Supercorder Maintenance and Adjustments

This is general information. If you don't understand something or if you don't know how to do something that seems to need doing, you should probably take it to a recorder or woodwind workshop, or send it for repairs.

Troubleshooting: Problems & most likely solutions

Hissy or Buzzy Sound

1. Not warmed up yet: blow a little longer with a good amount of air and the sound improves. This seems to be a characteristic of a porcelain windway: great for ten seconds then poor for ten or twenty, then improves again. I believe this is first, before it starts to dampen, then with the mouth end damp but water beading up, resisting flowing to the dry inner end, then the easy flow of moisture becomes established through the windway and out the end. Once it's warmed up a bit, you can play on and on without notable further deterioration such as occurs with wood owing to swelling. (The knife-edge on the labium can still swell, but the effect on the sound and response is less than windway components swelling and it takes longer before it does.)

2. Windway isn't clean: Sometimes it isn't obvious that the windway isn't clean, but the sound is usually better after a cleaning. Frequent cleaning seems more helpful with porcelain than with other types of windways.
   Clean with a bit of liquid dish soap or detergent and water on a feather. Rinse with water on the feather.
   Or, push through a strip of paper so you can grab either end. Put a drop of detergent on one side with some water. Work it around. Rinse using a strip of paper with water only.
    Warnings: Be careful not to damage the labium edge when poking something through the windway, and don't try to force anything hard or thick down the windway (eg a small screwdriver) as it could easily crack the beak.

3. Lint in windway: May be visible. Often may be blown or sucked out with sharp breath pressure. Or, push it out with a piece of paper or a feather. (See warnings above in #2.)

4. Blowing too loud: any recorder has hiss when blown hard. Hopefully if you need that much volume, you're playing with other instruments and it will be inaudible to the audience.

5. Tongue is being held too near the roof of the mouth. The mouth is a part of the embouchure, and more so on Supercorder with its shorter windway than on other recorders. Supercorders may tend towards breathiness on strongly tongued attacks, and good sound quality is a matter of practised playing technique.

6. Supercorders have perhaps a bolder sound than most recorders, which may contain components that are unexpected, or even unwelcome to the ears of a player wishing the quaint sound of a typical alto recorder.

7. Sealing glue (contact cement) has come loose, leaving an air gap: apply cork grease or modelling clay all around the mouthpiece joins to test. If the sound improves, an air leak is likely the problem. If not, look elsewhere for the problem. (I generally consider cork grease or modelling clay to be a temporary solution, but some players might find it satisfactory to smear some on occasionally rather than disassemble the mouthpiece.)
    If there is a leak, remove the mouthpiece and inspect it. Apply glue across the inner end of the block or on the two sides joins between the beak and block.

8. Out of adjustment: see Adjusting Mouthpiece.

9. Mouthpiece has been changed but not set up yet: Each mouthpiece needs to be minutely adjusted with the set screws and clamp nuts - see Adjusting Mouthpiece. When the proper setup is found, sparingly apply contact cement (see #7) so as to seal the cracks.

Low notes squeak, are weak, or don't sound

1. The telescoping B tonehole has an air leak: apply a little (cork?) grease. (See topic "B-Bb Key Sticking Down", solution #1, if you wish to remove the key to apply the grease.)

2. Something like a cleaning rag or other object is inside the instrument. Inspect and remove it.

3. The cork in the joint between the head and the body is loose. Remove and replace the cork (It's glued with contact cement) or wind thread around the tenon and spread cork grease on it to keep it in place. (Some players prefer thread to cork and there are on-line instructions for doing thread.)

4. A key pad or pads are leaking. See next topic. The first note, the one with the leaking pad, will usually sound okay, but not quite as strongly as usual, while notes farther below won't sound well or they squeak, so it isn't always easy to tell which pad is leaking.

Leaking Keys

1. The pads are worn out and should be replaced. See "Adjusting Key Pads".

2. There is an obstruction, eg lint, under the pad. Blow it away. Or stick a piece of cardboard in to dislodge it.

3. The key has been bent. Depending how much it is bent, you can try to straighten it or have it straightened, or it will need to be replaced. See "Bending Keys" for instructions and cautions. See "Adjusting Key Pads" once it's straight.

4. A post has come loose. This implies an injury that has dug out some wood. Krazy glue or other cyano-acrylate glue (and hard wood sawdust as filler if required) to restore the post hole (or even to simply glue in the post) comes to mind as the easiest thing to do. The pads may or may not need adjusting afterwards.

5. The wood underneath the pad has become deformed, eg by rotting (Hopefully this won't happen any time near the warranty period!) or by an accident. Sanding it flat enough to seal the pad might be tricky. It could perhaps be built up with krazy glue and sawdust if necessary and then sanded. Then the pads will need adjusting.

Noisy Keys

1. Oil them? Keys lacking oil are usually noisy.

2. If the noise is on release, check the padding or rest stops. It may need replacement.

3. If the noise is on pressing, check for something hitting or worn out pads.

4. If the noise is on pressing the C# or Eb, check the alignment of the ring keys, top and bottom. Ideally, only the pads should touch the instrument, but this is easier said than done as the key mechanisms will flex enough under finger pressure, or the sudden momentum of closing, for the lower rings to touch.

Keys Sticking Down (except B-Bb key)

1. Sometimes when the instrument has been played for a while, the tone holes get damp and keys can stick down. I'll ask at the woodwind repair shops why this happens and what they usually do about it. (Who am I that I should know everything?) One "solution" is to bend the needle spring so it exerts more spring force to open the key.

B-Bb Key Sticking Down

1. Apply grease (cork grease is fine). Grease is used instead of oil to seal any tiny air leaks around the rim. The body of the key can be removed if desired simply by pulling fairly hard. When replacing the key, insert it at an angle as far as possible and be sure the retainer clip doesn't get bent as it goes in.

2. Adjust height of Bb key pad, using more or less heat glue as required. It should fully seal just about the time the B tonehole slide bottoms out, and this adjustment sometimes needs to be fairly close. (See Adjusting Key Pads.)

Adjusting Mouthpiece

I'll say this once at the top, but it should be borne in mind throughout any mouthpiece adjustments: Be sure not to overtighten, for example by doing up the clamp screws too tight, or doing them up and then turning the adjustment set screws inwards. Porcelain is brittle and it does crack if overstressed, especially in the thin areas under the clamp and where the mouth touches it.

If the adjustment is probably close, first try simply tightening or loosening the block clamp nuts a bit.

If that doesn't do it, it gets more finicky. Adjust the set screws (fractions of a turn!) with a jewelers screwdriver and test by blowing notes. Normally, you can just see the knife-edge through the windway, essentially at the bottom. (You need a strong light above the window.) First adjust the window end screws for this view, even from left to right, then for best sound. Then at the mouth end of the beak, adjust the screw for least hiss. Repeat as necessary for finer positioning.
    Another factor with a new mouthpiece is the clamp. Sometimes it holds the mouthpiece in a bad position and no amount of adjusting will bring the windway quite into line. Try reversing it - they're often not quite symetrical for that very reason. If that doesn't work, the clamp may need to be bent a bit just above the threads, or even the hole in the wood may need to be enlarged.

    The contact cement is quite rubbery for some time, allowing adjustments, but will probably become hard with age, making adjustments more difficult... But if it's been on a long time, hopefully it's because no adjustments are necessary!

Adjusting Key Pads

The pads are held in the cups with "heat glue". This is liquid and sticky whenever it's hot, and it cools into a plasticy solid. It can be heated over and over again, usually with a hot air gun such as those sold by hardware or building supply stores for stripping paint. That's also a good place to find more heat glue sticks, if needed. (Unfortunately, a hair drier isn't hot enough.) I try to aim at the pad cup and to miss the instrument body for the most part. A match, lighter, soldering iron, stove burner or other source of heat can work, but flames may tarnish the key, and don't get things too hot or burn yourself! When the glue is flexible, gently tap the key closed a few times - voila! it adjusts itself over the hole. Let it cool.

Bending Keys or the Voicing Adjuster

   We're all different, and some people may want to bend the voicing adjuster or a key lever for a better personal fit. This isn't something you should do without good tools and a bit of metalwork experience. Ordinary vices and pliers will mark up the metal. For general work I use a vice with aluminum or brass jaws that will hold the piece securely without scratching it. I have a small vice with a jaw sawed narrower to grip a short straight area having bends on each side.
   A point to bear in mind: never put stress on a shaft hole or shaft pivot tube. The piece should be firmly gripped between the hole or tube and where it's to be bent. Shaft holes are the weak point: the piece will bend there and it won't fit back on.
   One possible way to bend a key lever arm is by using two small crescent wrenches. One is tightened onto the base of the arm and the other near the tip. While holding the base in place, the outer crescent wrench is torqued to bend the arm. The positions will depend on the bend being attempted.

   Keep any bending to a minimum. Bending weakens the metal and several bends may cause it to break off.

Restoring a Damaged Labium Edge?

   This is the most sensitive part of the instrument. Obviously, any repairs here will be much facilitated by removing the mouthpiece. I expect that pasting Krazy glue and sawdust over the damaged area, then filing or sanding it to fit would work.
  Possibly one could file the lip a bit farther back, then use a piece of thin sheet brass or nickel silver. Bend it to fit over the labium and sharpen the edge. It would have to be attached somehow... A metal lip would swell less with moisture.

Written: Nov 10, 2005 by Craig Carmichael