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Ebony Vs. Rosewood


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I would appreciate thoughts on the respective qualities of rosewood and ebony. Ebony is reputed to be the hardest wood, and to sound the best but is there really a difference between it and rosewood? Even if ebony sounds marginally better, I suspect that it is more susceptible to humidity changes and problems such as cracking in areas like the Northeast U.S. where the humidity swings from 10% indoors in the winter to over 50% indoors in the summer. So I am curious as to what people with either rosewood or ebony think about its sound and is compatibility with humidity swings. I ask because I expect to have an opportunity to get a Bb/F in the next year or two and will have a choice. Alan

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I would appreciate thoughts on the respective qualities of rosewood and ebony. Ebony is reputed to be the hardest wood, and to sound the best but is there really a difference between it and rosewood? Even if ebony sounds marginally better, I suspect that it is more susceptible to humidity changes and problems such as cracking in areas like the Northeast U.S. where the humidity swings from 10% indoors in the winter to over 50% indoors in the summer. So I am curious as to what people with either rosewood or ebony think about its sound and is compatibility with humidity swings. I ask because I expect to have an opportunity to get a Bb/F in the next year or two and will have a choice. Alan

 

as far as i have heard, ebony is too heavy for concertinas, doesnt make much of a difference, and cracks easier. flutes, on the other hand, are much stabler in black woods.

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Whatever about concertinas, African blackwood is generally stable in flutes which are subject to a lot of moisture and temp changes. I had a rosewood flute for a while and it was the divil to take apart after a few hours playing because it would swell.

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I dobt there'd be as much difference between kinds of woods as there would be between metal and wood.

 

flutes, on the other hand, are much stabler in black woods.

 

I don't think this is necessarily true. The harder the wood the more likely it will be to crack. Boxwood will warp and go out of round before it cracks. I assume it will give when the metal of the head joint expands, rather than resist the expansion.

Edited by cocusflute
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Having concert flutes in rosewood, ebony, and cocus I think I can make a broad statement. All of these woods make excellent flutes, and should also be fine for the ends of a concertina. The entire body of the flute is made of the same material, where as concertina may have solid wood ends and a veneered frame, and a sound board of yet another material such as maple. With the flutes rosewood and cocus are the more red in appearance, but ebony can have a very reddish grain to it. Many antique flutes that appear to be ebony or blackwood are really aged cocus. It darkens with time and exposure to the elements after it is cut and finished. Sonically a cocus flute has more complex overtones than a blackwood of the same maker. There is a touch more bite to a blackwood flute, but as for stability, I think all the various woods need similar care and respect against drying out .The rosewood flute is tonally more similar to the cocus ( I think the woods are of the same family ). As with any instrument the tonal properties are very much a preference of the individual player, and my new concertina will be solid ebony ends. In comparison to the veneer I "think" it may have more overtones and ring than a veneer over ply. The ply has glues in it which could dampen the resonance slightly.

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I am curious as to what people with either rosewood or ebony think about its sound and is compatibility with humidity swings.

I don't think there is/will be a discernible difference in tone between identical concertinas no matter what species of (very) hardwoods are used for the ends (whether solid or ply). Concertina ends are primarily tonal *filters*, not resonators.

 

I note that all the vintage boxes I've seen with plyed ends are all dense hardwoods (usually maple) with a hardwood veneer (usually ebony). Some "ebony" instruments may appear to be ebonized other woods, though they are usually ebonized ebony (most ebony is *not* completely black, but very dark brown and/or black with dark brown to medium brown stripes).

 

Changes in humidity is a serious issue. A solid wood (even very hard woods like ebony) will move far more than plyed (at 90 degrees) woods will. Information on how flutes react to humidity will have little bearing on how concertinas react to humidity. It's pretty simple: the woods move, but flutes don't have much in the way of restrictions to movement (but at the head joint and wood around the metal barrel), and the largest across-grain piece in a flute is only about an inch.

 

Concertinas OTOH, are 6" plus across and are restrained at the edges by endbolts. I've rarely encountered a vintage concertina which has solid wood ends which *wasn't* split. Solid padpans often crack as well (as they're secured by the endbolts). Reedpans "float" (no endbolts to restrain them) so almost never crack.

 

If you've taken apart many concertinas you can easily spot the ones with solid vs plyed ends as the endbolts are usually difficult to remove (from solid wood ended concertinas) - and *extremely* difficult to get back on as it takes only a few minutes for a stressed solid top to relax a bit such that the bolt alignments are further out of alignment.

 

I ask because I expect to have an opportunity to get a Bb/F in the next year or two and will have a choice.

It sounds like you'll be getting a new concertina then? Whatever wood you choose I recommend that it be plyed. For the least trouble go with a plyed top of the same woods throughout and sold wood sides (not plyed).

 

-- Rich --

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Well-crafted wooden ends can look splendid but so can equally well-crafted metal ends. With all the potential problems brought about by fluctations of humidity, temperature, ageing etc. metal ends sound like the obvious solution. Is wood significantly lighter ? I doubt that there is any discernable difference to the tone of the instrument either way. Has anyone experimented with different fabric linings behind the fretting ? I reckon this might reveal some interesting variations in tone. It's nice to have a pretty instrument but the 'music' is what it's all about.

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If it's a new concertina you're getting, it will be a veneer so not too much to worry about. With vintage ones, the solid wood ebony tended to be very brittle although ebony was usually used on the better instruments.

Juergen Suttner advertises "flat solid ebony ends" as an extra-cost option on his new concertinas. See his price list.

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Thank you to Rich and everyone who offered an opinion. All of your responses were very helpful. Humidity is indeed a problem here in New England, and I have suffered a bit with concertinas in the past in terms of slight gaps in the reed pan from the frame, and even in a pivot post becoming loose. So it is good to learn that steps taken to reduce the problem of excessive dry and humid conditions can be addressed, at least partially, without sacrificing tone.

 

Two issues were raised in the responses that are interesting.

 

1) Does the use of fabric as a filter make a difference, and in particular, can it take some of the "edge" off of notes such as the high A & B? One of the reasons I like a Bb/F (other than in sessions) is that those notes are not really in play. Although, what I hear as a bit of a screech in thoe notes is not necessarily heard by others whom I have asked to listen.

 

2) Rich makes the point that the ends are just filters, and not resonators like the reed pans. So I wonder whether the wood in a reed pan makes any difference. I have heard of mahogany, maple and spruce used for that purpose.

 

Alan

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So I wonder whether the wood in a reed pan makes any difference. I have heard of mahogany, maple and spruce used for that purpose.

If Colin Dipper knows your instrument is going to be in a challenging humidity environment,such as here in Ontario,he builds a laminated reed pan not a solid one.Makes no difference to the sound but may make a differnce to it's longevity.

Robin

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I've been meaning to comment that the differences in sound between old instruments with rosewood or ebony ends have more to do with other factors, such as the quality of the reed pan (especially chambering, or lack of it) and reeds, the material the action board is made from, and how much fretwork is in the ends. Indeed the terms "rosewood" and "ebony" can often be more an indication of quality/price, rather than a statement of the actual material used, since the rosewood is often only a top veneer in a lamination, and "ebony" ends are commonly stained maple or pearwood laminations.

 

I'd say that not many of us have actually had the opportunity to compare otherwise identical instruments with ends made of solid rosewood or ebony (?), as such choices have only recently become available, but I doubt if there'd be much difference. On the other hand, old instruments with solid wood ends, be it ebony, rosewood or mahogany, are commonly cracked, and even have pieces missing - it was not without reason that the old makers tended to laminate the ends of their better-quality instruments.

 

Humidity is indeed a problem here in New England, and I have suffered a bit with concertinas in the past in terms of slight gaps in the reed pan from the frame, and even in a pivot post becoming loose.

Like Rich said, lamination/ply is the best answer.

 

1) Does the use of fabric as a filter make a difference, and in particular, can it take some of the "edge" off of notes such as the high A & B?

That depends on the fabric, but in fixing old instruments I've more often found it an improvement to remove baffles than add them.

 

2) Rich makes the point that the ends are just filters, and not resonators like the reed pans. So I wonder whether the wood in a reed pan makes any difference. I have heard of mahogany, maple and spruce used for that purpose.

I think you may mean what I (and English concertina makers) would call the action board? (In which case mahogany, maple and spruce have indeed been used for that purpose, but reed pans are traditionally always maple.) If so, spruce was only used for cheapness (and is very prone to cracking/warping), but mahogany will produce a drier sound, and maple a brighter one.

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Rich makes the point that the ends are just filters, and not resonators like the reed pans.

I didn't mention anything about the reedpans being resonators.... And very contrary to that I - feel strongly that reedpans are NOT resonators! In fact I suspect that they are the opposite: dampeners - they're intended to *not* to vibrate/resonate. The idea is that the tone generators - the reeds - oscillate (I prefer the word over "vibrate") to produce sound. The more they oscillate (further the swing) the louder the sound. Reeds poorly secured to the reedpan are less loud as some of the energy of the oscillation would be spent wiggling the reedplate.

 

Same with the reedpan. If the reeds were well secured to the reedpan and yet the reedpan was insubstantial (easily movable/vibratable) some of the reed oscillation energy would go to moving/vibrating the reedpan... and the volume of sound would be less.

 

But why aren't reedpans made of 1/4" plate steel then? Because I suspect it would sound terrible. Actually, I don't know that for sure though I've played with a solid aluminum reedpan and the box sounded horrible. What we're looking for is *selective dampening* and for our purposes maple works quite well.

So I wonder whether the wood in a reed pan makes any difference. I have heard of mahogany, maple and spruce used for that purpose.

 

I suspect that the type of wood does make a sound and volume difference though I've only seen/played maple reedpanned concertinas.

 

-- Rich --

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But why aren't reedpans made of 1/4" plate steel then? Because I suspect it would sound terrible.

 

Hmm.

Why then early harmonicas/concertinas/accordions and some modern ones (harmonicas, bayans and bandoneons) basically have solid Copper or Brass "reedpans"?

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Willie Van Wyck makes reedpans from perspex, which is Plexiglass. His concertinas sound very good- bright and clear, with good volume. With any musical instrument you'd want to reduce vibration where you don't want it and encourage it where you do. I would bet that the metal reedpan doesn't sufficiently damp unpleasant overtones.

We need Jack Bradshaw here. Is it the air in the reed chamber that is vibrating, like the air in the body of a flute? The question of the material the flute is made from - and its effect on the sound - is a source of never-ending debate. Popular opinion holds that a flute made from blackwood will sound brighter and have more volume than a flute made from box wood, a softer wood.

Would the type of wood used in the chamber walls of a concertina have a significant effect on the sound?

Edited by cocusflute
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The importance of protecting instruments from fluctuations of temperature and humidity at all times cannot be over-emphasised. These are the factors which will always affect the stability of timber in whatever it's application. In addition, as I understand it, the metal components.... reeds, springs, etc., can only corrode with the help of an excess level of humidity. Whilst this might present a few problems to wandering minstrels it should not be an insurmountable problem for the rest of us. Never underestimate the importance of storing the instrument in a solid, waterproof, well fitting and very well padded case and treat the whole thing with appropriate consideration at all times. Not such a tall order.

 

I'm not so sure that this has got anything to do with what the rest of you are talking about ? !

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