Emergency pad repairs
Oh No!! It's barely six hours before the gig in
the evening and during the course of your afternoon practice (or more
realistically, about two days ago...right?) disaster strikes! A pad drops
There's no time to dash along to your repairer, and you
don't have a spare horn - what ya gonna do??
Obviously you need a way to refit the pad so that it'll hang in there
just long enough to cover you for the gig, after which you can make your
way to your local repairer in your own time.
The first step is understanding how pads are fixed in the first place.
Apart from a few examples, all horns (bar the flutes, which have a screw
and a washer to hold the pad in place) have pads that are secured with
a heat-soluble glue. In most cases this will be shellac, but these days
it's increasingly common to find that a hot-melt 'plastic' glue has been
It follows therefore that if you could heat the cup up sufficiently you
could melt the glue and refit the pad.
The problem here is that the glue often acts as a backing to the pad,
altering its angle in the cup and its working thickness. You can see that
if you alter this in any way it could affect the seat of the pad (see
the article on testing leaky pads)
- and so while you'd be able to refit the pad, there's no guarantee that
it would seat anymore.
What's needed is a way of popping the pad back in so that it sits exactly
For this job I'd recommend a basic household contact adhesive. Evostik
is just the ticket, likewise Bostik - but any other general glue as used
for sticking bits of paper and card etc. together should be fine, even
Copydex if you can stand the pong. Don't use a slow setting glue like
PVA (wood glue).
Similarly, remember that your repairer is going to have to replace the
pad shortly - and nothing annoys a repairer more than having to remove
a pad that's practically welded to the cup, so that means you can't use
Superglue or epoxy glues.
The next step is to establish how the pad goes. If you examine the wayward
pad you should see that there's an impression on the leather. This is
the seat. Chances are that it doesn't sit dead centre of the pad, which
means that if just shove the pad in the cup there's a good chance that
the seat won't align with the tone hole and you'll be left with a substantial
Have a look at the pads either side of the cup in question. This should
give you a few hints as to how the pad was fixed originally - perhaps
the leading edge of the seat (the bit nearest the front of the cup) is
close to the rim of the cup.
Pop the pad in the cup and try it in a few positions, spin it round until
you feel the impression on the pad matches the tone hole.
Once you've found the right spot, make a mark on the front of the pad
so that when it comes to fixing it in place you can be sure you've got
it in the right position (you'll be able to adjust it a little).
You now have to glue the pad in place.
Contact adhesives are supposed to be allowed to dry slightly before the
joint is made - but this would make fitting the pad a bit tricky, so what
you need to do is apply a little glue to the cup (just pop a blob on your
finger, then run it around the cup) and apply a little glue to the back
of the pad. Don't use too much or it'll ooze out of the cup and make a
mess. I reckon a pea-sized blob smeared on each surface ought to be adequate.
Once both surfaces are coated, pop the pad back in the cup - making sure
to line up the mark with the front of the cup.
As the glue will still be wet it's a good idea to keep the key cup pressed
closed against the tone hole for a while. To be on the safe side I'd give
it 15 to 30 minutes. If you don't want to have to hold it in place that
long you can gently wedge the key closed with a bit of cork - or simply
balance something heavy on the key cup...even a potato would do.
Once the glue has dried enough the pad should be secure and ready for
Another technique is to use a bit of clingfilm. This method tends to
work better when you need a rapid fix, or when the pad is soaking wet.
As before, you still need to align the pad - but having done so all you
do is take a square of clingfilm and place it under the pad. Press the
key down gently and bring the sides of the cligfilm up over the cup and
scrunch it up. The film over the pad should be stretched taut now, and
this will hold the pad in place.
This is a good method for repairing a split pad on the fly. I'm sure many
players must have discovered a split pad (typically the palm key pads
on a sax) just before a gig's about to kick off - and the clingfilm will
both hold a loose pad in place and help to seal a split one.
It's also a good technique for repairing small pads, such as those found
on clarinets - and it can be used to fix a loose flute pad where the screw
and washer have fallen off.
Of course, all this assumes that you have the materials at hand.
More often than not a pad will fly out on a gig - and unless you're gigging
in a hardware store it's unlikely that you'll have the necessary materials
close at hand. You'll have to improvise.
First off though - did the punters have a meal at the gig? If so there's
a good chance that there's kitchen somewhere around - go ask the caterers
if they've got a bit of clingfilm handy.
Failing that, ask if anyone has any chewing gum.
You can use this stuff to fix a loose pad - but gum that's been chewed
a while looses its stickiness - so you need a fresh bit.
Your best bet will be to apply it to the back of the pad - but don't just
slap it on in one large blob. You need to avoid changing the height of
the pad in the cup as much as possible, so pull off small blobs and dot
them over the back of the pad.
It would pay to ensure that neither the back of the pad or the cup is
wet (mop it with a tissue).
Bung the pad back in the cup and press the key hard down against the tone
hole. This should get you through the gig - but you'd be lucky to get
away with it a second night.
And you will need to get that pad replaced properly - none of these fixes
will hold a pad firmly in place for any length of time, and in my experience
when one pad drops out another isn't going to be far behind.