Pad and Cork Replacement
Paul R. Coats
I have been asked many times about how to
obtain pads and other repair supplies. Some of these questions are from
players in small towns or countries where quality repair work is just not
available, or for some reason, the prices are outrageously high. If you
are lucky enough to have a good instrument repairman in your town, one
that does good work and takes care of your saxophone as if it were his
own, by all means, take your instrument to him. But, this is not always
A whole set of pads of top quality, with any
style resonator, is only about $24 U.S. for Alto Sax, $25 for Tenor Sax. I
have heard that in some areas, particularly in small towns, repairmen will
not sell pads. In reality, it is not the materials you are paying for—it
is the skilled labor. I would like to discourage you from attempting a
full repad of your saxophone without training in woodwind repair. If your
saxophone needs a full repad, I highly recommend that you take your sax to
a professional repairman. On the other hand, if you need only a few palm
key or octave key pads, or a neck cork replaced, this is a good place to
begin your own sax repairs.
Three sources of saxophone repair supplies in
the USA are: Ferree’s Tools (www.ferreestools.com
, ph. 800-253-2261), Prestini (www.prestiniusa.com
, ph. 800-528-6569), and J. L. Smith & Co. (www.flutesmith.com
, ph. 800-822-2157).
Sax Pads Australia
572 North Rd. Ormond.
Phone 03 9578 8166
In the UK:
Riverside, Mill Lane,
Taplow, New Maidenhead,
Berkshire, SL6 0AA
Z.I. La Vieville -
27750 LA COUTURE
Tel : +33 (0)2 32 36
Fax : +33 (0)2 32 36
I buy pads mostly from Ferree's Tools.
Ferree's not only has pads, cork, springs, and felt, but a wide assortment
of instrument repair tools. If you are going to repair your saxophone
yourself, there are several things you will need to know, and other
supplies to buy.
Pads must be ordered in the proper size and
thickness. “Thin” pads are used on Conn and Yamaha saxes (.160" or 4mm).
“Thick” pads (.185" or 4.7mm) are used for nearly everything else, such as
Selmer and Buescher. Pads are available from Ferree's in mm diameters, as
well as 1/32's of inches. I find that measuring in millimeters give a more
accurate fit of the pads, as they may be ordered in half-millimeter
sizes. Make sure you put "mm" by the size you order, and M behind the
style number. For example, B53M pad style, and size 16.5 mm. Ferree’s
also has replacements for the Conn “Res-o-Pads” and Buescher “Snap In
Also, while the suppliers have pad size lists
by make and model of saxophone, this is not foolproof. They recommend that
you make your own measurements and order sets by supplying a pad list.
To measure for pads, measure the pad cup with
a caliper from inside edge to inside edge. If you wish to leave the pad
in place, in order to be able to keep playing your instrument while
waiting for the new pads to arrive, you may measure the pad while still in
the cup. Be careful not to compress the pad with the caliper in order to
get an accurate reading. There are instances when you will not wish to
disassemble the instrument. You may also measure the outer diameter of
the pad cup, and subtract 2 mm. For example, measuring the outer diameter
of a palm key pad cup gives a figure of 20.5 mm. 20.5 mm – 2 mm = 18.5
mm. Order 18.5 mm pads for that key.
Pads are available in many resonator styles:
brown plastic domed resonators (as used on the Selmer Mk. VI), flat metal
resonators with a rivet in the center, domed metal resonators with rivet,
pads with rivet only, etc. It is important when replacing pads to use the
same type of resonator as the pads already in the saxophone.
I suggest you also order other pads in the
most common sizes to replace. These include the palm keys (high D-Eb-F),
high E and F#, small C pad (just under the front F spatula), and both
octave vent pads. Also, order pads for Eb and F#, as these pads collect
moisture when the sax is stored in the case. (Water collects in the bow
while playing. When the sax is placed in the case and carried home, this
water runs downhill and collects in the Eb and F# tone holes.)
Other than a pad set, the minimum that may be
ordered is a package of 10 or 12 (depending on supplier), or 100 of each
size, not single pads. This is not a problem. Octave key pads, 9mm or
9.5mm, will usually fit more than one of your saxes. A dozen of 9.5mm pads
are less than $4 US. 10mm pads will fit all of the high notes on the
soprano sax from palm key D up to high F#. So, one package of 12 can be
used efficiently. Common palm key pads on alto and tenor saxes (16mm --
20mm, etc.) are $5--$8 U.S. per dozen. Since these, and F# and low Eb on
the back side of the sax, are the most common pads to become water
damaged, does it not make sense to keep some of these for repairs between
total repads? I advise ordering extra dozen packages of these sizes at the
Replacing only a few palm key pads or octave
vent pads is usually not difficult for the novice repairman. These keys
do not have the difficulty of coordination with other keys. As long as
each pad seats properly, there will be little or no difficulty.
To install pads, you will need a Bunsen
burner. I use the type like we all used in high school chemistry class,
with a rubber hose to attach to a gas source. The one I have is Ferree’s
#G1A (for propane gas, #G1N for natural gas), $18.10 US. You may be able
to buy one locally that is just as good. I am sure you have a gas source
in your home. If not, perhaps you may have a "T" and valve attached to the
gas line coming to your kitchen stove or heater. You may also buy a very
inexpensive alcohol lamp from Ferree’s for $20.
Pads are usually glued into the pad cups with
a hot melt glue known as “stick shellac”. Of the several types of stick
shellac in the Ferree's catalog, I use the “clear” shellac, #G65.
In place of stick shellac, many repairmen are
now using the hot melt glue sticks that are made for carpenters’ electric
glue guns. This type of glue may be purchased at lumber or hardware
stores. Some of these glue sticks are translucent white, but the better
glue is the yellow type. Use this material in the same manner as stick
Remove the key(s) to be repadded from the
saxophone. You must remove the old pad from the key cup, either by
scraping it out, or by gently heating over the flame of your burner to
soften the shellac.
The next few steps must all be accomplished
with speed. With the key removed from the sax, heat the pad cup over the
flame. Keep the key moving back and forth through the flame, being
careful to not burn the lacquer. Next, heat the end of the shellac or
glue stick enough to soften the material, but not enough to make it drip.
With the pad cup over the flame, melt some of the shellac into the pad
cup. Use a generous amount of shellac, making sure that there is enough
shellac to support the pad all the way around the edge. Set the key aside
for the moment. Now, heat the end of the shellac stick to nearly
dripping, and apply a little hot shellac to the back of the pad. Quickly
reheat the pad cup, and place the new pad in the pad cup. If a little hot
shellac or glue leaks out at the edge, fine. That is the correct amount to
use. Wipe the excess glue away with a cloth.
While the shellac is still hot, quickly
replace the key, and press it lightly against the tone hole with a soft
cloth. This will help level the pad and form a nice crease in the surface
of the pad.
Alternatively, several keys may have pads
installed and be allowed to cool. After installation, the pad cup is
heated just enough to melt the shellac, and the key pressed lightly
against the tone hole. This allows the pad to shift and find its own
level, and the heat reforms and stabilizes the felt in the pad for a nice,
long lasting seat. This is known as “floating in” the pads.
Floating the pads is really the better
method, but requires another heat source, such as a handheld mini torch.
There are now available small, self-contained handheld torches that
utilize butane lighter refills for fuel, and are self-lighting. These
work very well for our purposes. I use the larger Bernz-O-Matic Handheld
Mini Torch, which is also ideal for soldering work on instruments. This
torch, and other fine hand tools, may be obtained from Micro-Mark (www.micromark.com).
After the new pad is installed, check for
leaks with a leak light. The light is inserted into the bore of the
saxophone, and the room lights are turned off. With the springs unhooked,
and the pad closed, as advised by Steve “Saxgourmet” Goodson, there should
be no light seen around the edge of the tone hole. This leak test should
be done with the pad closing by gravity alone, not by pressing down hard
on the pad. See the footnote on a very inexpensive leak light,
contributed by George Thomas. Finally, a playing test is in order.
If you are really in a hurry, or prefer not
to use a flame and shellac, pads may be glued in with a hobby and craft
glue sold under the name “E6000”, or with Micro Pad & Cork Cement from
Ferree’s. I keep E6000 in my kit for “on the road” emergencies (even
during a gig!). E6000 is sold in hardware, lumber, hobby and craft
stores, as well as the craft or hardware departments of Wal-Mart. The
Micro Pad & Cork Cement takes much longer to dry, but is easy to use.
The manufacturer of E6000 advises that this
material is an SBR adhesive. SBR is “Styrene Butadiene Rubber”. E6000 is
a thick, clear glue that slightly flexible when dry. There are probably
other brands of similar adhesives, but I do not know the names in other
countries. If readers can advise on this, please do so, and this
information will be added to this article.
While the keys are off the instrument, take
the time to clean well around the posts and tone holes. A damp cloth will
usually take care of the accumulated grime. Clean the post pivot holes and
key hinge tubes with pipe cleaners, using a little key oil as a solvent.
Verdigris, which is actually oxidized copper, on the tone hole edges may
be cleaned off with fine steel wool.
Once the new pads are installed in the
saxophone and everything is playing well, you will want to waterproof the
pads. This is known as “doping the pads”. This is a term from the old days
of applying banana oil to the fabric of airplane wings. The fabric was
"doped", to seal the pores of the fabric. So, we do the same to the
leather, “doping” the pads to seal and waterproof them. Commercial
products for doping saxophone pads are: Runyon Pad Formula II, Mamco Pad
Treatment, and Ferree’s Pad Preservative (#T80). Other products that may
be used are: Neat’s-foot Oil, Old English Furniture Oil (Lemon), various
silicone oils used for waterproofing shoes and boots. These products are
best applied with pipe cleaners... you know, those fuzzy wire cleaners for
cleaning tobacco pipes, and children’s arts and crafts projects.
There is no need to remove the keys to treat
the pads. "Dope" the pads with the oil generously, wiping the oil onto
the entire leather surface of the pad. Repeat the treatment a week later.
Yes, it will darken the leather, but who cares? How the sax plays is what
matters. Dope the pads again in three months, and after that, every six
months. If you play outdoors in cool weather, the water from your breath
will not damage the pads so easily.
Heat shrink tubing may be used in place of
the plastic tubing on the octave key lever, the side Bb and side C keys,
and other places to silence the keywork in place of cork. This tubing may
be obtained from Ferree’s (#’s O41—O45). This material may also be
purchased from electronics supply stores in assorted sizes. The heat from
an ordinary hair dryer will shrink the tubing tightly onto the key.
Additionally, you will need to order some
1/16" (1.6mm) sheet cork. This will be used for keywork and neck corks.
1/16” cork may easily be sanded thinner, and two or more layers may be
glued together to form a thicker piece.
To replace the neck cork, you need some 1/16"
sheet cork, contact cement, black electrical tape, single edge razor blade
or Xacto hobby knife, and some lacquer thinner. Also some mesh type
sandpaper such as that used on drywall.
Clean off the old cork by scraping, clean the
old glue off with the lacquer thinner. Be careful not to get it on the
rest of the finish of the neck. Most modern saxes are finished with an
epoxy type lacquer, which should not be damaged by the lacquer thinner. Be
Cut a strip of cork the width of the old
cork, and long enough to wrap around the end of the neck, plus 1/4" (12
mm) extra length. Sand one end of the cork to a sharp edge, that is,
bevel it. This is so that when you wrap the cork around the neck, you will
have a smooth overlap.
Contact cement may be ordered from Ferree’s,
or may be purchased at hardware and lumber stores. This type of glue looks
and smells like rubber cement, but is applied differently. Contact cement
is applied it to both surfaces to be attached. Then it is allowed to dry
for 15 or 20 minutes. As soon as the two pieces are touched together, they
Spread the contact cement on the neck, on the
back of the cork, and also on the beveled edge. After about 15 minutes of
drying time, starting on the bottom side of the neck, stick on the beveled
end of the cork. Wrap the cork smoothly around the neck, pressing it
firmly on as you go, smoothing it down. Keep wrapping the cork around the
neck until you come back to the beveled area on the bottom. Then overlap
the cork on top of the beveled area.
Cut off the excess cork with the hobby knife
or razor blade. Place a strip of electrical tape, or some other heavy
tape, around the neck between the cork and octave key to prevent
scratching the lacquer when sanding the cork. Now sand the cork to shape
with the sandpaper. The drywall sanding mesh lets the crumbs of cork fall
through and not clog, but ordinary sandpaper, 100 grit, will do. Keep
sanding and testing the mouthpiece until you get a good fit. Use cork
grease while test fitting the mouthpiece. Clean off the cork grease with
lacquer thinner on a rag before continuing sanding, so as not to clog up
the sandpaper. Try to get an even shape all they way around. Finally
remove the tape and you are finished.
While key corks may also be glued with
contact cement, this is too slow. I use “CA”, or alpha cyano-acrylate
glue. This is commonly called "Super" glue. This is the type of glue that
one tiny drop is used and it dries FAST (and sticks your fingers
together)!!! I prefer the thick, gel type, or the thick medium drying
speed type. These glues may be bought in hardware stores with brand names
such as Crazy Glue, Bondini, or Loctite. At hobby and craft shops, Zap,
Hot Stuff, and Carl Goldberg brands are excellent. Avoid the thin, watery
type. This type fumes badly, and is too easily spilled. Apply CA glues
to the new cork well away from the instrument.
Needle springs, either the old blue steel
type, or the newer stainless steel type may be purchased. I suggest
purchasing an assortment to begin with, rather than buying the individual
sizes. Ferree’s also has replacements for the Norton Screw In Springs
used on the old Bueschers.
From all of the above you can see that for
about $50-$70 U.S., you will be able to buy pads and other supplies needed
to maintain your saxophone, and keep it playing well, for many years.
Richard Booth advises that a
small crochet hook makes an excellent spring hook. Further, by filing or
grinding a notch on the opposite end, that end may be used for pushing
springs from the opposite direction.
Gary Hodo cautions about the use
of CA glues with black lacquer saxes. The vapors may cause a frosting
near the freshly glued cork. This is not usually a problem with the gel
type CA glue when used sparingly. A spill of CA glue can seriously damage
George Thomas contributed
information on making an excellent leak light. In lumber and home
improvement stores (such as Lowe’s) you may find an assortment of items
for the “Cable Light” or “Rope Light” brands of decorative lighting. This
consists of a power cord and a clear flexible plastic “cable” with tiny
light bulbs spaced every inch. You will need:
#1308 "18" Repair Section", $7.96
#1301 "Power Pack" 6' cord, $5.97 US
Total cost was $14 and tax. All of the plugs
and parts I needed were in there. It can be assembled in just a few
minutes. I did not even use the included switch, as I will plug and
unplug as needed.
Woodwind players that travel a
lot can carry this leak light easily. Every saxophonist needs one of
these. No soldering, no tools to assemble it. It easily fit down the
bore of all my saxes, and easily snaked around the bell bow, even on my
little curved soprano. I knew I could get into the straight soprano from
the bottom, but the light went right down the neck socket, too.
Steve Goodson contributed tips on
use of the carpenter’s hot melt glue sticks for shellac, and how to
correctly check the pads for leaks.