Gotenba (was Riverside) and other big bells

Bill Hibbert bill at
Sat Oct 11 20:53:14 BST 2008

The tuning figures for Gotenba (from the Youtube video) are 50.4, 
100.9, 121.65, 143.95, 202.75, 303.8, 420.15. For a bell that has not 
been tuned, the hum, prime and nominal are remarkably close to true-
harmonic. Of course, with hum and prime frequencies this low there is 
no point in tuning them as the ear is unable to discriminate pitch at 
these frequencies. We discussed this a few weeks ago, someone made 
the point that 32' and 64' organ pipes need to be tuned; the 
difference being that organ pipes have harmonic partials giving a 
pitch sensation even at such low fundamental frequencies.

The problem with Gotenba, the Newport bell and others of similar size 
is that the partials are so low that there is no series of rim 
partials capable of forming a strike pitch. Therefore, these big 
bells have no 'note' that we will all agree on, not even a secondary 
strike, and the sound is dominated by a confused mass of inharmonic 
upper partials. There's nothing a tuner can do about this, it's a 
consequence of the way our ears work. At this sort of weight, one can 
get a powerful effect, but not a harmonious one. Maria Dolens at 
Rovereto (22.6t, nominal of 250Hz) is a borderline case - it growls 
and grumbles but has (to my ears) clear primary and secondary strike 

Regarding slightly lighter bells that do have a musical sound, no-one 
has yet mentioned 'Fat Peter' at Cologne: nominal of 252Hz (slightly 
lower than Riverside), not quite true harmonic (but that doesn't 
matter for the reason given above), and quite a grand-sounding, 
tuneful bell to my ears. An important characteristic of this bell 
(and of Gloriosa at Erfurt as well) is a sharp tierce combined with a 
flat I-7 partial (the so-called high fourth). This gives these bells 
a secondary strike which is almost a major third rather than a 
fourth, and which sounds well against the tierce which is also near a 
major third (but from the other direction).

>From the sublime to the other; the bell in the Moscow Kremlin said to 
be 65 tonnes has almost the same nominal as Gotenba (204.4Hz) but is 
almost double the weight. It doesn't sound any better for the extra 

Bill H


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