Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Removing a Vox microphone pickup from a sax neck

You can find information on the Vox microphone pickup at various places on the web, so I won't go into detail as to what it did (or does if you still have the equipment).  I will only note that one of the selections that you could make on the equipment was "oboe."  You could play the sax and have it sound like an oboe.  Huh?  Who decided that?  Why not play a sax and have it sound like a harmonica, bagpipe, or a chainsaw?

Anyway, with the passing of time, microphones improved and it was no longer necessary to drill a hole in your saxophone to connect a pickup.  The trouble is, horns that were played professionally, horns that were loved by accomplished players, horns that were "keepers," sometimes had a hole drilled in them for a pickup.  It seems odd now that you would love your sax so much that you decided to drill a hole in it.  A lot of really nice horns have old Vox fittings soldered on the neck.

One could choose to leave the fitting in place.  But there is a problem.  The fitting came with a little plastic plug to be fitted when the pickup was removed.  Either from the passing of time, or maybe from when new, the fittings leak a little.  You can use a suction test and see that air passes through, or you can put soapy water on the fitting and blow bubbles.  Not good. 

Here is a Vox fitting on a 1937 Conn 10M neck.  A hole is drilled in the neck even with the upper octave pip.  I'm not sure if that was what the manufacturer recommended or not.  I'm not sure why it had to be there.  I think that having a cable connected right in front of the mouthpiece would be about the worst place to put it from a player's point of view.  Whether it was best from an acoustic point of view?

I stuck some pink poster tack in the hole to get it sealed up during the rebuild/repad, but now it's time to remove it.  Rule #1, don't make things worse.

Here it is with the little screw on cap removed.  You can see the solder around the fitting.
I put a piece of bent wire down the fitting.  That way, when the solder gets hot enough to melt, the neck will simply fall away.  The reason I did it this way is that the lacquer on the horn is really nice and I want the neck to fall and cool immediately, since the melting temp of solder is just below the scorching temperature of lacquer.  Not knowing exactly what type of solder was used, I want to try to get the fitting out as quick as possible.

The fitting is out, leaving a big gob of solder on the neck.  One good thing is that the actual hole penetrating the neck is smaller than what I thought it might be.

I cleaned off most of the solder by melting it and quickly wiping it off with a wet sponge.  Then, I made sure that there wasn't any solder hanging off of the inside of the hole. 

I cut a circular piece out of a 3/4" copper pipe, which was just the perfect circumference.  I thought about using a penny, but getting a nice bend would likely have been more difficult than cutting the circle.  And there's another problem. I was soldering a penny on another non-sax project and it melted at a temp just a little higher than the solder.  Turns out that new pennies are copper plated aluminum.  Funny money.

Here is the solid copper piece laying over the hole.  I tinned the back of the copper patch, laid it on the remaining old solder, and heated the patch.

When the solder melted, I could see that the patch settled down on to the neck as the new and old solder melded.  I then checked it to make sure that it had sealed completely.

And it's finished.  I'll just let the copper age and it will blend in better.  

For those who can hear the imaginary differences caused by the galvanic potentials between disparate metals, the sax now sounds much, much better.  To me, it sounds like a really nice 1937 10M.

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