Posted on September 14, 2016
I Timed a Saxophone Overhaul
Been working on it for a little while and finally had a horn (the Conn 6M pictured above) that had the perfect situation to allow me to record a baseline overhaul time on a horn that is in *excellent* condition to start with. I have subtracted the time spent polishing, since that is not “baseline”, as well as smoothed out the numbers here and there to try to make it more “average” by accounting for a few things that went easier than normal, and a few things that took more time than normal.
Be aware that this is a gross simplification of a complex and changeable process, and how long a repairer spends overhauling a saxophone seems to vary widely. Kind of like saying “how long to fix my car”, the time spent to fix your saxophone depends on what is wrong with it, and if you are getting your horn repaired you should ask for specifics in order to give perspective to the price. That said, here’s me having a good run (and you can read more about my specifics here):
disassembly and removal of pads, corks: 1 hour
cleaning: 1.5 hours
assemble pad set: 1 hour
pad and cork work: 12 hours
neck fit and check over: 1.5 hours
So that means BEST CASE SCENARIO I am currently spending 17 hours on an overhaul, before any mechanical restoration of the keywork, soldering, dentwork, fabrication, special cleaning, polishing etc. etc. that needs done.
Obviously this is a timeline for what is (I hope) a top-shelf overhaul on a vintage horn.
Took a while to get a clean reading because nearly every saxophone overhaul has something unexpected or non-baseline about it, and that creates a difficult-to-track workflow for me. This horn was pretty much mint, and I subtracted time spent on polishing and major neck fit and some weird factory mistakes around the octave key and voila, baseline reading. Included in the baseline reading however are some of the business-as usual gremlins: I think on this horn I had a few geometry adjustments in the keywork, maybe a couple of keys to fit, a few tiny dings, and maybe a spring or two. About as good as it gets, including working on new horns.
I would say that most horns that I work on end up being 5-10 hours more than this, with outliers on both ends. It is worth remembering that I work mostly on vintage horns, which are often in want of a bit more tender attention than the average saxophone. A modern Yamaha overhaul would likely be at or slightly below this baseline time- well below it if I was asked to leave the applicable adjustment materials alone, which is possible due to Yamaha’s usage of synthetic cork and adjustment screws.
This information is a little scary to share (especially since it seems to vary so widely from shop to shop), but it is one of the things I wish I had access to when I was first learning the craft, so there it is.