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Reed Steel, Modern Vs Vintage


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#1 wes

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Posted 18 January 2018 - 08:47 AM

I did some searching about here, but nothing really answers my questions. I have a high end anglo from a respected maker, it's 8 years old. The sound is very bright, hard and piercing. Wooden ends. It's developed some sweeter personality in some of the lower reeds and I recently did a fine tune which has helped also. I also have instruments from 1860 1910 etc. These have such a sweet rounded woody tone, especially the lachenal and jones.
Looking a the lachenal reeds, I see a slight brass color on the undersides, even though they are steel. So I've been thinking the old spring metallurgy wasn't as advanced as today, more impurities etc softer in some cases.
I know there's a lot more that contributes to the sound, for example, the gap of the reed to the shoe tolerance as has been pointed out here. But im thinking that modern makers could take a more in depth look at the reed metal composition, have it analyzed and find spring sources that mimic these grand old instruments

#2 OLDNICKILBY

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Posted 18 January 2018 - 10:09 AM

Just where on this Planet are you going to find a Mill to supply lets say 20 K g s  of spring steel to a specific analysis. This would make around 250,000 reeds. I reckon that this would be more than enough for 10 years use. Make the best of what we can get



#3 Theo

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Posted 18 January 2018 - 12:32 PM

I would be quite confident that other parts of the two instruments are also made of different materials. I have played a couple of John Connor instruments that use vintage Lachenal reeds and neither sounded the least bit like Lachenal’s. Every part of the instrument, with the possible exception of the straps can influence the sound. A simple test that might be possible is to switch a couple of reeds between your two instruments and see what the sound is like.

#4 alex_holden

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Posted 18 January 2018 - 12:55 PM

Almost certainly the yellowish colour just means they didn't polish the bottom of the steel after tempering it. A yellow temper will be harder than the blue temper that is normally used for springs.



#5 d.elliott

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 03:41 PM

The yellow oxide layer on the underside of the reed tongue shows the temper of the steel as Alex says. This is usually termed tempered to straw. The yellow colour shows that the steel was a bit harder than the more commonly found dark blue oxide on a lot of concertina reeds. My Wheatstone Aeola  is tempered to 'straw' and the reeds are both hard and strong, a good sound. 

 

The term 'blued it' comes from the tempering process when someone has either over heated the steel or not quenched again quickly enough. Thus letting the product  take a blue colour, indicating that the steel has lost strength and hardness, particularly vital in Sheffield's cutlery and blade industry. It means: 'sod it' spoiled the job, or perhaps a less genteel expression.. 

 

Dave



#6 Dana Johnson

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 08:09 PM

Modern steels like the UHB20C reedsteel I use are excellent. It shears very cleanly compared to straight 1095 spring steel and has the highest fatigue strength of any carbon steel. Supplied at Rockwell C 60 it is hard enough. If there have been changes since the old days, they are in much better understanding of alloying and metallurgy. The old guys were still pretty expert at what they did.
To have any real choice in the matter, you have to be willing to buy a minimum order which isn’t cheap. Luckily where I got mine, they would let you make it up out of different thicknesses.
The blue tempered 1095 steel is on the soft side, but still makes fine sounding reeds. They are more prone to changing their initial set, but settle down after being re set. My early instruments used this steel, but the ones I’ve had back for retuning sound wonderful, better than when new. If I were only making a few instruments, I wouldn’t spend the money on steel I wouldn’t use. The advantages are not in the quality of the sound , which as others have mentioned, is more a result of the clearances, profile, and the entire rest of the instrument they are used in.
Dana

#7 Chris Ghent

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 08:52 PM

When I first started reading this forum the idea of steel being an important factor in tone was deeply entrenched. It was common for the success of Jeffries in particular to be credited to the hard Swedish steel used. I don't see this point of view being proffered often now and I think the reason is we know more. My mother believed British nightfighter pilots could see better because they ate carrots, a result of a  propaganda campaign to hide the use of radar. It may be concertina people believe particular steel is important because advertising slogans said so a long time ago.

The penny dropped when I placed a Jeffries reed in several other makes of concertina and no-one could identify which note was the Jeffries, though in some concertinas the person playing it could pick the reed from the better response. From this I infer nothing intrinsic to the reed materials creates the sound of a particular concertina. Remember, the reed itself make no sound. What you hear from a concertina can be modified by; the reed set, the reed profile, the clearance between reed and frame, how soundly the frame is fixed to the reed pan, the density of the reed pan, the size of the chamber, the size of the padhole, the wood in the padboard, the valve material, (takes a deep breath) the pad material , the degree of transparency in the end design and the material that makes up the end . So everything affects the sound (yes, Theo said that earlier, I have noticed he is never wrong in my opinion.) When evaluating materials both absorption and reflection need to be taken into account ie. when evaluating a wood for the ends consider the reflection and absorption qualities of the wood on the underside as well as the look of it on the top.

One thing a different steel can do is change the response and the volume.

To anticipate someone saying brass tongues create a different sound, I think the different stiffness of brass means a slower reed tip speed for any given frequency leading to fewer higher partials being generated and a more mellow sound.

So Wes, could the difference be in the organic parts of the instrument? Might a bright instrument be absorbing the fundamental (padboard/end/reedpan wood, loose reedpan/reedframe joint) and quietening lower partials (same) which can drown out the upper partials and/or failing to adequately filter out the higher partials (valves, pads, end design and materials, padboard/reedpan wood etc.) Most modern instruments have better fitting reeds than the average vintage one meaning they will be generating more higher partials as a trade off for louder, faster operation. Maybe in the old days people had less need of volume, music was slower, people were stronger.

All my opinion, little supported by quotable sources, open to being challenged in the spirit of learning.

Edited by Chris Ghent, 20 January 2018 - 03:14 PM.


#8 alex_holden

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Posted 20 January 2018 - 07:18 AM

Modern steels like the UHB20C reedsteel I use are excellent. It shears very cleanly compared to straight 1095 spring steel and has the highest fatigue strength of any carbon steel. Supplied at Rockwell C 60 it is hard enough.


Hi Dana, from what I read, UHB-20C and 1095 are approximately equivalent (about 1% carbon, 0.25% silicon, 0.45% manganese), so I'm guessing the different properties you're getting in the steel you're using are mainly down to the heat treatment?

Edited by alex_holden, 20 January 2018 - 07:25 AM.


#9 Jake Middleton-Metcalfe

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Posted 21 January 2018 - 01:13 PM

This is all very, very interesting.



#10 wes

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 03:48 AM

I'll second that. So much great information from people with experience.
I've been in one of my work stints, but will switch some reeds from the modern to the vintage, just to prove it to myself.
I have had a thought in the past, that if I were to keep the new instrument, that I would remove all the dense foam used in place of chamois sealer and replace it with chamois. (Now I'm giving away the maker...) its the only obvious visible difference besides the more precise reed fitting work, and the reed plates being made of 3 layers of hardwood. Could too much precision in all aspects of construction be a factor?

#11 wes

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 03:54 AM

I guess Cris already answered that question for the most part.
Interested to hear an answer on the question of temper between the two spring grades.

#12 OLDNICKILBY

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 09:05 AM

I am still of the opinion that the Reed-pan has a far greater influence than spring hardness and temper. Jefferies pans have the annual rings closer than say Lachenal, and are of Sycamore Chidley pans are harder and closer  as well. If you have seen the Documentary on Steinway Pianos ,they put tremendous importance on the quality of the sound-board Spruce, and  the reed-pan is in effect the sound-board



#13 d.elliott

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 12:20 PM

the reed-pan is in effect the sound-board

 
I have wondered about this, but I don't see how it can be. The reedpan is so damped with chamois and the reed pan walls. I wondered if the padboard would be a more likely candidate, but it can be argued that the same concerns hold true. Does anyone one know or have evidence one way or the other? If it were possible, where would you fit a piezo pick up, reed pan or pad board?
 
Dave


#14 JimLucas

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 05:25 PM

If it were possible, where would you fit a piezo pick up, reed pan or pad board?

 
And to what extent would attaching it alter the acoustic properties/effects of what you're attaching it to?



#15 Chris Ghent

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 07:53 PM

I am on the "there is no soundboard" side of this argument, and this is why I am using the term padboard rather than soundboard. To be looking for a soundboard is to be laying a stringed intrument analogy over the top of the concertina. They work differently.

#16 David Hornett

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 11:00 PM

Small, very small changes, can make a big difference in reed instruments: some years ago I asked Peter Hyde, the Adelaide accordion maker, to build me a 2 row accordion from Huon Pine. As fate would have it he also received another order in the same month for an identical instrument. Both I and the other customer had supplied Peter with Huon Pine, but because we had supplied too much he used the same plank for both instruments. When the instruments were complete, all having apparently identical components and tuning, in the same key, they sounded quite different. (I met the other owner at the National Folk festival in the same year. Our identical instruments were very different in tonal quality, neither worse nor better, just different, I thought mine was best, he thought the same of his.) When I picked the instrument up from Peter he told me how the variation had stumped him, until after some days, being very baffled, he remembered he had used a 1mm layer of felt under the pads of one of the instruments (pads he had made some years before, he was no longer using felt under leather), and this was what had caused the variation, replace the pad and the tone changed.

 

As an experiment i am now building an identical 31 button 51/2 inch C/G to the one I completed before Christmas. The new instrument is intentionally different in one feature only, the reed board is made of King Billy Pine, a very light wood, something like an Australian Balsa in weight and tonal quality when it is tapped, whereas the former instrument's reed board was Huon Pine, a soft, but much heavier material. It should be finished next week if I get my act together, I'll keep all informed and post a few sound bites of both instruments.

 

PS,  Chris, I too have replaced a Jeffries reed or two with Lachenal in a Jeffries instrument, and one needs very fine ears indeed, and to be told there is an imposter to then notice any difference, although I would add, when attention is drawn to it, the Jeffries does usually sound the better.



#17 wes

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 01:06 AM

The reed just chops the air. Magical it is. From all this discusion/dissertation that fact is key. On my pads, I recently have changed from dense foam to wool felt, not thinking of the tonal changes..

#18 David Hornett

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 03:31 AM

Yes, and the reed on the tuning table usually sounds a little dissimilar to when placed in the instrument, why?

 

David






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