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Example Band Instrument Repair Article

Optimum Use of a Woodwind Feeler Guage

I recently made three changes in the way I work and it's made a HUGE difference.

Feeler Gauge Handle

I'd been using the same feeler gauge handle since I started repairing. I thought it was pretty cool - feeler material on one end and a small screwdriver for adjustments on the other end. I've tried several feeler materials over the years....tinsel, cassette tape, cigarette paper....and settled on the .0005 mylar available from several suppliers. I never saw any reason to change the handle though. It was just so....handy. While I was at the Straubinger workshop last week, I overheard several people being told to try a different handle. I dismissed the conversation, thinking, "wow, they must be using a heavy handle or something." I didn't really pay attention. Besides, I've always seemed to have a really sensitive touch (along with smell, taste, hearing, etc.) compared to others. They weren't talking to me so I didn't worry about it.

Feeler guage handle - 1/4 inch handle, reed, and mylarThen the person working next to me asked about the handle. He was busy so I said I'd get him one and while I was at it, I got one for myself. I sat down, applied my usual mylar feeler to the handle and gave it a try. Holy cow!!! Feeler guage tipA new world opened up. If the old feeler was equivalent to a slight tap on my shoulder, this new handle was a punch that would have broken my arm. I could better feel not only where the leaks were but more precisely how heavy the drag was on the mylar. It was like night and day. The new handle is just a 1/4" dowel rod about 7 inches long with a slit in the end and a hole drilled so the slit won't work its way farther down. You can either use a piece of clarinet/sax reed to wedge the feeler material in the slit or glue the feeler material onto the end.

Feeler guage in use - place instrument on bench and close key with index finger

Using the Feeler Gauge

The next revelation came in the way the feeler is used. I can feel much more if I hold the feeler perendicular to the instrument and near the end of the handle and pull the material straight out between the tone hole and pad, moving only the tip of the handle like a pendulum.

Placement of Instrument

Feeler guage in use - holding the handle perpendicular and pull straight outI used to always hold the instrument in my hand and operate the key I was working on with my thumb. I also found that if I lay the instrument on the bench (or use the Votaw Woodwind Work Fixture) and operate the key I am working on with my index finger, I get a much lighter touch and the feeler gauge will tell me a lot more of what I need to know.

If someone would have told me all that I wrote above and I didn't experience the difference for myself, I would have said that they were nuts and that my touch is just as sensitive. WRONG!!!! Give it a try. I guarantee you'll be impressed!