Key LeavesTo find out if new Key Leaves saxophone care products could really keep a sax in top condition, there had to be a test—and it had to be disgusting. In concept, the product was straightforward: Consisting of two specially shaped silicone “props” linked by an adjustable strap, Key Leaves are placed neatly under the Low Eb and Low C# keys after playing sessions, propping them open along with the Low G# key that’s linked to C# on most saxophones. In this way, surfaces inside the sax are allowed to air-dry, never developing the mold, fungus, and bacteria that damage pads, cause keys to stick, and generally make an unsanitary mess. For Key Leaves creator Rulon Brown and his team, however, the theory wasn’t enough. To prove the device would work, they designed a field test around two identical brand new saxophones, only one of which was equipped with Key Leaves. Each was played for more than 200 hours over the course of a year, subjected to food residue from snacks eaten before and during play, and never swabbed. As Brown himself sums up, “Yuck.” In the end, though, the results were compelling: Key Leaves completely prevented “severe pad stick”—where the keys have to be pried apart by hand—and reduced sticky keys by 98%. “No other woodwind care product has been field-tested so intensely and shown such effective results,” Brown concludes.
New sax care product demonstrates impressive results
—and a prime co-branding concept
For Brown, a pro sax player who grew up repairing horns at his local music store, it took about two years of R&D to bring Key Leaves to market. Now set for an official launch this January at the International Saxophone Symposium in Washington, D.C., they’re expected to draw dealer attention as a low-cost, high-margin accessory that any sax player can use. As far as costs go, however, Brown thinks their biggest upside will be the money players save on repairs that never have to be made. Key Leaves will retail at around the same price as a box of reeds, while the cost of re-padding a saxophone runs at around $1,000. “Key Leaves products take mere seconds to install,” says Brown, “but add years to the life of your sax.”
As Brown recalls, he was inspired to tackle the problem of sticky keys while watching saxophone great Stanley Turrentine play in a small club where his G# key kept sticking to the point that he stopped mid-solo and cursed out his own sax. “The audience laughed it off while Stanley kept playing,” says Brown, “but that’s when I realized pros and students alike struggle with sticky keys.” In fact, Brown himself knew the problem from both sides of the professional/student divide: As a player and composer, he’d recorded four albums and toured as a teaching artist across the U.S. and Central America. On top of that, he leads a small private lessons studio and spent seven years with the Seattle Mayor’s Office Of Arts And Culture creating nationally acclaimed music and arts programs.
So he wanted to Key Leaves to be simple enough for a beginner to use. “When school kids hear the bell ring they too often toss their sax in the case without cleaning,” Brown explains. “So we made products that are fast and easy to use, yet powerful enough to help even the most negligent student.” With student players in mind, Brown even considered the elasticity of the strap that holds the Key Leaves props together: Although it’s made from a flexible silicone, he made sure it wasn’t stretchy enough for kids to use as a slingshot or to snap a neighbor.
As it turned out, the Key Leaves strap became an unexpected bonus of the product design. Done up in bright green, the strap was incorporated so the two silicone props—about as small and easy to misplace as a pair of ear plugs—would stay together and not get lost in a dark instrument case. Alternatively, it can be removed so the props can be adjusted for nonstandard key configurations, as in vintage horns where the C# and G# keys aren’t linked. It so happened, however, that the strap had more to offer. During tests, the Key Leaves team noticed how much users were handling and admiring the bright design—and realized it would make a perfect space for co-branding with retailers and repair shops. As a result, they’re offering customized Key Leaves printed with a business name or logo that players see every time the instrument is taken out or put away. “Care products are important cross-sells for band instrument stores,” says Brown, “and Key Leaves is currently the only product line offering a high-touch branding opportunity that is attached to the horn rather than lost in the case or tossed in the garbage. Our co-branding keeps working every time the sax is played.”
Safe for silver, copper, brass, wood, and lacquer finishes, Key Leaves’ flagship product adapts to all alto, tenor, and bari saxophones. In addition, the company is launching two premium care products: The Vent Vine for alto or tenor saxophone is designed to vent the top of the sax with tiny props that hold open the high keys, plus a “Vent Cap” that increases air flow through the body tube. Meanwhile, Key Leaves for Soprano Sax props open the notoriously sticky C# and G# keys on the smaller instrument. Both are currently available only at KeyLeaves.com. For the standard Key Leaves product, however, the company is building out a dealer network combining traditional music stores and limited partnerships with online dealers that commit to MAP pricing.
“We want to empower dealers, expand our distribution network, and become a classroom name teachers recommend,” says Brown, adding: “We know that when it comes to new products, behavior and culture change slowly until they change fast. Soon Key Leaves will be recommended by woodwind players around the world.”
Side-by-side comparisons and time-lapse video from Key Leaves’ year-long “field test” can be viewed at www.KeyLeaves.com/PROOF
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