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Author Topic: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...  (Read 6035 times)

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Andy Simpson

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The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« on: July 12, 2009, 08:36:13 PM »

Having just got started on my first Hohner restoration, (cheers, Tom!), I've been wondering about which avenue to go down. Would it be a serious faux pas to use mylar valves, neoprene pallet facings and modern bellows gasket instead of the leather that was originally used?, I ask because in the rather conservative world of guitar repair and restoration, replacing anything on an old instrument with something that isn't new old stock of the same thing or an exact replica, even if skillfully done and still in keeping with the spirit and aesthetics of the instrument, is severely frowned upon.

Considering that all the buttons have to be replaced and the bellows are beyond repair, this one is hardly a candidate for careful preservation but I'd be interested to hear what the general consensus is on using modern materials on an old box.
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Mike Higgins

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2009, 08:53:20 PM »

Its really tricky isn't it? My first reaction was that a melodeon is a musical instrument not a museum piece so needs to be played. So, if original materials are not available, why not use the best of modern materials to get it working once again? Then I wondered if the sound of a fine instrument derives from the sum of its parts and that changing any materials would be a disaster.
Does this really depend on the original quality of the instrument and how particular it sounded when new?

I haven't helped at all have I?
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HallelujahAl

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2009, 09:31:59 PM »

In what little spare time I have I restore vintage concertinas and have just started tinkering with some accordion/melodeon & (including a heligonka restoration project on this forum) restorations. On my concertinas the valves, pads and bellows are made using as far as possible the original style of materials. (I make my own pads & bellows, but buy the leather valves in). The folk who purchase my restorations simply wouldn't wear anything else.  This is my experience so far:

Mylar valves are, in my opinion just as good as many leather variety.
The need to ensure a good seal means that modern gasket materials are (again imho) superior in performance.
I've only ever made my own felt/leather pallet facings so have no experience of neoprene variety - but don't think it would matter on the old Hohners etc that I'm mucking around with what I used. A better quality instrument would no doubt demand, I think, the best that one could put on.
AL
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EeeJay

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2009, 09:34:18 PM »

Considering that all the buttons have to be replaced...

What about making your own (particularly if they're unusual/distinctive)?

Here's some info from earlier this year about a recipe for manufacturing an early type of casein based plastic.

You'd just need to fabricate a suitable (shaped and material) mould to pour it into...

Ed J
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TomB-R

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2009, 09:42:00 PM »

Very pleased to hear you're already getting into the job! Hope it goes well!

To my mind, all the things you mention in your OP are consumables, like tyres on a car, things that will not only need to be replaced periodically over the working life of the box, but can also be replaced with "period" materials at some time in the future. I see no problem with using the best (and most available) of current materials.

Use mylar valves, that's fine, someone can use leather next time if they want to.  Take a violin's front off, then glue it back on with epoxy rather than hide glue, that's unacceptable.

(HallelujahAl posted while I was writing. Hear hear, say I!)

Cheers
Tom
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LJC

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2009, 10:39:02 PM »

I've just finished doing up another 1930s Erika - I replace the bellows gaskets with self adhesive neoprene which I think proves to be far more air tight (and its a doddle to put on!). I think the main thing is to use cosmetic parts which fit (strap brackets/grills/pallets where visible etc). Internal workings such as valves might as well be modern materials since they do provide ease of use and ready supply.

I think its different overhauling an old Hohner or other box which probably doesn't cost the earth compared to a vintage concertina which could have a silly number of 0's in the price! One is a working restoration for a working instrument, the other (whilst still remaining a working instrument) seems more of a historical/antique style process. Especially for your first restoration - get a feel for what works (and don't use epoxy... probably best left for boat or aeroplane repairs)
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Owen Woods

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2009, 11:04:55 PM »

Speaking as someone who knows nothing about anything, it must surely depend on what you are restoring and why. If you are restoring it as instrument then I would think that using the best modern materials would be preferable to old style, as long as they are more effective, unless the old components had a significant effect on the sound.

There is the same debate when restoring vintage wind instruments, mainly centred on pads, material and resonator type.
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Andy Simpson

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2009, 12:47:51 AM »

My thinking is that the modern materials work better for the purpose they're intended, neoprene gets a better seal and mylar apparently works just as well as leather and is nowhere near as susceptible to the ravages of time and moisture and the better seal they all provide should improve volume and response and mean the box wastes less air when playing, all other things being equal...the case is covered in celluloid anyway so it's hardly a big stretch to include other artificial materials, especially where you can't even see them...

It's my experience with repairing and restoring stringed instruments that made me wonder if the squeezebox world was similarly backward conservative and it would be a grave offence to not precisely replicate the original features. I don't advocate unnecessary and drastic alterations for a minute but the frets world in particular is so hung up on "authenticity" it's sometimes quite disheartening. A couple of years ago a friend was asked to replace the original friction pegs on a 1920s Martin ukulele with modern geared pegs, despite the styling of the replacements being entirely in keeping with the rest of the instrument and it now being considerably easier to tune and stayed that way for considerably longer, if the owner had wanted to sell it then the uke's resale value would have actually been damaged even though the instrument had been undeniably improved just because the original pegs had been replaced. A "vintage" electric guitar that's had an electronics overhaul is similarly affected and if anyone ever summoned the chutzpah to replace the cheap pressed steel tailpiece on a 1930s Gibson mandolin with a much higher quality modern cast bronze one they'd be shot at dawn.

I wonder if Theo or Charlie Marshall have any big shiny Italian style mushroom buttons with gold bezels, big padded rotella adjustment bass straps, press stud fastening padded bellows straps, gaudy bellows cloth and elaborate lasercut wooden grilles...and a plastic keyboard would be much lower maintenance than the wooden one...  ;D
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Falseknight

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2009, 07:45:14 AM »

I also confess to not being able to understand the guitar (paticularly electric guitar)world.

When I was younger, everyone who played a "Les Paul" had removed the nasty pressed steel machine heads and replaced with cast body Schallers or Grovers - on the grounds that they were easier to tune and held the instrument in tune much, much better.

it is virtually impossible now to buy a Gibson (or copy) without the cheap, nasty pressed machine heads - becasue they were "original" - unless that is you buy the stupidly expensive "Jimmy Page Replica" which has cast Grover heads (among other things) which is how he played it.

In my view it is much more important that an instrument is playable than original - though I would be careful to do nothing irreversible on the grounds that fashions of plyability also change.
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Theo

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2009, 08:59:46 AM »

My approach is that old melodeons were made to be played, and most were mass produced.   I have no problem using modern materials on replaceable parts such as valves, pallet facings, gaskets etc.  Sometimes the new materials have advantages, sometimes the old materials are still the best. 

Neoprene gasket material is certainly an improvement over the cotton yarn or leather used as gasket on old boxes so I always use the neoprene.   

For valves its not so clear cut, plastic valves are more stable, and on small reeds they open and close more easily than leather giving a slight improvement in reed response.  I'm sure that the smooth surface of plastic compared to the roughness of leather also results in less sound absorbed, especially the high frequencies, leading to a brighter sounds and a little more volume form the highest reeds.  Plastic valves do have one important negative, the larger size valves can be quite noisy, leading to audible raspy sounds on low notes. So I will use leather valves on lower notes, and plastic on higher.

Pallet facings are still best done with a felt/leather combination.  I've never seen neoprene used for this, even on a new instrument.  In the 1960s Hohner tried out some kind of synthetic material for pallets on their Atlantic piano boxes.  Over the years this foam collapses and turns to powder, and has to be replaced with the old-fashioned felt and leather.

When I'm faced with repairs to damaged woodwork on old instruments I usually use hide glue, because its quick and easy to use, and joints made with it can be undone if required. 
« Last Edit: January 20, 2010, 03:50:08 PM by Theo »
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Theo Gibb - Gateshead UK

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HallelujahAl

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2009, 09:18:06 AM »

As an addendum to the glue point. I prefer to use hide glue when possible. However for my leather work I am using 'Leather Weld' (from the Tandy Leather Catalogue) more and more as just a tiny amount of this stuff goes a very long way indeed and forms an excellent bond. It is also the very best stuff in my experience for pasting on new bellows tape. I have full a jar of Charlie Marshall's Bellows Tape Adhesive going free to a good home if anyone wants it!
AL
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Andy Simpson

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2009, 03:32:34 PM »

That's interesting about pallet facings, I could have sworn I'd read about new Hohner pallets being neoprene and assumed the "foam for Hohner pallets" that Charlie Marshall sells was neoprene. If it gives a better seal than leather when used as bellows gasket then why shouldn't it also be better as pallet facing?. If I can find a source for the same material as neoprene bellows gasket in sheet form then I'm definitely going to give it a go, if it doesn't work then I'll just have to replace it with felt and leather. If I'm ever going to experiment now's the time, I suppose, although the thought of making my own buttons is a bit much for me at the moment. :o

Overall, I'm still going to try and keep the general "Hohnery" vibe about but I'm going to have to make new bellows and a new bass end cover and the fingerboard is going to need refinishing as well so it's never going to be entirely authentic. It'll also need new bass end and bellows straps, all new buttons for the bass and treble ends along with new springs, bellows pins, bass end feet and a new grille and there's some celluloid missing from the edges of the bass end that'll either need to be replaced with the closest match I can find or some plain black to tie in with the bass end cover.
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LJC

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #12 on: July 13, 2009, 04:03:48 PM »

The felt/leather combination for pallet facings seems to be as good as it gets - all the high tech boxes I have looked at use it along with neoprene gasket tape and I suspect that if there was a better material then it would have been put into use.

I'm not sure about neoprene - remembering the stuff my wetsuits used to be made out of there was a kind of rough, almost cotton like, surface on each side. Anything which isn't very tightly fitting on pallets loses air (been there...got the t shirt...)

If you want to use synthetic valve material then there are some good thick vinyl alternatives to leather instead of plastic.
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Andy Simpson

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2009, 04:19:42 PM »

The felt/leather combination for pallet facings seems to be as good as it gets - all the high tech boxes I have looked at use it along with neoprene gasket tape and I suspect that if there was a better material then it would have been put into use.

That's a good point but then again, it's often the case with musical instruments that improvements are often never made or don't catch on because of the prestige of upholding tradition and an "if it ain't broke" mentality. Neoprene, along with other manmade materials like PVC and nylon can come in different guises with different properties tailored for the intended use. I have some shoes with neoprene soles that are like a very hard rubber and nothing like wetsuit material or the smooth slightly spongy stuff that works so well as bellows gasket. That being said, leather and felt definitely works and is far more aesthetically pleasing.

If it doesn't work at least I can say I tried.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2009, 04:22:19 PM by WhatsAMelodeon? »
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Theo

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #14 on: July 13, 2009, 04:44:22 PM »

By a nice coincidence I've just taken in an old pokerwork for some work, which has recently been worked on.  It has the old wood fingerboard with horns which dates it back to the 50s or maybe earlier???   This one was bought last year from the seller of this ebay item.  The restorer of this melodeon has, presumably in the interests of originality, reused the old leather valves.  Looking at it now this is a questionable decision because the valves on all the lower reeds are no longer lying flat and making quite a lot of noise, after less than a year of playing. 

So if you want to use leather valves its best to use good Italian new ones.  Its a type of leather specially made for the purpose. Other leathers may look similar but will give disappointing long term performance.
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Theo Gibb - Gateshead UK

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Theo

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #15 on: July 13, 2009, 04:47:18 PM »

That's a good point but then again, it's often the case with musical instruments that improvements are often never made or don't catch on because of the prestige of upholding tradition and an "if it ain't broke" mentality. Neoprene, along with other manmade materials like PVC and nylon can come in different guises with different properties tailored for the intended use. I have some shoes with neoprene soles that are like a very hard rubber and nothing like wetsuit material or the smooth slightly spongy stuff that works so well as bellows gasket. That being said, leather and felt definitely works and is far more aesthetically pleasing.

If it doesn't work at least I can say I tried.

A nice idea would be to use some of each.  For example one row with neoprene pallets the other with felt and leather then you'll get a direct comparison.
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Theo Gibb - Gateshead UK

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Owen Woods

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #16 on: July 13, 2009, 05:14:39 PM »

I know that there have been experiments with foam pads on saxophones with not a huge amount of success, pads are almost always some kind of leather nowadays.
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TomB-R

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #17 on: July 13, 2009, 05:41:49 PM »

...I'm going to have to make new bellows ....
Good man, Andy!
OK, I've only "been there" once but give me a shout if I can help at all!

http://forum.melodeon.net/index.php/topic,1958.0.html
Tom
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Andy Simpson

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #18 on: July 14, 2009, 08:52:50 PM »

That would be a good idea to compare neoprene and leather and felt on the same box...but...the Hawkin's Bazaar toy melodeon that I bought in a fit of stupidity at lunchtime today has what appears to be neoprene pallet facings and that's put me right off the idea. ::)

I think I'll probably go with neoprene bellows gasket, leather and felt pallets and a combination of leather and synthetic valves, just out of interest Theo, at what point do you change from leather to synthetic?. I'm looking forward to doing the bellows and I'm sure I'll have a question or two for you, Tom.

So far I've only dismantled and cleaned everything and I'm hoping to get started in earnest in a couple of weeks once I've finished a couple of guitars some people have been waiting for far longer than they should, (me complaining about Castagnari's very long and vague delivery time has a distinct element of the pot calling the kettle black). ::)
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Theo

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Re: The Ethics & Expectations of Melodeon Restoration...
« Reply #19 on: July 15, 2009, 01:12:57 PM »


I think I'll probably go with neoprene bellows gasket, leather and felt pallets and a combination of leather and synthetic valves, just out of interest Theo, at what point do you change from leather to synthetic?.

No hard and fast rule,  on a Hohner D/g box I usually use leather on the lowest 3 or 4 reeds on each treble row, more on lower pitch tunings. 
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Theo Gibb - Gateshead UK

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