Jump to content

Reed tuning query - more or less ?

Recommended Posts

All my previous postings have related to my wife's search for an instrument and subsequent selling thereof when it proved a bit too 'challenging' for a beginner. 

She is now the happy and improving owner of a modern Clover Anglo, so "off my case" so to speak.


Immersed as I was in helping her find something 'nice', I have taken on a 'project' to fill my time.  I am a fettler rather than a player at present, so have picked up a pretty rough Lachenal Crane 35b which I have rebuilt at one end, reinforced the other and made a new 'old' handle from some 1850's mahogany and done some very basic work to get it playable in lieu of a full valve and pad replacement which is in hand.


I have cleaned the reeds and tuned the oddity of the high F which played F on the pull and E on the push - albeit the carrier was appropriately marked.  Both now show correct in tune F on my 'better' Snark tuner.


I am aware that all the reeds, within a degree or two on a tuner dial ( I don't understand "cents" ?) consistently show as being almost 2/3rds of a dial above the mid-point on the Snark, ie. 'sharp' over and above the desired note by about '7' snark degrees against the 'note' on the button.  Presumably this is 'old' style tuning ?  One or two are a 'notch' up or down on that and the very odd one is out of kilter altogether but most show as being pretty closely matched on the pull and push in the same range. 

I am now faced with the potential for re-tuning the reeds and understand that is done by either removal of metal from the 'belly' ? is that the correct term ? of the reed towards the fixing point ? or as seems less promoted, by adding weight at the tip.  Low melt solder seems to be the done thing, although for fine tuning I have read of elements such as nail varnish being used.


I am not keen to be working with heat and solder and I am guessing the level of change means nail varnish would be too light weight to make much odds. 


I have a few very basic questions to clarify re reducing / increasing the weight. 


Q1 re weighting the tippets of the reed blades.  Albeit potentially heretical, so apologies in advance to the experts and purists! is there any reason in principal why cold-cast metal resin can not be used on the reeds in place of low melt solder to add weight to lower pitch and eliminate the need to scratch or file.  I ask because of it's ease in working and prior experience of working with it.  It is also relatively easily rescuable/reversible if needs be.


Q2   If the above is a 'no-no' because of some engineering principal re the tippet etc, on "scratching" / gouging vs. diamond filing.  Given the degree of lowering required for 90% of the reeds, how much scratch(ing) / filing is likely to be necessary to get the pitch reduction and given whatever that level of work is,.........is scratching ( to remove metal ) or filing to be preferred ?   I do not like the look of 'scratching / gouging' to be honest, but am happy to be guided by those with experience.


Q3  Re. the point at which to file ( or scratch ) on the reed, to lower the reeds by the implied amount, I have seen various terms applied to the correct point on the reed at which to work.  Generally from/at around the mid-point of the reed, although some seem to suggest it should be done closer to the fixing point/clamp ......or is it a question of reducing it from the mid point towards the  clamp rather than working at just one point?


I have worked with metal resin on a number of projects and have some confidence in its ability to be worked and fettled/filed in much the same way as solder, hence my asking.   I don't have a tuning box/rig, so it'll be have to be done in situe.


Any advice much appreciated.....



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Sprunghub, I think it would be a good idea to change to a tuner that gives you an error reading in cents (a cent is a hundredth of a semitone, BTW). I use a smartphone app called Tonal Energy Tuner, though there are lots of them out there.


Do the valve and action work before tuning because that can alter things by a few cents.


I don't recommend scratching concertina reeds, and I only use traditional steel files for profiling a new reed. I do the majority of my tuning work with a 400 or 600 grit diamond needle file. The ones Eternal Tools sells are very good:



I use solder weighting if I need to make a fairly large change to a reed's pitch, particularly if it's a low reed. Fine tuning I do with the diamond files.


Where exactly to file depends on how long the reed is, but in general try to spread the filing out a bit; you don't want to cut a notch right at the clamp.


No idea on the resin. My main concern would be how well it sticks; is there any chance it might fall off a few months later.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Alex - thanks for that information.....firstly, yes, I am aware of the principal of not doing too much ( if anything ) until pads and valves have been done.  I broke that rule re. that 'F' because it was so far out and annoying but I have held fire on the rest.  Ultimately it is almost in ( a ) tune.  Pads etc are imminent, hence me asking before messing anything up.


I have 600g diamond needle files and a high quality ultra fine metal needle file ( and shim material ) from bike carb work and general fettling.  I also have a good stock of crafters emery boards in varying grits for final polishing.  I had pre-ordered a 600g 1/4" stick file so should have the basic tools.


I have ( or rather the wife has ) downloaded the Tonalenergy Tuner onto her phone this pm.  At the pre-set 440hz, those 90% of notes that are obviously sharp on the Snark tuner are all showing a miserable red face and around a fairly consistent 40 cents or so "sharp" on the TET, so I have 40 cents to come down, either by adding or taking away.  Needless to say, I don't know how much 'grinding' is involved in coming down 40 cents ?  It may be a couple of passes, it may be a lot ( or a few more ) ?  It would be useful to know if anyone has that knowledge? 


I am guessing it is a fairly typical project to convert from A.N. Other standard historical tuning ?  It is a Lachenal Salvation Army 'Triumph'  instrument, 1910's / 20's I think, in origin, S/N 4062  ?


The 2- part epoxy resin, for what it is worth, is not likely to come off the reed once cured unless cut/filed off.  It would probably bond as well as solder, without the heat implications, albeit with marginally less weight by volume. It is also possible to shape it on/after placement and potentially bond wire or a small shim, which was a slightly left-field option to  increase the weight centrally on the reed, but probably one best not admitted to among true artisans!  



Link to comment
Share on other sites

40 cents is a big enough shift that I would be weighting the low reeds a bit. The amount of weight you need to add reduces as you go up in pitch, so what I do is start at the bottom and work my way up. At some point I find I'm adding such a minuscule amount of solder to the tip that it's not worth the trouble and I switch to just filing them.


There's too many variables to clearly describe in words how much filing you need to do. We're probably talking about removing less than a thousandth of an inch of thickness. You can easily remove enough (or too much) metal in a few seconds of filing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 9/21/2018 at 11:01 AM, Sprunghub said:

The 2- part epoxy resin, for what it is worth, is not likely to come off the reed once cured unless cut/filed off.  It would probably bond as well as solder, without the heat implications, albeit with marginally less weight by volume.

You could add some fine metal filings to the epoxy mix to increase its density.

Edited by Don Taylor
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The belly of the reed, (generally the central portion of the reed ) is where changes in thickness effects are balanced by changes in weight. Metal removal there will affect the pitch little or not at all, while lowering the overall stiffness and power of the reed.  If you are making your own reeds, you file the belly to bring the reed in line with the stiffness of its neighbors so they will respond at similar pressures.  For an existing instrument, assume that has already been done, and the bellies are where they should be.  I tend to restrict my tuning to the first and last quarter of the reed length.  Weight changes nearest the tip and thickness changes near the root are most effective , meaning the least metal removal.  When initially filing a reed, you need to blend toward the belly to have a reed that curves evenly.   I agree with Alex that 40 cents is weighting range for the low to midrange.  Mind you at some point you will add a bit of solder and file nearly all of it away again.  Still, you haven’t weakened the reed.  I use Kester low temp. Silver containing lead free solder with a synthetic rosin core.  Other solders that require an external flux generate a very corrosive condition unless very well cleaned and chemically neutralized.  The Kester solder wets the steel very well, and I wipe off the flux  with a piece of tissue paper as soon as the solder freezes.  Generally, I slide a piece of silicone rubber sheet under the reed tip.  It lets the reed tip heat fast and the flux doesn’t stick.  It also takes the temperature of the melted solder.  One nice thing about solder is that it is both fast and reversible.  Especially for lower reeds, a loss of strength by filing to lower pitch makes them more prone to flattening in pitch under increasing pressure.  I have seen otherwise nice instruments that had reeds so weakened that they were very pitch unstable.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks to all for the advice....it looks, for the sake of minimising reed filing, as if I am going to have to take a crash course in tip soldering.  I will make some practice reeds out of some shim material and see how it goes.  Virtually all of my experience with soldering is 'bad'.  


I had a search on the Forum and found a 2015 thread re re-tuning an English and set the Tuner App to 452, Old Philharmonic ? and the greater majority of buttons in mid flow gave green 'smiley' faces, so that is where she currently seems to be set.  It does beg the question, once pads and valves have been sorted, whether to leave her as she is and simply fine tune her to 452.  I want to accompany a few songs with it rather than  get involved with sessions etc. and reading around suggests that may be an option ?


I'll see how the soldering goes....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My feeling  on this  is  that    something like 90%  of  the pre-war  concertinas  being played today  have  been  retuned  from    452 ( or some other  pitch)  to 440. From what I have seen  the  vast majority  have had their reeds lowered in pitch without  adding weight  to  the tips.  Yes  one does see tip weighted reeds  on  some low notes and Bass instruments  but  those weights would be, I think,  almost always  original  fitments.



Edited by Geoff Wooff
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I also ensure that I put a heat sink between the tip of the reed and the reed belly (the springing bit) to preserve the temper and elasticity of the reed. This is especially important of big reed instruments.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...