Every instrument is unique!

The servicing of any instrument is also unique.


Having entitled this page `tarrif', I will now explain why it is virtually impossible to give any set prices for servicing procedures!  Not only are there different qualities of instrument manufacture, but the amount of use, type of use, coupled with the care given to it by the owner, will make each instrument presented for servicing unique with regards to the scale of service needed.

Sometimes a service is not actually necessary, as attention to a few minor problems might be all that is needed to get the instrument working efficiently.  I have often been confronted with an instrument `in need of a service' which has had only occasional use and merely requires some basic adjustments.  It is also an unfortunate fact of life that instruments, even expensive ones, don't always leave the factories in a fully prepared state and not all retailers have the facilities for setting instruments up.  It can take a period of time to find those niggling faults, or in the hands of a complete beginner it can be that problems are not found until a few lessons are under way and more notes on the instrument are starting to be used. 



It is virtually impossible to give blanket prices for the servicing procedure as each instrument will be different.  When getting an estimate for a service,  the technician will need to use his experience to advise which service procedure is required, plus noting any unusual problems that might lead to additional work. 

There are however, three main grades of service that the technician will apply, in discussion with the customer. 

One- (and cheapest), is that which is termed a `check-down'.  This entails a visual inspection of each componant part, pads, corks, springs etc. replacing those most worn and finishing with a re-setting of any adjustments and regulations.   For clarinets and flutes this approach is often a false economy, as the extra few minutes required to take these instruments apart, enabling the technician to carefully observe all worn componants, is usually cost effective.  This approach would however, be particularly relevant for larger instruments like saxophones and bassoons, where the process of dismantling and re-assembling is lengthy and won't necessarily result in an improved performance that is proportional to the additional cost involved.


Two- the `routine service'.  This is the most common form of servicing and would entail dismantling, cleaning body, keys and rods, swaging barrels,  replacing corks, pads and springs as necessary, re-assembling, re-seating other pads, setting point screws, lubricating screws and resetting all adjustments.


Three- the `full overhaul'.  This is required when the instrument is showing signs of particularly heavy use, or has had prolonged use since the last service, if there was one!  This would encompass all of the above, plus re-polishing the key-work (and the body, in the case of flutes), replacing all pads and touch-corks, springs and tenon-corks as necessary (these will often survive several sets of pads) and the final re-assembling process.


Despite these categories it is quite common for a service to be made up of elements of two and three, e.g. fit a complete new set of pads without re-polishing the key-work, or give the keys a light buffing without replacing all the pads.  This is why it is better to show the instrument to the technician and discuss the options rather than expect an estimate to be given over the phone.


Other Issues

Around these straight forward procedures, other issues can often come up such as freeing rusted screws, straightening any bent keys and rods, removing dents, securing loose pillars,  lapping any `sticky' keys, filling cracks, securing tenon rings, re-soldering cracked or broken keys and the list goes on, with the occasional un-forseen challenge  (lost screws and chipped tenons for example!).

The final consideration needed when choosing a technician is the level of competance applied in the ultimate set-up. The venting and regulation of an instrument is highly critical, even on the cheapest of student models. Once the wearable components have been replaced, the fitting and alignment of the key-work cannot be compromised, and an experienced technician, who is also able to play the instruments to a high standard, will always get the best from your instrument.



What difference does the pad make?

The condition of the pads on a woodwind instrument is fundamental to its performance.  Over a period of time pads will deteriorate, either by loosing their shape or by ceasing to be air-tight.  Pads that loose their shape, and are no longer flat, will sink into the tone hole affecting resonance.  After prolonged use as a consequence of  absorbing moisture and sometimes becoming wet when water seeps through a tone-hole, the skin covering can become brittle and crack or the leather covering rot.  An instrument that is not air-tight will play with increased resistance and start to `fight back'.

I am often asked to advise which type of pad should be fitted.  This is an issue that should be discussed with the technician prior to a major service when all or nearly all of the pads are to be replaced.  The final choice in this is subjective and each player, as they become more experienced, will eventually work out their own preference.  One thing is clear however, despite what many technicians say, different types of pad do create different kinds of response and encourage different harmonic tonal ranges in an instrument. 

The evidence for this has been experienced for many years, for example saxophone players have understood the difference in the variously shaped reflectors on the market.  Also, most experienced flute players prefer to play an open-hole flute, where there is no pad at all covering the centre of the key.  The reason these differences occur is due to a change in the properties of the resonating sound-wave as it pulses up and down inside the instrument, and the effects on it by the walls of the bore and the covering over the holes.  At its simplest, a harder pad will tend to encourage resonance and higher frequencies, whereas a softer pad will tend to soak up some frequency responses.  The differences ultimately come down to the absorbent coefficient of the material used and the pad's ability to stay in shape.   All good quality skin pads should be double-bladdered, i.e. have two coverings of skin and leather pads should be `deluxe' and backed with a polythene layer to make them impervious.


Clarinet Pads

For clarinets, the choice is mostly between a harder skin covering to the pad, or a softer leather one.  The skin pad tends to encourage a more immediate response and a brighter, more projecting tone.  (I generally fit skin pads unless directed otherwise).  Leather pads are often the choice of some technicians as, being softer, they are easier to fit and mould to the tone-hole easier.  This can however, result in a heavier, more resistant response, and an apparent mellowing of the sound due to a lessening of some higher partials, which many players genuinely prefer,  though they are also more expensive to buy!  Some players have experimented further and like the feel of cork pads or the extra sealing qualities of Gore-tex. 


Flute Pads

In the case of flutes, pads of differing thicknessess and hardness are available and they are most commonly finished with a skin covering. Thinner pads tend to be harder and hold their shape longer, though the density of the felt core can vary with different makers.  Most common for flutes are yellow, waxed pads, that last longer and repel moisture.  Pads required for open-hole instruments are especially cut and therefore more expensive.


Saxophone Pads

Until recently all saxophone pads have been made using a leather covering, though recent experiments using Gore-tex pads have been tried.  The main differences in standard saxophone pads are the thickness of the pad and the material and shape of the reflector.  This is the disc rivet at the centre of the larger pads, needed firstly to hold the middle of the pad in shape and secondly to offer something hard for the soundwave to reflect against, hence the name.  These will either be made from plastic or metal, shaped like a dome or with a convex profile.  New to the market are Roo pads, made from kangaroo skin with a multi-facetted metal reflector finished with a gold plate.  The Roo leather appears to be tougher than the traditional calf or goat, though softer in its density and the modified reflector aims to encourage a brighter sound, they are also very expensive!



Oboes have always used a combination of cork and skin pads, the mix of this combination varies between manufacturers but the technician will normally replace the type which is removed.


Bassoon Pads

Bassoons will require leather pads because of the size of the cups used.  Traditionally goat skin is usually selected, as it is thinner than calf skin and more suited to the maple wooden body.  After fitting though, the technician should proof the centre of the pads with wax, to repel the moisture and help prolong the life of the pad.


Ring for advice

Home-02380 695724

Mobile-07711 557655

Fair Oak, Eastleigh, Hampshire.


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