Benchnotes: Spring 2020


SHOW UPDATE: What a busy trade show season! MusicMedic goes to The NAVY SAX SYMPOSIUM, Wins Best In Show @NAMM 2020 & heads to NASA & the NAPBIRT Conference!

January was a busy time for trade shows at MusicMedic! Rich and Ryan headed to the Navy Saxophone Symposium in FairFax,Virginia where the Wilmington Alto was received with high praise! This was the first time we brought the Wilmington to this show and players were impressed with the response and price! 

We had an excellent time hanging out with our friends and colleagues who make the classical saxophone sing!

At NAMM it was great to see all of our friends and colleagues at the booth and to give a sneak peak to some of the amazing tools that will be coming out in 2020!

Our new Sax Bell Rim Tools and Bench Motor were so well received we sold out of these products on the show floor! (Don’t worry we’ve got them back in stock)

We also added new dealers for our Wilmington Instrument Line and Won Best in Show!

That’s right, MusicMedic was awarded Best in Show Company to Watch by Michael & Leslie Faltin of Instrumental Music and during the ceremony they highlighted our Wilmington Alto.

Leslie Faltin said, “To have an instrument being designed from a performance, repair perspective rather than a money or connections perspective is really innovative.”

At the ceremony, Michael Faltin spoke about his appreciation of MusicMedic owner/founder Curt Altarac.  He spoke of his humble beginnings and graciously compared him to a few music industry legends including Leo Fender, Ernie Ball and Vincent Bach.  He said, “He started out making a repair kit that he could sell to people. Then he started producing his own line of pads which are considered the best pads you could buy right now… and his tools are some of the finest tools that every existed.”

The NAMM Best in Show awards are determined by the retail community during the four day show located in Anaheim, CA.  Held the final morning of The 2020 NAMM Show, “Best in Show” featured gear carefully curated by industry experts. The session, moderated by Frank Alkyer, publisher of Music Inc. and UpBeat Daily magazines, spotlighted products, services and technologies that are likely to be a big deal and drive the industry in the year ahead.

The 2020 NAMM Show featured over 2,000 exhibitors representing 7,000 brands with 115,888 visitors attending the four day event.

To say the least, we were thrilled and are incredibly grateful to the retail community for this award.

Curt adds, “It’s an incredible feeling to be recognized for the time and effort that have gone into every aspect of MusicMedic.  Seeing The Wilmington line of saxophones shown off on stage during the award ceremony was a special moment for me, and being recognized as an innovator and for bringing more design and manufacture back to the US let me know that other people find that as important as I do.”

Hello Tempe! Hello #NASA2020 Here we come!

Curt & Rich are headed to the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference (NASA), March 6-9, 2020. We’ll be displaying all of the recent improvements to the Wilmington Altos along with some of our great tools, RooPads & EXTREME Pads and information on our ProShop Repair Classes & Workshops plus info on becoming a RooPads Endorser.

If you are in Tempe stop by the exhibit hall & say hello! We’ll be at the Arizona School of Music – Arizona State University, 50 E Gammage Pkwy, Tempe, AZ 85281

April in Sacramento!

In April the crew will be headed to Sacramento, CA for the National Napbirt Conference. We’ll be displaying our new Roller Tool, along with a bunch of other goodies for our technician friends. Last year’s party bus event was a complete success and we’ve got the wheels turning on our next party bus style extravaganza!

Along with our new tools and pads we will be unavailing our Technicians Round Table Program, and gathering up our friends and colleagues to participate in this special push for innovation. More details on that soon and we can’t wait to hang at the show!


We have been busy prepping Wilmington Altos for stocking orders and are excited to share the improvements we have been making!

The latest Altos have an added key contact for Low C# so it doesn’t bounce, and we improved the quality of the engraving for a more spectacular show room look! We also changed the bell flare to a smooth polished look instead of a sandblasted bell, which fits the look of the keys beautifully.

We are in the process of finishing up key work modifications on the new Wilmington Bari, and we are making a decision about the final material for the bell and bow. We also began prototyping the Wilmington Tenor and are finalizing the engraving and body finish. Once we have that prototype complete we will start working on key ergonomics. We should have a working prototype by the fall. Very exciting!

WHAT ARE YOU DOING THIS SUMMER? Upcoming Workshops & Camps

MusicMedic Basics Done Right Course July 13 to 17 in Beautiful #WilmingtonNC

The MusicMedic Sax ProShop is taking a week off our normal schedule of Uberhauls, modifications, manufacturing necks, and merriment to help you begin or build upon your journey into saxophone repair. Join us for this action-packed, hands-on week of learning, improving, and doing.

Over the years, many folks have come to us and to study and improve their skills. Now, we are offering a 5-day open course where we can all learn together. You’ll work side by side with the instructors and other participants in this repair immersion class. Focus only improving your skills or, for the very beginner, learn this wonderful trade in a way you’ll never forget.

This course is ideal for beginners, hobbyists, and repair students, and participants are not required to have any prior repair experience. Click here to register today!

The MANA Quartet will be hosting its annual workshop this summer at SUNY Fredonia. Joining them on faculty at the Mid Atlantic Saxophone Institute will be Florida State University’s Albert N. Tipton Professor Emeritus of Music, Patrick Meighan and SUNY Fredonia’s Associate Professor of Saxophone, Wildy Zumwalt.

Saxophonists of all ages can participate in this 7-day intensive course and will have the opportunity to perform in chamber ensembles, saxophone orchestra, and solo masterclasses. Additionally, participants will have access to the Sigurd M. Raschèr Archive at Reed Library. The event runs from July 26 to August 1. Registration is now open at Contact with any questions.

MHU Summer Music Camp June 21 to 26 in Mars Hill, NC

Mars Hill University, the office of Conferences and Events and the Mars Hill University Music Department are proud to present the 2020 Summer Music Camp at Mars Hill University, June 21st – 26th, 2020.

Music Camp is a great learning opportunity for middle and high school students. The Mars Hill University Summer Music Camp affords students the opportunity to learn under music faculty from Mars Hill University, regional public schools, and from across the southeast.

Register now at


Sax Bell Rim Tools sold individually in Alto, Tenor or as a set of two.

MusicMedic Bench Motor your repair shop’s next must-have tool!

Plug In Foot Control – A handy foot switch for providing on/off control over any appliance that plugs into a standard 15amp US style power outlet.

This Big Buddy Torch is an excellent quality torch that is easy to fill & operate.

Wide-Mouth Wash Bottle with Curved Dispensing Tip – This lightweight wash bottle is the perfect vehicle for storing cleaning solutions, water or acetone

Wilmington Clarinet Service Parts – Fits all Wilmington Clarinet models

Open Hole Bushing Lifter – A super high quality tool for lifting open hole flute bushings without tearing or distorting the pad underneath.Qty:

Steel Flat-Top Cans with Brush Cap

Tear Drop Dent Balls -This set of 3 tear drop shape dent balls are made of magnetic stainless steel and polished to a bright finish.

The World’s Best Scraper Set -Features two High Speed Steel blades with three sharpened ends in total

RooPads for Bassoon -All the benefits of Roo leather in a softer pad with a specia back that conforms to irregular toneholes


by Curt Altarac

There are a lot of considerations when delving into the world of aftermarket necks.  If you play-test a neck on your instrument and it offers an improvement in tone, intonation, and response over the original, then it’s a better fit. When play-testing a neck, it’s possible that one can overlook a negative way the neck affects the instrument, due to unrealistic expectations or incomprehensive testing. This seems to happen regularly, with the player eventually returning to playing the original neck and the aftermarket neck is never used again. 

Some players need an aftermarket neck because the original neck for their instrument has been destroyed beyond repair.  These players will not have the advantage of comparing and contrasting the original to the new, but they can still test for intonation, tone, and response. In these instances it is very important to understand what big effects a neck will have so you can quickly eliminate necks that simply will not work with your saxophone. 

Originally when we started learning about necks, we were modifying them, primarily by changing the taper (bore) of necks by putting materials inside to reduce the diameter in certain locations.  In some cases, we would add or take away metal at the seam to permanently modify the neck. As we completed neck modification after neck modification, we noticed trends. Nearly every instrument of a make, model and serial number range, had the same intonation or tone tendencies and benefitted from the same neck modifications.  The original neck simply didn’t have the correct bore size in certain areas on certain instruments. Knowing this, we began to look for manufacturers to make necks to our specifications. 

After talking to manufacturers, we learned that they do not modify necks for customers.  The reason for this is that machining costs are high, and we weren’t in need of large enough quantities for them to change all of their tooling and open new molds. This led to the conclusion that the only way we could have a neck of our unique specifications was to make and use our own tooling. 

Choosing a lean, small run production model, along with a very advanced CNC machine shop, we are able to make our own tooling and modify it as needed, which allows us to produce the entire neck in- house from the sheet and bar stock of our choosing.  Our production model means that we’re undertaking neck making largely in the traditional style with hands-on labor and no automation. However, because we own the tooling, we don’t have to invest large amounts to create a new model. Finally, we can make any neck that we need to.


Once we have determined the exact specifications and made the tooling for a model, we can start manufacturing necks.  First, a trapezoidal shape of brass is cut, folded over a mandrel, and brazed together in the form of a roughly tapered tube.  It is then hand hammered into a smooth uniform shape.  Next, the neck is filled with pitch to keep it from folding over on itself and bent into the appropriate curve.  At this point, many neck makers are ready to add the tenon and octave pip, and in the early days, we were too.  

However, even small differences affect the tone and intonation, and the fact that each neck was slightly different meant that we couldn’t exactly predict the neck’s performance.  So then we added the process of hydroforming to ensure that our necks were uniform in size and shape. This is done with a mold and a liquid under high pressure. Two parts of the mold are clamped together, fluid is pumped through the neck to expand the neck into the exact shape of the mold.  This process also hardens the brass some which we believe is a desirable outcome for both longevity and tonality. Now the neck is ready for its tenon, octave pip, and finishing.

To show a practical example of solving problems in the neck, let’s look at the development of our first neck model, the Conn 12.5 M neck for baritone sax.  We had one big problem to solve: some players like to use narrow and long modern mouthpieces on their vintage Conn Baritones, which were originally made to work with shorter and wider mouthpieces.  Because of the size of the modern mouthpiece chamber, the player has to pull the mouthpiece off the horn until it’s teetering on the end of the neck cork. In addition to the physical instability, the new length causes intonation issues because the mouthpiece has added in a cylindrical section to the end of the tapered bore, and also introduces an outward step.  The cylindrical step affects octave spread and makes octave C and above out of tune. We made a new neck with a longer tube and a more subtle taper. This gave the instrument a bigger tone, in addition to improved intonation and a stable mouthpiece placement.


If you’re wondering if you need to try a different neck on your horn, you likely have noticed a problem with intonation, response, or timbre, or maybe even all three.  Timbre is the hardest to talk about and the hardest to quantify, so we’ll leave that decision making process to the player.  

If the instrument is well maintained and adjusted and you still experience response issues, sometimes those problems can be solved in the neck.  Notes with warbles or notes that don’t seem to respond predictably like Low E or Low B are often culprits. A neck has a great effect on the intonation of tones in the second octave and especially octave A up through the palm keys.  In instances where the octaves are too wide, such as when pressing the octave key yields a note that is more than one octave up, a neck can fix that problem.

I’ve written long articles and taught long classes on the subject of neck taper and forego a long explanation here for brevity’s sake, but when thinking about intonation and tone, one must consider that the neck is an extension of the taper of the body.  The taper of the body (including the neck) at various locations sets the octaves of notes. You can check, on your horn with your neck, if you might benefit from a new neck for intonation purposes.  

The neck portion of your Alto or Tenor controls the octave spread of the notes around G# and up.  On your alto or tenor sax, with a tuner, play A in the lower octave, and press the octave key and notice the octave spread.  If it is in tune in the lower octave, but 15 cents sharp in the upper octave, you have a wide spread octave. Check notes A# and above, up through palm keys.  If you notice an overall trend of a wide octave spread, then this issue exists in the neck and can be remedied with a new neck. 

Checking octaves in this manner is the best way to quickly eliminate necks that do not work. Saxophone intonation is a product of bore shape, and if the intonation is good and consistent, then it is very likely that neck being checked has the ideal bore shape for that instrument.


The first thing to check when testing an aftermarket neck on your saxophone is whether the neck actually fits.  Does the tenon fit into the receiver and is there play? For testing purposes, if there is too much play, wrap the tenon in teflon tape or blue masking tape until it can be tightened with the screw.  A technician will be able to fit the tenon to the receiver properly once you have decided if the neck works with your instrument.

Next, do the keys line up?  When you press the octave key, is it operating the neck octave correctly?  Again, this is something that a technician can address, but if it’s not functioning, you will have a difficult time assessing if the neck is a good fit for your horn.

For some difficult or inconsistent models of instruments, we’ve found that the best way to troubleshoot this issue on the necks we manufacture is to send the player a set of delrin slugs to see which fits best in the receiver, and a marker to indicate where their octave nub is.  Additionally, there is also a delrin ring to determine how far away the key sits. The reason these things are necessary is that there were changes in the manufacturing process over the years, and an instrument manufactured 70-80 years ago will like have been worked on and adjusted many times during its life. 

The next step once you know your neck fits and operates correctly is assessing the tone.  If you don’t like the tone, then the neck is not a good fit. However, if the tone resonates with you, then it’s time to check the intonation.  Take the time to warm up your instrument and neck properly before checking the intonation. Check various scales, and specifically check octaves.  Starting with A, check the lower octave and higher octave, going up through the palm keys. If the upper notes are sharp (or your octaves are too wide), the neck you are trying is too large.  If they are flat (or your octave is less than an octave), the neck you are trying is too small. Generally a larger neck produces wider octaves and is more free blowing, and to a point will offer response benefits. A smaller neck will have shorter octaves, a more focused or clear tone, but may feel stuffy or resistant.

Knowing this, consider that you are making a compromise between the elements you most value and those which you can tolerate.  You may try a neck and it’s exactly what you’re looking for in intonation, response, tone, and timbre. However, you may try a neck where some things are improved and some things are lacking.  It is now up to you as the player to decide which elements are most important and whether the neck meets those expectations.


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