A rolling blog of everyday life
on and around the workbench
It's been a good few weeks since my last blog update, and I've had
quite a few emails asking me when/if I'm planning the next update
- or whether I've simply given up on the whole idea. Fear not -
my lack of updates is down to the sheer workload I've got on at
It's a combination of student work that gets dumped on me while
the owners bugger off on holiday and pros who aren't working the
summer season - and are thus taking the opportunity to get their
horns serviced well before the Christmas season kicks off. And when
you factor in all the usual work, it all adds up to quite a busy
time of year.
However, I had a job come in that featured a couple
of bodges - and I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to share
them with you.
I've spoken about bodges before, and noted that there are two categories
into which they fall; the out-and-out plain old cack-handed lashup
job, and the "It ain't pretty, but it works - and it'll get
you out of a spot" fix.
I mention this in passing because what you're about to see could
fit into either camp, depending on the circumstances at the time
the work was carried out - and it might be interesting to examine
the whys and wherefores.
The horn in question is a very nice old Selmer
MkVI alto, which came in for a one-day-turnaround rush service.
Work like this can be frustrating, because you simply haven't got
time to do everything - but by the same token it's also quite interesting
and challenging because you have to make on-the-spot decisions as
to what work will bring the most benefit in the short amount of
I guess everyone will have their own approach, but I tend to prioritise
mechanical integrity above all else. Fix the underlying structure
and you've at least got a stable base from which to work outwards
- and I apply it in a top-down fashion, which is to say that problems
at the top end of the horn have a higher priority than those at
the bottom end. After all, there's little point in having perfectly-seating
bell key pads when there's a handful of leaks on the top stack.
a system that seems to work quite well for me, but sometimes you're
forced off the beaten track by problems that have to be dealt with
before you can make a start on the servicing - and this case the
first thing I had to deal with was a parted stay on the low Eb key.
This is a simple job ordinarily, but someone's been here before...
At some point in the horn's past it's copped a whack to the bottom
bow, and the resultant dent (and most likely the removal process)
has split the seam. This seam runs all the way around the very bottom
of the bow and, rather inconveniently, right through the centre
of the low Eb tone hole.
Most of it's protected by the bottom bow plate - but the stretch
that runs from the end of the plate to the tonehole is exposed,
and has a guard stay sitting right across it.
If the guard takes a hit (as it often does...sometimes even while
the horn's in its case), the stay can be driven into the body. In
itself this isn't much of a problem, but it usually takes the lower
side of the tonehole with it - and that's definitely a problem.
This means the dent has to be taken out - and if you repeat this
process enough times, the metal soon becomes quite brittle...with
every impact (intended or otherwise) increasing the propensity for
the seam to split. And this is what's happened.
There are a couple of ways to fix this. You could
run some silver solder into the seam, but this means bringing the
area up to red heat - which means you'll have to remove any adjacent
fittings (otherwise they'll fall off) - and you can kiss goodbye
to a major portion of the finish surrounding the area. Or you can
fit a patch over the seam and secure it in place with soft solder.
The latter option tends to be the most popular and, provided it's
done with care, can look quite neat and tidy.
But that's not what's been done here.
What we have is a strip of wonky brass that runs
from the tip of the bow plate to the tonehole, and then up the tonehole
wall. In so doing it cuts right through the spot where the lower
guard stay sits - and to get around this annoying obstruction the
guard stay foot has been cut in half.
Leaving aside the obvious (it looks pants), there are a number of
issues with this fix - the foremost in my mind is that the guard
stay's been butchered. I don't really want to come across as a saxophone
snowflake, but hacking into original parts is something that I tend
to frown upon.
To be fair you sometimes have no choice - but in this instance there
are several ways in which this could have been avoided.
You could have made the patch in two sections, allowing for the
placement of the stay - or you could have made the patch wider and
cut a notch in it to accomodate the stay.
It's also not ideal to run the patch up the side
of the tonehole. It looks odd and it adds a complication to the
pad seat. The crack in the tonehole would have been fine with just
a drop of solder to seal it up - and if you were fast and hot enough,
you could even have popped a drop of silver solder here.
Anyway - safe to say that it's a bit of a scruffy job...but is it
a bodge, or is it a rush job?
I'm inclined to go for the cack-handed bodge - because the lower
end of the patch has been shaped to sit around the tip of the bottom
Why go to all the trouble of profiling the patch here, and then
hack the stay in half? It would have taken you almost as long to
hack the stay as it would to file a notch in a wider patch.
And then there's the portion that runs up the tonehole wall. It's
five minute's work to taper the patch off so that the tonehole rim
remains the same width all the way round.
I didn't have time to sort it out properly, so I had to settle for
refitting the stay and filing the portion that runs up the tonehole
wall into a taper.
It'll do. It'll have to...for the time being.
next bodge is a real eye-popper - and it's the low C# rod screw.
Or rather, the low C# rod tube.
Yep, that's right - rod tube. It's not a rod screw...it's a piece
I had to fully dismantle the horn to service it, and had a proper
'what the...?' moment when it came to removing the low C# key cup.
At first I thought it was merely a chewed-up rod screw head - but
once I got it out I spotted the hole right through the centre...and
the unusual yellow tint of the rod (I thought maybe some strange
kind of grease had been used to lubricate the screw).
But no, it's rod screw made out of a piece of brass tube.
Why would you do such a thing? Well, you're not likely to find a
piece of brass tube lying around that just so happens to be A: of
the right diameter, and B: have the right thread on the end of it.
No - this has been custom made for the job, and probably because
whoever made it simply didn't have a suitably-sized piece of steel
rod in stock.
This got me wondering, because any repairer who's been in the business
for more than a couple of weeks will have a stock of old rods screws,
if not a supply of rod screw steel in all the common sizes. It also
puzzled me because the thread on the end of the rod was an exact
match to all the other (large) rod screws. Who would have the means
to cut such a thread, and yet not have the right sized stock on
It's a bit like a chef who has a chopping block...but no knife.
It just doesn't add up.
But it might add up if you were someone with engineering skills
in a different trade. You might well have a lathe, or a collection
of suitable taps and dies...but you might not have a stock of steel
rod in the right size - so you'd be hunting around for anything
at all that was of the right diameter.
It does the job well enough, but I figured it'd be as well to replace
it with a stock screw. However, none of them fitted...the key barrel
was oversize - so it would need a custom-made rod screw. This would
take time, which was something I didn't have a lot of - so I decided
to defer it until I'd sorted out the rest of the horn and come back
to it at the end. And in the end there simply wasn't enough time.
I'd barely got the last key fitted when the client arrived to collect
the horn, so it had to go down as an advisory for the next service.
Maybe this is what happened to whoever made the rod screw - a case
of doing the best you can in a very limited time.
As for the patch, I recommended leaving it well alone. It's doing
its job, and it might as well be left until such time as the horn
takes a knock and needs some bottom bow work.