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Timbre, Scale, Pitch, And The English Concertina


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#1 James Plamondon

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Posted 27 August 2003 - 11:26 AM

Gentlepersons,

One more topic, and I'm done for the night (Australian time). Please don't hesitate to direct me to a different forum if these topics are inappropriate for this group.

The early English concertinas were originally tuned in the mean-tone system. Later concertinas were manufactured in the equal-temperament system, and most previously-manufactured mean-tone concertinas were re-tuned to the equal-temperament system. Also, older concertinas were tuned to the "old pitch," rather than to "concert pitch," and were subsequently re-tuned for that as well.

It occurs to me that these shifts in tuning could have significant effects on the harmonics of concertinas. Check out this set of articles:
http://eceserv0.ece....hares/ttss.html

The basic idea is that the timbre of any kind of instrument -- the spectrum of sounds that it emits when played -- is better suited for some scales than for others.

Note that the timbre of an instrument is affected, but not dominated, by the specific notes that it's playing. So re-tuning a concertina to equal-temperament tuning and concert pitch should not dramatically affect its timbre. (But maybe it could. I'm no expert; I'm feeling my way along a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.)

As the articles above show, the correspondence between the concertina's timbre and its scale matters a LOT to how well it produces chords and fits in with other instruments.

Let's presume for the sake of argument that Wheatstone got the timbre of the English concertina just right -- exactly perfect for the mean-tone tuning system in old pitch. Then by definition this timbre CANNOT be exactly correct for the equal-temperament tuning in concert pitch; its chords will be off, and it won't sound quite right with other instruments. Or maybe Wheatstone got it all wrong at first, but lucked out such that the timbre was exactly right when re-tuned for equal-temperament and concert-pitch. Or maybe both tunings were significantly off.

In any case, it suggests that new reeds etc. could be designed to make the concertina's timbre fit modern tuning better, so that concertinas can sound better than ever before.

Interesting, yes?

So, I wonder...does anyone know:
1. What was the timbre (spectrum) of the original English concertinas,
and how well did it correspond to the mean-tone, old-pitch system
in which they were originally tuned?

2. When these concertinas were re-tuned to the concert-pitch, equal-
temperament scale, how did retuning affect their timbre, and how
well did the resulting timbre match the new scale?

3. What are the timbres of the accordion-reed-based concertinas being
manufactured today? How does their timbre differ from the old
concertinas? How well do they fit the concert-pitch, equal-
temperament scale?

If I've completely misinterpreted what I've read, or am rediscovering the wheel ("Look, everybody! It rolls!"), or have otherwise gotten my facts wrong, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Thanks! :-)

--- James

P.S.: I did not post this in the "history" section, because it seemed to me that it is relevant to all concertinas being played today, whether antique or modern.

#2 goran rahm

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Posted 27 August 2003 - 01:27 PM

Just a couple of comments despite I do find the topic very interesting and leading to many more aspects.
My very immediate and brief impression of the related website is a bit sceptical I'm afraid.... and I will not go into a discussion regarding the relevance of "timbre" in the said concept, maybe others have a view on it??

Concerning the different 'tone' of various concertinas there is much to say or at least many opinions to bring forward...;-) ....the 'science' of it though little known or explored....
One thing has to be considered...there has not been the same interest from concertina ( or other squeezebox makers) to investigate,develop or market tonal qualities as if compared with string or wind instrument production and the 'qualities of tone' with concertinas may partly be accidental EXCEPT for the known qualities related to reed manufacture and for other squeezeboxes as well definitely the *quality of reeds* is the much dominating factor for 'tone'.

Now 'timbre' in the respect you talk about here is at least partly something else but I do not believe there has been much conscious development of these characteristics among makers. I agree however (and many others seem to do so..) that there often are tonal differences between say mid 19th century concertinas and those produced around 1900 or rather later than 1920 or so.

The mean tone tuning no doubt must result in a different 'harmonic' perception and due to the tuning system itself naturally this is scale/key related. I doubt that the construction itself is more or less 'suitable' for either temperament except by pure accident...much depending on 'taste' I'm afraid.....Some players/listeners prefer an overtone rich "bright" tone...some prefer a "mellower" tone from reduction of overtones. There probably are NO significant resonance phenomena present.




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