These two horns came into the shop back to back, a 1968 Selmer Mark VI and a 1960 Martin Magna. Both horns had been overhauled exactly two years prior to their arrival in my shop. Both horns had been played heavily in their respective two years: The owner of the Selmer said, "I play it every day for one or two hours, it's my therapy." The owner of the Martin said, "I used it very heavily for the first year, but not as much in the second since I was getting more Bari gigs in that time."
The Magna was purchased from a nationally recognized repair shop. It was sold as fully restored and overhauled. The owner of the Selmer wanted their VI given a full mechanical overhaul and brought it to a tech also recognized nationally.
Two years later each horn was brought to my shop. The owner of the Selmer expected a regular Full Service, the owner of the Magna hoped it'd be a regular Full Service but had reservations as you will find out below. The necessary work for each horn turned out to be very different indeed. Final labor charges on the Selmer came to $300, while the Martin came to a hefty $1200. Here we go:
My estimate for the Selmer was between $200 and $300. I changed 9 Pads. I suppose I could have gotten away with changing fewer, but I admit to being very picky, that's how I work, and I make no apologies.
The owner was experiencing the common sticky Bis, G#, and C#, so those had to go. Also, Low Eb and High F were heavily corroded which is also very common. So that leaves four pads that were "surprises". And remember, this horn was played everyday for two years, so that's a good run. It was time for a Full Service, and the horn got one. The only real surprise was the excellence of the job done by the tech.
This last point is a widely overlooked part of setting up a horn. Adjustment materials and their application are not glamorous and they are easily forgotten. But when they fail it can become a very expensive problem. So, it was a real joy to put the horn back together and not have to back track any of the work.
The Magna was orginally estimated to be $600+, and I told the owner I'd get back to him after getting into the job because I had some questions about it. Upon first inspection I could see that only some of the key work had been refit, but left at very high tolerances, and the key work the wasn't refit was egregiously loose.
This is always a very bad sign, especially on an "overhaul", it is the first indicator that lots of corrections will be needed. While it is true that a horn with loose keys can be made to play rather well, subsequent visits to the shop will always more costly because sloppy key work creates a wide variety of extra problems.
So, after checking all the pads with a feeler gauge and making a basic plan, which already entailed replacing the majority of the pads in the stacks, I took the G key off and immediately saw that the tone hole solder joint had
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failed and it didn't look recent; look at the verdigris. I then closely inspected every tone hole and found another failed joint on the high F. I knew then that much more work would be needed; because making certain that solder joints on Martins have not failed is a fundamental part of restoring any horn with soldered
Many adjustment materials showed signs of failure, had failed out right, were over compressed, or had been installed cockeyed and crooked. Replacing adjustment materials is way more involved than gluing corks back on. The materials are what hold your regulations, and once they change, it snowballs from there.
What's worse is when the keys haven't been fit, adjustment materials do double duty: they take up slack for wobbly contact points and the keywork feels clumsy and mushy. Adjustment materials are intended to hold regulations because properly fit key work allows them to do so. Correcting this is far more costly than "replacing a cork."
See the bright spot within the dark section in the first photo? That is a dent made by the lock screw due to this over tightening. It is preventing the tenon from mating to the inner diameter of the reciever. The dark spot is where the tenon is simply not contacting the receiver wall. And you can bet the fit of the neck to the receiver was terrible. Poor neck fit is always part of why a horn has intonation issues, which this horn did. Remember, this isn't a yard sale find, this is a horn purchased as overhauled from a nationally recognized repair shop. It is a shame. Correcting this took a couple hours.
What can you do if the pad hits hard in the back? You can wedge a piece of leather between the pad and the tone hole where they meet first - in the back - and hammer on the front of the key to bring it closer to the front of the tone hole. But this will warp the key cup in exactly the way you see in photos 3 and 5 above, giving it two high spots.
Almost every pad on this horn was way too thick, and most of the key cups were warped in that way. While you can still "seat" a pad that has been installed like this, into a damaged and warped key cup, it creates these new problems that must be fixed. Correcting key work geometry is in the top 3 of most time consuming/expensive repairs. It is a shame that this had to be corrected at all.
It's better to install a pad of the appropriate thickness ensuring it is level, and seat it in a level key cup, on a key that is fit correctly to the hinge rod etc.
One more thing about Martin key geometry. The design dictates that the keys express a narrow arc. Meaning they do not vent very high because the super thin pads the key cups call for allow for proper venting. But if you install thick pads into the key cups you'll end up under-venting the horn as well. Which will make the horn stuffy, over resistant, and it will have uneven intonation. The owner brought the horn back to the shop about six months after
he purchased it because it seemed to have gone out of adjustment.
He then brought it to two other shops for more adjustments but believed the horn could play better than it did.
It's one thing for the other shops to have missed the inherent problems, but the real onus is on the shop that sold this horn.
"The horn is quite a different horn. It's so full. It's not stuffy anymore. The amount of air it takes to play it has dropped significantly. It no longer feels like a monster. The spatula keys are perfect on tension. It's balanced throughout up and down the register. It's just so easy to play. As I got used to it my sound grew fuller. The horn really is a joy to play.
Thanks again for the attention to detail on this one. It really made a world of difference! I don't want anyone else to touch it, not even for a cork replacement!"
Attention to detail is critical in this line of work. And the above message says it all. In the end I replaced all but two pads on this Magna. It was necessary and this response from the owner only confirms that.
I'd like to acknowledge Matt Stohrer for the work done to the Selmer. He is the tech that did the overhaul on it two years ago, and it was a pleasure to follow up on work that was done correctly. The owner of that VI got what he paid for the first time and that's how it should be.