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

The pink saxophone

Sharp-eyed visitors to my workshop have often asked me about an unusual instrument that inhabits this hallowed portal. I say sharp-eyed because it sits atop a set of shelves - a position it's occupied since day one - hidden behind other seldom used items, covered in an array of cobwebs and dust. The instrument is a tenor sax...a pink tenor sax.

How it came to be there is a story I always enjoy recounting - so for the benefit of people who may never get to see the instrument, here is the tale of the pink saxophone...

It all began some 15 years ago, in my London workshop. I was sitting at my bench in my basement workshop when the intercom squawked into life notifying me that a 'party of clients' were being sent down the stairs to see me. I heard their descent on the stairs...much laughing and stumbling, snatches of foreign conversation.
As the clients rounded the corner my eyes fell upon four or five gentlemen of 'eastern origin'. I shall remain suitably vague about their identity for reasons that will become apparent in a short while.

The gentlemen were, as the euphemism puts it, somewhat the worse for wear...or in plain English, drunk.
One of them carried a large black box, which I assumed contained a tenor sax. Between the language barrier and the veil of alcohol-induced merriment I managed to ascertain that they wanted me to have a look at the sax and quote on a repair.
It wasn't a great instrument, a student Czech job, and in need of a thorough overhaul. I attempted to explain as much, but alas my words fell on deaf ears - mainly due to the fact that the party of gentlemen appeared to be using all their available senses just to stay standing up. Somehow or other we managed to agree on them leaving the sax with me, along with some contact details so that I could run up a proper quote and discuss the job at a later date. I was handed a business card. I took a double-take on the card - this was no ordinary businessman - the card belonged to an ambassador, a foreign dignitary!

The gentlemen left, I listened to their excited chatter as they stumbled back up the stairs and out into the Portobello Road.

The next day I examined the instrument in detail, drew up a quote and prepared to call 'the ambassador'.
I expected a certain degree of formality - such people are important, and often busy, but I could never have expected the response I got.
I dialled the number, a secretary answered, I told her who I was and asked to speak to the gentleman named on the card. I was then asked what the nature of my call was. I explained that he had visited me yesterday and left a saxophone on the understanding that I would call and advise him of the cost of the repairs required.

I was then told - and in no uncertain terms - that this was impossible.
The ambassador had not left the embassy yesterday, he could not have visited my workshop, he did not leave a tenor sax with me.
I protested, and was politely - but firmly - informed that I was mistaken. Something in her voice told me that it would be pointless to pursue this line of enquiry.

I put the phone down in complete puzzlement.
It occurred to me that having one of your diplomats roaming around the streets of a foreign country somewhat under the influence of a few good drinks was probably not considered to be good protocol - presumably someone, somewhere was 'embarrassed' and a decision had been taken to limit this diplomatic faux-pas by categorically denying the incident ever took place. Heaven knows what else these chaps got up to on their drinking spree!
Or perhaps it was a practical joke - albiet it a convoluted, and expensive one.

I decided that the best course of action was to hang onto the sax in the event that the diplomat would seek to contact me discreetly, or at least via a third party.
I waited... and I waited, and as the days turned into weeks, then months, then years I finally figured that in all likelihood my diplomat had been called home for a good drubbing down, and was now working as a sanitary inspector for local government... or worse.

So I had a non-too-spectacular tenor sax going spare. I was loathe to sell it; sod's law states that no sooner have you sold it than the original owner will turn up - with some amazing excuse that involves grappling with crocodiles in some far away swamp, and living off boot leather for six whole years.
So I decided to do the horn up and use it for those gigs where I'd rather not take my expensive horns (pubs, clubs and the like).
And just for fun I thought I'd finish the horn in bright pink!
The sax was silver plated - which meant a lacquer job would have been expensive (and I'm none too keen on them anyway - cheap horn or not), but I figured that if I made sure the plating had enough key on it I could probably get away with using spray paint. It was only for fun, it wouldn't matter too much if the horn looked a bit iffy close-up.
So I set about refinishing the horn.

It went pretty well, all things considered. I'd chosen some Day-Glo pink paint, given the horn a layer of primer, sprayed a good few coats of pink over the silver and finished up with a coat of clear lacquer - all from spray cans. I let the finish harden for a few weeks before settling down to repad and reassemble the horn.
It was then that I discovered the flaw in my plan.
The paint chipped off with even the lightest touch...not only that but as soon as any heat was applied to the cups in order to fit the pads, the finish spat and bubbled under the smallest flame. Within about an hour or so the horn looked a mess. I persevered, I could always touch-up the rough spots later - but after getting halfway through the repad I decided that I'd had enough of it and gave it up as a bad job.

I stuffed the horn away in a darkened corner, which is the position it's occupied ever since. And when I moved to my new workshop some ten years or more ago it was the first thing that got stuffed up on the top shelf. It hasn't moved since. I suppose I could strip the horn back to its silver finish, repad it and out it as a student horn - but I never seem to have that much time. So it'll stay where it is, serving as a conversation piece for one of my favourite stories.



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