Tech Topics: Leak Lights . . . Flex-Lite at work in alto body ...

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It’s a fact of life that even the most pampered saxophones develop leaks. By allowing air to escape at unintended spots along the body tube, leaks silently degrade your horn’s performance, affecting tone, response & intonation. The most effective method to locate leaks is to place a light source inside your sax, then carefully look for light escaping around the pad/tone hole interface. With a leak light players can routinely check their saxes out & learn to make some minor adjustments to keep them in top shape between visits to the Tech. More on those adjustments in a future topic . . .

Fluorescent “Stick” Light

This technician’s standard is composed of a 6 to 12 inch low wattage fluorescent bulb, controlled by a transformer box equipped with on/off switch & starter button. A pair of small gauge wires run along bulb length to complete the electric circuit. Excellent brightness & slips easily into alto & tenor neck openings — though care is needed to avoid hanging the circuit wires on the octave vent. A handy person can make one of these from parts available at electrical supply stores, or they can be purchased ready made from instrument repair suppliers for about $105, plus shipping. 

The fluorescent stick is a workhorse in the shop. It’s strength is brightness, but there are applications it just won’t handle. Fixed-neck curved sopranos & bari’s, in general, are problematic with this tool. Some models come with an alternate single round bulb, small enough to insert into a tone hole (after removing a key, of course). This option illuminates one tone hole at a time, which complicates adjusting the stack key combinations. Care is needed on the bench to avoid entangling the various wires in your work — and the bulbs are fragile, though inexpensive to replace. These are best suited to a permanent bench installation.



Alternative Leak Lights
If you’re willing to put in the time & energy to search there are many ‘off-the-shelf’ items that will function to some degree as a leak light. We’ve seen slim-profile commercial light strips, like the 8″ model below, designed to attach under a shelf using double-sided tape. These are thin enough to go into an alto or tenor neck cleanly. Such items are quite light weight, but care is needed to avoid damaging your sax with the sharp edges & corners. Brightness of many such products is marginal, and the broadcast range is usually to only about 90 degrees — but the prices are cool! 

Note: Be very cautious sticking things into your sax that carry full house electric current. Brass is a fine conductive material, capable of delivering you quite a shock should your make-shift light short itself to your instrument. ‘Nuff said . .

Kudos to Bill Singer for developing this extremely simple, cheap & functional light from standard electrical components. This is the actual light supplied with Bill’s sax repair videos. It will go almost anywhere (in a saxophone), and illuminates one tone hole at a time. The 6 volt lantern battery is fairly expensive, and a bit of a hazard to store in a sax case because of its weight. The light is reasonably bright, but these single bulbs lack the saturation needed to check all angles around the pad edges for small leaks. This rig is useful, though there are better travel alternatives.
This is something adapted from a string of battery powered (2 size C’s) Christmas lights. Colored bulbs were replaced with white & the length cut back to about 3 feet. The light is quite dim & requires working in a fairly dark area, but then most gigs meet that requirement reasonably well! Can be snaked almost anywhere — even into a fixed-neck curved soprano.
Cheap …


The “Rope Light” Product

inserts into bari 
alt C tone hole …
to illuminate entire lower stack

 The Rope Light is of rugged plastic construction — quite flexible & practically indestructible. The light tube on the model shown is 18″, which will illuminate either stack of a tenor or baritone (yup, finally a stick you can slip into a bari!), but the 36″ version is imminently practical, as well. The power cord plugs into a standard receptacle — no need for a transformer. This very useful design will bend completely around the bow of most saxophones, giving good illumination of the C#, low C & Eb tone holes. Don’t try this with your fluorescent stick lights! Single bulbs will also illuminate these areas, but just one tone hole at a time. Note Rope Light has no loose wires (like the flourescents) to snag the octave vent or other hazards around a saxophone. Not quite as bright as a fluorescent stick, but plenty bright none-the-less — especially where you can control the ambient lighting. Very handy fold-up for storage in your sax case or small tool box. 

. . . more penetrating Rope Light applications
gets in tough spots 
like bari crook
curved sopranos
around C-Melody bow
totally flexible & exceptionally bright

You can purchase an assembled Rope Lightproduct from many sources, or you can purchase the light kit produced by the manufacturer along with either an 18″ or 36″ length of the light tube and assemble it yourself. If storage space isn’t an issue we recommend you go ahead & do the 36″ model.  Those of you in a larger metro area will find that stores like Builder’s Square often carry the Rope Light line. Many local lighting distributors carry it, as well, so make a few calls before you pay up for an assembled light. It’s really all the same. If all else fails, the Tulsa lighting distributor, Garbe’s, will ship you the light kit & tube — and may even assemble it for you if you talk to them a bit — that’s if you’re not into having such fun yourself ….




Caution: Always practice Safe Sax! Never force anything into the body tube of your saxophone. Objects of near the same diameter as your neck opening WILL NOT go into the body tube because of the octave vent located a few inches inside your horn. Should you dislodge this vent — or bend it — a qualified Tech will have to repair it for you. Also use caution with sharp-edged objects that might cut pads, or smaller diameter objects which may become lodged between a pad surface & tone hole rim.


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