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Musical Instrument Repair Terminology
INSTRUMENT REPAIR DEFINITIONS
These definitions are as I was taught them and usually hold true for most repair technicians.
Often others involved in the musical instrument industry misuse these terms,
unfortunately, resulting in misunderstanding of what repairs are needed, what they will
cost and what repairs have been done when the instrument is returned.
~~~~~~~WOODWINDS~~~~~~~ TERM Definition Playing Condition
Replace only the items which are needed to make the instrument play properly.
The instrument should be able to play all the notes easily but there will still be wear showing on many of the pads and corks.
Such a minor repair should never be called "repadding."
Playing Condition is a term which covers a very wide amount of repairs and therefore it is hard to give an
estimate or quote without seeing the instrument.
Repads and Overhauls are fixed amounts of work usually and except in rare cases which involve rusted screws which must
be removed at additional expense and therefore it is much easier to give an estimate without seeing theinstrument.
Repad Completely disassemble the instrument, remove all key corks and pads, remove any tenon corks or neck cork,
thoroughly wash the body parts (wooden instruments are not washed), check springs and replace any
weak or broken ones, install new key corks and new pads, reassemble, adjust for proper playing action
and intonation, seat the pads to ensure air-tightness, check final adjustment.
Repads leave an instrument playing like a brand new instrument but looking as they did when they were brought in for repair.
This term is often misused when in fact only a couple of pads have been replaced.
The term "repadding" should only be applied to repairs where all the pads and corks are replaced.
Overhaul This is perhaps the most often misused term in musical instrument repairs.
Many people ask for an overhaul when they really just want the instrument put into playing condition.
An overhaul includes all the work of a repad plus working on making the appearance look better.
Piccolos, flutes, oboes, bassoons, clarinets get their keys polished to a high luster,
and the wooden bodies are polished and waxed on the outside and in the case of clarinets the bores are oiled as well.
Metal piccolo and flute bodies are also polished.
Saxophones are sent out for relacquering of the body, neck and keys, which is quite expensive
and requires the instrument to be gone for several months. Very rare older saxophones sometimes
don't survive the relacquering with their tone the same and most student models aren't worth the expense.
Only someone who needs a shiny new-looking instrument for their professional performances should consider relacquering.
Overhauls leave the instrument looking and working like brand new.
A tenon is something which slips inside something else, such as a socket.
Most woodwinds have tenons, some of which have a tenon cork which needs to be replaced when the cork
deteriorates or the joint becomes loose or wobbly. Metal tenons are found on flutes, piccolos
and saxophones and these sometimes need to be worked on because they become too loose
from wear or too stiff from being dropped and getting out of round.
Neck Cork Saxophones are the only instruments with a part called the "neck" and so are the only instruments
which have neck corks. These need to be replaced when they become chipped or otherwise deteriorate
or become too thin to hold the mouthpiece steady in the proper place for correct intonation.
Flat Springs All woodwinds which have keys also have springs. Some springs hold keys up while others hold them closed.
Flat springs are flat pieces of either phosphor bronze or blued steel and are attached to the key with a small screw.
Needle Springs These used to be all just what they say -- needles which were specially tempered to be springy, made by the same people
who make sewing needles. They used to be all blued steel but many instruments these days come with stainless
steel springs which aren't pointed like the older blued steel needle springs. Needle springs on flutes
are made of phosphor bronze wire and aren't nearly as springy as either the blued steel or the stainless steel springs.
Needle springs are slightly flattened on the blunt end and these are press-fit into tapered holes in the posts of a woodwind.
Occasionally these springs are press-fit into a tapered hole on the key itself but this is very rare.
Keys All woodwinds except recorders and fifes have keys. These are operated
by the fingers to open and close tone holes to produce the different pitches. Some people refer to
these as "valves" which is incorrect because woodwind instruments never have valves, only
certain brass instruments have valves. Key mechanisms are quite complex and most
musicians shouldn't try to adjust these without training, since it is very easy to make things
worse rather than better, and even though the keys seem quite rigid and hard, it is fairly easy to break
them if a person isn't careful and hasn't practiced a lot. Some woodwind keys have adjusting
screws which appear simple enough to adjust but in reality they often control much more than is
obvious to the untrained musician.
Key Corks Woodwind keys have cork wherever one key contacts another
or where the key contacts the body of the instruments.
Occasionally keys have plastic tubes where they contact other keys. This is most often found on
saxophone octave keys and side keys. Key corks are often called "pads" by musicians but this is incorrect
and often lead to confusion or improperly done repairs.
Felts Some woodwind keys have felt on them, most notably some makes of flutes,
in place of key corks. Some saxophones have felts on the body beneath where keys with key
corks strike, to provide a more solid feel to the key action. The other use of felts on saxophones
is for the lowest keys. Felt bumpers are inserted inside the key-guards which keep the keys
from getting tangled on clothes or furniture. These bumpers regulate how far the keys
open and thus are important for intonation.
Pads All woodwinds which have keys also have pads. The pads are either bladder
skin pads, such as on flutes, piccolos, clarinets and some oboe keys, or they are leather pads.
Leather pads come in two types: 1)with resonators, which are metal or nylon disks in the center
of the pads, and are used on saxophones and larger pads on bass clarinets; and 2) without resonators
which are the sorts of pads used on smaller keys of bass and alto clarinets and on all the keys of a bassoon.
Solder For additional detail, look down at the Solder heading under BRASS instruments. Woodwind keys
are built by silver-soldering parts together. This is quite different from the sort of soldering
that many people use for plumbing or for electrical repairs. Soft solder joints just won't hold for long if used
to rebuild the keys. Silver solder, being a minor sort of welding, is much stronger and is required
for rebuilding keys. Soft Solder is used on saxophones to attach posts and key guards to the body, but resin-core solder
such as used for electrical soldering should never be used as it won't hold. Solid wire solder with liquid
flux is required for properly attaching body parts to each other.
for these on different instruments as follows (listed from top to bottom):
Flute: head joint, body, foot joint
Clarinet: mouthpiece, barrel, upper joint, lower joint, bell
Oboe: reed, upper joint, lower joint, bell
Saxophone: mouthpiece, neck, body
Bassoon: reed, bocal, tenor joint (sometimes called wing joint), boot, bass joint, bell.
~~~~~~~BRASS~~~~~~~ TERM Definition Playing Condition
Make sure all slides move, make sure all valves work, make sure water-keys seal properly.
Sometimes playing condition repairs on brass instruments involves removing some dents.
Such repairs also include resoldering broken joints and replacing broken parts.
Sometimes people refer to this as getting their instrument "overhauled" but that isn't the proper use of that term.
Playing condition repairs, just as with woodwinds, are the minimum repairs necessary
to ensure that the brass instrument plays properly and can be tuned.
Overhaul On a brass instrument this requires the instrument to be shipped out to a facility which can
strip the current finish (lacquer or silver plate), remove all dents, buff (polish) the entire
instrument to a high shine, and then apply a new finish (either lacquer or silver plate).
All mechanical parts are guaranteed to function properly either by being repaired or by being
replaced. The instrument is returned looking and working like a brand new instrument. This is very
expensive and requires the instrument to be gone for a long time. No small repair shops have lacquering
or plating facilities these days, so the work is sent out to one of several large overhaul factories
which can do the work much more efficiently
all have valves. Some trombones have valves just like those other brass instruments, but other trombones
which have a traditional slide also have one or two valves in the bell section which make certain
passages easier to play and also allow the trombone to extend its lower range downward.
Valves come in two varieties: Piston Valves travel up and down and typically have a total motion of between
1 and 2 inches; Rotary Valves spin within their casings and are operated by levers which are linked
either by string or mechanically to the rotor. Rotary valve levers typically move about 1 inch.
Trumpets, Cornets, Flugelhorns, Mellophones, Baritones,
Euphoniums, Tubas (not all), Sousaphones, all marching brass.
Rotary valves are found on:
Horns (sometimes called French Horns), Trombone bell sections (called F-attachments most often),
Tubas, some Trumpets which are used mainly in European orchestras.
Slides All brass instruments have slides. Trombones and slide trumpets (rare these days) use a large hand
slide to change the pitch. Most brass instruments have one main tuning slide, although horns
often have two or three tuning slides. In addition to these tuning slides, all valved brass also has
a movable slide for each piston valve or rotor. These serve two purposes: to adjust intonation for certain notes
and also to provide access for cleaning out the instrument. Trumpets, cornets, flugelhorns, some euphoniums
and some tubas have valve slides designed to be moved while playing for constant intonation adjustment.
Water Keys Most brass instruments have water keys. These allow the draining of the condensation which
results from blowing warm moist air into a cooler metal instrument. These are often referred to as
"spit valves" but in reality it's not spit but rather simply condensation which drains when these are opened.
Most water keys have corks to provide the seal, but these days often synthetic material is used.
When a water key cork isn't sealing properly, a brass instrument's tone becomes very raspy and it is hard to play in tune.
Water key corks should be checked frequently by the musician to ensure they are sealing properly.
Corks and Felts Brass instruments use a combination of corks and felts to regulate the valve and trombone slide action
for proper intonation and best tone. These become hardened over time and may start to make a clicking
noise when the valves or slides are moved, and if that happens they should be replaced.
Springs All valved brass (piston and rotor) use springs to return the piston or rotor to the proper "open"
position. Rotary valve instruments have the springs on the levers while piston valve instruments
have the springs inside the valve casing which is the brass tube the piston sits inside.
Additionally, all water keys have springs to keep them held shut except when they are intentionally opened
to drain the water from the instrument. All springs are very important to the proper operation of a brass instrument, and
often they are changed to suit the tastes of the musician. When they break they need immediate attention as without them
the valves won't work properly.
Valve Caps All valves, piston or rotor, have a bottom valve cap which screws onto the casing to hold the valve in place.
Rotary valves only have a bottom valve cap. All piston valves also have a top cap
which has a hole through which the Valve Stem travels.
Valve Stem Piston valves have a valve stem which screws onto the top of the piston. Finger Button Finger buttons attach to the top of the valve stem and are what the finger actually presses down
on to move the valve. Finger Buttons frequently have a mother-of-pearl or plastic insert, although some are solid metal.
Solder Brass instruments, being made of metal, need some way of being held together. Solder is used, just the same as
with copper pipes used in plumbing. This is frequently referred to by musicians and repair clients
as "welding" but in fact it is not welding. Welding involves extremely high temperatures and actually
fuses two pieces of metal together into one piece of metal. The solder most common on brass instruments
is "soft solder" which melts at relatively low temperature (around 350°F) and serves as a sort of "glue"
holding two different pieces of metal together. This is usually a 70-30 or a 60-40 solder and uses a liquid flux.
The other sort of soldering used on instruments is called "silver solder" and really is a sort of welding
but is rarely referred to as welding. Silver solder is used to rebuild broken pieces, such as a broken brace
which would then be soft soldered onto the instrument. Resin-core solder such as is used for electrical
work should never be used as it won't hold properly. Only solid wire soft solder should be used, with a liquid flux.
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