MUS 215

Emergency Woodwind Repairs

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It is advisable, as a band director, to maintain an emergency repair kit in case instrument problems develop prior to a performance.  Some companies put together pre-fab kits that are convenient for this purpose.  Otherwise, a tackle box works well.  Your kit should contain:  (1) an assortment of various-size pads for each of the woodwinds, (2) a Bic-type lighter, (3) an assortment of springs, (4) needle-nose & regular pliers, (5) a small set of jeweler's screwdrivers, (6) a spring tool, (7) reed clippers, (8) sheet cork and super glue, (9) single-edge razor blades, (10) tweezers, (11) clear fingernail polish, (12) key oil, (13) velcro tape, (14) duct tape, (15) rubber bands, (16) cigarette paper, (17) leak light, (18) string, (19) small file, sand paper, (20) sharp probe, (21) plastic food wrap.

Needless to say, you probably do not want to go into the instrument repair business.  Therefore, the repairs listed below are best saved for emergencies.  Normally, you should recommend that the student take the incipient hunk o' junk to a qualified repair person.


Test for leaks with a leak light on saxophones.  With flutes and clarinets, test one section at a time:  stop the bottom end of the joint with your hand, close all the keys and blow with significant pressure into the top end.  Listen for leaks.  You may also use a small strip of cigarette paper to test for uniformity of pad tension.  As a last resort, close off the joint as described, and blow smoke into the instrument to see where it escapes.  This works quite well, aside from the remaining aroma left in the pads ...

GLUED PAD BECOMES LOOSE:  Caution--not all pads are glued.  Due to age, or sometimes cold temperatures, the shellac glue which adheres the pad to the key cup make break its bond.  Often, all that is necessary is to heat the key for a few seconds with a lighter in order to melt the glue and reinstate the bond.  Be sure to first place the pad in its original position in order to maintain the "seat" on the pad.  Be careful not to heat the metal for too long, or discoloration will result.  A light soot residue may be left on the key which normally will wipe off.  (Ha.  What a joke.  You've just ruined the kid's instrument.  Better get a good lawyer.)

PAD LEAKS IN GENERAL:  Sometimes a pad will develop a leak due to pad shrinkage, causing the pad to sit in the key cup unevenly.  Briefly heat the key with a lighter and lift the edge of the low side of the pad with a sharp probe.  Be careful not to tear the pad.  Then, reheat the key applying light pressure on the key to seat the pad evenly.

WORN PAD LEAKS:  If a pad becomes frayed, obviously, it must be replaced.  However, in an emergency situation, simply cut a piece of plastic food wrap, stretch it tightly over the pad surface and secure it with tape or a rubber band on the outside of the key.  Although lacking in aesthetic appearance, often this makeshift repair will allow the pad to seal and get the player though a concert.

PAD STICKS:  Pads often stick because of high humidity.  We won't go into other possibilities (such as what the student may have consumed for lunch).  There is a product on the market called "No Stick."  Try to avoid this, except possibly on saxophone pads.  The best approach is to use cigarette paper, which is chemically treated, to remove any residues.  Place the paper under the pad, depress the pad with a moderate amount of tension, and slowly draw the paper out from under the depressed pad.  Repeat this process several times.  If cigarette paper is unavailable, try some other coarse paper, such as a dollar bill.  Be careful not to use too much tension with delicate pads, such as those on the flute, clarinet or oboe.

Adjustment screws/felt bumpers (sax)

ADJUSTMENT SCREW IS LOOSE:  A helpful tip with fine adjustment screws is to put a drop of clear fingernail polish on the screw heads to keep them from unscrewing due to instrument vibrations. 

Some saxophone key guards have adjustable felt bumpers.  These may be adjusted so as to lower or raise key height, which affects intonation.  The closer the key is to the tone hole, the flatter the pitch of the note above it.  The farther away the key from the tone hole, the sharper the note above it.

Adjustment screws on some instruments affect the closing of the keys involved, and perhaps other keys.  If a pad is not fully closing, check for an adjustment screw.


BUMPER CORK IS MISSING:  Bumper corks not only silence the sound of metal against metal (sax.), but they also affect intonation in regard to key height.  These should be replaced.  Normally, this is simply a matter of cutting a small piece of cork to the appropriate thickness and installing it with super glue using tweezers.  Apply pressure to the cork until the glue has set.

CORK JOINTS LOOSE:  Clarinet cork joints and saxophone neck corks occasionally contract, particularly during cold weather, causing a loose fit.  Applying heat to the cork with a lighter will cause the cork to expand.  The flame should be moved quickly over all areas of the cork, as it will burn if left in one place too long.  Afterward, apply cork grease.


SPRING IS DISCONNECTED:  This is a simple matter.  A spring tool makes reinstalling springs an easy job because of the notched ends for pushing or pulling a spring back into its intended position.

SPRING BREAKS:  If a flat spring breaks which involves only one key, the key may be carefully removed and a new spring screwed on.  If a needle-type spring breaks, this is a job for a professional.  In an emergency situation, a rubber band may be used--attaching it in the best manner possible--to create enough tension to hold the key closed until a proper repair can be made.


LIGATURE BECOMES UNUSABLE:  If a ligature is missing a screw, or becomes bent, it may be unusable in that the reed will not be held on the mouthpiece securely.  By using velcro tape, an emergency ligature may be made which is of excellent quality, similar to many high-performance ligatures on the market.

To make an emergency ligature, cut two lengths of velcro tape approximately 2"-3" long, depending on the size of the mouthpiece.  Attach the two pieces of velcro together with an overlap of one inch.  Place the overlapped portion on the table of the mouthpiece, where the reed will go.  Then, snuggly wrap the velcro around the mouthpiece, fastening the other ends together on top of the mouthpiece.  Next, slip the ligature up to allow the heel of the reed to be slipped into place.  Finally, when the reed is in position, snug the ligature down over the heel of the reed into place.  The added thickness of the reed will create enough tension on the velcro to hold the reed securely in position.

Key noise

A major performance distraction is key noise.  Surprisingly, simple key noise, including roller key noise, can be virtually eliminated with the use of oil.  Key oil is fine; however, the use of heavier weight oil, such as 30w motor oil, is recommended (for larger instruments, such as the saxophone) in that it evaporates more slowly.  Use only the slightest drop on each moving part, wiping away any excess with a tissue.

Needless to say, the above list of repairs is not comprehensive by any means.  There are simply repairs which you should know how to make in an emergency situation.

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