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Re: Pad replacement
Valentino pads have come a LONG way since they were first released. It won't be long, honestly, before beginner and rental lines from your local music store are padded entirely with Valentino or equivalents and only step up and pro line woodwinds have actual pads. They're cheaper, they're replaceable, and they're much much easier to deal with for your younger players who are much much harder on their horns.
Seriously. Call your closest Music and Arts store. They own Valentino (or as near as own them, since they developed the kit in conjunction) and can give you a demo or walkthrough of the new kits. They're night and day compared to the old ones.
This isn't a paid ad. I just bought the full kit with the heat gun a couple years back and have loved having it ever since.
I will be honest. I'm biased. I have never liked Valentino pads as anything more than a band-aid fix if something goes wrong the day or hour before a concert. But I do not really know if that is an outdated mindset.
Are Valentino pads worth investing in as semi-permanent fixes for beginner-intermediate players?
My initial thought is no, they're a band aid. Get decent felt or leather pads. But they're slightly more expensive and the district likes to save money, thus me doing all woodwind repair for our district.