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

A father's legacy

I've never gotten over the excitement of 'the mystery instrument'.

It often starts when a client calls and begins the conversation with 'I have an old instrument that my father used to play...'. This always send a tingle up the spine as you never know quite what to expect. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I've never been that good at hiding my enthusiasm, which is a bit of a drawback if you're in the buying game (I'm not, so I can indulge myself) and someone pops in with an old Selmer MkVI wondering how much you'll buy it off them for.

But the philosophical rewards are enough for me - there's no finer feeling than being the bearer of glad tidings.

A little while back a client arrived with a plastic student clarinet that needed a service. She asked me for some advice about upgrading - her daughter was getting along nicely with her grades and it was felt that a wooden clarinet was in order, so we discussed a few possibilities.
She then mentioned that her late father used to be a bandsman, and that he had a few instruments - one of which she'd brought along with her, wrapped up in an old tea towel.

I opened the bundle and found a lovely old Boosey & Hawkes Emperor clarinet inside - the perfect upgrade for a student. It needed a complete overhaul, but still represented a considerable saving over a brand new instrument - plus it had the benefit of a bit of family history.

Naturally, the client was delighted - and went on to tell me that her father had a few other instruments too...including a saxophone.
I figured that him being a bandsman, and the fact that his clarinet was a good one, ought to mean that the other instruments would be of similar quality. I was a bit crestfallen, then, when she told me that her sister had borrowed the sax, taken it along to a teacher for some lessons and had been told it was too old to be of any use. She'd subsequently bought a shiny new Taiwanese sax and the old one had been unceremoniously shoved under a bed.

I said I'd be happy to look at it...just in case.

The client returned some weeks later to collect the Emperor...and as I saw them approach the workshop out of my window I couldn't help but notice the sax case. Black, old, well-built, rounded corners....that little brass nameplate...could it be...?

On opening the case my eyes came to rest on a superb example of a Selmer Cigar Cutter alto sax. It had obviously been cherished - although her father had liberally dosed the pads with a linseed oil based solution (in a vain attempt to prevent the pads sticking) and it had left a considerable amount of residue on the body and keys.
Apart from that the instrument was immaculate - with barely a scratch.

What could I do? Had I been born another person I might have ummed and ahhed and shook my head in mock despair, and offered her fifty quid to 'take it off her hands' - but no, I just had to pick the sax up, cradle it in my arms and say " You know you sometimes see people driving about in vintage Rolls Royces? Well..."
And it even had a collection of bits and bobs that sax players tend to collect in their old brass screwdriver, reedcards stamped with the names of long-gone shops, a reedcutter and a little metal tin containing some ancient cork grease. Echoes of the past...

I did a complete overhaul on it - it blew as you'd expect, like a dream, with that lovely ethereal sound that the old Selmers are justly famous for.
When she came back to collect it she brought with her an old black and white photograph of her father, resplendent in his bandsman uniform, sitting proudly on the bandstand at Eastbourne - the very same sax and clarinet beside him on their stands.
She said he always wanted the instruments to be used, and he'd have been thrilled to bits to know that his grandchildren were making good use of them.

My parting advice to them was that if they found a teacher who told them their instruments were obsolete...walk out of the door and find a better one.


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