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Saxophone Key Prosthetics
make your own risers, extensions & thumbrests
Q.  A couple of year ago, you were selling a King Zephyr bari that had some great pictures of custom key risers on your site. I am thinking of buying a Zephyr as a project horn and am hoping that I can get a set of these pictures to use as a reference for my own custom key touches. I’m looking for ideas of what can be done. Rest assured you will not see these pictures show up anywhere else. They are for my private use only. Thanks in advance for your consideration. Regards, Bob …

A. Epoxy putty (sometimes called ‘marine epoxy’ cuz it is commonly used to repair fiberglass boats) is frequently used to work up these key prosthetics. The product is sold at auto parts stores (comes in several colors). It will adhere to your saxophone keys, and can be sanded or filed to an exact shape. The colors come out rather dull when the product is cured, but the final prosthetic can be painted. Guys use fingernail polish to paint their prosthetics in just about any color imaginable. Caveat: both the putty & fingernail polish will mar or bond with lacquer (as in dissolve & become one with the lacquer surface). Consider that fact as you decide where to place your prosthetics.

Common places where prosthetics are used by players are palm & side keys, low C & low Bb. I’ve also used epoxy putty to build up the left hand (octave) thumbrest to resemble the contoured, comfy rest found on the Martin Committee I& II  models (right). In theory, you could place prosthetics on any key, or on the right hand thumbrest. I have a client in Alaska that even put an extension on his bis Bb (problematic on some Martin & Conn tenors). I could see using a prosthetic on front F to convert a round button to the feel of the nice, big, forward-tilting paddle common on many newer saxophones.

The sky is the limit, really — as depicted in the two pix shown below of extensive key modifications roughed out on a Selmer Signet tenor that had absolutely TERRIBLE ergonomics (but feels GREAT now). I do have one helpful hint: Try for a rough shape as close to your final configuration as possible. While the epoxy putty product is sandable & fileable, it is a very tough product, once cured. You may be sanding & filing a long time if you need to remove a considerable amount of excess material. A Dremel tool fitted with sanding/grinding accessories would be a great help in finish shaping your prosthetics. Just be sure to wear protective eye gear anytime you use a rotary power tool! The Selmer Signet tenor shown below is an example of how NOT to leave your rough shapes. Be sure to study your product labels for set up times & application instructions BEFORE you begin work. Epoxy products may have set up times in anywhere from a minute or two, to up to an hour. Trial & error is your ally, but it would be wise to practice your techniques on something other than your sax keys. Obviously, your keys must be removed from the instrument before applying any type of prosthetic material. Remove spatula key rollers before proceeding, too. Otherwise you could end up with fused key rollers – or worse. No one needs Siamese side keys.


click on pix to view full screen

I’ve included a few pix of customized touches I’ve done or seen over the years to illustrate what can be done with key prosthetics. The palm risers on the burnished gold Martin soprano (above) were finished about as well as any I’ve ever seen – shows what a tech or player can do if they have some time & an eye for details. These Martin sop prosthetics are the goal. I wish I knew who did these prosthetics, but I don’t. I do know who did some of the other prosthetics pictured. Their names shall remain unmentioned to protect the guilty from public ridicule. Fact remains, pretty or not, all of the pictured prosthetics do their job of improving the feel of these saxophones. When you can easily & comfortably reach all of your saxophone’s keytouches, your technique makes strides of improvement..

Additional Comments
The name of the epoxy putty product currently on my bench is ‘PermsPoxy’, made by Permatex (the gasket people). We’ve used other brands with great results, too. This link is useful for those of you who need to learn the basics about the properties & peculiarities of epoxy products. It is called ‘Epoxy 101′. If you’ve never worked with an epoxy product this is required reading. It’s a good refresher for the rest of us, as well..



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