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.
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 break.
Both samples were of the approximate same thickness, which means that
the kangaroo leather is very significantly stronger than standard cow
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
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 - so much so that I believe
its a significant advance in pad technology, provided it can prove itself
in the long term.
There are a few issues to contend with - 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 looking into.
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
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.