Summary Comments: Spun vs. Hand Hammered Bells

Thanks to everyone who participated in my poll on spun vs. hand hammered bells. Though hardly a scientific study, it was really interesting (and fun!) to view the results and read the comments left on the page. The voting was pretty close, with Bell No. 2 being preferred by 56% of listeners, and Bell No. 1 being preferred by 44%. Before I say which bell was which, here are some of the additional comments left by readers.

Bell 1 – Brighter Sound, liked the in forte attacks in the low range, liked the tone coulor on the high range.

Bell 2 – Darker Sound, better fitting in the low range on soft/medium dynamics but not on the forte attacks in the low range. On the high range sound flat (maybe for the darker sound)

Bell 1 has a more focused and stable sound which is even through each note. Bell 2 has nice tonal qualities, a warmer sound with less edge- but the sound doesn’t carry through the notes; the sound just disappears.

In general, I agree with the comments, and with the overall preference for Bell No. 2. No. 1 was the hand-hammered bell with garland (no lacquer), and No. 2 was the spun bell (with lacquer). Although I stand by my initial impressions of the hand-hammered bell from this post a year ago, I’ve decided to return to the spun bell for the time being. For the kinds of playing that I do, the spun bell seems to have the best qualities, hopefully without sacrificing anything in the way of projection or carrying power. After nearly a year of listening to recordings of the hand-hammered bell in a variety of circumstances, I felt that the sound was a little too “bright” for my tastes, especially in louder dynamics. Wanting to find something to substantiate this admittedly subjective conclusion, I thought it would be interesting to look at a spectrogram for the recordings with each bell. This is an easy function to use on Audacity, and should give an indication of the relative strength and weakness of a range of frequencies in each sound. Here are images of Excerpt 1, the hand-hammered bell first:

hhbell_excerpt1

And now the spun bell:

spunbell_excerpt1

This was the softer of the two excerpts, and there doesn’t appear to be that much difference between the two bells; perhaps a slight emphasis on the higher frequencies with the hand-hammered bell. Here is Excerpt 2, which was quite a bit louder. First the hand-hammered bell:

hhbell_excerpt2

And now the spun bell:

spunbell_excerpt2

In these images it definitely looks like the hand-hammered bell emphasizes the higher frequencies more than the spun bell, which could account for it’s “brighter” sound. Is this bad? Not necessarily. But as mentioned before, the sound I was getting on the hand-hammered bell just didn’t appeal to me as much as the spun bell. In the end, it all boils down to personal preference, as well as numerous factors such as mouthpiece size/shape/material, personal tonal concept, and size/resonance/material of the recording space. This story is definitely not done, but as I can only use one bell at a time I had to make a choice for the immediate future, and the spun bell is it. If you are interested in reading more about spun and hand-hammered bells, here are some links to follow.

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2 Comments

Interesting observations. I was trying out some bells at Houghton Horns, and I actually liked the spun bells more than the HH bells, in the testing room. I was on a single Bb horn, the spun bell actually provided tonal qualities to my liking more than the HH.

Thanks Stuart. Yes, opinions tend to vary pretty widely regarding HH vs. spun bells. For me, the HH was just a little too edgy and harsh sounding. Not a reflection of the bell itself so much as the way I play on it. The spun bell seems to be right choice for me.

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