[Bell Historians] Kemberton

Richard Johnston johnstonrh at rhj.org.uk
Thu May 19 17:39:19 BST 2022

Nigel Taylor:

> Using A=440 equal temperament is a rather ham fisted means of measuring
> the tuning of rings except those which are intended to be 440 ET.
> Whitechapel only used this from around 1968 until 2000, previously using
> Just intonation. Gillett and Johnston used JI from 1907 until they closed
> in 1957, with a brief use of ET from 1926 until 1931. For Herz, I use
> whatever tuning and pitch standard is the best fit, and if the theoretical
> tuning is known, this is what I use. For most old rings, I use just or
> 1/5th comma meantone. I do use notes and cents as a crosscheck, but use
> the cents values for the tuning system I have applied in cents. For JI
> therefore, the values are: 0, 204, 386, 498, 702, 884, 1088, 1200. For
> Taylors stretched rings, the easiest way to check the values is to apply
> Pythagorean tuning, but without the 1 comma tempered 5th.

Thanks for your reply.  I fully understand these issues, and have 
some sympathy with what you say.  No simple musical note description 
is ideal - they all represent compromises of different sorts. Those 
who need precision must use the bell frequencies for accurate 
information about the tuning of bells.  
I can well understand that, as a tuner, you don't want people 
believing that bells you tuned to Just Tuning or mean tone are out of 
tune, because when expressed in terms of the International standard 
Equal Temperament, the bells have variable cents offsets.

As you say, there have been no historic common tuning standards for 
bells - not even recently. And there is "stretch" as well. A full 
description of a ring needs information about the basis of the 
musical notes, much as you have written.  Most of the public would 
find this confusing, and would fail to understand the implications, 
or how it affected the bell notes. They can't understand more than 
the notes on a piano.

My point therefore is that for something like Dove's Guide, as far as 
possible, you want an easily understandable, well defined, 
standardised **description**, common to all the bells in the 

For bells, any chosen temperament is always *relative* to the note of 
the tenor, as tenor bells need not be exact musical notes (however 
defined).  Their musical notes, with their weights, are the most 
commonly used descriptors for comparing rings.  These ought, in my 
view, to be all directly comparable, using a common standard for 
description.  The only widely recognised unambiguous musical note 
standard is the internationally recognised A440 ET. 

This purpose of simple description, is a very different purpose from 
the assesments and calculations that you, as a tuner, need to do when 
tuning a set of bells.

Richard Johnston

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