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Reflections On Squeaks...

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Since I got my tenor, I've been plagued by squeaks. This short note is intended to help other non-repairers get an idea of what to look for if you're suffering from squeaks. Would be great if guys add other causes to the list that I've missed/am not aware of.
My alto doesn't squeak, but playing it really hurts my joints, especially thumb joints, cos I have to press so hard. It's going to be repadded soon.

Talking to my teacher didn't get me far, he doesn't know a lot about instruments, just how to play them. Any time I mentioned a problem, he'd look at the pads, see indentations and say get a repad. But often it's just simple adjustments. With 3 kids at school, all taking music lessons, as well as my wife's flutes and my saxes, home repairs are a necessity - I can't afford to go to the technician every time a small problem comes up. Even if though prices are fair and reasnable.

Hopefully this helps a little, even if it's only identification/diagnosis. There's a lot more in Stephen Howard's Haynes saxophone manual, highly recommended if you want to take this further and do the repairs yourself. But getting an idea of what's wrong is a big plus.

1 - Beginneritis - especially around middle G on tenor. Characterised by lack of breath support/novice player. Often compounded by one or more of the following problems.
2 - Mouthpiece/reed issues - crummy mouthpiece/reed that doesn't work too well with that mouthpiece/facing. Mouthpiece too open for a beginner to control.
3 - Lig issues - especially with heavily tapered mouthpieces (most ligs won't accept more than a 5 mm difference in mouthpiece circumference on either side of the lig), resulting in the reed not being properly held on the table.
4 - Embouchure issues where top/bottom pressure is applied, but too little side support is given
5 - Pad(s) that don't seal properly or don't close at the same time all the way round.
6 - Regulation issues where one key closes another, but they don't both close completely or at the same time.
7 - Weak springs that allow normally closed pads to open during play.
8 - Keys that require a lot of finger pressure to close them cos of poor design - or inadequate lubrication in the linkage, especially when a cork slides.

I've been through all the conditions listed above. Seeing improvements/regressions as I fixed one thing/stumbled on another. One thing that was painfully obvious is that regulation/pad adjustment problems cause many different issues, and can often (but not always) be solved by gripping the sax/keys harder. Or slamming them closed instead of a more gentle approach. Gets very painful on the joints.

Often leaks hide... You get your leak light in, take a good look - and see nothing. Sometimes cos the leak is on the hinge side and difficult to see. Other times cos you're pressing too hard on the key while you're checking.

Another mistake when checking with a leak light is to see a pad that closes completely with a bit of pressure, but not with a gentle touch. Temptation is to accept it, cos it's close enough. Bad move...

It's easy to confuse a sax leak issue with a lig/reed issue. The leak sets off the squeak, which results in the reed buzzing really fast in sympathy with the squeak. So you reckon it's the reed, tighten the lig and maybe it all goes quiet for a while.

Also a tendancy to play fast through a known squeak... Slamming the keys shut, this masks it and you think the problem was really yourself...


So what are we looking for to eliminate sax issues?

1 - Each pad must close all the way round with very light finger pressure. If you watch it close it shouldn't seal front to back or back to front, for instance. Common causes of problems here are pads the wrong thickness, tonehole chimneys that aren't level or flat. Poorly mounted pads. Poorly adjusted/bent keys.
2 - Where a key closes 2 or more pads, they must all close by the same amount at the same time. If one pad touches down before another, then there's a leak and a possible squeal.
3 - Eliminate friction - not only do the hinges need oiling, but any sliding parts (e'g' LH tabble) need to be well greased - or even better use self adhesive teflon sheet to ease the action.
4 - Make sure all springs correctly tensioned. Getting an assistant to press on keys held closed by springs can help identify problems here.
5 - Mouthpiece/lig issues. Best bet here is to try others, especially someone else's that's known to play well. But beware, an experienced player may have no problems playing somethign that you struggle with.

You can check all of this with few or no special tools. I use a strong LED strip as a leak light. Others prefer cigarette papers. Weak leak lights aren' as good.
Work down from the top of the sax (neck end), a leaky pad will only affect the notes below it played with it closed. Make sure there are no issues att he top of the sax before trying to cure a problem lower down.

what I also found is that as the leaks were eliminated, the tone improved - a lot. :mrcool
 
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70
hi Kev probably a stupid question this but is there some specialised lubricants to be used ie is a complete old idjit beginner gonna wreck his tenors pads applying something stupid like 3 in 1 and end up with a sticky mess of pads on the floor and a good excuse to buy an alto ???
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
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21,947
use cork grease on the sliding bits and either instrument oil or car gear/engine oil on the rods/hinges. Apply this with a pin,work the keys well and wipe off the surplus. Don't use the later gear oils, they can attack brass. GL3 is OK.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
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8,000
Kev has written an excellent summary of the variables on a saxophone that can have an effect upon the tone production. I would like to add just a quick observation that would be related to numbers 2, 3, 4 above. Squeaks are generally caused by one side of the reed not free to vibrate as well as the other side. Sometimes this is caused by just a poorly cut reed that is imbalanced. More often the reed is not straight on the mouthpiece, or the player "bites down" more on one side. A quick way to see whether it is the mouthpiece/reed/player and not a leaky instrument is to play the "tone producer"----the mouthpiece and neck off the saxophone. If that squeaks as well, the problem is one or more of the aforementioned components. If the "tone producer" sounds fine, then there is something amiss with the instrument itself.
 

milandro

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,483
Most of the squeaks that I have ever had were due to mouthpiece/reed/embouchure issues.

I found that I squeak on certain brands of mouthpieces namely the Vandoren ones, I don’t know why but I have had with several Vandoren mouthpieces both in metal and hard rubber.

Never use a reed that you have been using, long, on another mouthpiece and then change mouthpiece while using the same reed because the shape that the reed has taken on one mouthpiece might not always agree with the other.

If a mouthpiece/reed has any issue you might experience some difficulty in playing which will cause you to tense your embouchure, as you push your playing you will then squeak.

Synthetic reeds tend to be more forgiving than natural cane and even if I did squeak on a mouthpiece with cane I then didn’t by using a synthetic. I have a few different types and brands with me that I use for reference of “ just in case I need them”.

A tense embouchure is deadly for squeaks, the more you tense it the more you squeak, some people insist on playing with too open mouthpieces or too hard reeds . In my opinion there is a wrong macho tradition in saxophone playing that pushes people towards a set up that is then difficult to manage.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
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8,000
Never use a reed that you have been using, long, on another mouthpiece and then change mouthpiece while using the same reed because the shape that the reed has taken on one mouthpiece might not always agree with the other.
This is especially true when one of the mouthpieces was designed with a concave table. Reeds broken in on this type of mouthpiece do not transfer to a flat table mouthpiece at all. If both pieces have a perfectly flat table, you have a better chance of having the same reed work on both. Note the word "perfectly".
 
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