Woodwind Repads and Overhauls
Blog by: Malinda Stratton
MGR-PHX Repair Technician
So, you’ve either been playing the same instrument for a very long time or you inherited a hand-me-down instrument. It plays a little funny and you bring it into the repair shop to get it working. The estimate comes back and it’s the unexpected: Your instrument needs a lot of work done to it.
How do woodwinds fail and become candidates for a repad or overhaul? Mostly, it comes down to the wear and tear on the pads. Most flutes and clarinets use a combined bladder and felt pad. Some newer models of clarinets have switched over to a synthetic pad. Saxophones and most bass clarinets are installed with leather and felt pads. What’s the difference? A bladder pad is constructed with a cardboard backing, a layer of felt, and covered over by a thin layer of skin that usually comes from a cow’s stomach. Synthetic pads are a closed cell foam with a paper backing. Leather pads are constructed the same way as a bladder pad but with the leather on the outside. Leather pads also have some type of resonator in the middle of the pad to help project sound.
Pads fail for a number of reasons; natural aging, environmental, and the player’s habits. For both the bladder and leather pad, the skin can dry out over time, and begin to shrink. The dryness of the pad will also make the pads very brittle. The felt hairs inside the pad will also begin to loosen. With this tug of war going on, the skin can start to tear from the pressure. The other enemy of pads with felt in them is moth larvae. They love to feast on the felt and will eat it whenever they get the chance. Too much saliva from the player will also deteriorate the pad. Whether it’s the player’s natural acidity or because they just ate a cheeseburger before they played, whatever is in the player’s mouth ends up inside the horn and on the pads. Pads that get rubbed too much from handling can get worn and start to tear.
Are synthetic pads more durable than bladder? In some ways, yes. Unfortunately, they are susceptible to heat. The warmer the pad gets, the deeper it sits in the tone hole. This could cause the pad to feel sticky or sluggish. This becomes an issue when the instrument is used outside during our hot Arizona summers or if the instrument is left in a car too long.
When 1/2 to 2/3rd’s of the pads have become too brittle, this is when it is time for a repad. If there are any moth eaten pads, it’s also a good idea to have the repad done in case there are any larvae left in the instrument.
What is involved with a repad/overhaul? A lot of detail and time. Here’ how it’s broken down:
- Instrument is completely disassembled from the body
- All screws are removed and cleaned
- Flute keys are unpinned
- Pads are removed
- The body and keys are degreased
- Inside of key tubes and the screws are swabbed with alcohol, naphtha, or acetone (depends on the preferences of the technician)
- Bodies and keys are cleaned
- Either hand washed with a grease cutting soap or put in an Ultrasonic machine (also depends on the technician’s preferences)
- Wood bodied instruments get cleaned with an oil based soap
- These cannot go into the Ultrasonic machine as this will dry out the wood
- Instruments in a fragile condition are cleaned with more delicate care
- Instrument is then completely dried
- All key corks and felts are replaced
- Minor dent work may be done on metal instruments
- Sax and flute tenons are refitted
- Sax and flute bodies are straightened
- Wood bodied instruments are checked for cracks and chips
- Depending on the severity, these are filled
- Major cracks and chips puts this repad into an overhaul category (please see below)
- Bodies are oiled and the wood grain is checked for sealing (leaks can happen through the pores)
- Key cups are leveled
- Tone holes are checked for levelness and adjusted
- Keys are assembled to the bodies one at a time
- Keys are checked and adjusted for fit between the key posts
- Each key is centered over its respected hole
- Bent keys are corrected and straightened
- Threads of the screws are greased before reassembly
- The key’s tubes are oiled before assembly
- Flute keys are repinned
- Once the key section is in place and the cups are positioned correctly, the pad is seated in the cup
- Hot melt glue or shellac is applied to the back side of the pad before insertion
- Flute pads do not use glue as they are held in with a pad screw or snap
- Shims are also put behind the flute pad to adjust for pad coverage
- The pad is adjusted to sit level over the tone hole and then clamped to put in a seat
- The seat is the ring that you see on the surface of the pad
- The purpose of the seat is to help the pad seal
- If the pad is too deep or too light, this could cause some leaking and complications during playing
- If there are 2 or more keys that work together, they are adjusted so that they perform as they are intended to
- Once all of the keys are reassembled on the instrument, the pads are sitting flat, and the keys are adjusted, any slop (or play) that is in the keys is eliminated
- This is called regulation. Its purpose is to make everything tight and make the instrument comfortable to play
- Now it is time for the play test. The technician will play a chromatic scale, some interval jumps and maybe their favorite tune.
- The play test is intended to isolate any notes that do not sound properly. The instrument should also be able to easily make jumps between octaves
- Instrument is adjusted for ease of playability
- All silver and nickel parts are polished
- Silver is more fragile and thinner than nickel. Silver parts are usually polished by hand so that plating is not removed
- Springs are replaced
- Badly damaged hinge rods are replaced/remade
- Major body work is completed
- Rebuilding any damaged part
- Major dents
- Large cracks, chips and tenon repairs are done on wood bodied instruments
- Due to EPA regulations, this process is not done in house. This repair is usually sent out of state to a facility that is equipped to handle this type of repair.
- Mechanical overhaul
- All brass parts are stripped of lacquer and scratches are buffed out
- Instrument receives new coat of lacquer
- Any silver or nickel parts that need to be replated are done
If you would like to inquire about more information about instrument repairs, please call the store at 480-898-1499. We are here to help you understand.