Hot glue dispensers are inexpensive, compact, and easy to use, so hot glue's propensity for being dispensed is superior to all other adhesives. The heating elements inside the gun quickly bring the hot glue to flowing temperature and it is possible to apply an exact amount to the back of a pad or in a pad cup.

In the Sax ProShop, we have found that hot glue is not as desirable for precision saxophone padding because the glue expands as it is heated. For instance, if you were trying to remove a small leak in a pad, you would apply heat to that portion of the pad cup. When the glue expands, it makes it seem as though you have eliminated the leak. However, just as soon as the hot glue cools, it shrinks back down and the leak is back again. Evaluating and compensating for this expansion is much of the "art of padding" that technicians will get a feel for. Synthetic Shellac
Synthetic shellac was the answer that we were looking for in the Sax ProShop. After years of research and testing, we were able to develop a synthetic shellac that was easy to work with, didn't expand when heated, doesn't evaporate, and can be reheated indefinitely without changing its properties. We have had instruments come back into the shop after many years, and the shellac behind the pads was the same as it was when it went in. To change a pad, the technician simply added more shellac to the back of the pad and floated it in; no need to clean the existing shellac out of the pad cup. While we exclusively use Clear shellac in the Sax ProShop, it is also available in Amber, White, and Black so it can be matched to the color of pads you are working with.

Synthetic shellac is also easy to dispense when used in the Z-Gun. Heating elements in the Z-Gun bring the shellac up to flowing temperature in just minutes and allows you to apply an exact amount of shellac with the squeeze of a trigger. The shellac cartridges hold two sticks worth of shellac and are available in Clear and Amber. The Z-Gun is slightly more cumbersome to use than a traditional hot glue gun because the heating elements are in the base instead of in the gun itself.

One of our ever-curious techs in the Sax ProShop tried out the "freezer test" to see how the synthetic shellac and the hot glue compared in very cold conditions. Each pad was floated into a pad cup and placed in the freezer. The pad cups were then banged around a bit. The pad with hot glue fell out first with all of the hot glue intact on the back of the pad. The pad with synthetic shellac held on longer and the shellac broke up first before the pad fell out of the padcup. This showed us that the synthetic shellac adhered equally well to the metal of the pad cup and the back of the pad. It also serves to remind our friends up north to not leave your horn in the car trunk during the winter, especially if your pads were installed with hot glue!

There are plenty of methods for padding, so sit down in a dark corner of the room with your instrument, leak light, torch, and pad slick, and see what works best for you. For more tips about padding, check out the articles The Four Variables of Sax Pad Installation and then read The Push and Pull of Pad Installation.

Various New and Improved Products in the Shop has been working closely with the Sax ProShop, designing, prototyping, and testing new tools and other products. Check below for a direct link to each new product on our website or watch the video for a quick demonstration of how to use these new tools. Ask us about the two products that aren't linked; while they are not up on the website yet, we already have them here ready to be sold. We'll also be happy to answer any questions you may have:

New Products:

Body Slam Tool
Knipex Swedging Pliers
Plier Blocks
Body Slam Tool
Knipex Parallel Swedging Pliers
Plier Blocks
Pin Vises Sorbothane Spring Bending Lever
Pin Vises Sorbothane Spring Bending Lever
Minibal Joint Tweezers Small Post Fitting Plier
Minibal Joint Precision Tip Tweezers Small Post Fitting Plier