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Clearing up tones on the Saxophone (octave key modification)

For saxophonists, and particularly those playing acoustically in quartets or solo literature, the hiss that is often found on the second octave notes such as octave A, G# and octave D on many Alto and Baritone saxophones can be a real nuisance. This hiss is most noticeable when playing softly on a hard reed. To the player, the hiss is accompanied with a feeling of resistance. This change in feel and sound is very bothersome and distracting. Luckily it is easily fixed on most saxophones, both the hiss and the resistance often disappear with the simple repair I am going to outline for you.

Before we begin, you must understand which of the two octave keys are open when the offending note is played. The first octave key, found lower down the body of the saxophone, is open on notes from 4th line D to top space G#. The neck octave key, or the octave pad that is closest to the mouthpiece opens from A above the staff and up. Notes most often afflicted with this hiss and resistance are those on the outer edge of a pips 'range'. For example, the second octave pad works from A and up and the worst note is often A. This is the lowest note controlled by the neck octave. Of the notes controlled by the lower octave pip, from D-G#, the D and G# are usually the most resistant and prone to this hiss. Notes in the middle of the pips range are largely not a problem.

It is simple to diagnose this problem and discover if the repair will work before you begin. Here is the procedure for testing this problem: First you will need to procure some cheap pantyhose.

1.Get some pantyhose and cut a strip from the 'leg' of the hose about 1" or 25mm wide.

2.While playing the note with the worst hiss, have a friend stretch the pantyhose strip over the open octave pip. You can test this yourself by placing the pantyhose onto the neck over the pip and tying it on. See the picture below.

3.If the problem is greatly reduced or disappears, this fix will help you.

If you discover that this solution works, you will need to tie the pantyhose over the octave pip. However the pantyhose will cause the small octave pad to leak, this will affect the response of many notes on the instrument. Do not be tempted to stop here . You will need to find a way to make this repair airtight and permanent. I believe there is a better way than the one I use but, to this day, I have not found it. If you have any ideas about this, please contact me.

Here is what I currently do to make this fix more permanent.

Start with the cheapest pantyhose you can find. Some pantyhose are sewn in double strands (the good ones) and some (cheap ones) are single threads. Although either will work, the cheaper pantyhose are easier to work with. You will instantly know which you have when you stretch them over your hand and look at the construction of the pantyhose.

1. Remove the octave key.

2.Using a sharp knife, cut the material into a 1" strip. Tie the pantyhose over the pip.

3. Stretch the pantyhose so there are only about 5 strands going over the pip.

4. Get some high quality 5 minute epoxy and mix it up. Be sure to follow the directions on the label and wear safety goggles.

5. Add heat to the epoxy via a hot air gun of some sort. This will thin the epoxy and allow it to mix better. Heat also removes the air bubbles and makes the epoxy set very hard. I hold the epoxy over my heat gun while it is on heavy paper pallet. Be careful here, the epoxy will get thin and run. Do not heat it up too much just heat the epoxy until it begins to thin out.

6. Put a little epoxy on the pantyhose make sure to get it on the edges AND in the middle over the pip. A small amount of epoxy on the strands of fiber over the pip will strengthen the fibers and make them waterproof.

7. With your safety goggles on, quickly hold one hand over the large end of the neck and blow in the small end. The epoxy on the fibers over the hole will blow off but the remaining epoxy on the fibers will strengthen then and keep them from fraying. Be sure that you are blowing the epoxy onto a surface that it will not harm. Of course you would not want to suck this epoxy into your lungs.

8. Make sure that the epoxy fills in the pantyhose grooves and is not in the pip. Also be certain that the epoxy surrounding the hole in the pip appears to be even and smooth. Although it is possible to sand this epoxy flat the embedded fibers may be damaged. It is best to reach a nice level surface with your epoxy when wet.

9. Wait. let the epoxy set hard. Prop the neck up into an upright position allowing the epoxy to set level.

10. After several hours, cut the pantyhose from around the edges of the pip leaving only a screen over the pip and the entire pip covered with pantyhose.

11. Install a new pad that will now seal on the epoxy layer. For this, I prefer RooPads as they are the least sticky and form the nicest seal on the new surface.

12. Using your mouth as suction or, the MagMachine (for best results) perform a leak test on the neck.

13. Play test paying attention to the response of each note. Too much material in the pip will inhibit the response of notes. Too little will not solve the hiss. if this is your first time with the trying this trick, you may have to give it several tries. The repair should be nearly invisible and leak free.

Good luck!

-Curt