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  • Cleaning organ reeds

    Has anyone perhaps got an answer to properly cleaning 100-year + old brass reeds without causing any damage? Scouring, rubbing, brushing or any other similar offensive method is risky, especially on the finer reeds. And then there are those steel couplers which are often quite rusty. How does one get them to shine and function smoothly without removing each one and run the real risk of either breaking something else or damaging the rods. Anyone got some answers? :-P. Logic tells me to leave them be if they work properly...
    Nico
    "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

  • #2
    I would leave them alone if they are working correctly. You could be opening a can of worms if you just want to clean them and not ready to do a major pipe overhaul. Just my opinion.

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    • #3
      Pipeorganbuilder,

      He's talking about reed organ reeds--not pipe organ reeds. Just for clarification.

      Michael
      Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
      • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
      • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
      • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

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      • #4
        Just got a full set of 122 reeds that fit a Mason & Hamlin action I have. They still look good except one little one that had a reed tip bent over. Straigthened him and it works fine. Do I fit them simply from lowest to highest or is there some other arrangements of the reeds to facilitate harmony of notes on this simple action? The two sets of 61 reeds appear to be a little different as one set has wider reeds for the same note value. This makes me think the sets are indeed different for front and back. Interesting...
        Nico
        "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

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        • #5
          I sorted and fitted all the reeds and they fit perfectly, except for the back row which has a shallower rack of a full octave (13 reeds) so that the reeds stick out further than they should. The reeds will speak but I am sure that it should not be like this. Any comments :P
          Nico
          "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

          Comment


          • #6
            I'll tell you how I clean them, although the method may be contentious amongst purists. First, I tried the ammonia method described in the "Repairing Reed Organs" document on this site. I had marginal success, and then only by using very fine steel wool to assist in removing the black stains. That may be fine for the large pedal/bass reeds, but will produce disastrous results with the small treble reeds. So, I went back to Horton Presley's method of using Lysol TB cleaner. I know; it's extremely caustic and corrosive, but I dilute the cleaner by half, and I follow the cleaning bath with two fresh water rinse baths. I change the water in the first rinse bath after every dozen reeds. You probably should wear gloves when working with the cleaner, but I found that too cumbersome, so I double-wrapped a rubber band around a pair of tweezers to make a clamp. I insert the base edge of the reed into the clamp and work with it that way. First, I swish the reed in the cleaning solution for a bit, then I take a SOFT toothbrush to gently scrub the reed at the rivet area. When cleaning the tongue, ALWAYS work from the base (rivet) to the tip of the reed ONLY. The smaller the reed, the less vigorous I am with the toothbrush. When I get to the smallest treble reeds, I really give them only a soaking and a lick and promise with the brush. Next, swish the reed around in the first rinse bath for a bit, then move to the final rinse. I swish, then let the reed soak in that bath until I have the next reed ready to go into the final rinse. I move the thoroughly rinsed reed to a clean dry towel, cover the reed with a portion of the towel, and gently pat the reed dry. When I have a batch finished ( I usually do a third to a half rank of reeds at a time), I use a hair dryer on the very lowest setting to completely dry the reeds before returning them to their cells. Some restorers have said that it's not necessary to thoroughly clean the reeds in this manner, but I swear the cleaned reeds have a brighter tone quality. So far, I have had no problems using this method. I welcome any input other restorers might offer defending or condemning this method.

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            • #7
              That sounds like a lot of work which pays off well. Logic tells me that any tarnish on a reed will affect its tone and I tend to agree that a clean reed will sing better. Just a question: Did you pull a reed cleaned by your method after some time to check if there was perhaps corrosion anywhere, or build-up of dust attracted by the chemical? I find that insects love the reed cells for nesting and cleaning them thoroughly before returning the reeds is also important for the proper functioning of the reeds.
              Nico
              "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

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              • #8
                I restored a chapel organ in 1982 using this method to clean the reeds, and it is still working just fine. I think the main thing is to thoroughly rinse the reed after cleaning. The author of the article on this site stresses the same thing: rinse thoroughly! I justify the extra work with our shared logic. I'm currently restoring a T 58 in a rather piece-meal fashion. When I do the full tear down to recover the bellows, I will go back through and clean out all the reed cells. For now I have CAREFULLY run a vacuum crevice tool over the face of the cells (sans reeds) to pull out any loose material and clean the felt that seals the reeds. I am very fortunate with this organ: the only thing I've found was a bit of mouse chewing damage, urine and feces. Otherwise, the inside if the instrument was exceptionally clean for it's age. Best of luck with your project!
                Matt

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                • #9
                  Thanks Matt. I would add that rinsing in distilled water also ensures that the solutions of calsium and other stuff that is sometimes present in tap water does not cause corrosion so I rinse only in distilled water. Using hot water facilitates drying when the reeds are still hot.
                  My next project is a two-manual harmonium called Big Mama. She weighs in at over 300 kiligrams so I have to finish the dolly I started building. Michael has contributed much towards designing a suitable dolly. This big lady cannot fit through a standard doorway so she will have to live in my garage...
                  Nico
                  "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    There is nothing to be gained by cleaning them for the sole purpose of making them bright and shiny again. A normal wet or ultrasonic cleaning with safe chemicals and necessary precautions, followed by a manual de-burring of the edges of the tongue and the slot will restore the sound. I initially fell into the vain trap of needing to make them bright and shiny.
                    The tuning that follows will get rid of surface stains anyway; you can use 1000 grit sandpaper to take off dark-colored spots, but if the metal was eaten (by the mouse pee or whatever) it will always be beyond restoring. (the cleaning can't put back lost metal, and actually removes metal; as does tuning, but that is necessary, not volitional)
                    I used to clean reeds with a phosphoric acid solution and then polish them with baking soda. They looked incredible! Until one time I did not quite rinse the soda off adequately, and they corroded. It caused me to rethink my entire position, and discard practices that were based only on making it "YAY! like new!" and nothing else. The only sets of organ reeds there will ever be are the ones we have right now. That makes a conservationist approach the correct one, I think.
                    Casey

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                    • #11
                      Thanks for your input Casey. I certainly appreciate the 'conservationist approach for the exact reason you stated, and I certainly wouldn't want to do or recommend any method that might jeopardize the integrity of the very heart of the instrument. My reasoning (flawed as it may be)for cleaning was not the cosmetic outcome, but an improvement in tonal quality, which I thought I detected after cleaning the reed. I take it that you do not see enough (or any?) tonal quality improvement to warrant going through the cleaning process? Does cleaning not make an improvement in the tuning by removing foreign material that changes the weight of the tongue(therefore, affecting the tuning)?

                      Nico, I'm sorry if I steered you in the wrong direction! Guess we do learn something new every day.

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                      • #12
                        No problem Matt. I am learning lots and lots, especially from Casey. The value of organ reeds can indeed not be overstressed. There is none that I know of being made anymore so I echo Casey's comment that we should preserve what we have now.
                        I am currently chasing an organ cabinet from which the bellows and pedals have been ripped and lost. The action is still intact and hopefully, those precious reeds.
                        Looking forward towards taking on my Big Mama...
                        Nico
                        "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

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                        • #13
                          Hi,
                          Actual corrosion damage and accretions do harm the sound, when they are bad enough the reed breaks or weakens/loses temper. Accretions like greasy verdigris should be removed. That is usually limited to the reed hell where it usually is obscuring the pitch stamp.
                          Simple surface discoloration (brown or black patina) is very minimal threat, and has no effect on sound. Wet-cleaning of the dust (/soot) and de-burring of the edges makes the most difference on the whole.
                          Casey

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                          • #14
                            Casey, could you say a bit more about the de-burring process? What am I looking to de-burr and what is the correct method of doing so? Thanks.
                            Matt

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                            • #15
                              If you hold your cleaned reed up to a lightbox level of light (like a white background on a monitor) when you look at the gap between the tongue and the frame, on a high percentage of reeds you will see little lumps of stuff. This is the burrs left from manufacturing or tuning, Over time they corrode and all sorts of other stuff (dust and soot and insect parts) will stick to them.I use the finest pointy x-acto blade to run around these edges and remove this stuff. If you work over a sheet of white paper, you will see this black crud accumulating as you clear it off.You have to be careful not to change the shape of the tongue by working too hard, or lifting it higher in the frame, and torquing the small tongues sideways is a very bad outcome.
                              Casey

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