When A moved to 440 from 452 in 1965 what happened?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Chris Lee, Dec 9, 2010.

  1. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Guest

    I recently came across a 1964 Boosey & Hawkes Imperial 3 valve compensating (yes really!) E flat bass with an extended main tuning crook (got an extra U bend adding maybe 3 inches) and sleeves on the valve tuning slides (all quite separate from the compensation tubing).

    I guess this must be a modification from when the standard tuning for UK brass bands was lowered from the traditional 452 cycles (set in 1860 by competition organisers to match A on the Crystal Palace organ, apparently) to the new standard of 440 set by manufacturers in 1965 (to match the orchestral standard).

    So what happened across the range of instruments at that time? Were most instruments able to just tune to the new standard? Or did they all need modification? Or was there mass scrappage of 'hi pitch' instruments in 1965?

    Anybody throw any light on this topic?

    Thanks Chris Lee
    (Newbie on E flat)
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2010
  2. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    Many High Pitch instruments were converted in the manner that you mention - (ie tuning rings added to slides) I played a 3 valve Euph in Middleton SA band in the 1970's that had been lowered in that manner
  3. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Most top section bands converted quite quickly. Many lower section, youth or non-contesting bands hung on in "high pitch" for quite a long time into the 70s. It was pretty much impossible to tune a high pitch instrument flat enough to play in low pitch, I think. Generally speaking, the smaller instruments were scrapped, whereas quite a lot of Tubas were converted. Some cornets had shanks added, I think - I'm sure I remember Northop Youth having a couple of these in the mid 80s - but generally it was more economic and practical to add tubing only to bigger instruments.

    The A=440 standard was actually set for orchestras from the 20s onwards, although many countries' orchestras didn't convert for quite a while. By 1965 only the brass band instruments were still being manufactured in high pitch, which meant cornets and euphoniums destined for orchestral or wind band use had to be made on a separate line, which couldn't be justified.

    Old Philharmonic pitch was the orchestral standard in Britain in the 1800s, which is why brass bands used it, but by early in the 20th century most British orchestras used around 439hz, partly because some singers refused to sing to 452, claiming it put too much strain on their voices. And even though 440 is an ISO standard, early music ensembles tune much lower, to around 415, and quite a few continental and US orchestras tune slightly bright, to 442ish. So not that standard, after all :rolleyes:
  4. Red Elvis

    Red Elvis Active Member

    On another Thread somewhere on tmp on of our SA users ( may have been Peter Bale or Brian Bowen) noted the difficulty that occurred when the ISB toured the USA in the late 50's / early 60's and had to play massed band items with some of the US Staff bands that were already using "low" pitch instruments. The ISB at that time were still using "high" pitched instruments , presumably naufactured by the SA's own factory which I believe was in St Albans.
  5. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Guest


    Thanks Pete, Andrew and Phil for your very interesting replies. I appreciate you taking an interest.

    Very Best,

  6. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Anecdotally, some bands were already on low pitch in the 50s. So it was quite a gradual transition.
  7. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I've been told in the past that modern "fixed-pitch" tuned percussion (ie. glocks, vibes & the like) are also built tuned to A442. Not sure how true that is, though.
  8. John Brooks

    John Brooks Well-Known Member

    I recall visiting an ISB rehearsal soon after their instruments had been "converted" (no pun intended) to the new standard. Then B/M. Bernard Adams shared the frustration of the players, particularly the lower end, in trying to play in tune. I'm pretty certain that new instruments were acquired as soon as economically viable but can't recall how long it took to actually replace the entire set.

    I think it's safe to say that the attempted conversion was not successful from a tuning perspective at least.
  9. sbandsman

    sbandsman Member

    [I've been told in the past that modern "fixed-pitch" tuned percussion (ie. glocks, vibes & the like) are also built tuned to A442. Not sure how true that is, though.]

    If you look closly at a "tuning A" on most glocks you should see the pitch engraved on the tone bar. I use an old Premier Glock that states 442 on it. so everso slightly bright but not too noticeable.
  10. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Guest

    Conversion flaws?

    Particularly interested in John's comments about tuning on converted instruments not successful. Experiencing this with the Boosey and Hawkes E flat bass. Low C (i.e. concert E flat) is fine, and the individual valves are tuned fine against each other (i.e using the Arban method). But open G ( concert A sharp) and open notes above are off. Don't really see how that can happen without there being some fundamental flaw in the instrument.

    Any thoughts?

    Very Best,

    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2010
  11. John Brooks

    John Brooks Well-Known Member

    Not certain that Major George Whittingham is on this site but if you can contact him he would probably be able to speak to you with some authority on this topic.
  12. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Guest

    Thanks John. Very Best, Chris
  13. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I think that's the point; bit of a can of worms, but I think with some instruments there's sometimes a "perception gap" between being perfectly in tune and actually sounding in tune ...
  14. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    e.g. Pianos - the low octaves are tuned slightly short because the harmonics on a stiff string don't quite line up as we wish - so a low piano string tuned slightly less than an octave below the string 12 semitones above will resonate better with the upper string than it would if it was tuned to an exact octave.

    Glock bars are essentially two-dimensional vibrating pieces of metal, so have involved overtone series based around Bessel functions that it is not easy to make sound like the simple overtone series we know. I could easily believe that tuning the fundamental slightly away from where expected would make the overall sound profile sound more 'in tune'.
  15. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Guest

    Thx GJG. I think you are right

    I think GJG has a point. Playing is fine, but as soon as we tune on the Korg the E flat is all over the place.

    Couple of other things. I see that around 'A' a whole tone is about 25Hz, so the high pitch/ low pitch thing involves a fraction over a semitone (but presumambly a semitone is less Hertz the the further down the scale you go, which is maybe why this issue affects low brass more than high - tell me if I'm wrong there folks).

    Also I followed up on Andrew's (Anno Draconis) comments and as he quite rightly says 440 isn't really that standard. In particular I notice that the Glok players referred to 442, and a number of US orchestras prefer that today. The 440 standard seems a bit elastic to put it mildly!

    Very Best, Chris
  16. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    I know of some UK Brass Bands that tune to 442, too.
  17. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Assuming every semitone is the same size interval, you need to multiply 440 Hz by 2^(1/6) to find how much a whole tone is at that pitch. The answer is more than you give - A is at 440 Hz, but B is at 494 Hz - a difference of 54 Hz. Thus the difference between high and low pitch is about a quarter of a tone, not a semitone.

    The high brass vs low brass thing doesn't match anything that seems familiar, I'm afraid... I can't quite work out what you mean by it.

    The difference between 440 and 442 is about 8% of a semitone. That's a very small interval - the tuning error inherent in using open for upper E on a brass instrument is nearly twice that size, and a lot of valved brass players never notice it.
  18. my dad assures me that when his band changed in about 1970 they sent everything but the cornets to be done one week at rosehill and the cornets went the next week. apparently you could pull all the slides out on the cornets and get down to 440, but no other instruments would.

    then they brought new instruments anyway.
  19. pbirch

    pbirch Active Member

    don't sound so surprised that a 1960s tuba is a compensated instrument, the system has been around since the 1870's
  20. Red Elvis

    Red Elvis Active Member

    Remember tuning priot to a contest last year using one of our cornet player's tuners , and I'm preyty sure the A on that was set at 442 - at least that's what it said on the readout.

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