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Scrapheap Orchestra

I have an important interview on the near horizon which will require me to do a presentation. It is a scary proposition for me to have to stand up and talk about my work to an adjudication panel, something that I haven’t done for decades. However technology has moved forward considerably in that time, and I thought that a bit of video content will both relieve my stress and is probably better suited to actually demonstrate both the detail and the breadth of my work than listening to me waffle on.

So I took the opportunity to produce the video above which is derived from my brother’s recording of the television documentary (nope we weren’t even given a copy or even thanked in the credits – how rude?). This edited version is to show only my bits for my website, but I did try to keep some sort of story to make it watchable. I hope you enjoy it.

The Scrapheap Orchestra was a television documentary for the BBC and was shown on BBC Four. It was a great idea that was hijacked by risk averse and non creative executives and the end product was not what I signed up for. However it was an entertaining television programme, I did learn a lot during the whole project and I do look back on it with fond memories. The laughter and then roaring cheer that greeted my clash cymbals is clearly audible in the video and watching it took me instantly back to the roller coaster of emotions that I experienced that night and seeing again the instantaneous and exuberant standing ovation that the performance received (nearly) brought a tear to my eye even after all these years. I am left wondering if those instruments that I made still exist or whether they have been returned to the scrapheap.

3 comments on “Scrapheap Orchestra

  1. Ian Davidson

    I have left a telephone message for you outlining my request. I am trying to source some dampers for a set of Bell Chimes, belonging to a youth orchestra in New Zealand.
    I got your telephone number by phoning the Albert Hall who directed me to the website.
    I see from your site you are working on a set of bells and can obviously help us.
    Thanks for replying to my telephone message. I enjoyed our conversation.

  2. Will

    Hi i need some advice on making a cool percussion instrument for my band passion project. email mail me back with some advice.

    • pauljefferies

      Hi Will,

      Thank you for your comment. In the conceptualisation phase of making instruments, you need to be thinking about what the objectives are for the instrument.

      Top of the list is sound characteristics; sweet or harsh, tuned or dissonant, prominent tones or modulating harmonics, etc.

      Equally important is to think about the instrument set up. This aspect of instrument making is all about playability. So how do you want to play it; are you sat down behind a drum kit or keyboard, or stood behind a multi percussion set-up? Sometimes I deliberately make instruments difficult to play thereby forcing the musician to move which makes a much more dynamic performance. However I am highly derisive of instruments that are unplayable of which I have seen many! (Opinionated as ever)

      Aesthetics are also important. Let’s face it, we all generally want to look cool. In the Scrapheap Orchestra I was going primarily for sound quality, but still wanted everything to look like junk. I was also constrained by the junk I found, but in this project function was over form. In Northern Lights it was the other way round, I had a visual concept and made the instruments to fit in accordance with the sound I was trying to recreate. Therefore think about what you have already in your set up and what you want to see, and if it needs to be seen when on a stage.

      Lastly also think about logistics. I have a big van to move things around, but a lot of my stuff is for one off events. My own gear that is moved every week is much more manageable and fits into the boot of my car.

      I hope this helps.


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Tubular Bell Hanging

10 comments on “Tubular Bell Hanging

  1. Paul Mouradian

    Hi Paul,
    I wholeheartedly agree leave it to the top professionals like yourself. How can a novice compete with the training, vast experience and talent you have. Like most things in life I think what you do from what I have seen and heard you on utube and through our communication; you are incredibly intuitative which I think is absolutely a must in becoming a great craftsman. You need talent, intuitiion, training, experience and passion. You have all of these. best wishes

  2. Brian THOMAS

    Our band owns a set of Premier tubular bells (from the 1970’s I think). The wire loop suspending one of the bells has frayed and broken – currently the bell is supported via a cable tie, which works, but it’s clearly not a long-term fix. I do have some narrow steel cable (bicycle brake cable actually) that I could use to make a replacement suspension loop, but I don’t have crimping or cutting tools to do the job neatly.

    So my question is – what specific tools and techniques do you need for making the steel cable loops to hang tubular bells?

    • pauljefferies

      Hi Brian,
      Thank you for your enquiry.
      There are two essential tools, wire cutters and a swage tool.
      wire cutters
      Swage tool
      Sometimes they are combined in the swage tool as pictured – I have both because the swage tool is large and cumbersome. Expect to pay around £10 and >£30 respectively.
      You will also require the ferrules to crimp onto the wire rope. These are either aluminium or copper depending on the rope used and specific to the diameter of the rope.

      However, I do not replace the wire rope used on Premier bells, in fact I generally cut it all off and replace it with cordage. When I have to use wire rope I buy the highest quality which is very flexible and therefore has the side benefit of not stabbing into the ends of your fingers whilst you are working with it. Premier unfortunately buy the cheap shit which I think is 11 strand galvanised steel, anyway it is horrible stuff to work with. Furthermore, depending on the age of the bells, there is often no sleeve inserted into the bell through which the rope would pass. This results in the wire rope sawing through the tube wall and creating a very problematic repair.

      All in all I just use note cord and prepare the bells properly so there are no sharp edges on the mounting holes. Cordage will never buzz, it is very cheap and easy to replace and requires no specialist tools. You do have to know the difference between a granny knot and a reef knot and you will have to accept that it will require replacing more often. Therefore when I overhaul a standard set of bells I prepare 20 lengths of cord to hang the bells so the customer already has two spare.


      • Brian THOMAS

        Thanks for the very comprehensive reply. Our tubular bells do have internal mounting sleeves, so it should be OK to use cord rather than steel cable. But can you expand “note cord” for me? Google doesn’t seem to know what it is.

      • pauljefferies

        Hi Brian

        Further complication: Premier used two types of sleeve, the first were spring pins, latterly they are solid. The spring pins are obviously made from spring steel which is very hard so almost impossible to work. These pins are mass produced so you will need to check them for burrs. In general I just remove them and finish the tube properly since having a sleeve is a bit overkill. The solid sleeves are turned on a lathe and worked from both ends, this means that there is often a burr in the middle where the holes from either end meet – these can be drilled whilst in the bell using a cordless drill because essentially you are just reaming the hole smooth.

        Note cord is nomenclature by which I mean it is a word invented by a profession to convey superiority. All it means is cordage for note bars. Cordage is just small rope and can be made from anything in any manner. For your bells you just need a generic cord. Like the steel rope more strands equates to a higher breaking strain and more often than not greater flexibility. There is little difference in material but nylon melts most readily to facilitate sealing the ends. You can buy expensive cordage using a kern and mantle construction – the kern is the centre of lain fibres within the mantel which is a highly resistant outer sheath – great in concept but difficult to tie however you could use ferrules, but we would be back to square one with regards to tools.

        For reference the generic note cord I stock is black and costs £1.35/mtr dependent on diameter; I suggest 4mm and you will need around 6 meters so buy 7.


  3. Edward Grivna

    Greetings Mr. Jefferies. I think I understand the reference to 22.5% offset in the question you read. This is the supposed location of the node, relative to the end of the tube or tone bar. This is commonly used in what people call wind chimes (real ones that hang outside in the breeze, and not the bar chimes that are used in band and orchestral music). These tubes are open ended on both ends, and are hung with a striker that hits in the center (antinode) of the columns. Each tube is hung higher or lower to get their center in the same place such that they can be hit by that common striker that gets blown around in the wind. That type of instrument is a far cry from a 1.5 to 2 octave set of chromatic tubular bells (chimes) from someplace like Premier, Yamaha, or Musser.

  4. Edward Grivna

    Relative to “note cord”, I gave up on the cheap stuff a while ago. If using non-metalic, I’ve had good luck with Vectran rope. This is a liquid crystal co-polymer rope, similar to kevlar. Use it with a teflon sleeve in the hanging area. I’ve used it to hang heavy gongs (in its hollow-braid form it is great for hidden constrictor splices) and haven’t had to replace it in over a decade.
    For wire, I use a teflon-coated stainless steel 7×7 (49 strand) wire with aluminum crimps. Its easy to get all the chimes hung exactly the same height this way.
    Both have worked for me.

    • pauljefferies

      Thank you for your comment Ed.
      I am obviously well aware of the difference between wind chimes and tubular bells. I didn’t mean to say that I would hang bells at that particular proportion, more that I do whatever is necessary to improve the tonal characteristics of any percussion instrument that I am working on.

    • pauljefferies

      Hi Again Ed,
      Each to their own – I see more problems created than solved with stainless rope and choose not to fit it. However I do like the sound of the vectran rope and teflon sleeves, I will definately look into them. In the past I have bought all manner of cordage at every price bracket, but I have never re-ordered which tells its own story.


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