All about Sax Pads

Sax Resonators

    The most important part of any discussion about saxophone pads will be about getting them Level. A secondary discussion will be on how to install them in the cups so you can level them without any trouble, or at least LESS trouble. These things actually go hand in hand.
Ferree's carries a representative of every conventional pad available. As well as our custom pad, the B56 (.185" or 4.7mm thick) and the NEW B62 (.160" or 4.1mm thick) for newer and Asian horns, which Cliff developed some years back for Armstrong, (nee H.Couf & Keilwerth) which had all the benefits of a low maintenance plastic resonator as well as the projection like a metal one. They are on Pages 79 thru 92 of the 2001 new green catalog, along with all the things you need to "customize" them if you want to. Like bigger resonators on smaller pads, fitted to the tone holes, different thickness' because of key geometry, key or body damage, bad previous repair jobs, etc.
Additionally, CONTRARY to what you may have read elsewhere, the 'Conn Res-0' pads (B50) and the 'Buescher Snap-On' pads (B60) ARE STILL AVAILABLE and have been all along. Both of these pads were made by Ferree's when the Conn and Buescher plants were still in production and are still available today for Repairmen who are into keeping things original or doing restorations. (For you newer Repairmen, the 'Conn Res-O' pad had a metal ring around the felt inside the leather and the 'Buescher Snap-On' pads had a near pad-sized metal washer in the back with a large hole for the 'snap'.)


First, what does a saxophone pad actually do? Basically, all it does is seal air into the horn. It is nothing more than a gasket, decorated with conches to make it look pretty. Some are plain, some have a rivet, some have a washer held on by a rivet, and some have a piece of very highly technologically designed plastic on them. Otherwise, they are all pretty much the same. The wool, the leather, yes and even the cardboard, all come from basically the same place; whether from an instrument manufacturer or an after market supplier. Except for felt thickness, THERE IS: Basically No Difference.
Lately, someone discovered if you take and make them all different colors, that may have an affect. Maybe the black dye is harder than the brown or tan dye, for more projection, maybe. Although I don't use them, the resonator I like to look at is the 'wavy-gravy' model. Imagine that engineering marvel; gold anodized on purple leather. Would the horn still be in tune with all this stuff hanging down into the tone holes, taking up space, maybe changing the pitch? What next?
Seriously, a saxophone pad is basically composed of three parts, not counting the assembly glue and the ornaments. The leather, the felt, and the stiff craft paper to hold it all together is about it. These components can vary greatly, according to who you're talking too, with the possible exception of the paper back, (and there might be an argument there too,) but they're really pretty much all the same. A sheep's a sheep after all, and that is about the only place in the world to get the stuff, and they're either related or the live right next door to each other.

The Leather

The leather is all pretty much the same, some may be tanned or colored different; treated a little differently for one 'reason' or another (a family secret I'm sure), but it's all ordered pretty much the same thickness, and the texture varies not only from sheep to sheep but, on the same sheep! Having all your pads from the same sheep; now that would be like having a 'numbers match" car but, I don't think anyone could tell any difference on the car or on the horn. The leather may react differently based on how it was 'treated' before it became a pad but, that seems pretty minor. Also, it may react differently depending on how the player treats it. (Saliva, alcohol, environment, body chemistry) That is the bigger variable.

The Felt

The felt has a lot more to say about how a pad reacts than almost anything else. This is because by changing the components of the felt; it can be softer, firmer or stiffer and receive a 'seat' willingly or maybe not want one at all.
Today's softer pads (and that would be most all of them) work extremely well. In the old days they had some REALLY soft pads because they hadn't learned how to make good felt yet. Those horns were mostly sandblasted silver, if you get my drift.
The stiffer felt pads today are desired by Repairmen who are good at leveling and don't want the tone hole to impose into the leather as much, possibly giving a quicker release or faster action. If a 'pro' wants really quick key response these would be the ticket, but they take longer to 'get right' because they have to BE RIGHT. Level means LEVEL, after all. These pads may also last a little longer because the tone hole is less invasive into the leather. Using the E42 Sax Pad Slicks can be a real help here. Using them, there will be NO MARKS in the pad face and the pads can be perfectly level as well. You do not bend or manipulate the pads with these slicks, they would be better called sax pad "protectors".

The Glue

Here is a portion of a letter recently received by me that pretty much describes my feelings as well on this subject:
"Dear Gary, Most probably I will not shout to the high heavens about the advantages of using the amber shellac when installing saxophone pads. However, on this day I just repadded my 3rd saxophone, since our last visit of less than a month ago.
Damn, Gary, why have I abandoned this method I learned from you and Cliff years and years ago? Makes no never mind at this point. These last three jobbies have renewed my faith towards using amber shellac. How enjoyable now, to be able to nurse a pad into health (levelness) with so much ease.
There is now, in my opinion, no comparison of this shellac approach as compared to the oft referred to "hot melt" glues represented by many. Just had to express my opinion." Later, Pat

Installation and Leveling

Part I, History

In the old days installation was pretty straight forward. They checked the pad cups to make sure they were flat with a bench anvil, usually. They checked the tone holes to make sure they were flat, with a tone hole file usually. They knew that the pads were flat. So all they had to do after installing the pads in the cups was level the pad cup to the tone hole.
So why was it so hard to do? A couple reasons. First, even after going to the trouble of applying a little glue in the cup to hold the pad in; heating the cup to melt the shellac and using their leather mallet handle to push the pad cup against the bench anvil, (good thing the pads didn't have all the decorations on them like they do now, right?) while it all cooled to keep every thing flat, the parts still did not meet perfectly like you'd assume.
Second, these keys were usually brass, not nickel silver (German silver, white brass, whatever, although there were one or two horns that DID have solid non-yellow keys). So they weren't as strong as a flute for instance, and they did distort; as soon as the first bending adjustment was made.
It didn't stop there. Almost none of them ever had enough shellac in the cup to help make up for any distortion, especially the 'Conn Res-0' and 'Buescher Snap-On'; which usually had almost no shellac at all. I guess they assumed the pads stayed in by friction for a press fit. They assumed everything was perfect, which we all know it's not. It's still not, but it's a lot easier now.

Part II, Now Days

We still try to make sure the holes are all level and we still try to make sure the pad cups are all in the same plain. But here's where the speed is, if there is any.
NUMBER 1-Check the horn BEFORE you start working on it. Correct obvious damage, remove dents, straighten the body, straighten (un-bend) the keys, tighten the neck tenon, put bent posts back where they're supposed to be, whatever, etc. If you could only check 2 places, one would be the 'attack angle' and centering of the bell keys, especially the 'Selmer-style' ones like most saxes use today. The other main spot is where the bell brace connects to the body. On older horns this will involve 2 tone holes which will definitely need leveling after the dent work is done. Newer ones may not need dent work, but they will need a 'tweak' or two.
Kind of give it a quick (not perfect) playing condition to make sure you aren't going to be running into a problem later. In most cases this won't take over 10 to 20 minutes, but it can save you HOURS of grief later. At least this way, you're starting with something that can be repaired. When you're 1&1/2 hours in on a re-pad, you don't want to utter those terrible words, "MAANNN! How'd they do THAT?"
NOW, you're ready to re-pad the horn. Since you've already corrected all the mechanical problems as in the paragraph above; all that remains is to change the pads. Pick the correct thickness, .160" (4.0mm) or .185" (4.7mm). This will be determined by how the pad approaches the back of the tone hole. It should be correct there, first. The reason for this is that it is easier to bend the front of the pad down than to lower the back of the cup. There are exceptions to this, and one would be if the pad would then be too thick to function in the back due to the hinge point or attack angle. Keep in mind that lowering the back also pushes the center of the pad out toward the front of the tone hole more than the center moves at all when you bend down the front. I don't know why.
The older horns mostly take the .185" (4.7mm)pads and the newer ones the .160"(4.0mm), but some real old ones took the .160" (4.0mm)also, so YOU will have to determine what you need to have, to make the job easier, based on what you see. There are no rules of thumb.
Clean out the cups so you'll know what you've got in there. Fit the pad snugly, but not so as to wrinkle the skin surface, some will be a press fit, some will need shellac to stay in. In my "coffee clinics" recently I installed several pads purposely a half millimeter (.5mm) too small, just to show that if done properly, It Didn't Matter. In an emergency situation, you CAN use a slightly smaller pad and NO ONE can tell. Just keep the pad tight to the front of the cup. No one can see the 6 hair space in the back of the cup anyway!
Now, I have found over the last 45 years that the amber shellac does everything you want it to do well enough not to change to using something else. It holds better than clear shellac when cold, and I mean cold, this is Michigan. It provides that "liquidity or molten state" you hear so much about, long enough to 'work with'. It's also very easy to work with. And it sets, SOLID. Which is better for holding your regulations and adjustments for a longer period of time. It also doesn't leave that mushy feel like you get with "hobby glue", "George's milk carton glue" and hot melts.
Here is where you get into personal preference and experiences. At this point I take and heat up the shellac and melt a ring of it around the back of the pad, humped up about 1/16" (1.6mm) to 3/32" (2.4mm) high around the area where the leather was glued to the cardboard, approximately where the tone hole is going to hit on the other side, when installed. Then I put a mound of the shellac about 3/8" (9.5mm) diameter and 3/32" (2.4mm) thick in the center to hold the middle of the pad and the resonator up (if there is one).
Then, I heat up the cup to where it will melt not burn the shellac when the pad is put in. (See below on counting.) I lightly push the pad into the cup, maybe give it a little twisting action as this is done to insure a larger and good bond to the cup and lastly I push the middle of the pad into the cup and smooth it all up by brushing it with my fingers to make sure the leather is smooth and not stressed and lastly push the middle in again until cool. By now it usually is. This process is repeated on all the rest of the pads, small or large it doesn't matter.
Next, I assemble the horn, working on leveling and regulation as I go. That way when I get done, I'm DONE. Basically, I do the top stack first so that the pad openings are correct up there and the rest of the horn will go to it and just have to live with however it turns out; it's in the engineering. Then the bottom stack with the G#, because it is directly involved and could be called a bottom stack key in nature. The Bb is involved here, too, as it dictates the height of the lower stack pads off the tone holes. If some lower stack notes come out kinda stuffy, you will probably have to raise both stacks for it to work out musically and mechanically as well. But, from now on it really doesn't matter. THEY'RE ALL SIDE KEYS.
You may want to do the B-Bb-C# next, depending on what kind of sax you're working on (right side bell keys, for instance). Or, if you want to, some less stressful keys, the C-D#, right hand palm keys (Bb, C, hi-F), followed by the left hand palm keys; before you tackle balancing the octave mechanism (shouldn't be too hard because you already kind of did it already, remember) or the Bell Keys because they have to work with the G# sometimes and that is hooked up with the stacks somewhat, it's your show. Just get the whole horn as close as you can.
Now, you're ready to seat the pads. You may want to do the stacks separately as you put the horn together because it may be easier to get to the wedges without the other keys obscuring your work area. It's up to you. I'd opt for the easier way which is usually the faster, better way in this area, depending on the situation. Why fight with the horn?
You can use a heat gun, a Bunsen burner (G1N), a blowpipe (D3), natural gas, propane or butane. Who cares? Whatever YOU'RE comfortable with. Just don't burn the lacquer or any of the pads. I usually heat them up to the count of 15 or 20 depending on the pad cup size. I use natural gas and a blow pipe or sometimes a Bunsen burner. In an emergency I have used other things, and lately I kind of like the J99 Heat Gun. You have to learn this by doing it. Sopranos may only be 10 and I've had Baritones that went 25. The count is not a full second each, just normal talk rate. Remember, some gases are hotter than others, so WATCH what you're doing.
While this is NOT a step by step explanation of how to adjust and seat pads, the method here is to do the first key down in the group and the rest should go to it. On the upper stack that would usually be the C but you've got to factor in the Bb and the G#. So, maybe you'll do the Bb first in that event, Then the A ,B and then the unfingered C, which is the stack pad in this group. They vary, so you'll have to decide, depending on the key system and design you're working on.
On the lower stack, it's a little different. You again start with the unfingered stack key, which is the F# in this case and make the rest go to it. That would be the D, E, and F on the bottom stack. Then the G# because they're married, and the bis Bb gets involved again, because it is the bridge to the upper stack. The F# is pivotal here. Wait a minute, this is about pads, NOT adjustments, key corks and stuff, so I'll explain why and what just happened.
You already know how to assemble a saxophone, if you are a repair tech and not someone who just happened to stumble upon this website. The method that will make re-pads and overhauls easier, is the fact that the shellac will correct any small problem that you may have missed or is humanly impossible to correct. There are NO PARTIAL WASHERS HERE! Basically, after you've done your best, the shellac will melt and flow and let some places sink in more and hold up some other places so as to save your regulations or adjustments. That's why the shellac is UNDER where the seat is going to be.
You could say that we're 'floating' the pads in, and maybe you'd be right. In any event when done and adjusted with key corks and felts installed; after you do the final "BURN IN" the instrument should wind up being very close to perfect because all the built up errors have been absorbed by the shellac. This is NOT an excuse for doing a sloppy job. You should always do as good a job as possible. Don't depend on this method to bail you out, even though it may.
The main intent is that: This method just makes a good job easier, better and faster.
Ferree's Tools-"Because they work!"