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aldevis

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I posted this on a different well known saxophone forum, assuming that I would have received a reply: they usually know everything (and point out that you know nothing!).

Let me try here, lateral thinking seems more developed in this crook of the forests (neck of the woods).

Does anyone know (and is willing to disclose) the actual composition of "brass" used in the so celebrated vintage horns, and maybe metal mouthpieces?
Selmer, King and Conn are the three brands I am mostly interested in.
Unfortunately the analysis methods I am aware of, are destructive, or affected by lacquering/plating.
I will try to ignore microstructure issues, for the moment.
Please let not start the usual debate about if it makes a difference or not.

I accept it is scientifically proven as insignificant/negligible/snake oil/psychosomatic, but I would love to know proportions anyway.

Or, as an alternative, did anyone have the occasion of using one of these on a perfectly unlacquered horn?http://www.bruker-axs.com/xrf-alloy-analyzer.html
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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21,947
Interesting instruments. I wonder if there are any students here with access oto a machine like that... I rather suspect we're going to find significant amounts of lead in some of the brass. Especially if there's any truth in the melted down shell cases theory of origin of some sax brasses.

But there's also the question of whether a maker always used the same alloy, or it varied over time or model.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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Interesting instruments. I wonder if there are any students here with access oto a machine like that... I rather suspect we're going to find significant amounts of lead in some of the brass. Especially if there's any truth in the melted down shell cases theory of origin of some sax brasses.

But there's also the question of whether a maker always used the same alloy, or it varied over time or model.
Spot on Kev. I am hoping to find out if there is some consistency of some kind. And the lead aspect is interesting too.
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
Messages
447
I don't have any info on this, but I think some like Yani that do horns in various metals say what they use. I doubt any of it is leaded. Lead is added to alloys for machinability. It interrupts the grain structure, making cuttings come off in small chips instead of long strings, and it melts under the pressure of the cut, lubricating it. But saxophones aren't machined, they're cold worked -- basically, just bashed into shape. I would expect something like a simple 70/30 brass to be what you find most.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Spot on Kev. I am hoping to find out if there is some consistency of some kind. And the lead aspect is interesting too.
I did some research on brass composition a while ago. Apparantly lead used to be added to brass in largish proportions because it improves machinability and the ability of brass to slide.

I wasn't able to find anything about the lead content of brasses used for instrument or mouthpiece manufacture. But I wouldn't be surprised to find that sax brass had quite a bit of lead in it. Especially given that it was only relatively recently that lead was used for water pipes as the dangers weren't appreciated.

Some articles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brass
http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/uni...es-dangerously-lenient-say-experts-45983.html
http://www.news-medical.net/news/20...-high-levels-of-lead-into-drinking-water.aspx

What the risk is is anyone's guess...
 

MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
I work with both copper and brass, plus bronze in my jewellery making. The latter two both have copper content which accounts for some of the initial pliability and colour tones.

Copper begins as a soft metal, and by hammering with a leather hammer becomes what is known as 'work hardened' and so will retain its shape. Hammering with a metal hammer is damaging and begins to split the metal, so it has to be a leather hammer preferably, or at worst a plastic or rubber hammer.

Does that help at all?
 

aldevis

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Copper begins as a soft metal, and by hammering with a leather hammer becomes what is known as 'work hardened'
[.....]

Does that help at all?
Actually yes. What about hammering brass or bronze?
 

QWales

Senior Member
Messages
722
Hmmm implications of lead poisoning, interesting... Could we see those Selmer Mk V1’s being given away for a fiver soon? No I don’t think so either but after reading this I’d certainly make sure I get a good bite pad if I ever purchase an old metal mouthpiece. Saying that, I guess anything with gold or silver plating intact should be fine.
 

MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
Actually yes. What about hammering brass or bronze?
It is the same due to the copper content. All the elements begin as soft until work hardened. Jewellers rely on this in order to form the shapes and then make them strong enough to retain the shapes. Using a metal hammer is only damaging though. Rawhide hammers are the best, and I would use a rawhide to push out any dings in my bell.

Copper is a sole metal, where as brass and bronze are made up of copper and other elements. I just can't say which out of the top of my head, doh! I don't think about it, I only think in context of design, colour, workability and patina.

I would be very surprised if anything for musical purposes (especially in a woodwind section) incorporated lead as an element on the basis that it has been know since medieval times about lead poisoning. Would anyone ever have taken that chance? It isn't just about the mouthpiece, it would be about touching the metal and then touching your mouth, which is automatically going to happen whenever you are handling your instrument and moving around. I'm not saying its not possible, just that I would be surprised.
 

rhysonsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,390
Hmmm implications of lead poisoning, interesting... Could we see those Selmer Mk V1’s being given away for a fiver soon? No I don’t think so either but after reading this I’d certainly make sure I get a good bite pad if I ever purchase an old metal mouthpiece. Saying that, I guess anything with gold or silver plating intact should be fine.
When my parents bought me my first sax (a Dearman New Super tenor) in about 1978, we took it along to well-known repairer Pete Snowden. He looked at the mouthpiece in the case, which I think was a metal, fluted Selmer piece and started picking at the glue holding in the bite plate. He said it was very nasty, containing something like arsenic !

Rhys

PS Come to think of it, I'm not feeling very well today .....
 

aldevis

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I guess anything with gold or silver plating intact should be fine.
One day I will take pictures of my mkVI...
The lead content is my actual guess, since some Selmer guy (quoted in some forum) said it would be illegal now to use the same metal. Was he referring to lead? Workers' slavery? Frogs and escargots smuggled to Australia?

I don't think you can have lead salts on a horn (never noticed, at least) but this can be a difference between nowadays horns and dear old vintage.

Until we try....
 

MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
He said it was very nasty, containing something like arsenic !

Rhys

PS Come to think of it, I'm not feeling very well today .....

Hmmmm maybe I am wrong - after all they let hatters use mercury for long enough before it was banned - hence the term "mad as a hatter"

I can live with that - being wrong I mean - before any of you start on my hats!!!
 

altissimo

Well-Known Member
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3,355
Somewhere on sax on the web's forum someone claimed to have asked an ex employee of one of the US sax makers (I think it was King) and they just used regular 70/30 brass bought in from industrial metal suppliers. 70/30 brass is sometimes referred to as 'cartridge brass' which may account for the idea that it's made from melted down cartridge cases.
The hardness of the metal in vintage saxes comes from work hardening due to the hand hammering of the body tube and not due to it being a special alloy. The production engineers making saxophones would choose a metal that has the best mechanical properties to be beaten into shape. 70/30 brass has the highest ductility and malleablity of the commonly available brasses and therefore would be easiest to work, it's also cheap and readily available.

It's quite possible to hammer brass and other metals using metal hammers, you just have to anneal the metal at regular intervals to reduce the work hardening and relieve internal stresses to prevent splitting - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annealing_(metallurgy)
annealing temperature for brass is about 550 C

regarding the surface leaching of lead from brass, I doubt there's enough absorbtion through the skin to pose a serious health threat and players of lacquered or plated instruments will have nothing to worry about, players of unlacquered instruments who're worried about this should wash their hands afterwards before handling food. I doubt there's more than a gramme of lead in the brass used to make a sax and most of that won't be near the surface. There's more lead in the solder, but no one seems worried about that.
The references to dangerous levels of lead in drinking fountains in the links cited by Kev are to do with a specific component with a high level of lead in it - "The device, a brass ball valve that had an inner coating made of 18 percent lead" - the brass used to make saxes has a lead content of 2% and no one is drinking water out of a sax.

In the case of unplated brass mouthpieces the surface area the mouth is coming into contact with is fairly small, most of the lead is within the mouthpiece and not at the surface and it's not going to migrate to the surface since it's locked into the grain boundaries of the brass. If you're worried, get it silver plated - it'll taste nicer and not go green.

I once asked a metallurgy lecturer about the possible leaching of lead from brass and bronze sax mouthpieces posing a health risk and the laconic answer was "unlikely" and a dismissive shake of the head. Saliva is very slightly alkaline and not likely to dissolve significant quantities of metal.

The 2% lead content of brass would only be illegal if it was used for water pipe fittings in the USA where legislation has been passed to reduce the level of lead in brass used for this purpose.

here's a bit on the sonic differences between laquered and unlaquered trumpet bells and different alloys - http://www.acoustics.org/press/133rd/2amu4.html so maybe those things do make a difference. :confused:
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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One of the links commented about the lead coming out of the brass and being present on the surface, so that even low lead values pose a significant risk. And as for solubility - if just pure water has enough to present a health risk...... I tend to place more emphasis and listen to people who've done tests, not based a reply on assumptions. But for me it's the mouthpieces. And necks..
 

tzadik

Member
Messages
356
Most of vintage "french" horn were the result of a different approach in manufactoring/assembling and also engineering:

The consistency in the production were not as high as nowadays.

It's difficult to
attribute the most important differences only to the different alloys used at those times.
We should have to go analizing how those horns are overall manufactored (procedures, thermal treatments... solderings/brazings).

Some people in Taiwan, who wanted to emulate the Mark VI, spent a lot of time and money making analysis (even destructive analysis) on the "originals".
Do they understand how to emulate a "Mark VI"? I think yes.
Do they succeed in making horns which sound like a Mark VI? Yes, but... these modern Mark VI copies sound only 90/95% closer to an original (good) Mark VI.
Is it possible they can make horns they sound even closer to a real Mark VI? Difficult to answer... probably yes, but the final prices, I think, will jump higher and higher.


There few small producers who still use old techniques for making horns.... unfortunately the horns are original project, not Mark VI copies.
 

altissimo

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,355
Kev, here's the research, hope you find it useful -
www.astarcourts.net/Lead_Contaminated_Water.pdf

http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-10172004-201812/unrestricted/MS_Thesis.pdf

it seems that the leaching of lead from brass water pipe fittings is at least partly due to corrosion and the action of impurities in the water like chloramine NH2Cl (which is used as a disinfectant in drinking water) ammonia, nitrates and phosphates as well as certain kinds of bacteria. Metallic lead doesn't dissolve in pure water, it has to react with something and form a more soluble compound eg chloride, carbonate, sulphide etc. Lead leaching from brass tends to decrease with age.

If you're worried about this, the solution is simple - use a mouthpiece that isn't made of unplated brass.
Hard rubber, plastic (eg Delrin) and surgical stainless steel are non toxic. Brass mouthpieces plated with silver, gold, rhodium etc won't leach lead. Nickel and chrome plating should be safe, unless you've got an allergy to such things.
Some mouthpiece manufacturers have addressed the issue of lead leaching - http://www.zagarsaxmouthpieces.com/Health_and_Safety.php

you could always contact the manufacturer of your mouthpiece and ask them if they use lead free brass. Legislation and the threat of prosecution would deter most companies from using a potentially unsafe material

if you do play a bare brass mouthpiece, keep it clean to prevent corrosion and avoid consuming salty and/or acidic food & drink before playing.
I can't imagine the neck would cause much problem since the player's mouth doesn't come into contact with it, unless you play in a circus hanging upside down on a trapeze with the condensation in the neck dribbling into your mouth.. .....yuck...


There have been similar concerns about mouthpiece repairs done with epoxy resin and the possiblilty of residual leaching of formaldehyde, but all the mouthpiece repairers' websites I've looked at say they use dental epoxy, which is safe. I suspect this is what Pete Snowden's concern was with Rhys's mouthpiece since I can't think of any adhesives that would have contained arsenic.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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21,947
Ta for the info. Must admit I'm not concerned myself, except for mouthpieces. Nickel plating is a problem for me. Found out the hard way with older specs, but it was a long time before I knew what it was, just knew I got a contact rash after the laquer wore off..... Going right off topic, what amazes me is the amount of lead in relatively recent taps, even low lead ones. We have to run ours a bit before using the water, otherwise you can taste the lead (and then the rust from the pipe). Banned now, but a tap from only 15 years ago can be like that.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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12,125
First of all thanks for the inputs. I celebrate trying to re-sell the unfunny comment about the dangers of lead altos (it only works in writing).
Back to brass: there are two main aspects mentioned around.

1- actual composition: this was what the OP is about. I tried higher copper contents on Sequoia saxophones and I feel it makes a difference. I also tried necks in several finishes, flavours and materials. I am still curious to have any real information about good old horns.

2- Brazing, braising, cooking, hammering, freezing, steaming: this is the essential know-how in saxophone making. Even if on many saxophone forums posters tend to deride who believes it. I guess that the only way to see a possible difference is microstructure analysis, but I only know destructive procedures. If anyone knows an alternative of wants to give me a slice of a Super 20....

3- Aging.... any thought?
 

cherrybyte

Member
Messages
110
Most of vintage "french" horn were the result of a different approach in manufactoring/assembling and also engineering:

The consistency in the production were not as high as nowadays.

It's difficult to
attribute the most important differences only to the different alloys used at those times.
We should have to go analizing how those horns are overall manufactored (procedures, thermal treatments... solderings/brazings).

Some people in Taiwan, who wanted to emulate the Mark VI, spent a lot of time and money making analysis (even destructive analysis) on the "originals".
Do they understand how to emulate a "Mark VI"? I think yes.
Do they succeed in making horns which sound like a Mark VI? Yes, but... these modern Mark VI copies sound only 90/95% closer to an original (good) Mark VI.
Is it possible they can make horns they sound even closer to a real Mark VI? Difficult to answer... probably yes, but the final prices, I think, will jump higher and higher.


There few small producers who still use old techniques for making horns.... unfortunately the horns are original project, not Mark VI copies.
Yeah, just like this guy.. :)

http://www.inderbinen.com/page_e/SaxTenor_e.html
 
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