Emily Brown and Faculty Mentor: Ray Smith, School of Music
Over the past year I was given the opportunity to heavily research the repair of woodwind instruments and it was funded by an Orca grant. For 6 weeks I learned from woodwind repair experts at Summerhay’s music store in Murray, Utah. We would work together for about four hours per week and I would observe and receive instruction from them. I then used what I learned during my internship with Summerhay’s at my job in the Instrument Office at BYU by helping repair BYU instruments.
Every time I went to Summerhay’s, the woodwind technicians would teach me something new. They would show me a new technique and then give me supervised, hands-on experience learning this new principle. After they realized I had a grasp of a concept they would let me try it on my own for a while. Over the 6 weeks I studied at Summerhay’s I learned the following: neck cork repair, pad replacement, pad adjustment, body adjustment, dent repair, soldering, deep cleaning, spring replacement, and basic structural study. We spent the most time on pad replacement, as pad replacement encompasses most of the principles we studied and is the most common repair.
I found that over time I was able to grasp the principles of instrument repair a lot faster. When we first began the internship learning these principles was extremely exhausting and intimidating. The first thing I tried to do at the BYU office in application of my learning was neck cork replacement. I learned that this was one of the simpler repairs. I was able to help a few students avoid a trip to the repair shop with a 5 minute neck cork replacement. Not only would I replace the cork but I would show the students how simple it was to fix so that they could do it on their own. Learning how to do simple repairs like this will save musicians several hundred dollars over the course of their lives. Next I began to adjust pads on the BYU student instruments, which I was afraid to replace them at that point, but I was able to at least fix minor leaks (gaps between the pad and the tone holes). Once I felt comfortable with that I began replacing pads on my old saxophone with minor success, which is why I was reluctant to do this on BYU instruments. During my internship we took a lot of time learning how to set pads properly. I learned pretty fast that this technique would take many hours of practice. The experts at Summerhays were able to repair pads in no time, but it would take me hours. The initial replacing of the pad was really easy. We would use a small torch to heat up the cup holding the pad, with heat the pad would fall out. We would then wipe out the glue inside the cup. After that we would use hot glue on the back of a new pad. That pad would be seated inside of the cup and then moved to its proper angle. The hard part was moving this pad to the exact angle it needed to be in to have no gap between the pad and the tone hole. That’s why this specific principle was a little harder to apply.
Many people in the instrument repair world argue about how to replace pads. There are many ways to do it. But the way I find to be the most simple is by using a hot glue gun and not shellac glue. I also prefer to use Tupperware plastic to angle the pad in the cup rather than a metal plate attached to a stick. Some people believe that shellac is better quality and must be used for instrument repair, but I have found that shellac crumbles easily and does not endure climate
changes well. This leaves pads falling out of their cups unexpectedly which greatly effects the musician in a negative way. I used to use shellac on my pads and then during an audition a pad fell out onto the ground, which was very bad timing to sasy the least. Ever since then I have started using hot glue from a glue gun, and I have had no problems. This actually makes pad replacement cheaper and simpler, something really important to new learners and college students on a budget.
I no longer work at the instrument office but I do teach private students and help educate them on how to fix minor things on their instruments so that they can save money and time. I try to help them know when repairs are too difficult for them to try on their own and when to contact a repair shop. My goal was to educate future employees of the BYU Instrument Office on how to do minor repairs on BYU instruments in order to save the School of Music money. I plan on helping employees of the Instrument Office this semester so that the knowledge can continue on. Hopefully future employees of the Instrument Office will receive Orca grants in order to build upon what I learned so that they can do more than minor repairs. Instrument repair is not taught at BYU but it is an extremely important skill for musicians. I hope that I can continue to educate students on minor repairs for their instruments. I am so grateful for the Orca grant that I received because I would not have been able to afford learning instrument repair in any other way. As a token of my gratitude I will continue to pass the things I learned on to as many as possible.