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Reducing The Height Of Keys


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The action on my aeola is very high; the keys stick out 3/8" to 9/16"; they move about 1/8" or so leaving a generous 1/4" protruding when pressed. Someone once speculated that perhaps it originally had spacers under the end plates to leave slots to let out more noise, but I think I am more inclined to believe the man who said 'Well it depended what size buttons they had a full set of in the stores'.

 

Anyway it seems to me that because the bushes are low on the buttons they are not so stabilised and tend to feel more wobbly and that there will be extra strain on the locating pegs in any other than a straight down action. (The bushing was done recently by the way)

 

I think that I should be able to reduce the height of the action by making a large octagonal 1/8" spacer to nip under the ends, (with similar thickness smaller ones on the pillars of course) to raise ends and handles relative to the action and that this will locate the keys better, lower the action over all and doesn't involve adventuring anywhere that has to be airtight. As long as my end bolts have the spare length (which I will check), it should be reversible, simple and nicer to play.

 

1) What have I missed?

 

2) What should I use for the spacers? I thought plywood, but then I wondered if there was some modern self coloured material that would put a contrasting band round the ends of my black-and-nickel instrument.

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You could use Herringbone Purfling around the edge of the plywood for decoration, it should look good with black and nickel. Luthiers supply companies will also stock less fussy purfling designs.

 

If the experiment works and the action is improved I would have thought that the long term cure is to have a repairman shorten the individual buttons, or for a reversible repair, make a complete new set and keep the existing ones.

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Hi Mate,

 

Provided that the buttons are the originals, I would suggest that the action has been adjusted at some time, possibly to suit a particular customer's preferences, but more likely to accommodate different thickness pads. When overthick pads are fitted, this 'sinks' the buttons down into the holes and the action may often have to be raised compensate. If, at a later date, the pads are again replaced, but this time with thinner pads, and the levers are not re-adjusted, the action will be too high.

I very much doubt that Wheatstones would have originally supplied the box in the condition described.

 

A few detailed pictures of the action might clarify matters.

 

I would suggest that the 'spacer' solution is not the road to go down.

 

Other possibilities might be to :

- Replace the pads with some of appropriate thickness

- Add additional leather spacers between each lever end existing pad.

- If the pads are of reasonable thickness and are in good condition, the action can be lowered by careful bending of the lever arms to regulate the button height. Dave Elliott's book provides an excellent description of the process but I would add that it takes a fair bit of practice to get this right and there is always a risk of damaging the action. On a box of this quality it may well be prudent to send it to an experienced restorer.

 

Hope this is of help to you

 

Regards

 

Dave

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Ooh that's fancy! Can't buy it in my local hardware shop though. I started thinking plywood and wondered if I could do better, perhaps some sort of plastic sheet.

 

I don't think I'd need to re-engineer it a second time if it works though; I think it could be done neatly and it's not hurting anything. Anyone wanting to return it to std spec just has to take the plate out.

 

Makes the instrument a quarter inch wider so it might not fit its case I suppose.

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Anyway it seems to me that because the bushes are low on the buttons they are not so stabilised and tend to feel more wobbly and that there will be extra strain on the locating pegs in any other than a straight down action.

 

Have you had many buttons break off their pegs? If not leave well alone, its lasted threequarters of a century as it is.

 

If you do decide to raise the ends by 1/8" I think you will almost certainly have to use longer endbolts or risk stripped threads.

 

If you were to take up Dave's suggestion of adjusting the action height by either bending levers, or using thicker pads, then you will not only reduce the height of the buttons 'at rest' but you will also reduce the button travel. If the button travel is 1/8" at present you probably don't want to reduce that much or you will be getting close to the point where the pads are not opening far enough to let the reeds speak properly. Have a look at the felt washers under the buttons - if there are 3 or more you can get some button travel back by using fewer.

 

Steve Dickinson at Wheatstone can supply buttons in several different lengths, you might also consider fitting a new set of shorter buttons. If I was the owner of a top quality instrument like an Aeola I would only want to use your 'spacer' method as a temporary measure to see if it improved the playability.

 

ps. If your button heights vary by as much as 1/16" you should really start by getting the action set up properly. That much variation suggests that its a long time since the action was properly regulated.

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Ooh that's fancy! Can't buy it in my local hardware shop though. I started thinking plywood and wondered if I could do better, perhaps some sort of plastic sheet.

This seems to be a much more common problem on Wheatstone Anglos, and my mate Paul Davies used to fix it effectively by using pieces of lollipop stick fpr spacers, usually staining the edges black. You should be able to find packets of them in your local supermarket.

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befote jumping into too much drastic action, the button travel of 1/8", or 3.2 mm is important. Dave P is right about pad thickneses etc., but you need to provide us with one more bit of information.

 

Under each key is a little felt or leather disc called a damper, often there are two or even three dampers fitted per key to ensure that the key height is above the action box cover.

 

How many dampers are fitted per key on your instrument?

 

If there is more than one , then you can drop the action height as Dave P suggests, and keep the key travel by removing some of the dampers to compensate.

 

Dave E

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Hi Dirge,

installing a spacer possibly is the easiest way to accomplish your requirement or at least allow you to see how the instrument performs and is to your liking.

Theo has suggested that the end bolts may not be long enough with a spacer fitted and I would add that the centre screws, one in the thumb strap and one in the finger plate, may also not be long enough. It is good practice not to omit these.

 

Geoff

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...I would add that the centre screws, one in the thumb strap and one in the finger plate, may also not be long enough. It is good practice not to omit these.

Absolutely. Especially the one under the thumb strap.

 

I once had to work on an instrument where an earlier "repair" had replaced the long screw with a short one, which meant that all the strain of pulling the bellows open was absorbed by the fretted ends, rather than by the action board (which the longer screw attaches to). After a few years of playing with the shorter screw in place, the fretted end gave under the strain and was literally ripped apart. :(

 

Edited to add: That instrument, by the way, was (still is) a superb Æola with veneered ends.

Edited by JimLucas
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The trouble with being in the Antipodes is I was in bed while you were all discussing this, hence the silence. And I didn't realise that my reply to "Tallship" was posted after Dave P's response to my original post, which might have confused folks. Sorry about that; should have looked.

 

The concertina was overhauled by Mike Acott and has new pads of 'normal' proportions. But the important point is that the keys are not stacked up on dampers and there is only 1/8" travel before the keys bottom out, so they physically could not be mounted lower.

 

The background to this is that it is a 71 key Maccan (Dural frames and ends, so relatively light; that was the attraction) that had sat in a box for many years before I got it. It took a fair amount of reconditioning and the result was an instrument severely needing playing in. It had to be posted to me and the jarring it received added some interesting buzzes and twangs as well and, although I do have your book, Dave E, I have been very scared of rolling my sleeves up and doing the remedial work involved. It was stiff, sleepy, awkward, duff notes etc etc and I got so fed up with it that I only played the small duet and my progress very much stalled as a result.

 

Recently I was given some encouragement, remembered that I had a quality instrument sitting festering that I had to face up to, got it out and tackled the worst rattles, buzzes and silences successfully. It is now playing acceptably and I am back working on challenging pieces. But that has given me the confidence to carry on tweaking it until it really is 'an Aeola'. I'm now looking at it critically, investigating reeds that don't sound as readily as others, that sort of thing. And the high keys bother me. I broke a couple of pegs when learning, but not on this instrument, so I've never had a problem but am wary of it (you do a lot of changing fingers and double stopping on a duet and they both involve side strain on the keys.) But, particularly, I want to get rid of the sloppy feel on the keys and lowering the height of them relatively seems an incidental bonus (and yes the bushing was done as part of the recondition before it's suggested)

 

True, the ultimate fix would be a new set of shorter keys but at huge expense; I can cope with a new set of end bolts though, if investigation shows a need.

 

I agree with you, Dave P., that it seems odd that it left the factory like that but it seems more likely than any other premise. The only other possibility is that it was something done by a previous owner; he had huge hands and moved the handles back; I can't see why long fingers would need taller buttons though?

 

Theo; I hear your "If it aint broke..." plea but the beauty of my proposed fix is that I don't have to touch the working parts at all. And the 1/16" variation is my measuring accuracy more than a controlled report on the condition of the thing! I'll look at that later.

 

I may well try the lolly sticks, Stephen; I was thinking in terms of fretsawing an octagonal spacer in one piece for maximum stability, but it would be a simple first experiment, wouldn't it?

 

And Geoff, thanks for your vote of confidence!

 

Thanks, everyone.

Edited by Dirge
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I should have kept quiet too. Reading Dave P's post reminded me that no Aeola would have left the Wheatstone factory with an action like that - I doubt they would have even have made it as a special commission. I didn't realise that you were talking about a duet either, not that it would have made a difference.

 

I waxed lyrical about the action on my 48 button English Aeola elsewhere so I should have known better. I'm truly sorry if I muddied the waters here.

 

Pete.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I thought you might like an update.

 

I had to start tackling a couple of sleepy reeds so pulled one end off and found every button had 2 dampers, to my great surprise; (I apologise for assuring you all there were none spare) so in the end I decided I would take (yet another) deep breath, remove one all round and regulate the action properly. I was a bit unhappy about this as I didn't want to disturb the newish pads and realised that any bending of the levers would alter their angle and upset the seal. However they have been done with a flexible glue, 'Uhu' or similar so I decided I would try to get away with it but would swallow having to realign the pads if I had to.

 

I didn't think one disc would make much difference either, but I've learnt over the years that you can magic quite large clearances out of nowhere with mechanisms by careful assembly so thought I'd have a go.

 

So I set to; made myself a bending tool and height gauge and, taking most of a day over it, worked steadily through all 72 keys, making an effort to keep everything tight. I found that, after the first few keys are in, sighting across the top of the partially assembled keyboard is as good as using the gauge for height and makes sure you didn't leave any 'unfinished'. I found bending levers, especially the shortest, without damaging pivots or keys really alarming; Mr. Wheatstone's brass is strong and springy and I was just waiting for that obviously stiff brass to fatigue and break, but it never happened. I found the last six keys took almost as long as it took me to do the first one; definitely a nack to it! With every key, when I got close to clearance I put a firm finger on the bead on the pad and pushed the pad down on its hole to get it seated, thus flexing the glue then re-checked my clearance for the final setting. Only one pad actually needed regluing after this brutal treatment. A few 'dry' assemblies to recheck sideways pad alignment and I was done.

 

And the result? Well, amazing, really. The instrument is transformed; the keys are still on the high side, but they are much lower, the action is even, in particular the keys feel much more stable and they are encouraging accurate and much faster playing. I'm happily playing the brisk stuff I used to reserve for the 56 key, and that's a first, I've never felt comfortable doing that before. (but I don't think I particularly blamed the action, just put it down to the general bulk of the thing)

 

When I first played it afterwards I was aware that I was pumping air for England but it has been settling steadily since then and as no uninvited notes sound I'm assuming this is a general slight leak rather than one badly aligned pad. It's already most of the way back to airtight as the pads settle, and no pads have actually fallen off, the other thing I was ready to accept.

 

I'm still going to get out the lolly sticks, but a huge fix has already been achieved and I'm delighted with my new instrument, because it's that much improved. To all those of you saying 'I thought so' I apologise...in my defence my proposed original fix didn't involve all this unpleasant bending (any Bonzos fans in the room?), so it wasn't completely daft!

 

I've still got to improve the voicing of some of the reeds; I'm going very softly there for fear of doing lasting damage. But next task, I think, is to fit valve springs on the bass notes. It hasn't had them before but it goes down to the second F below middle C and the bottom few notes make all sorts off bubbling noises, valves slap down in what feels like hours after the key is pressed and a lot of air vanishes.

 

I imagine I bend an L in a bit of wire and force the short end into the wood, but how high above the valve should I set them, am I aiming for parallel to the surface (as it looks in the pictures I've seen) and presumably the wire itself is not critical; I thought some pianowire from the local model shop. (the valves are new and professionally fitted). I'm also assuming that they will do no harm, provided I fit them right, even if they aren't a complete cure. Right?

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I've still got to improve the voicing of some of the reeds; I'm going very softly there for fear of doing lasting damage. But next task, I think, is to fit valve springs on the bass notes. It hasn't had them before but it goes down to the second F below middle C and the bottom few notes make all sorts off bubbling noises, valves slap down in what feels like hours after the key is pressed and a lot of air vanishes.

 

I imagine I bend an L in a bit of wire and force the short end into the wood, but how high above the valve should I set them, am I aiming for parallel to the surface (as it looks in the pictures I've seen) and presumably the wire itself is not critical; I thought some pianowire from the local model shop. (the valves are new and professionally fitted). I'm also assuming that they will do no harm, provided I fit them right, even if they aren't a complete cure. Right?

 

I think what you are describing is not a valve spring, but a valve stop. Simply to prevent the valve lifting so far that it gets caught in the pad hole. Have you seen the incredibly light spring steel strips that are used on accordion valves? These lie flat on the upper surface of the valve and are fixed in place at the fixed end of the valve. They come in several different strengths, and can be adjusted for pressure by bending. If valves are not closing properly I think this might be what you need.

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If you are fitting your valve springs to the non-chamber side of the reed pan then they are indeed valve springs as often fitted to baritones of the English system.

 

If you have the dreaded book (Concertina Maintenance manual) they are illustrated on page 16, if you don't I will try & post the picture for you

 

Dave

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Yes, Dave, it's your trouble-shooting chart and picture of valve springs that 's got me thinking and my successful action adjustment is largely down to you too, thanks.

 

Have either of you seen this before? I'm concerned that it's not been necessary in previous lives of the concertina and consequently hesitant. Is it just down to vagaries of valve leather? Is there anything I should look at first? (extending the glue slightly down one side of the valve, say?). I can't see anything wrong, just big flappy valves.

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Bass notes are big reeds, big reeds need big vents (slots) to clear the reed tongue, and to permit air flow. Big vents need big valves, its a matter of simple gometry.

 

Big valves are made from thicker leather and are usually cut by the repairer on an as needed basis, some repairers stick two valves together to stiffen them up, but I don't like that approach.

 

I use valve springs as we have already discussed. Part of the spring just about kisses the back of the valve about 1/3 from the root end of the vent. This causes what I can only describe as a 'spine' effect on the valve increasing effective stiffness. The free end of the spring wire limits the degree of opening and the curvature of the valve. You can judge the opening height of the valve by looking at the valve pin positions in the relevent chambers.

 

I have seen these simple devices fitted to big reeded anglos, and duets as well as English baritones and the vary rare double acting English basses. Single acting instruments don't use valves (at least not in that way!)

 

Dave

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