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Bruce McCaskey

Temporary Tuning Changes

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I recently spoke with an Anglo player that said he knew of people changing the pitch of certain reeds by using "sticky paper." I didn't have the opportunity to explore the subject in depth but I had the impression that he was talking about using small bits of paper cut from the sticky portion of "Post-It" notes, although I suppose small bits of some types of tape might work as well. The idea seemed to be that they wanted to make temporary pitch changes that could be easily undone.

 

I assume they would be adding weight at the end of the reeds to lower pitch. I've no notion as to how much of a change could be made without adverse impact. I suppose you could layer cut bits on top of each other to add more weight for greater effect but also assume there would be a functional limit for that sort of modification, after which the 'sticky' glue would fail. I don't know if there might be any issue with the paper's sticky surface chemicals interacting with the metal of the reed but certainly that should be considered.

 

I'm not sure what the overall goal would be, perhaps a minor pitch change of a few cents to sweeten a few select chords or otherwise influence the sound of certain note combinations? Something more dramatic to drop pitch by a semi-tone or more? In the latter case new chord combinations might be made available if that degree of change is viable using such a method.

 

Getting to the point at last, has anyone heard of this "sticky paper" technique or had experience doing this sort of thing with concertina reeds. If so, what was the intent and how successful were the efforts?

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I don't have the answer about 'sticky paper', but I'm reminded of Brendan Power's use of blu-tack to temporarily retune harmonica reeds:

 

2. The first use of Blu-Tack as a quick, reversible re-tuning method.
I had been using solder to lower reed pitch, but one day around 1980 thought of trying that blue putty used for sticking pictures on the wall: Blu-Tack. I found that it stuck really well, and stayed there for years, decades even! Not only that, it was reversible, so you could stick it on and remove it at will. This was a great way to try new tuning ideas quickly, or have several tunings in one harp!
For example, I could raise the 5 draw a semitone (from F to F# on a C harp), then apply enough Blu-Tack to lower it to its original pitch. If I wanted the F I kept the Blu-Tack on, if I wanted the F# I removed it and stuck it on the rivet pad for later use to lower the reed again. Nice!
Check out the photo below, of the same early 80s harps as above. You can see a reservoir of Blu-Tack on the blow reedplate and bits on some of the reeds. Thin beads of Blu-Tac were also used to attach and seal the extra reedplate segments. Since I started publicising it on harmonica forums, Blu-Tack has become quite commonly used for harmonica retuning now.

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Interesting technique. I expect the approach is better suited to harmonicas, which I assume can be easily and inexpensively replaced - at least the common models - if damaged by inexperienced reed tuning efforts. Seems uncertain waters to explore with any quality concertina, but perhaps one might explore it with a starter-grade inexpensive instrument. I can't think of anything I'd change on my concertinas but wouldn't be surprised to hear that some might have ideas.

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I wonder just how much one could affect tuning using this method. Usually a reed can't be changed much without adverse impact on the performance and I assume that might apply with this approach too.

Edited by Bruce McCaskey

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I've used Araldite before now, to lower the pitch on some reeds.

It's the epoxy glue that comes in two tubes. Araldite is a quality version.

 

You can just put a spot near the end, and then grind some off it, once it's hard, to fine tune it.

 

At the time, I thought it better than filing, (and thinning) the reed. It works fine, and you can grind or file it off any time you want.

If blue tack stays put, then epoxy definitely will.

 

I didn't detect any change in tone or responsiveness after doing it.

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Will that work to raise the pitch as well? If you put a spot where the reed flexes most, somewhere below the middle, wouldn't that stiffen the reed a mite, thereby raising it in pitch?

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I don't think so.

If you could thicken it with springy steel, maybe it would but of course that's impossible.

Adding something softer with no spring in it would just deaden the sound, like a shock absorber.

 

On the tip, it's just the extra weight that has an effect. The material itself doesn't have to do anything. (although it maybe does have a slight deadening effect, but I couldn't detect it)

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Will that work to raise the pitch as well? If you put a spot where the reed flexes most, somewhere below the middle, wouldn't that stiffen the reed a mite, thereby raising it in pitch?

 

I have seen attempts to do this with solder on melodeon reeds. It does raise the pitch, but it also makes the reed sound "dead" with very little volume and very poor response. It is definitely not recommended.

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Will that work to raise the pitch as well? If you put a spot where the reed flexes most, somewhere below the middle, wouldn't that stiffen the reed a mite, thereby raising it in pitch?

 

I have seen attempts to do this with solder on melodeon reeds. It does raise the pitch, but it also makes the reed sound "dead" with very little volume and very poor response. It is definitely not recommended.

 

I've never had any luck, trying to stick solder to steel. It sticks great to brass or copper, but on steel it doesn't bond.

You think it's well stuck, but then it just drops off at the slightest touch. I think it only sticks via the flux acting as glue, rather than a proper metallic bond.

You might as well use proper glue, at least that does stick.

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I've never had any luck, trying to stick solder to steel. It sticks great to brass or copper, but on steel it doesn't bond.

You think it's well stuck, but then it just drops off at the slightest touch. I think it only sticks via the flux acting as glue, rather than a proper metallic bond.

You might as well use proper glue, at least that does stick.

You have to clean it well and immediately apply some liquid flux to the clean area before it has a chance to oxidise. It helps if you have a decent temperature-controlled soldering iron. I've only ever used 'real' tin-lead solder though; the modern lead-free stuff might be different.

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You have to clean it well and immediately apply some liquid flux to the clean area before it has a chance to oxidise. It helps if you have a decent temperature-controlled soldering iron. I've only ever used 'real' tin-lead solder though; the modern lead-free stuff might be different.

 

I think it is. And lead solder is banned in the EU, I believe.

Of course, it doesn't help when what you are trying to solder often has a layer of chrome plating,

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You have to clean it well and immediately apply some liquid flux to the clean area before it has a chance to oxidise. It helps if you have a decent temperature-controlled soldering iron. I've only ever used 'real' tin-lead solder though; the modern lead-free stuff might be different.

 

I think it is. And lead solder is banned in the EU, I believe.

Of course, it doesn't help when what you are trying to solder often has a layer of chrome plating,

 

 

There may be secret caches of lead solder at certain physics labs at University of Sheffield. I may have had a postdoc friend let me in after hours last month so I could solder a few concertina reeds in the cryogenics lab. I emphasize 'may' as this surely didn't happen, as it would not generally be seen as an acceptable use of the cryogenics lab or their lead solder....

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You can still buy leaded solder no problem, in fact it's cheaper than the lead-free stuff. I don't think there's anything stopping an amateur from using it in private, but the rules as to which commercial products are allowed to include it are slightly complicated. One may be on shaky ground selling a newly-constructed instrument with leaded solder on the reeds, but I doubt there would be any issue with repairers using it to retune existing instruments.

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Hi One question if you add anything to change the pitch do you have to put the concertina back together each time to tune it .Or is there another way Thanks Bob

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Just a little historic remark related to the topic and maybe of some interest as a curiosity:

 

The "fifth improvement" in the Charles Wheatstone patent paper 10,041 1844 page 7 12th line says

"The object of my 5th improvement is to enable the notes of the concertina to be tuned at pleasure, by which its pitch may be adapted to that of any other musical instrument which it may be required to accompany, or certain notes may be altered at will to render the instrument more perfectly in tune for the key in which a piece of music is to be performed"

The technical devices are exposed in figures 14 and 15.

Seemingly the elaborate innovation didn't turn out useful in practise. I think it is fairly easy to understand why....

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Hi One question if you add anything to change the pitch do you have to put the concertina back together each time to tune it .Or is there another way Thanks Bob

 

You can't get at the reeds without removing the ends from the bellows. You don't have to open the action box, but you do have to take the ends off. And put them back on.

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No what I meant was do I have to reassemble the concertina every time I want to Test the new pitch of the reed .Bob

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No what I meant was do I have to reassemble the concertina every time I want to Test the new pitch of the reed .Bob

Not exactly. There are loads of theads on this site about tuning reeds, by people more expert than me.

But I would personally tune the reed on my tuning rig till it was pretty close, and then fine tune it, checking it by putting it into it's slot, and blowing air through it, so that it's exactly what I want, when fitted.

I usually find that that does the trick, and the tuning is the same when you reassemble the concertina, and no more adjustment is needed. It's worked so far, anyway.

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