Making a melodeon is difficult. That is the conclusion that I have come to and to be frank, if I had realised just how difficult it would be I might not have embarked on it. Mentally I had assumed that the difficult bit of making would be designing the reedblocks, the casing, the grille and so on. Actually, the difficult bit is working out how they will all fit together! Every little bit has to be thought out, designed, built, rejected, redesigned and rebuilt. Every little bit of wood glued to another bit of wood just to hold a screw so that yet another bit of wood doesn’t fall off has to be painstakingly thought about. It can be an amazingly frustrating business, however rewarding it also is. It took me five weeks of effort to get a set of reedblocks that I was happy with. I tried several different ways of manufacturing them but eventually I ended up with the below…
They were all milled on the Roland MDX-40 CNC Model Mill. This is a fantastic bit of kit, which will accurately and repeatably mill 2D or simple 3D profiles into foam, wax or wood. The only problem is that it is a tad slow! I’m not going to give too many details on the reedblock design, because I’m not yet sure if it will work, but I did put a fair bit of thought into it. One limiting factor is that I made the decision to glue the reedblocks down. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that I reasoned that it would make it easier as I wouldn’t need to design a clamping system. This is not so. Not only do the reedblocks have to be very flat in order to glue properly (which is a pain), but I also had to be very careful designing them so that they could be easily tuned post manufacture. I believe that it would have been easier to clamp them. The main reason though is that gluing the reedblocks down stiffens both them and the palletboard, making the sound crisper. I was interested in to what extent this effect could be noticed.
The next stage is to make the palletboards. The treble palletboard is straightforward enough, a simple pattern on the laser cutter. The bass palletboard however is more involved. I wanted to give the player a few options on how they use the bass end. I find the option to remove the thirds of the chords very useful on my Saltarelle, but what I have always wanted was to be able to remove the lowest note of the bass, to give a more minimalist sound. There are a number of different ways of doing this. Most makers make sliders out of metal or wood and rout a slot in the underside of the blocks, running the slider through it. This has the problem that there is the potential for leaks. Some makers avoid this by encapsulating the slider within the reedblock. I decided to do as Olav Bergflodt does (to whom I owe an awful lot in inspiration and advice) and encapsulate the sliders within the palletboard. This meant that I had a palletboard made up of three very thin sheets of plywood, laminated together, with slots left for the sliders. The picture on the right shows the bass reedblocks glued down onto the palletboard, placed inside the casing with the sliders half closed.
It works well! But there are so many things to build. The mechanism has been giving me the heebie-jeebies ever since I started so I decided to face my fears and to try building the bass mechanism. Below is my first effort at dry fitting it and the mounting glued into the casing:
So, all this looks like progress. What else is there left to do? Well, on the bass end I need to make stops to control the sliders and make the mounts for them, I need to make pallets and face them, I need to install the mechanism and the springs, make the buttons, make the linkages, install and regulate, varnish the inside of the reedblocks, make the bass grille, make the mounting for the bass grille, glue in the grille cloths, varnish the outside, install the strap, wax in the reeds and tune. On the treble end I need to make and glue the treble palletboard, design and build the treble mechanism mounting, make the pallets, install the keywork and springs, design and build the fingerboard, make mountings for the fingerboard, make the grille, make mountings for the grille, make the fingerplate and bottom plate, make mountings for those, install them, make the buttons and install them, regulate the action, varnish the inside of the reedblocks, varnish the outside, wax in the reeds and tune. Then there is the problem of the gravity bellows lock, which I have half planned out in my head… Every little bit has to be thought out, designed, built, rejected, redesigned and rebuilt. Every little bit of wood glued to another bit of wood just to hold a screw so that yet another bit of wood doesn’t fall off has to be painstakingly thought about… Stay tuned for more!