By Guest Author Theo Jager
How These New Saxophone Pads Came About
As a saxophone player and an engineer (in chocolate, chewing gum, cheese, and licorice) I did not like the use of leather in pads. Leather is not a constant material, and has to be replaced every decade. When someone told me twenty years ago that in the tropics the decay of leather pads in saxophones was much faster, I started to look at replacement materials for leather pads.
I tried some of the replacement materials, but then a second problem popped up: For all current artificial pads, it is necessary to have a completely flat tone hole. When you play old saxophones you know that there are cases when it is not possible to make all tone holes perfectly flat. Vintage saxophones most comely either have either bevelled tone holes, or tone holes that have already diminished too much by previous techs.
So the question that bogged me was: How do I pad a tone hole that wasn’t level, with a material that lasted longer than leather?
Of course there was a simple solution for this problem, and it took me only four years to perfect it to a usable DIY technique.
The last prototype (nr. 57) is a round disc made of MDF, which I have made in 38 different sizes (see photo below). These are suitable for octave keys and tone holes, from 14 to 48 mm.
Other sizes can be made as well, so even repadding a copy of the Immensaphone is possible.
As the disks are made of reconditioned wood, you can paint them in every possible colour, as long as the paint is nontoxic.
How to install these disks on a saxophone
- A 1 mm layer of liquid silicone is brought inside the outer rim of the disk with a small stick.
- The silicone layer lays against the outer rim of the disk, and is levelled with the top of the rim.
- Then the disk is put upside down on the tone hole (photo below). The outer rim of the disk may not touch the tone hole, and the disc must be centred on the tone hole.
- The silicone hardens and perfectly fits to the tone hole in that position.
- Be careful not to paint the places where you put the silicone, as the silicone will not stick to the painted areas.
- In the picture, the glue is already put on the back of the disk. It is also possible to put the glue in the key cup.
- When the silicone is hard you can glue the key to the pad.
- The key is easy to position on the pad, as the pad is still affixed on the tone hole by the silicone. This makes it possible to glue this pad in the same height as the pad it replaces, maintaining the tuning of the saxophone, if you thought of marking the exact height.
- When the glue in the key cup is hard, the key can be opened by sticking a small wedge between the pad and the body of the saxophone.The silicone will be drawn from the tone hole as it sticks better to the MDF than to the brass of the tone hole.
- Check with a light if the tone hole is completely closed.
- When not, it is possible to do corrections by adding small amounts of liquid silicone; closing the key; and waiting until the silicone is hard.
- It is also possible to take out the whole silicone ring and put in a new one, when necessary.
What’s new and not, in this saxophone pad idea
There are already silicone pads for flutes and clarinets, but for saxophones they have always been considered to be too sticky. However, what is an entirely new concept, is the forming in place of the pad in the saxophone. Seven years ago already, flute pads have been repaired with silicone in a similar way. They still play without problems.
So it is not a new idea, but how about the sticky part?
After using black coloured silicone, I found that the extra colour added made the silicone soft, and too soft silicone was sticky. Light grey silicone was perfect, as it did not stick, and was not translucent as some white silicones. Translucent is also not good as you want to check the closure of the pads with light.
The takeaway lesson is this: Use light grey silicone, but not too much, because when you put in too much silicone, the pad will be sticky regardless of the type of silicone you use.
In such cases a silicone ring is formed inside the tone hole which grips the tone hole together with the silicone ring on the outer rim of the pad. By removing this inner ring with a needle this type of stickiness will disappear.
As the size of the pad is dependant of the size of the tone hole, it is always smaller than the keycup.
At the moment I fill up this gap with black silicone when it is visible, it looks nice.
And how do these MDF & silicone saxophone pads play?
Well the sound is similar to that of leather pads with plastic reflectors. When you put some silicone on the centre piece of the disc it will give a sound similar to 100% leather pads.
The touch and sound of closing a key are dependant of the thickness of the layer of silicone between MDF and the tone hole.
For people who are tempted to try this at home, I will sell my remaining prototypes on eBay.When I have the eBay number, I will update this article with a link to the auction.
The pads are now on the Dutch eBay site. The auction runs until April 12, 2013.
© 2013, Bassic Sax Guest Columnist. All rights reserved.