Kangaroo skin pads
'Roo skin pads have been around for a while
now, but are they a better bet than traditional leather pads?
Down the years there have been many innovations in pad material.
Some have been more successful than others, and in recent years
there's been some development in synthetic pads.
But people seem to like the feel of leather pads, particularly on
saxes, even though the choices have been rather limited.
Traditionally, cow hide has been the commonest type of leather used
- but white goatskin (or kid) has been a popular option (and one
that looks particularly good on clarinets) for several centuries.
There are subtle differences between the two skins, but none that
really make an effective difference. Kid tends to be softer, which
allows for a greater thickness of hide to be used - and this should
increase resistance to wear...but then that may be offset by its
comparatively poor resistance to wear when compared with cow hide.
And now there's kangaroo skin.
Or rather, there's been kangaroo skin pads for quite some time -
since at least the late '50s, perhaps even earlier - but it's only
recently that they've become more well known among the sax playing
Various claims are made for the properties of kangaroo skin - and
the one that really counts is its comparative strength, a property
I was very keen to test. And it was easy enough to test - the skin
of a pad was taken off and generally tugged, bitten, and torn to
see how well it stood up to attack.
I say torn - I couldn't actually tear the skin. Compare this with
standard pad leather which tears quite readily. Even trying to pull
it apart in my teeth had no effect - whereas the leather would always
Both samples were of the approximate same thickness, which means
that the kangaroo leather is very significantly stronger than standard
Another claim made is that kangaroo skin is less prone to sticking.
I'm somewhat sceptical of this claim because sticky pads aren't
so much about what the pads are made of but rather what gets on
them (your saliva, and various fats and sugars).
However, new pads are often sticky due to the various treatments
necessary to prepare the leather - and the kangaroo pads exhibited
none of the usual stickiness. Only time will tell if this remains
to be the case once that pads have seen some hard use, but I believe
it's a promising start.
I noted the kangaroo skin is quite slippery when wet, far more so
than ordinary leather - and this may or may not be a problem once
the pads have been in use a while.
There's an issue of porosity. Whether it's due to the treatment
that plain leather receives, or the grain structure of kangaroo
skin, it appears that these pads let rather more air through that
ordinary leather pads.
I've been asked if I feel this is a significant issue - and I don't
feel it is. You'd need significant air pressure to blow air through
a pad whilst in situ - and if you could achieve such pressure in
the bore of a horn you'd be beaten by keys normally sprung closed
opening under the same pressure, not to mention lifting of the Auxiliary
F and B keys.
There is some concern with regard to the ingress of moisture - but
then this applies to plain leather pads to. All leathers will absorb
moisture, which is why some pads are fitted with a polythene disc
behind the skin to protect the felt core, along with treatments
to the skin itself to make it more resistant to moisture.
Only time will tell if this is an important issue. I tend to feel
that it will only really affect the pads that usually suffer anyway
(such as the palm key pads and the low Eb) - so it's no change there.
It's worth mentioning at this point that the 'holy grail' of everlasting
pads isn't perhaps all it's cracked up to be.
I often only see horns in for repair when they've stopped dead -
usually because a pad's gone. In all the time that the horn is working,
the action is slowly wearing. Assuming the pads never failed, I
can see that the only time a horn would come into the workshop would
be when the action failed...and by that time it would be a very
significant failure, and a very costly repair - assuming you haven't
been having regular services (and I know just how few of you book
an annual service, whether the horn appears to need it or not!).
Bear in mind too that if you have the action worked on, you often
need to replace pads anyway (as the seating position may change),
so you're back to square one.
pads I tested were Steve Goodson's brand, finished in stained black
skin and fitted with Noyek reflectors. This particular set cost
around £70 by the time postage and duty had been taken into
account. The pads are well made, comprising a stiff card back, a
woven felt core and the kangaroo skin. There's no waterproofing
polythene disc under the skin.
There's no particular advantage to choosing a coloured skin other
than it has a cosmetic effect - and the combination of black hide
and gold plated reflectors along with the gold lacquer of a horn
is quite impressive!
The reflectors too were well made, and the finish was good. Gold
plate should be ideal due to it being inert - and therefore corrosion
resistant...but this rather depends on how well it stays on.
The theory behind the unusual scalloped design of the Noyeks is
that the angular surfaces distribute the sound waves in a more widely
spread pattern - thus (hopefully) giving more volume and more response.
The set as supplied contained only one significant error, the low
B in the set was 44mm, the actual cup size is 42. A few other pads
could have benefited from an extra half a millimetre in diameter
just to make them slightly more snug in the cups.
Fitting the pads was easy - and the extra stiffness meant that
there was less levelling to be done during the seating process.
This is an advantage in that it saves time and doesn't stress the
leather so much. The black finish on the pads made it slightly more
difficult to rely on visual cues when adjusting the seat. Nothing
a brighter spotlamp couldn't fix.
The finished horn exhibited less percussiveness on the action as
the pads met the tone holes. You can of course achieve this with
a softer felt core, but a harder pad tends to retain its seat better
over a wider range of environments.
Compared with my own 62, the overhauled horn had slightly more
cut in the upper harmonics overall. There was also an increase in
the sense of attack to each note. Whilst this was noticeable on
the extreme lower and upper notes, it wasn't quite so effective
on the mid-range - and my feeling was that the reflector's effect
was akin to turning up the treble on a radio. This can work - provided
you have a full enough sound to start with, but it could have an
adverse effect on a horn that doesn't have much body to the tone,
or is already quite bright.
I didn't notice any change in the tuning or the focus.
The effect was more noticeable using my testbench Rousseau mouthpiece.
This equates to a medium-bright piece with lots of mid-range. When
this was swapped for the gigging piece, a Dukoff D8, the power and
drive of the piece all but overwhelmed any slight changes in tone,
though the extra cut up top was in evidence...perhaps too much so.
That there is a difference is undeniable - but what must be borne
in mind is that similar - and greater - changes in tone may be brought
about through less permanent options, such as a change of mouthpiece
or an aftermarket crook.
Once you've had a repad, you're stuck with it - at least until you
feel inclined to shell out again for a new set of pads.
I was suitably impressed with the kangaroo skin - and from comments
I've received from various players who've had them fitted to their
horns, there doesn't appear to be any problem with their longevity.
There are a few issues to contend with though - that of availability
and price for a start - and then there's the ethical issue.
Leather is a by-product of the beef industry, and as such the animals
are farmed and the practice of slaughter is highly regulated.
Kangaroos are wild animals, and although considered vermin to some
degree in their homeland I'm none too sure as to how or whether
the process of slaughter is regulated. It's something I shall be
As for the Noyeks, I feel it's difficult to generalise the effect
they have. I can certainly say that they'll give a YAS62 a bit more
edge, but what they'll do to a different horn isn't possible to
say without experience. I think it likely that they'll increase
the punch and edginess, but this may not be an entirely good thing
in some cases.
Thankfully they've been around a while, so there should be a wealth
of personal experience to draw from in the sax playing community
if you're considering them for your own horn.
Funnily enough, they may have rather more potential when used individually
to adjust particular notes - perhaps livening up a lacklustre top
C for example.
I should mention that the roo pads are available with a wide range
of reflector options, including standard metal domed and plastic
- and are available from MusicMedic.