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Hello, and welcome back. Today I want to show you how to fix a broken neck cork on your saxophone.
In this article, I will take you through the entire process of replacing a saxophone cork with a self-adhesive cork and contact cement, step-by-step.
Even if your replacement cork is not self-adhesive, the only thing you have to do is cut your cork to measure and use contact cement to follow along.
So let’s get this repair job started.
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How to Fix a Broken Cork on a Saxophone: The Step-by-step DIY Guide
The procedure of replacing a broken saxophone cork is pretty much the same for all brands of saxophones, so it really doesn’t matter which particular brand you have.
What you’ll need:
- A heat source, such as a heat torch or a hot-air gun
- A razor blade
- A piece of cloth
- Adhesive remover or scraper and sandpaper strips
- Painter’s tape
- Self-adhesive corks
- Barge contact cement
Step #1 — Remove the Old Cork
The first step is to remove the old cork completely and to clean the surface of the neck underneath.
There are several methods for doing this.
I prefer using a heat source to soften the glue and release the bond of the old cork. In a professional shop, they’ll have a torch that they can use.
You can also use a hot-air gun or an inexpensive mini-heat gun.
Another way to remove the cork is to just scrape it off. This method works too, but it takes much longer because it doesn’t come off that easily.
I only use the scraping method if I don’t have a heat source.
Use your heat source to heat the cork area from the inside of the neck pipe.
Always use your best judgment when using heat on an instrument. Overheating will damage lacquered finishes, so only use as much heat as necessary to loosen the cork.
Heat will soften most glues enabling you to pull the old cork off without much trouble.
Even if you come across some adhesive that doesn’t loosen with heat, most often the cork itself will bubble up letting you scrape it off more easily.
While the neck is still hot and the glue is soft, use a cloth to wipe off as much adhesive as possible.
Wipe away to the north of the neck so you don’t wipe adhesive on to the lacquered area before letting the neck cool.
Once the neck has cooled, remove any remaining traces of adhesive and cork with an adhesive remover.
If you are using abrasives or a scrapper, be sure to protect the lacquer by taping the area past the cork. I recommend using painter’s tape for this.
Step #2 — Apply the New Self-adhesive Cork
Regardless of which method you choose, it’s important to have a clean grease free surface on which to apply the cork.
There are two ways to apply self-adhesive corks:
Applying the Self-adhesive Cork with Barge Cement
For a more permanent and professional repair, you can strengthen the bond of the self-adhesive with a coat of contact cement on the neck.
I use professional grade barge cement. I’ve used it for years and it’s excellent.
If you’ve chosen to use the contact cement, paint it from the tape to the end of the tube with a thin even coat. To achieve a nice coat, it’s important that the cement has a viscosity of a very thick oil but no thicker.
So thin it as much as is needed to saturate the brush just enough to paint a thin even coat.
If your neck has a reinforcing ring or a so-called tone ring, don’t apply cement over the tone ring.
There is no need for a second coat. So don’t overpaint.
A second coat will only remove the first, making a mess.
After painting the cement, pull the tape off the neck pipe and set the neck aside to dry for about 5 minutes.
Applying the Self-adhesive Cork Only
In an emergency, self-adhesive corks can be applied to a clean surface using only the self-adhesive.
It is the nature of self-adhesives corks that they cannot be moved later, so it’s very important to get the edge set properly in order to get a professional looking result.
In either case, do a few test fittings of the corks alignment without removing the peel off. Since we are wrapping the cork around a tube that’s tapered, it’s a little tricky until you get the hang of it.
So do as many dry runs as you need to feel confident that you have it properly aligned.
Where we position the first edge of the cork sets the alignment for the entire cork.
When the cork is wrapped well, the south end will form a straight line. You need to make a mental note of the orientation of the start that yields this result.
I always start my corks at the underside of the neck. I do this so that the scene is not visible when the neck is resting in the case.
When it’s ready, pull the protective paper off the back of the cork and press it into position.
Begin to wrap the cork the short ways, and then when you’re confident of the alignment, return to the starting line and burnish it down with a piece of polished metal to secure the area as you continue to wrap the cork.
If you’re not happy with the alignment, stop and remove the cork, remove the adhesive with adhesive remover and start over at the step of applying the tape.
As you follow through wrapping the cork, you’ll get to the area where the ends will meet and form the joint, stop short of the joint by about ¼ of an inch and use a sharp razor to trim the excess cork back to the end of the neck.
You’ll use the end of the pipe as the guide for your razor.
Viewing the neck from the end of the tube, use the razor to mark the overlap where the two ends will join. Now tip the neck so that you can see the other end of the joint and make a similar mark.
Carefully cut a straight line between the two marks and peel away the extra.
Now press the loose end of the cork into place pushing towards the other.
This style of joint is called a butt joint. I find it superior to a lap joint.
It takes a skilled hand to make a butt joint perfect but it has the best bond and it is easier to keep round in sand, and it certainly looks better.
Step #3 — Burnish, Sand the Cork Down to Fit the Mouthpiece
Burnish the jointed edge down and the burnish the entire cork down. IF there is a lip of cork sticking up, gently shave it off with a razor.
To further dress the cork, sand it with 220 grit sandpaper to blend the seam and reduce the thickness to fit the mouthpiece.
Finish the cork with 320 grit sandpaper to give a truly fine appearance.
Sand a small radius on the mouthpiece end of the cork so that the mouthpiece can get started easily without tugging or tearing the cork.
Again, if your neck has a reinforcing tone ring, don’t burnish the cork in the area of the tone ring. Use a razor to trim the cork on the south side of the ring, using the ring to guide your blade. Pull off the excess cork, burnish and continue.
Step #4 — Heat the Cork to Fit the Mouthpiece
Finally, you can use a hot-air gun to soften the cork and get a final fit with the mouthpiece.
Heat the cork and gently press the mouthpiece to its plain position.
This same trick can help with your cork if it gets old and compressed and your mouthpiece doesn’t fit on it anymore and the mouthpiece slides or has a bit of play.
You can use heat again to expand the cork to fit a larger mouthpiece. The heat activated memory is another one of the great advantages of self-adhesive corks.
So there you have it, a freshly recorked saxophone neck that will perform reliably for years.
Top 3 Must-know Tips for Fixing Saxophone Corks
Tip #1 — Use Heat to Temporarily Fix an Old and Compressed Saxophone Neck Cork
This is for those times when you are in the middle of a tour, or you are moving around, and it’s very hard to find an instrument shop.
Saxophone corks will lose stiffness after a few years.
Ideally, you would replace them, as I showed you above, and you probably will have to eventually, but, if you are not in a position to, here’s what you do.
You get a lighter and heat the cork from underneath—heat as we saw earlier will expand the cork, making it fit again.
Obviously, you need to be careful not to burn the cork by lingering the direct flame in one spot for too long. You want to keep rotating the neck as you heat the cork, and you want to heat the entire cork somewhat evenly.
Although this is a temporary fix that can last a while, but not too long.
To be sure, it will stop your mouthpiece from moving without you wanting it to, causing you to go out of tune.
The cork doesn’t need a lot of heat, and it’s easy to burn. But it’s not such a big deal because you’ll eventually have to replace it anyway.
But it will serve you, quite well, in the short term.
Tip #2 — You Can Re-glue Broken Neck Corks if they’re Still in Good Condition
Even if you generally shouldn’t reglue things, neck corks can be quite a bit expensive, and a saxophone neck takes more cork than clarinet joints.
So if every other bit of the cork is okay, except where it’s broken or come undone due to insufficient glue, for instance, I can see how you might want to save it.
The first thing to keep in mind when re-gluing a broken saxophone cork is that you have only one shot. You cannot mess it up and still get a do-over.
You need to make sure the contact surface is clean so that the bond can hold. Use a q-tip to get the surface thoroughly clean before applying contact cement.
You need to err on the side of letting the glue tactile dry so that the bond can hold. After you apply the glue, give the glue enough time to dry so that it is not sticky to touch but also not completely dry.
A re-glued neck cork should be good for a number of months before you need to replace it.
Tip #3 — You Can Use Shellac as your Adhesive instead of Contact Cement
Saxophone corks are typically held on with two different materials; the contact cement that we’ve been talking about in this article and the shellac that we talked about in how to replace saxophone pads.
You might want to have a look at that guide if you are also looking to do some pad work. The adhesive I recommended using for pad work there is natural stick shellac.
I chose contact cement for this guide so that you have a feel of how to use an alternate adhesive in case you can’t get your hands on some shellac, for whatever reason, but you really can use either adhesive on either saxophone repair work.
Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug. It is either process and sold as dry flakes which are then dissolved in alcohol to make liquid shellac or dried into stick shellac.
Shellac is used in a lot of different industries, but it’s used very much in the musical instrument industry as an adhesive for corks, pads and things like that.
The only disadvantages of using shellac over contact cement are that shellac rather brittle, and the joint doesn’t withstand a lot of shock, especially on the neck of the saxophone.
It is just more difficult to deal with for most people repairing corks.
I hope that helps.