Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

A couple of the reeds on my box recently drifted slightly out of tune. It’s a two reed unit, and a couple of notes have become ‘wetter’ than they were. I have played it a fair amount since (it seemed to happen over a period of a month or so when I didn’t play it at all, possibly after someone spilled a pint of Guinness on the case I keep it in) and most of them have come right again, I think.

One note still sounds too wet, though. I’ve had the box apart and can’t see any obvious problem. I’m loath to go poking around as I note the individual scratches on the backs of the reeds that the original tuner made. I’m guessing that a single scratch would be enough to change the pitch of a reed by a cent or two.

It’s not a problem when playing jigs and reels, but I accompany a couple of singers, and holding that note produces a warble I’m not too fond of, and which doesn’t match other sustained notes.

Can anyone shed any light, or give any (helpful) suggestions?

Cheers,
Eno

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Reeds can drift a bit, usually downwards in pitch. It pays to know what you’re doing before mucking about too much. You have to know which of the reed pair to retune for a start otherwise you could end up making the pair sour in comparison to the other notes. It’s easy with harmonicas because they’re cheap and you don’t have to remove so much metal and the brass is softer. You probably need a pro to look over your box and do some gentle retuning, or get someone who’s had experience to walk you through it before having a go yourself. On tremolo harmonicas, the ones with reed pairs like your box, an increase in wetness of one note usually means that the lower-pitched of the two notes has flattened slightly. You could at least look for obvious causes such as a bit of muck on a reed, but I assume you’ve done this already.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

"And brass is softer" is what I meant.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Reeds do not last forever. Oxydation and metal fatigue will have effect on their sounding properties. Some reeds can also break.

Best thing would be to take your melodeon to a professional who can tune it and/or replace the reeds that might be "tired". Don’t take a reedblock out unless you know how to deal with waxing and reed plate work!

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Thanks for that Steve. Come to think of it, it makes sense that a reed should be vibrating slower than before if it’s starting to corrode or has got a bit gunked up.

I presume to raise the pitch you shave the note slightly in the middle with sandpaper? Not that I’m game to try it without first seeking expert advice. This is my joy and delight we’re talking about.

How often do you find you need to retune your mouth harps? I’m guessing that the moisture in your breath affects the reeds eventually? (I stopped blowing through my reeds to clean them when they got dirt in them after some advice on this board).

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

The rule is that you remove metal from the riveted (fixed) end of the reed to lower the pitch and from the free end to raise it. Material is removed from the reed surface, not the tip or edges. Removing metal from the middle will just have a neutral effect. I’m not wanting to go too far in comparing box reeds with harmonica reeds as the latter are a fair bit flimsier and made of different metal. Harmonica reeds last longer if you play from the diaphragm and avoid forcing the sound. It’s said that a lot of bending fatigues reeds but my experience doesn’t confirm this. As boxes are expensive to fix if you muck them up I’d get someone to show you what to do if I were you. In my earlier post I meant to say "…the lower pitched of the two REEDS has flattened slightly," by the way. Box reeds are not subject in to quite the same degree as harmonica reeds are to the effects of moisture or dirt, but you certainly can’t rule out the latter entirely.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Flippin’ Nora, I’m having a bad day. Just look at that last sentence. What I meant was "Box reeds are not subject to the effects of moisture or dirt to the same degree as harmonica reeds are, though dirt on the reeds certainly can’t be ruled out entirely."

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Your spilled pint of Guinness could have somehow got inside your reed block without any visual clues. It would only take a small bit of liquid to settle on your metal "Tongue" reed then dry thus increasing its weight and slowing down its vibration. Or it could have made your reed valves a bit sticky making them only partly open when playing. Nether the less contact Guinness for liable.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Sticky valves would certainly affect the sound but not by making it "wetter." Have a look at the valves by all means but don’t go poking around with them unless you know what you’re about.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

A few links that relate to the tuning of harmonica reeds:

http://www.angelfire.com/music/harmonica/reedadjustment.html
http://www.harmonicasessions.com/jun04/h-workbench.html
http://www.patmissin.com/tunings/tunings.html

These may be useful to understand whats needed and also you may find similar information directly related to your instrument elsewhere on the internet. Kinya Pollard (2nd link) has done a whole series on various aspects of maintenance - you should be able to trace them from this link if you wish.

I agree with Steve - if in doubt, get a professional to take look (but I appreciate it’s not always that easy unless you’re near a big city). Good luck with it. 🙂

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

My accordion is getting a bit wetter in spots also, not because of something spilled in it, but in the sense that some notes "beat" differently than others. But it has been five years since I bought it, so I guess that isn’t bad. So now that the busy season is over, it is time for a quick visit to the shop. I will have to read those harmonica tuning links, I always just chucked them and bought new, which can be expensive.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Well done for providing the excellent harmonica links, jamascc. I’d focus on the first and third of your links myself. With harmonicas, the thing about being able to do your own basic tweaking is that you’ll be able to set the harp up for your own style of playing. Out-of-the-box harps are a compromise - they may work for you if you’re lucky, but all too often a tweak or two is needed to get the thing doing what you want it to do.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Thanks for that, guys.

I looked into getting a new set of reeds, but it came to $1000 - more than half the price of the box. I’m very fond of the sound of this Mengascini - many people have commented how sweet it sounds, so I really would like to return it to that state. On the other hand, I don’t want to ruin it entirely either.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

Take it to a box tuner. Its perfectly normal for reeds to need slight retuning from time to time. Spot tuning a couple of notes is a straightforward job for someone with the right skills and tools.

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

I see you are in Oz. Try Malcolm Clapp mclapp@bigpond.net.au he is in NSW

Re: Accordion reeds drifting out of tune

It’s ironic that we’re talking about a spilled pint of Guinness making reeds "Wetter" sounding isn’t it?