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Tuning an old instrument to 440


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How important to you is whether your old concertina is tuned to 440? I have a 1927 Wheatstone Model 21 (Engilsh) that plays very nicely, but has never been tuned to 440. 

I'll play with various groups on a casual basis and it doesn't seem to bother anyone. Tuning can be rather expensive, often $500 or more. I've been thinking of getting it done, but the price is slowing me down. Opinions?

Edited by Everett
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Also worth considering; when was it last tuned at all? If that was long ago it could probably do with retuning, and then that might as well be to A440. Anyway a tuning app will tell you how the tuning is now. If it does deserve retuning, whether that should be to Equal Temperament or something else is a separate question.

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3 hours ago, Richard Mellish said:

whether that should be to Equal Temperament or something else is a separate question.

Richard,

 

I am VERY curious to know about this. 

Most of  the reeds on my concertina are within 10cents range in comparison to equal temperament. I want to fine tune the reeds for better harmony, but I have a feeling that making them closer to equal temperament may not be the right solution.

 

It would be nice of you if you could guide me to a thread where this "separate question" has been discussed. 

 

Totani

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Posted (edited)

Then the basic answer is: if your vintage concertina has not been tuned in recent years (or ever) it probably needs it. It has currently gone for service and have learned it has several issues: a couple of cracks in the pans causing air leakage, it needs cleaning, valve service, some buttons need adjustment. Also there is some rust on the reeds...Yes it probably needs tuning. That will probably be the last and most expensive step. I await the final evaluation by my tech. Thank heaven the bellows is in great shape.

 

 

Edited by Everett
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12 minutes ago, gtotani said:

It would be nice of you if you could guide me to a thread where this "separate question" has been discussed.

 

Try searching the forum for "meantone". Here are a few old posts that might be of interest:

 

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2 hours ago, gtotani said:

Richard,

 

I am VERY curious to know about this. 

Most of  the reeds on my concertina are within 10cents range in comparison to equal temperament. I want to fine tune the reeds for better harmony, but I have a feeling that making them closer to equal temperament may not be the right solution.

 

It would be nice of you if you could guide me to a thread where this "separate question" has been discussed. 

 

Totani

Totani.  If you want sweeter sounding harmony then quarter comma meantone is probably the way to go.  If yours is a vintage instrument the variation from equal temperament you mentioned may mean that it was originally tuned to some form of meantone.  I have a 20 key Jones anglo which had considerable variation from ET.  The closest tuning seemed to be quarter comma, so I went for that and wasn't disappointed.  It sounds very sweet, particularly when playing chords.  Having said that, I don't play with other musicians.  If you do then maybe ET is better.  John

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I've been advised by more than one reputable repair person against re-tuning from "old pitch" if possible because the reeds will be compromised to some degree.  In my case (Jeff duet) it could be either down to the standard C core or up to D core.  Do others agree?

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22 minutes ago, wunks said:

I've been advised by more than one reputable repair person against re-tuning from "old pitch" if possible because the reeds will be compromised to some degree.  In my case (Jeff duet) it could be either down to the standard C core or up to D core.  Do others agree?

Many  ( probably  most )  of the  vintage  concertinas  in use today  have  been  re-tuned  from  one of the old  pitch  standards.  In the  UK    and  USA  the  pre  WW2  pitch   was  A 452hz. that is  the  best  part  of  half a semitone  higher  than  today's  A440hz.  In continental  Europe  pre war  pitches  vary  but  A435hz.  was  common, about  a  quarter  semitone flater  than A440hz.

 

  So,  are  we  all  just  used to  playing  or listening to  concertinas with  compromised  reeds ? 

 

Perhaps    the  suggestions  not to  re-tune  were  more  to  safeguard  the  detail  of  original  temperaments  or  to preserve  old  reeds from  mishandling ?

 

My  oldest  concertina  has  certainly  been  re-tuned, perhaps  several times,  but  its  superb  reeds  continue  to  sing  beautifully.

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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Back to the original post - Everett, if you're happily playing along with other players in a 1927 original pitched instrument, then they're either all string players who can tune up to you or they're tone deaf.  There's no way that you can play comfortably on an A=452Hz instrument with others in A=440Hz. If the others are happy to retune to you, then keep going - you don't have to change a thing.

 

If you do decide to retune to A=440Hz, then the reeds won't necessarily be compromised.  Sure, some metal will be removed (mostly at the root) but there are adjustments that can be made to the response to keep the reeds sounding well.  Get the work done by someone who knows what they're doing and you'll be fine.  The decision to go for an equal temperament or one of the unequal temperaments is a different decision and may depend on what the box is already in as well as what you prefer

 

Alex West

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33 minutes ago, Alex West said:

Everett, if you're happily playing along with other players in a 1927 original pitched instrument, then they're either all string players who can tune up to you or they're tone deaf.  There's no way that you can play comfortably on an A=452Hz instrument with others in A=440Hz. If the others are happy to retune to you, then keep going - you don't have to change a thing.ws what they're doing and you'll be fine.  A=440Hz, then the reeds won't necessarily be compromised.  Sure, some metal will be removed

 

Actually, it's entirely possible for a 1927 instrument to have been tuned to A-439 New Philharmonic Pitch when it was made.

 

http://www.concertina.com/pricelists/wheatstone-english/Wh-Pricelist-Eng-c1925.pdf

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I stand corrected Stephen - my error.

 

But if it was originally tuned to A=439, then my conclusion remains - there's no pressing need to retune just to move up to A=440Hz?

 

Alex West

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9 minutes ago, Alex West said:

But if it was originally tuned to A=439, then my conclusion remains - there's no pressing need to retune just to move up to A=440Hz

 

I never bothered to tune my 1928 tortoiseshell aeola up by 1Hz Alex, though it's probably better to be sharp by 1Hz than flat... 

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Thanks for all the comments. I am pretty new to concertinas, mostly playing melodeons, whistles and mandolins up to now. 

 

Here are the recent comments by my repair tech. 

Yes, accordion tuning, in general, is complicated--arguably, the most complicated of any acoustic instrument, and each branch of the accordion family offers its own opportunities.
I lean towards cleaning up this instrument where it is, as it's not that bad throughout. Cleaning the corrosion off of the reeds will have a small effect on the present tuning, so I'll reserve my final opinion until then.

Once the reeds are cleaned, I can re-evaluate spot tuning at the present A44ness, and provide you with that estimated cost.

 

Seems to me my instrument is in good hands. The comments in this thread has eased my mind and given me a better understanding of tuning a concertina.

 

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7 hours ago, Everett said:

Yes, accordion tuning, in general, is complicated--arguably, the most complicated of any acoustic instrument, and each branch of the accordion family offers its own opportunities.

 

I would quibble slightly with the statement that the concertina is "a branch of the accordion family". It's more accurate to say that they are cousins in the bellows driven free reed aerophone family, with some superficial similarities and a great many differences in the construction details.

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In good hands? I agree absolutely in the approach suggested, however 'how' he/she tunes may well be a different matter. Old concertina reed tuning has nothing to do with scrapers, or mini grinders. Then there is the tuning tolerance required on a concertina versus the accordion, or melodeon instruments. 

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