Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Something fishy

A call came in from a client with a very unusual problem...I could tell it was something out of the ordinary by his opening line..." You won't believe this, but... "

It seemed that the chap played sax in a band along with a couple of other horn players and that there was no love lost between the trumpet player and the remaining members of the horn section.
Among the many practical jokes played on the unfortunate trumpet player (the client did tell me what they were, but I won't repeat them in case you're about to sit down to dinner) was the placing of a small sardine down the bell of the trumpet. This was discovered in no time at all and was subsequently removed by the trumpeter and the horn washed out.

Two weeks went by following this incident and it was only after this time that my client noticed an odious smell in his car. Following his nose he found his way to the boot (or trunk, if you're across the pond) and more specifically to his Berkeley fibreglass sax case - which he was in the habit of keeping in the boot of his car all the time. By now the smell was atrocious, but nothing could have prepared him for what he smelt and saw when he opened the case.

The trumpet player had had his revenge! Slowly mouldering in the bottom bow of the sax was.......a now distinctly unfresh mackerel! What made matters worse was that the weather for the last two weeks had been unseasonably hot, and nature had taken its course in the enclosed space of the car's boot.

I agreed to look at the instrument, and when the client arrived I was advised by him that it would be better for me if I perhaps examined the instrument out of doors. I didn't was still in the boot, in its case, and I could still smell it even then.

I had him remove the case and open it (whilst I judiciously stood upwind of the terrible thing) and with the aid of a stick (I kid you not, the thing smelt terrible) I managed to see that the results of the decomposition had corrupted most of the bottom end of the horn - resulting in ghastly black and green goo which oozed like a primordial soup from out of the tone holes. Fortunately he'd had the presence of mind to remove what was left of the fish - but I doubt there'd have been much, most of it had turned to foul liquid.
We wrapped the horn up in several bin bags and left it outside while I considered my options.

The horn itself was in a mess, so there was no way I could possibly make it any worse. My first instinct was to take it along to the local petrol station and blast it with a power washer....but that would have meant picking it up and putting in my I ditched that idea pretty quick.

After some consideration, and a little chewing the fat with the good people on Alt.Music.Saxophone, I decided that bleach would be my first 'weapon'.

I kitted myself up with a 'bio hazard' suit made out of bin liners and then sprayed the horn with neat, thin bleach - leaving it to soak in for a while. This allowed me to get in a little closer without retching, whereupon I gingerly had a go at brushing some of the goo off. This was a deeply unpleasant task, the stuff was really baked onto the horn...but with a goodly amount of swearing (and not a little heaving) I got the instrument into a state whereby it could be put onto the floor of the workshop (no way was THAT thing going on my bench).

I managed to dismantle the instrument and set about the task of removing the last of the fishy residues - which took the best part of a week, on and off - and eventually I was able to begin the process of reassembly.
The client collected the horn shortly after - along with a substantial bill. He told me that by a subtle combination of whining and threats of extreme physical violence he'd persuaded the trumpeter to go halves on the cost of the repair...

I was pleased to see it go - but it was many weeks before the stench of rotting fish completely left the workshop...and many more weeks before I could enjoy a fish supper again.

A few months later the client rang me to tell me that the horn had been stolen from the boot of his car.


Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015