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Dirge

Brass Reeded Budget Instruments

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It seems to me there are a lot of brass reeded bottom of the range Lachenals and Wheatstones about, both 20b Anglos and treble Englishes. Although I've never taken enough notice of the things to look at numbers I infer from the amount I've seen that they were made for many years.

 

The reason usually given for this is that brass reeds were cheaper to make. End of story.

 

I have always found this difficult to swallow; I couldn't tell you exactly why but it seems an economy that's barely worth it for starters. I don't think 'using up early stocks of blanks' cuts it either in view of the number of the things I've seen.

 

With fancier instruments brass reeds were sometimes used where the instrument was expected to have a rough time, especially in situations with high humidity or salt spray; we know this, I think? (yes I know brass was also specified for it's particular tone, but that's a red herring for the purposes of this)

 

Were the brass reeded cheap instruments made in such numbers because some of the people buying them would be taking them somewhere rough? Was the reason for keeping them in the range more about serving a particular client type (the 'man before the mast' for starters)than about economy per se? I don't know why this hasn't been said before; if it has sorry, I was clearly gazing out of the window again...I'm suggesting that even on the cheapest instruments brass reeds were seen as an advantage for certain circumstances, not merely a cost cutting down-grade as I have always been told.

 

Any views?

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If you have every tried to make a reed tongue you will appreciate how much easier it is to file brass than spring steel.

I also believe that the really cheap brass reeds were made by machine, but I've not seen any evidence of machine made steel concertina reeds. I've always assumed that this is because machine tools capable of working spring steel reeds were either not available, or were just too expensive.

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It seems to me there are a lot of brass reeded bottom of the range Lachenals and Wheatstones about, both 20b Anglos and treble Englishes. ... The reason usually given for this is that brass reeds were cheaper to make. End of story. ... (yes I know brass was also specified for it's particular tone, but that's a red herring for the purposes of this) ... Any views?

I don't think tone is a red herring. I have three steel-reeded English concertinas and three brass-reeded (http://www.pghardy.net/concertina/), and I would always prefer to play the brass-reeded ones around the house. The tone is much more mellow and less obtrusive. If you are playing in a band and competing with other loud instruments then the steel reeds win every time. If you want to practice without disturbing the wife, or play along with another single instrument, then the brass reeded instruments are superior.

 

My opinion - do others agree?

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It seems to me there are a lot of brass reeded bottom of the range Lachenals and Wheatstones about, both 20b Anglos and treble Englishes. ... The reason usually given for this is that brass reeds were cheaper to make. End of story. ... (yes I know brass was also specified for it's particular tone, but that's a red herring for the purposes of this) ... Any views?

I don't think tone is a red herring. I have three steel-reeded English concertinas and three brass-reeded (http://www.pghardy.net/concertina/), and I would always prefer to play the brass-reeded ones around the house. The tone is much more mellow and less obtrusive. If you are playing in a band and competing with other loud instruments then the steel reeds win every time. If you want to practice without disturbing the wife, or play along with another single instrument, then the brass reeded instruments are superior.

 

My opinion - do others agree?

 

Well it is a red herring given the question was whether brass reeded budget concertinas were made to sell in part because of their indestructability rather than simply because they were cheaper to make. Start your own thread if you want to discuss the wonders of brass reeds in all their delicate glory...

 

Unless you're claiming that the brass-reed 'tutors' were knocked out in their thousands because there was a need for quiet practice instruments, of course.

 

Theo; you clearly reckon 'cheap to make, purely to sell cheap' then?

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Theo; you clearly reckon 'cheap to make, purely to sell cheap' then?

 

Yes.

 

And as to durability, the cheaply made brass reeds may be resistant to corrosion in humid climates, but the reeds are very prone to break. Good quality brass reeds are a different matter entirely. A friend has a late Aeola with "brass" (actually I think phosphor bronze) reeds, which are both durable and capable of playing very loud.

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I think Theo's point is very well made Dirge. I could say that I am a professional Filer of metal... today I am filing Brass, other days I file Nickel Silver or Copper even Real Silver... rarely tool Steel. Brass 'files' very nicely.. copper and Silver can clog the file.. Nickel silver is much harder work and tool Steel much harder again...

 

In the 'time is money' stakes Brass reeds would be quicker by far to produce.

 

The Tropicalised instruments with their Copper based alloy reeds were not cheaper, probably more expensive than their normal steel reeded equivalents and the reeds are very nice and not your usual Brass reed job. However, I wonder if more things were done under this 'Tropicalising' banner like a treatment of the wooden parts to counter vast changes in humidity , use of different glues perhaps ?

 

Regarding the points made by Paul Hardy; I would suggest that a well set up Steel reeded concertina can be played very quietly and, in my experience, steel reeds generally have a greater dynamic range than the Brass reeds. It is only when compared to the very best of the Tropicalised instruments that a range of volume control might be equal with Brass and Steel reeds. Yes I have one Steel reeded EC that I do not play in the house, unless I am alone and the dog is also 'out'. ;)

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due to associated moisture, brass is used for harmonica reeds because of its resistance to oxidation/corrosion. Same reason in concertinas? (I admit that I offered that observation to this question, but I think it was misunderstood..)

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due to associated moisture, brass is used for harmonica reeds because of its resistance to oxidation/corrosion. Same reason in concertinas? (I admit that I offered that observation to this question, but I think it was misunderstood..)

Sorry matey but it's more that it's stating the obvious. That was the whole point.

 

Geoff, Theo, in the light of your comments OK perhaps the differences in manufacturing are large and back up the standard view and the idea was a non starter.

 

OK Paul; done that. I'm happy. Feel free to discuss the beauties of quality brass reeded instruments with Geoff...

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here is where you initially state the obvious, but still ask a question about it:

 

"With fancier instruments brass reeds were sometimes used where the instrument was expected to have a rough time, especially in situations with high humidity or salt spray; we know this, I think? (yes I know brass was also specified for it's particular tone, but that's a red herring for the purposes of this)

 

Were the brass reeded cheap instruments made in such numbers because some of the people buying them would be taking them somewhere rough? Was the reason for keeping them in the range more about serving a particular client type (the 'man before the mast' for starters)than about economy per se?"

 

it's a bit like saying "My name is X, so is my name X?" One can do nothing but to reassure me that indeed it is... Assuming that it's not a troll question, of course, I was compelled to confirm your idea. It is possible that there is just no other, more likable explanation.

 

 

 

 

due to associated moisture, brass is used for harmonica reeds because of its resistance to oxidation/corrosion. Same reason in concertinas? (I admit that I offered that observation to this question, but I think it was misunderstood..)

Sorry matey but it's more that it's stating the obvious. That was the whole point.

 

Geoff, Theo, in the light of your comments OK perhaps the differences in manufacturing are large and back up the standard view and the idea was a non starter.

 

OK Paul; done that. I'm happy. Feel free to discuss the beauties of quality brass reeded instruments with Geoff...

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here is where you initially state the obvious, but still ask a question about it:

 

"With fancier instruments brass reeds were sometimes used where the instrument was expected to have a rough time, especially in situations with high humidity or salt spray; we know this, I think? (yes I know brass was also specified for it's particular tone, but that's a red herring for the purposes of this)

 

Were the brass reeded cheap instruments made in such numbers because some of the people buying them would be taking them somewhere rough? Was the reason for keeping them in the range more about serving a particular client type (the 'man before the mast' for starters)than about economy per se?"

 

it's a bit like saying "My name is X, so is my name X?" One can do nothing but to reassure me that indeed it is... Assuming that it's not a troll question, of course, I was compelled to confirm your idea. It is possible that there is just no other, more likable explanation.

 

 

 

 

due to associated moisture, brass is used for harmonica reeds because of its resistance to oxidation/corrosion. Same reason in concertinas? (I admit that I offered that observation to this question, but I think it was misunderstood..)

Sorry matey but it's more that it's stating the obvious. That was the whole point.

 

Geoff, Theo, in the light of your comments OK perhaps the differences in manufacturing are large and back up the standard view and the idea was a non starter.

 

OK Paul; done that. I'm happy. Feel free to discuss the beauties of quality brass reeded instruments with Geoff...

Apologies, badly worded. It gets a bit literal at times round here and that bit was supposed to be covering my back against someone accusing me of assuming willy-nilly that customers bought some of the better quality brass reeded instruments specifically for rough conditions. This is usually taken as a 'known fact' in the concertina world but I couldn't remember seeing any clear evidence.

 

On the other hand there was no question in my mind whatsoever whether brass was better in damp and salt, (I have a brass reeded concertina for exactly this reason) and I doubt anyone here would argue with that one. It never occurred to me that someone might be compelled to confirm this basic fact. Sorry about that.

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One point to mention; the forrunner of the concertina was the mouth blown Symphonium which had reeds of Silver or Nickel Bronze (or something like that)... and the earliest Concertinas had also reeds of Bronze or Brass... so it follows that there was a tradition of producing Brass reeded instruments and this was continued at least up to the end of the 19th century.

 

Nowadays it it probably possible to buy an Harmonica with Stainless Steel reeds. The modern versions of the Accordina are fitted with Stainless Steel components including reeds. Google 'Accordina' or go to www.accordinas.com

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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Geoff, indeed stainless steel harmonicas came out few years ago, to much fanfare, but failed to produce any noticeable difference in response or sound. And harmonica community is bent on picking minute differences of reed sound and behavior. There is a $1,000 standing bet (over a 15 years old) on whether you can tell a difference between different comb materials - if they affect the sound or not. And yet, no observable difference between stainless steel vs. brass. from the point of view of a harmonica player, regular steel was never an option due to corrosive qualities of the metal. Anyone who'd ever try to blow on accordion reeds on a comb would always be struck by the beauty of sound, but a simple reason why it is a taboo to do among the accordion repairmen is corrosion, even from a brief tuning effort. On a side note, with all the mystique of a stainless steel reed, one clear disadvantage is how tough it is to tune one. Bringing it back to the original question by Dirge - isn't it true that brass is (and always was) more expensive than steel, so the idea that brass reeds were cheaper to produce is, indeed, false?

 

 

One point to mention; the forrunner of the concertina was the mouth blown Symphonium which had reeds of Silver or Nickel Bronze (or something like that)... and the earliest Concertinas had also reeds of Bronze or Brass... so it follows that there was a tradition of producing Brass reeded instruments and this was continued at least up to the end of the 19th century.

 

Nowadays it it probably possible to buy an Harmonica with Stainless Steel reeds. The modern versions of the Accordina are fitted with Stainless Steel components including reeds. Google 'Accordina' or go to www.accordinas.com

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Bringing it back to the original question by Dirge - isn't it true that brass is (and always was) more expensive than steel, so the idea that brass reeds were cheaper to produce is, indeed, false ?

 

 

 

No it is not false. The reason being that the cost of the materials, in comparison to the cost of labour, is a very small part of the overall cost. I am a musical instrument maker and thus people always comment about the expensive materials that go into an instrument but because I purchase almost my entire stock of materials as 'Raw' stuff ( in the sense of Pieces of wood, various metals etc.) the material cost ,to me, of producing each instrument would not amount to more than 2% of the selling price. Therefore, what my customer is buying, for the most part, is my time and knowledge.

 

If I could make a part more quickly using a vastly more expensive material I might gain some advantage, dependant on the relative costs of time/labour and materials. For instance; the metal parts of my instruments are either made from Brass, Nickel Silver or Real Silver... The labour involved in doing the job in Real Silver is actually less than with those other metals (due to the workability of Silver)... the difficulty of obtaining Real Silver is also less time consuming... but the material cost is so much more that I have to charge my customers extra to cover that cost because the time and effort saving is not enough to outweigh the current high value of the precious metals.

 

With the high production rates and very labour intensive market that was the Concertina industry of the 19th and early 20th century and even given the very low wage rates of the period, I still believe it was much cheaper to produce the Brass reeded models.

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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Geoff, how so? I never worked with steel - only precious and semi-precious metals, but is steel that much harder to work with?

 

 

 

 

With the high production rates and very labour intensive market that was the Concertina industry of the 19th and early 20th century and even given the very low wage rates of the period, I still believe it was much cheaper to produce the Brass reeded models.

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Geoff, how so? I never worked with steel - only precious and semi-precious metals, but is steel that much harder to work with?

 

 

 

 

With the high production rates and very labour intensive market that was the Concertina industry of the 19th and early 20th century and even given the very low wage rates of the period, I still believe it was much cheaper to produce the Brass reeded models.

 

 

 

Yes Harpomatic, Steel is much harder to work by filing and sawing than is Brass. Like the Stainless Steel reeds for an Harmonica the Steel reeds of a concertina are much harder to work than Brass. The spring tempered Carbon Steels will take much longer to reduce and profile.

 

Try to find some old scrap piece of spring steel, ( an old clock spring for instance) and file or cut it in comparison to a piece of Brass and you will see what the difference is.

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Got it, makes sense. So, I guess that without getting into particularities of tonal difference, it is hard to see the advantages of using steel reeds.

 

 

 

Geoff, how so? I never worked with steel - only precious and semi-precious metals, but is steel that much harder to work with?

 

 

 

 

With the high production rates and very labour intensive market that was the Concertina industry of the 19th and early 20th century and even given the very low wage rates of the period, I still believe it was much cheaper to produce the Brass reeded models.

 

 

 

Yes Harpomatic, Steel is much harder to work by filing and sawing than is Brass. Like the Stainless Steel reeds for an Harmonica the Steel reeds of a concertina are much harder to work than Brass. The spring tempered Carbon Steels will take much longer to reduce and profile.

 

Try to find some old scrap piece of spring steel, ( an old clock spring for instance) and file or cut it in comparison to a piece of Brass and you will see what the difference is.

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Got it, makes sense. So, I guess that without getting into particularities of tonal difference, it is hard to see the advantages of using steel reeds.

 

 

 

 

Ah!Now you change subjects! There were obviously great advantages in using steel reeds... most concertina production eventually went the way of Steel "vibrators" and Accordions too...

 

Two obvious advantages of the Steel reed; Stays in tune much longer and is far more durable and therefore for more difficult break. Durability and longevity are very important for customer satisfaction and having to constantly repair the products that one has manufactured can be a drain on any business notwithstanding Garantee claims .

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Geoff, again your explanation makes sense. Seems we did not yet discover a new answer to Dirge's question. Cost + added benefit of corrosion resistance, offset by other less durable qualities of brass, comes down to just cost of manufacturing. Not surprising, as most business decisions are primarily cost-driven. Anyway, maybe others have more unique observations - I'll go back to the "reading mode" on this one.

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