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SAXOPHONE NECKS

There is absolutely no question in my mind that the neck is the heart of the saxophone's sound and the key to good response. Over the years, manufacturers have offered many different necks, and today a vigorous market exists in "after-market" necks which can often substantially improve the performance of your instrument. Necks are now available in a variety of different metals, platings, and finishes, and while each of these choices offers distinct characteristics, they are beyond the scope of what I want to discuss in this article.

A logical place to start is at the tip opening of the neck. It must be perfectly round! I measure the opening with a digital caliper, and make any adjustments that are necessary with a small expander. From time to time, I may expand the opening in order to make the horn a little more free blowing. Take care with this! A little change in the initial opening can dramatically alter the way the horn plays. Generally speaking, the larger the neck opening, the lower the key heights need to be set. It's a good idea to have a reference for what the original opening was, and here are a few examples:
  Conn "Wonder" alto .455
  Conn "Wonder" tenor .520
  Martin alto .520
  Martin tenor .520
  Conn "Chu" alto .490
  Conn "Chu" tenor .505
  Buescher TT alto .480
  Buescher TT tenor .495
  King Zephyr alto .520
  King Zephyr tenor .520
Of course, you must always inspect the neck seam to be sure that there are no cracks under the cork. I generally use a leak light to do this. It's not a bad idea to pass the light through the entire neck to be certain that there are no pin holes or splits. Necks are manufactured by a hydraulic process, and the two halves are silver soldered together. They almost always begin to split at the small end, and must be repaired immediately upon discovery!

If your neck is dented or bent, it must be returned to as close to its original configuration as possible. This is, unfortunately, often easier said than done. If the neck has been collapsed from a downward pressure, you can partially restore the original shape by placing it in the horn and pulling up on the small end slowly and carefully.Be sure to examine the sides for stress fractures with a leak light. Dented necks are difficult to repair. I own every neck dent rod that I have been able to find for sale, and there still seem to be some spots that I can't reach on certain tenors! This procedure is best left to experts because a variation in the taper of the neck at any given point can have a dramatic impact on the intonation of a specific note whose displacement antinode occurs at that point. You can significantly adjust the intonation and response of your horn by expanding (with a dent ball) or shrinking (with a draw plate) the neck in specific areas. My friend Oleg Garbuzov (818-766-6628) has had great success with this technique, and has modified the necks of many famous recording artists. I have a couple of charts indicating the location of the displacement antinodes in alto and tenor necks, but I have decided not to publish them with this article for fear that some of you will go out and ruin your necks! I'll be happy to send the examples to you if you will e-mail me privately.

The tenon is a source of constant trouble on saxophones. Get out your digital caliper and measure yours at many different points. It's not round, is it? Insert the tenon in the neck receiver of the horn and rotate the neck with a light pressure. Feel any high spots? The tenon must be round, and it must contact the receiver evenly or it will leak. There are two primary methods of expanding (or rounding) your neck: the traditional screw type expander and the "can opener" tool, both available from Ferree Tool and other supply houses. I use both in my neck work, and can only advise you to go slowly and take repeated measurements. If you need to expand the neck, the first expansion should be in the middle of the tenon, the next near the top, and the final one at the bottom. If the neck is badly out of round, you may need to use a rounding die to bring it back into shape. I have a set of rounding dies which I obtained from the Ed Myers Company (800-228-9188) which are far superior to anything else I have ever seen. Once you have the neck expanded to the point where it fits snugly (not tightly) and is in even contact, you should carefully lap the surface that contacts the receiver to be sure of a perfectly smooth fit. I use Ultra Smooth brand lapping compound, but you can get pretty good results using tooth paste. Insert the neck into the receiver with a very small amount of lapping compound (or toothpaste) and rotate it slowly. Take it out, wipe it off with a clean cloth, and repeat.Keep doing this until you feel no high spots. A light touch is essential. You'll be amazed at how much better your horn plays after this process.

NECKS AND LOW REGISTER RESPONSE

If your horn is resistant on the low end, here are a few neck tricks to try after you are sure that the neck fits the receiver tightly and evenly:
  1. enlarge the neck at the base slightly with a dent ball at a point just above the tenon
  2. enlarge the inside of the tenon slightly by reaming it
  3. shorten the base of the tenon slightly to create a "pocket" in the receiver

MISCELLANEOUS NECK THOUGHTS

My buddy Bob Ackerman swears that adding a ring to the receiver increases response.

California repairman James Scimonetti has recently patented a "corkless" neck that uses O rings rather than cork.

Enlarging the pips on the neck and lengthening the tubes will generally increase high end response. I have an "after-market" pip available for Selmer tenors. E-mail me privately for details.

The cork on the neck must be tight! If the horn leaks at the mouthpiece, it will not respond well. Don't overlook this!

The saxophone neck leak isolator from J. L. Smith & Company is a must have tool for any repair shop.

Braces added to necks dampen the resonance

Hole and cracks should be filled with solder rather than having an exterior patch applied whenever possible.

A FINAL THOUGHT

Neck modification and repair is not for the amateur. You can permanently damage your instrument if you don't know what you're doing! As always, let me know your questions!
 

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