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Bench Notes #16

Issue #16 - June 2013


Everyone loves their saxophone, flute, and clarinet repair kits. These kits have everything a player needs to learn the trade. They contain professional tools and supplies as well as detailed written instructions on how to use them. Even online support is included. Players, students, and aspiring technicians can perform minor repairs such as removing leaks, changing felt bumpers, or adjusting the springs with little to no previous repair experience with the help of the repair kits. Many technicians around the world have even started their careers with them!

Over the years we have upgraded, improved, and expanded the kits to cover most minor emergency repairs and right now we are working on yet another update. Instead of written manuals only, we want to include instructional videos that should make each repair even clearer and easier.

We've taken the first step towards this goal by shooting a video on how to replace a neck cork. Look out for more videos like this in the near future!


A pad's job to seal on a tone hole is very simple. Selecting the right pad and taking the steps necessary to make it seal on a tone hole, however, takes patience and experience. After you have addressed all the variables of padding, you need to select the correct pad for your job. This article will cover the basics of selecting the right pad for your instrument.

A pad consists of some type of skin, bladder, or synthetic material wrapped around a felt with a cardboard backing. The job of the leather or bladder is to provide a reliable surface for contacting the tone hole. The felt serves as a cushion which must be pliable enough to conform to the shape of the tone hole, soft enough to not make a lot of noise when it contacts the tone hole, and firm enough for the player to feel the point of contact.

When selecting a pad, there are many variables to consider. Ease of installation, firmness, durability, and cost will help you decide on the right pad for your instrument.

Bladder Pads

Bladder pads are used in most piccolos, flutes, clarinets, and oboes. bladder pads are made with a double layer of Goldbeater's skin. This transparent skin is made from the membrane of calf ox intestines, and is very thin, durable, and resistant to moisture. Goldbeater's skin derives its name from its original purpose, which was as a laminate when making gold leaf, an extremely thin layer of gold which was generally used for decorative purposes.

The bladder is wrapped around a felt with squared edges and backed with cardboard. Two layers of the bladder give the pad more durability and extend its lifetime. There are several types of clarinet pads which differ based on the type of felt used.

The Medium Woven clarinet pads feature a softer woven felt which is suitable for novice technicians and for student instruments due to the ease of installation and the value price. These pads are soft and conform, but they are not as perfectly flat as other pads. Installing these pads and getting a good seal is simple, but leveling them to an extremely tight tolerance can be more difficult.

Medium Pressed Felt clarinet pads feature a firmer feel, which is ideal for more demanding players. The premium Deep Weave TM pressed felt has parallel fibers which allow it to take a seat, yet it holds it shape well without too much give. The Felt in these pads is the finest felt available anywhere. It is very costly, but it holds up well over time and does not change with temperature and humidity.

Thin Pressed Felt clarinet pads use the same premium Deep Weave TM pressed felt, but are thinner for customers requiring a thin pad for their instrument. These can also be used with oboes in addition to professional clarinets.

Clarinet pads are floated into the pad cup on a layer of adhesive, such as Adhesive PelletsHot Glue, or Shellac, and the seal is checked with the use of a feeler gauge or a leak light. Check out the following articles to help you with padding your clarinet: Measuring Clarinet Pad CupsLocating Pad Leaks with a Flexible Leak Light, and Two Basic Types of Leaks.

- Piccolo

Piccolo pads from are made with a double layer of yellow Goldbeater's skin with a thin, firm woven felt. They are installed with an adhesive, similar to clarinet pads.

- Flute Flute pads are made with a double layer of yellow Goldbeater's Bladder wrapped around firm woven felt with a cardboard backing. Flute pads are purchased with thickness being a primary consideration. They are available in 2.5mm, 2.7mm, and 2.9mm. Measure your current flute pad to determine the proper thickness of flute pads for a particular instrument.

Flute pads are also available in as Open Hole or Closed Hole. Most student flutes are closed hole and most professional flutes are open hole.

Flute pads are installed "dry" and are most often held in place with a metal washer and screw or a plastic spud in closed hole flutes or with a retaining grommet in open hole flutes. A pad seal is created by bending the pad cup to conform to the tone hole or by using shims behind the pad to conform it to the tone hole.

Leather Pads

Leather pads are made with a very thin and soft piece of leather wrapped around a firm woven felt with a cardboard backing. Saxophone pads are used with a resonator in larger sizes, while clarinet and bass clarinet pads are not.

The process for attaining the quality of leather necessary for a good pad is much more involved than the standard leather tanning process. The leather is thinned through a process called skiving, in which a sharp blade is used to slice the thickness of the leather down to .3mm. The cell structure in a cow leather has cell fibers running in all directions and when it is skived to the appropriate thickness, many of the fibers are cut and the leather becomes delicate. This has long been a consideration in pad making, and is why leather pads in an instrument need to be replaced from time to time.

- Saxophone Saxophone pads are hand assembled, using high quality leather wrapped around firm woven felt with a cardboard backing. They are also sold with a variety of resonator options.

Resonators are attached to the pad with a rivet and they reflect sound back into the bore of the saxophone. While there are a lot of theories in the saxophone repair field about the different sizes, shapes, and types of metals used in resonators, it is often difficult to pinpoint with certainty the specific differences that resonators make. Generally, increased surface area of the resonator is attributed to free-blowing and "brightness". Less surface area is attributed to a "darker" sound. Because the resonator is only one contributor amongst many factors in sound production, it is best to let the player decide what they like best.

From least surface area to most, the resonators go from: rivet, flat metal, domed, seamless domed, Maestro Classic, and Maestro Airtight. In the Sax ProShop, we generally like to use flat metal resonators on vintage instruments that originally came from the factory with them, such as Conn and Martin saxophones. For most other saxophones, Seamless Domed metal resonators are a great choice because of their versatility. Many players who are seeking more projection will choose Maestro resonators.

Saxophone pads are installed with an adhesive such as Shellac (the Z-Gun makes this process faster and more precise) or Hot Glue, and are checked for a good seal using a leak light, such as the Nova.

For more information about padding a saxophone, check out these articles: Four Variables of Sax Pad InstallationDry Fitting Saxophone PadsThe Push and Pull of Installing Pads, and Installing Tan or RooPads in a Buescher Saxophone.

- Bass Clarinet

Tan pads for bass clarinet are similar in nature to saxophone pads, except that they are thinner and do not have a resonator. They are installed with an adhesive and checked for a good seal with a leak light.

- RooPads and Saxgourmet Pads

Because it is so difficult to produce a supple, thin, and durable leather for pads, Curt Altarac, owner of, searched for an alternative leather that could be very thin yet would be durable and not tear. He discovered that kangaroo leather was very durable, but it necessitated that he work with a leather processing facility to develop a method for making the leather thin and supple. Once he had achieved this, RooPads were born.

The reason that kangaroo leather is so much more durable than cow or goat leather is because of the cell structure. In kangaroos, and in fact all marsupials, the leather cell fibers run parallel to the surface of the skin. As the leather is skived, most of the cell fibers remain intact and the leather retains its strength and elasticity.

Some of the difficulties involved with using kangaroo leather is that not all of the leather has a tight grain structure necessary for creating a good seal over a tone hole. Therefore, it must be carefully sorted for quality before it can be skived to the appropriate thickness. Because of the immense amount of work in obtaining a suitable kangaroo leather, it is quite costly.

Many of our saxophone customers have asked about the difference between RooPads and Saxgourmet pads. Both are made by using kangaroo leather, firm woven felt, and a cardboard backing. RooPads are white, which is the natural color of kangaroo leather. For the Saxgourmet pads, the leather has been dyed black. The black dye makes the leather a little more dense, so the pads are not quite as soft as RooPads. SaxGourmet pads are slightly more waterproof and easier to clean than the white RooPads.

The RooPads are very advantageous for classical recording artists due to the little pad noise, and the Saxgourmet pads are very popular amongst our rock, soul, funk friends due to the density of the leather. For everyone in between, both pads will yield great results.

RooPads for Clarinet and Bass Clarinet are made from the same white kangaroo leather as RooPads for saxophone, but they are thinner and made to fit the pad cups of the respective clarinets. RooPads for clarinet and bass clarinet are significantly more long lasting than their bladder and tan leather counterparts.

We have heard from some technicians that they have successfully modified the RooPads for Bass Clarinet in order to use them in bassoons.

Jim Schmidt Pads

Jim Schmidt's pads are made from a synthetic skin which has been imbedded with gold particles. The Gold Pads are gold-plated with black dry lubricant embedded in the surface. The Black Gold pads are embedded with a large amount of black dry lubricant, which gives them their darker closer and reduces stickiness. Instead of a felt, the cushion which helps the pad seal quietly against the tone hole is made from ultrasuede and a special retaining wall holds the ultrasuede and the synthetic skin in place.

The Jim Schmidt Gold and Black Gold Saxophone Pads come with the option of domed stainless steel resonators or domed nickel silver resonators. The Jim Schmidt Gold and Black Gold Flute Pads are available in open and closed hole varieties, with pad sets containing Magic Dust lubricant, Delrin French Bushings, Stabilizers, and Retainer Seals.

We have used the Jim Schmidt pads in the Sax ProShop with great results. The metallic pads were easy to work with and gave the saxophone a brighter and edgier sound. When questioned about the sound differences in his pads, our friend Jim Schmidt claims that his pads don't make a horn brighter, they just allow the sound of the horn to naturally project without damping the higher harmonics in the sound.

Cork Pads

As opposed to other woodwind pads, cork pads are quite simple in that they are composed only of solid natural cork. Cork pads are often used with oboes, the upper joint in professional clarinets, and waterkeys for brass instruments and baritone saxophones. Cork pads come in the standard 3mm thickness but can easily be trimmed to the desired thickness. They are floated in with shellac or hot glue. The natural cork used in Cork Pads is with as little grain as possible to ensure a great seal against the tone hole.

If you have any questions about Pads, feel free to contact us at Pad samples are available by request!