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Author Topic: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon  (Read 5285 times)

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Sandy Flett

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This post follows up two previous threads of mine from October 2010:

Hohner reeds on Hohner reedblocks, inside a modern/Italian melodeon body

Converting Castagnari Tommy to MMM

Very briefly, the background is that, for me, the Castagnari Tommy is the most playable melodeon in the world, but the sound I most love is "classic Hohner". And no matter how you tune the Tommy's reeds the sound (for me) always comes out too clinically clean and lacking the resonance and richness that characterises the Hohner sound.

I was therefore delighted when Mike Rowbotham showed enthusiasm for my proposed experiment to see how close we could get to the Hohner sound by replacing the Tommy's (edit - treble) reeds/blocks with Hohner reeds on Hohner reedblocks (Rees W advised it did not seem to be enough to fit Hohner reeds to modern hardwood blocks). The biggest intial problem was finding an old Hohner box whose reedblocks had the same hole spacings as the Tommy, but Mike eventually found a late 1920s Club III which was very close.

As a first step I modified one of the Club blocks to fit the Tommy, posted it to Mike who fitted the G-row reeds and then returned it to me to try in the Tommy. We were most heartened by the result and I sent the Tommy to Mike to complete the project; a key condition was that no modifications were to be made to any part of the Tommy, so that it can be restored to its original condition in the time it takes to swop the treble reedblocks over.

It transpired that with the more upright shape of the Hohner blocks there was not enough room inside the very compact Tommy body for an L-set of reeds. However, having heard the MM sound from the initial G-row experiment, I was already thinking this box would probably give a great Hohner MMM sound as well; the issue was settled when Mike let me hear an example of his tuning of another MMM Hohner. Mike had to build a new third reedblock (out of appropriate wood) as the Club's remaining block did not mesh with the Tommy holes.

I picked the finished "Hohner-Tommy" up when I was in Cornwall on holiday a few weeks ago, and I have finally got round to recording some tunes on it. I am very pleased with how it has come out, both MM and MMM, and think Mike has again done a great job with the tuning. See what you think from the following tracks:

Played with MM reeds:

Flatback Caper + Redesdale Hornpipe

Find the Lady

Scott Skinner's Compliments to Dr Macdonald

Kerry Slide


Played with MMM reeds:

Glendaruel Highlanders

Come Dance and Sing + Wha Wadna Fecht for Charlie
« Last Edit: May 31, 2012, 03:26:01 PM by Sandy Flett »
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Theo

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2011, 10:27:43 AM »

Very interesting,   I'm surprised how much "Italian" sound is still there.

And you seem to have picked up a little bit of Hohner keyboard rattle!  Was that also part of the brief? ;D ;D

A very interesting comparison would be to hear the original Tommy reeds tuned in the same way.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2011, 10:30:12 AM by Theo »
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ladydetemps

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2011, 10:35:18 AM »

I suppose the effect isn't a box the size of a tommy but the price of a hohner. ;)

george garside

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2011, 12:16:50 PM »

I much prefer it to the standard Tommy sound.

george
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Sandy Flett

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2011, 12:44:36 PM »

Very interesting,   I'm surprised how much "Italian" sound is still there.

The main thing I wanted to get away from was the clinically clean (sine-wave-like) sound of the Tommy. Bigger Italian boxes seem to have more resonance, which is a significant part of how the new sound differs from the original. Also, although I am a keen Hohner-sound man, my brief to Mike on the tuning was ""the fullest, richest, sweetest, but before any hint of shrillness starts to creep in", so it ended up about +12 cents at 440 (correct me if I am wrong, Mike) which is not at all the strident end of Hohner-sounds.

And you seem to have picked up a little bit of Hohner keyboard rattle!  Was that also part of the brief? ;D ;D

I assume you mean the bass pallets which do clack a bit (Tony Hall authenticity (:)). The Oakwood I used to own also had this problem (from new). Can they be made quieter?

A very interesting comparison would be to hear the original Tommy reeds tuned in the same way.

Yes, that would be interesting to compare. When I was first exploring these ideas last year, Malcolm Klapp of this parish very kindly sent me several recordings of his Tommy tuned to +20 cents at 440, but although it was a good cutting-through sound, it still did not seem to generate all the additional partials that give the Hohners their richness of sound.

Other interesting comparisons would be to put equivalent Hohner reeds (a) directly onto Tommy blocks, and (b) onto blocks made from more "Hohner-like wood" (lower quality wood as Mike R argues). But I feel I have funded the furtherment of knowledge in this field enough for now, especially as I have ended up with a box/sound I am very happy with and just want to play and play.
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waltzman

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2011, 01:37:02 PM »

This is a wonderful experiment.  I really appreciate you sharing the results.  Do you notice much difference at all in the reed responsiveness between the TAM reeds and the Hohner reeds?
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Sandy Flett

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2011, 02:25:09 PM »

This is a wonderful experiment.  I really appreciate you sharing the results.  Do you notice much difference at all in the reed responsiveness between the TAM reeds and the Hohner reeds?

Thank you for that.

Regarding responsiveness, I believe the reeds Mike provided were particularly good (apparently there can be quite a bit of variability of reed quality). My subjective view on just playing the new set-up is that it is at least as fast as the original and, for the same bellows pressure, is actually louder than the original, partly of course due to the wider tuning. Objectively, there is no perceptible delay in the reeds kicking in however loud or soft you play a note, and you can play very soft and very loud - the slow Scott Skinner tune might give you a feel for the "softer". And the compression is excellent - so far, in playing hard and fast (both MM and MMM) I have not run out of air even with the smaller capacity of the Tommy bellows (indeed, playing the original full LMM was gutsier).
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george garside

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2011, 04:16:34 PM »

the process has in effect been done t'other way round. One example being the CC# hohner erica set up  up by   Jimmy Shand Jnr with italian reeds and morino palets  etc  that was used by Sir Jimmy Shand to record  several slow aires and  pipe marches.  He  played it in the traditional way  on his knee using just a thumbstrap

george
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Sandy Flett

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2011, 05:13:12 PM »

the process has in effect been done t'other way round. One example being the CC# hohner erica set up  up by   Jimmy Shand Jnr with italian reeds and morino palets  etc  that was used by Sir Jimmy Shand to record  several slow aires and  pipe marches.  He  played it in the traditional way  on his knee using just a thumbstrap

george

I recall Sir Jimmy playing "Gin I were a Baron's Heir" solo on an Erica on the "Dancing with the Shands" video of some years ago. I had no idea it was other than a well tuned conventional Erica, but it certainly sounded lovely, and the expression that Sir Jimmy got into the slow tune was just wonderful.
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Microbot

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2011, 05:51:08 PM »

Hi Sandy, Theo and all,

...what a project the Hohner-Tommy it turned out to be...!

It is possible to buy empty Tommy reedblocks direct from Castagnari. The decision rather to use Hohner reedblocks salvaged from a 1930s Club was due to the fact we didn't know to what extent the Hohner 'sound-character' was due to the reedblocks as well as the reeds. Rees raised this question in an earlier thread.
 
Having elected to use vintage Hohner reedblocks, we met a host of minor/tweaky problems and decisions... fitting/ bellows clearance, adjusting the chamber sizes and apperture size/shape... what kept us going through this was belief in the fantastic quality of good vintage Hohner zinc reeds, and Sandy's never-ending enthusiasm and desire for 'that' sound in a Tommy.

...But the above construction/fitting problems are all structural/engineering/practical and inherently soluble. They are what you expect to meet whenever you undertake such projects... what I want to draw attention to just now is the problem and decisions we faced in tuning.

This problem revolves around ... which set of reeds is to be removed with the sliding stop - the lower, middle or upper set? Most MMM boxes, when they drop to MM, drop out the MIDDLE set of reeds, leaving the overall pitch of the note unaffected whether you are in MM or MMM.

For Sandy, the MM setting was the most important. He wanted this MM sound to have a medium/low level of musette, which one might call 'swing', at around -2/+10. But what about the 3rd voice?  Following the norm of having the 3rd set in the middle, this 3rd set would be a set tuned in the middle (at about +4).

But whilst MM at -2/+10 is a nice medium musette, MMM at -2/+4/+10 is a slightly uninspiring 3-voice sound, in my experience .... slightly dull, and certainly not the fabulous rich full tone you CAN get with 3 voices. But if you have a 3rd voice equidistant, either ABOVE the +10 or BELOW the -2, this will render the 3-voice sound either significantly flat or sharp.

eg .... either ... -14/-2/+10  .... OR .... -2/+10/+22

However, the overall 'flattening' impact of a lower set of M reeds is reduced if equal intervals are not sought. Theo and others in previous Melnet tuning threads have noted the option, and advocated the benefits, of a pattern such as -10/0/+20 - ie with the interval between the low and mid note DIFFERENT from the interval between mid and high set. My personal preference in tuning 3-voices is equidistant intervals between the sets. But in the end, the setting we went with was to have a lower set of M reeds giving the MMM sound, with an interval 50% of the interval between the 2-voice MM ... this reduced the 'flattening' impact of the lower 3rd voice. ... So we went with ...

... at G on 4th button G-row ... -8/-2/+10

... this 'pattern' or spacing was then 'tapered' up through the octaves.

-8/-2/+10 gives a 3-voice note notionally 'on' or fractionally above concert pitch ...

-2/+10 gives a 2-voice note on +4 .... a 2-voice setting I would often aim for and which is reasonably standard.

Not having equidistant intervals means you get some very rich overtones, as I recall Theo has noted elsewhere in discussions of 3-voice tuning.

Reactions from people locally, whom I told about the project whilst in progress, were variously horrified/bemused/disbelieving. But when they heard and played the Hohner-Tommy prior to Sandy collecting it, they were all, literally gob-smacked... It is a truly fabulous, fabulous sound.

Can I finally say how delighted I am that this project turned out so well ... Sandy now has a unique and peerless-sounding instrument that suits his playing style beautifully, and which is the result of his own original 'good idea' and supporting/trusting me as we worked our way through it. He also has the original Tommy blocks to slip in and replace...

cheers

Mike R
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waltzman

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2011, 06:41:51 PM »

Did you use the reeds from an old CF club, then?
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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2011, 06:57:07 PM »

Hi Waltzman,

yes, although not actually those from the Club 111 that supplied the reedblocks... this was a fairly early instrument and the reeds were the type with parallel-edge-tongues - nice enough - but the Hohner reeds I personally rate the most, and which I though would be most suitable for this job, are the slightly later zinc reeds, where the tongues are slightly tapered along their length... with slightly rounded edges to the plate and stamped with a small letter H. They are easy enough to get hold of and the ones commonly found in Erikas and Pressed Woods/perloid boxes.

As Sandy says, there is some variability in the zinc Hohner reeds... most are pretty good, but I think these tapered ones are, generally, a little bit quicker in response and respond better to a wider ranger of musette.

Mike

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2011, 07:40:14 PM »

Can I finally say how delighted I am that this project turned out so well
Oh my, what a project! This must have blocked your resources (:)
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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2011, 08:11:07 PM »

Very briefly, the background is that, for me, the Castagnari Tommy is the most playable melodeon in the world

Horses for courses I guess, but I really couldn't get on with the Tommy (belonging to a friend) that I tried; it's too small, heavy for its size, and I just prefer the feel of a Hohner or a Saltarelle.  I had the same experience with a Lilliput - just too small.  Now this is a little odd because I have quite small hands, and in my life as a bass player have never been able to cope with anything bigger than a 3/4 size double bass, and find even a Fender Precision a little chunky by comparison with my beloved Jazz Bass; yet small melodeons just don't do it for me.
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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #14 on: July 20, 2011, 09:02:01 PM »

Whereas I am over 6' and can reach an octave and a fifth on the piano and play a Preciosa and a Charango :P Funny old world ;D
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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #15 on: July 21, 2011, 09:19:35 PM »

I much prefer it to the standard Tommy sound.

george

Me too,

Mind you, I know where there's a genuine Castagnari Reeded Tommy that sounds like this, but then that was built in 1986 (before I was around) and last time I saw it, it still hadn't needed a service or any tuning. And it gets played every weekend, if not more so!
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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #16 on: July 21, 2011, 10:28:32 PM »

I much prefer it to the standard Tommy sound.

george


   ...and me. I'm very impressed. I've just listened to Glendaruel Highlanders - what a lovely sounding box. It obviously says a lot about the design/construction of the instrument when you can swap the reeds for some which are so different and achieve a sound as good or better.



 Very nicely played too.   ;D ;D
« Last Edit: July 22, 2011, 06:28:42 AM by Keithypete. »
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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #17 on: July 22, 2011, 01:41:14 AM »

I am very impressed with this. It's still got some Italian in it, but the good bits, which enhance the Hohner sound. The one criticism is that the basses don't really fit, although this may just be me being biased (I've yet to find a Tommy whose basses I liked).
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Sandy Flett

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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #18 on: July 22, 2011, 12:14:30 PM »

Thank you for the encouraging comments in various posts above.

I am very impressed with this. It's still got some Italian in it, but the good bits, which enhance the Hohner sound. The one criticism is that the basses don't really fit, although this may just be me being biased (I've yet to find a Tommy whose basses I liked).

Yes, I also feel the Italian bits left actually enhance the sound.

I would be very interested to explore the Tommy basses aspects. When you say the basses don't really fit, do you mean they do not sound like the basses that you expect to hear with this treble sound?

Mike asked if I also wanted the bass reeds replaced with Hohner reeds, but apart from that adding significantly to the project (and cost) I actually preferred the sound of the Tommy bass/chords as they were more refined/less throaty than most Hohner basses I have known. However, I have always been aware that some of the Tommy bass notes are not as deep as one would ideally wish, and can be a little bit indistinct amongst the chords, which is presumably one of the reasons a lot of Tommy players take out the chord thirds. However, I have so far accepted this as the compromise I have to live with to benefit from the size, weight, and playability of the instrument. The Oakwood I had for many years had lovely deep basses, but increasingly I found that trying to achieve the desired level of bellows control with the weight of the bass end (admittedly a 12 bass) was aggravating the latent tendonitis in my arms and shoulders.

I have read on melnet about people putting dabs of solder on Tommy bass reeds to lower them an octave, but this presumably makes them take slightly longer to get up to speed, and I would be loathe to put the Tommy's responsiveness at risk.

Any suggestions for improving the Tommy basses most welcome.
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Re: "Hohner-Tommy" - customised, 4th button start, MM/MMM, DG melodeon
« Reply #19 on: July 22, 2011, 01:31:49 PM »

Hi Sandy,

I'm glad you didn't go with altering the Tommy basses. One of the features of your Hohner-Tommy that immediately struck me was how well (in my view) the original Tommy bass and new treble ends sounded together.

I wonder if the critical comments above come from any imbalances in your recordings? In playing the box to others and in other players trying it out, have you had any 'live' comments about a mismatch? I certainly didn't sense any ...

I actually agree with you in preferring, or at least appreciating, the lighter and more composed sound of the Tommy Basses compared with 'Hohner-throaty' ... And I'd certainly be very cautious about dropping the basses an octave.

If you seriously feel there is a lack of body or volume or balance from the basses, you might explore removing any gauze/other material from inside the bass end-plate. This can always be re-attached, or a different thinner material substituted... I can't recall what the material was...

cheers

Mike
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