Ask a Saxophone Repairman: Sticky Keys, Mouthpiece Refacing, and More

Ask a Saxophone RepairmanThis post is part of a special column titled “Ask a Saxophone Repairman” with answers supplied by our resident repair whiz, Matt Stohrer of Stohrer Music.

Disclaimer: Saxophone repair is a complicated business, depending not only on the skill of the repairer but on the reality of the situation at hand. The advice given here is given without your horn in my hands, so take everything I say with a grain of salt, and take it upon yourself to get more opinions and form your own conclusions. This column is not a substitute for finding a great saxophone repairman and building a relationship- instead it should be viewed as a resource to be used so that you can know more about your horn and become a smarter consumer and a better saxophonist.

Hello,

I’m retired and started playing tenor sax 4 yrs ago. My problem is biting down and having to blow hard when I play. My question is my mouthpiece – I have a Selmer C* and Otto Link 5* stm. Should I look to have them refaced, or look for a new mouthpiece? I play a Keilwerth SX90. I have major problems on low C and B flat. Checked for leaks, no problems. I love to produce a dark sound (Ben Webster) with a easy blowing mouthpiece. Any help woould be greatly appreciated. I thank you in advance for your time.

Regards, Dominic

Dominic,

I would have your horn checked for leaks, which is the most likely culprit.

Not all leaks are easy to see! If you’ve been doing it yourself with a cheap leak light, I’d take it to a tech. If you have already taken it to a tech, I’d get a second opinion just to be sure. Other than that, check out the mouthpiece articles on this website, and also this mouthpiece article I put up on my site a little while ago, there is information there that might help you: How To Choose A Saxophone Mouthpiece.

Hi Matt,

I have a troublesome problem with a sticky G# key that just won’t go away; I trust my usual tech implicitly as he has more experience fixing important horns than I have walking on this planet, but he’s stumped too, although he’s now found another horn that replicates the problem and is down in his lab as we speak.

This is a brand new horn, or at least a never-played horn, a 2002 Jupiter XO artist series alto, and it is only the G# that does this, although you can hear the palm keys kiss as they release. I have three other horns and none of them show any signs of this, so I doubt it is my saliva. We tried ultra-cleaning the rims, I tried powder paper, we tried using loose-leaf paper to gently sand over the edges, finally we replaced the pad with a brand new leather pad and the problem is less now, but it is still there. It’s like there’s a suction beyond the force of the spring holding the pad down; it goes ‘smack’ when it releases.

What could be going on here? Could it be the laquer that Jupiter used? We thought perhaps because the horn had sat unsold for so long (could be Canadians are wary of Chinese-made horns, but the horn is otherwise very nice, many players tell me they agree; it sat in a small town music store for 8 years before I bought it) — if I remember to ‘pop’ the valve before playing, everything is fine, but it is driving me crazy. Is there anything I can try?

-Gary

Hello Gary,

Jupiter is actually a Taiwanese horn. But anyways, it could be the lacquer I suppose, but if you sanded the edges that lacquer should be gone. So it sounds like you’ve tried most everything! Make sure to double check the mechanism is functioning correctly – does the pad stick or act sluggish directly after changing it, or does it take a while to get sticky again? If it is sticky right from the get-go, either the pads are bad or there is a mechanical problem. Assuming there is no mechanical problem, try cleaning the tonehole with naptha and replacing the pad again. If the toneholes are clean and the pads are good quality, you shouldn’t have sticking problems – and if you do, powder paper should work! Maybe try leveling the tonehole (this will certainly remove the lacquer if it hasn’t been removed already) and replace the pad again.

I have an older model brass Otto Link 5* tenor mouthpiece. The 5* appears on the body of the mouthpiece as opposed to the newer links which have the facing # on the shank. I like using the 2 or 2 1/2 strength reeds, but because my embouchure is fairly well developed, the mouthpiece closes up on me when I play loudly. Is it possible to have my 5* refaced and opened up to perhaps a 7* so that I could continue using the softer reeds, and is this something that you would be able or willing to do for me Matt? Thanks for your help!

– Harold

Absolutely! I mess around with refacing sometimes, but I am not the best by a long shot and just regular old saxophone repair has kept me busy lately. These are the guys I send my mouthpiece work to: http://www.mouthpieceguys.com.

There are a lot of refacers out there – same as saxophone repairmen, some are alright, some are good, and a few are really, really good.

By the way, that Otto Link you’ve got is a nice vintage mouthpiece. Take good care of it!

What kind of repair should we a working saxophonist learn ourselves? I have never done any work to my horn, and it’s the most valuable thing I own. Are there things that I could do on my own that would help keep my horn in better health?

The more you know about repair, the better saxophonist you will be. Understanding why and how a thing works will make it easier to use. As far as what work you want to actually do yourself, that is a different matter and only you can know that.

I highly recommend reading this book: The Complete Woodwind Repair Manual, by Reg Thorpe. I actually thought I would one day write a repair book until this one came out (unfortunately it was not written yet when I started, and the books available at the time were really outdated), but Reg has done a spectacular job. Just reading it will make you a better player and consumer and judge of repairs.

You can purchase that book here: https://web.memberclicks.com/mc/quickForm/viewForm.do?orgId=napbirt&formId=36938