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Making A Brass Reed For An Antique English Concertina

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post-11975-0-57301800-1447095468_thumb.jpgI have just managed to make an F# reed for my 1895 Lachenal English concertina. My concertina repair manual says 'that on no account should you even touch the reed clamp screws'... and that 'reed making is a highly specialized task, which can only be undertaken by a few practitioners worldwide... ' I seriously didn't think that I would be capable of pulling this one off! It just goes to show that you won't achieve anything unless you give it a go! After approximately 3 hours of very fiddly filing I managed to produce this reed and have it tuned pitch perfect to its partner. When put back into the box it sounded absolutely fine, exactly the pitch, tone and volume as the original reed.



I used some vintage brass, which I cut from part of a circa 1935 Alladin oil lamp. This was a pressing from 0.5mm brass sheet, initially I cut a strip about 5mm wide and 40mm long. This was then work hardened by gently beating on an anvil with a small hammer. I then started filing it to the correct shape to fit the slot in the reed shoe. The trickiest part of this was figuring out how to hold such a tiny piece of metal in order to accurately file its edges.. . I devised a method of clamping between two small smooth flat files. I taped the reed to the face of one of the files, precisely positioned, so that only the amount I wished to remove protruded over the edge of the file. I then sandwiched it with the other file and clamped it up with a couple of 2" G clamps. Then using a flat Swiss file I used a draw filing action to file the reed edge down to the edges of my clamping files. I repeated this exercise several times, checking the reed for size each time by using the reed shoe as a gauge.


The manual says that the side clearances should be 1.5 thousandths of an inch , so I used a 3 thou feeler gauge in one side of the slot to get the width of my reed correct. Once happy that the size and fit were spot on I clamped the reed up into the shoe. Because my reed was about 40mm long but the required length is only about 20mm, I had an excess 'tail' behind the clamp, having this extra length is important as it makes for easier handling during filing and helps a lot during the final positioning of the reed relative to the slot.


I found that holding the reed/shoe up to brightish light, so that the light shines through the side gaps, is a very good way to visually check clearance and positioning. I also used a 1.5 thou feeler gauge to check this. At this stage I had a reed which fitted my reed shoe, but was still about 0.5mm thick over its length, so I needed to file it down to reduce this thickness. I noticed that the broken reed which I was replacing was 0.5mm thick at the clamp end, but had been filed down to about 0.3mm at its root and became even thinner at the tip. I marked my reed at the edge of the clamp and then removed it from the shoe. I then clamped it to a flat steel plate for support, while I filed it to reduce its thickness, again I used a flat Swiss file to do this.


Finally I removed all the burrs from the reed edges and smoothed the underside with worn out 400 grit wet and dry paper, before polishing with brasso. I then refitted the reed to the shoe and rechecked the clearances. I put it to my lips and drew air through it and was pretty surprised to hear it sound!!! It was actually very close to being F#, but lacked the brightness and volume of its partner... I figured that this must be because there was still too much mass in the reed, which was affecting the quality of the sound. So out it came again and I filed more off thickness...


My judgment as to the right amount to remove was based purely on close visual inspection and comparison with the other original reed. I don't have a micrometer, but then I couldn't have used one to measure the original reed without removing it from its shoe and I didn't want to do that... When it looked right, when viewed against a bright light I replaced it back in the shoe. I sounded it again, this time it sounded brighter and louder than before, only now it was very flat. I was pretty pleased at this stage, all I had to do now was to get the tuner out and bring it up to pitch.


The tuner clocked it as being a flat F. I made a little 'file' by gluing a strip of 400 wet and dry paper to the edge of 6" length of 5mm X 20mm hardwood. Then with a 6 thou feeler gauge inserted under the reed, to support it on the shoe, I gently removed material from the reed, from about half way down its length to the tip. After 6 or 7 stokes of the file I checked the pitch, it had sharpened but was still flat of F, so more filing. This process was repeated in the usual way for reed tuning, until finally it was up to the required F#. The last few file stokes actually took it 5 cents sharp, but when I sounded the partner, it was also 5 cent sharp! Result, result!!!...


But the best thing, was that it sounded the same tone and volume as the partner. All that remained to be done was to remove the excess tail, simply done by sawing off with a 'junior' hack saw... Both reeds are now back in the concertina and it is playing and sounding absolutely fine!


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Well done, both for the result and for not being dissuaded from trying. It is easy to screw up reeds. That's how most of us people who do it for a living learned. Plenty of people have the care, observance and small amount of tools needed to make a reed from scratch. Most of them are just using those talents elsewhere. Obviously, not everyone has the temperament for that fine detailed work, but in this day and age, relatively handy people can find enough information to intelligently tackle a job like that. Making consistently good reeds takes practice, but it isn't actually difficult work, just fussy.

What isn't generally a good idea is trying to "improve" something that isn't broken. ( until you have practiced enough to actually know what you are doing. ) lord knows there are enough Lachenal reeds out there that are crippled by huge clearances. I wish some of the repairers out there who swap in good reeds from junkers for bad, would just learn how to make proper new ones to replace the old over filed ones. In a lot of those instruments, a good set of reeds is all that is needed to make them great players.


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Well done. Fiddly little things if you want to do a good job. The jig I use, makes life much easier, I can make between 5 and 6 an hour when in the mood .. which is rarely. If you supply your email address I can forward a pic of the jig I use. (I can't post it as i have run out of space.)





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  • 6 years later...

I am interested in having a go at making some new brass reed tongues to replace several broken ones in a Lachenal 48 key English. This thread describes a process in some detail, but isn't specific about the specification of brass sheet needed


On 11/9/2015 at 6:58 PM, banjojohn said:

I used some vintage brass, which I cut from part of a circa 1935 Alladin oil lamp


There are a number of UK suppliers of brass sheet on the internet, e.g.




but I would not know what proportions of copper / zinc would be suitable for concertina reed tongues.


If you can offer any advice I would appreciate it.


Thanks, Rod


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When the concertina manual was in it's first edition, I got heavily criticised for 'encouraging people to move out of their capability' or words to that effect. The then 'great and good' of concertina restoration were less than happy with the manual, it's trade secrets, and my blasé approach to encouraging people to understand and do jobs themselves. I chose to add warnings on special 'skill critical' aspects of this sort of activity and I counselled people  not to over reach themselves. This in preference to giving up on the project. So well done Banjojohn, sometimes it is good to be ignored!

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I’d not seen this thread before. Excellent description etc. So the little screws on the end of the frame actually undo? I’ve tried a couple of times but always found them too tight, and assumed they're somehow fixed in for good. And then sourced reeds from elsewhere.

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1 hour ago, RogerT said:

So the little screws on the end of the frame actually undo? I’ve tried a couple of times but always found them too tight, and assumed they're somehow fixed in for good. 


They're not supposed to be permanently fixed in RogerT, but I'll warn that they have sometimes become so, through rust - so that they will break off flush with the reed frame, if you try to turn them... 😕

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