The Sound of Bells

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Bremhill, Wiltshire, St. Martin, 6, 19-1-11 in F (before tuning)

Recorded: Ken Webb 16/4/00, 31/12/00, WAH 31/1/01
Analysed: WAH 3/1/01, revised 31/1/01

These bells are an old-style six from a mixture of founders. They have recently been removed from the tower, retuned at Whitechapel, and have now been rehung by Whites. With the co-operation of Ken Webb (the Bremhill tower captain) and Whitechapel I was able to take a complete set of before-and-after recordings to look in detail at how the bells were retuned. For an analysis of the bells after tuning and before-and-after comparisons go straight here.

The rest of this page is an analysis of the bells prior to tuning. Here are the bells being rung on 31st December 2000. I have a number of recordings of these bells, thanks to Ken Webb and Dave Kelly. I have now revised this description on the basis of a set of recordings I took at Whitechapel prior to tuning.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 R. Keene 1685 chip-tuned
2 James Wells 1826 none
3 R. Keene 1688 chip-skirted
4 Robert Wells 1770 none
5 A. Rudhall 1736 none
6 A. Rudhall 1736 none

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 696.2Hz.

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2236 -1290
- 875 673
2 -2282
-1285 -889
-421 624 678
3 -2266
-380 448 682
4 -2325 -1221 -869
-460 385 672 1213
5 -2303 -1286
-515 186 689
6 -2258 -1272 -884
-403 0 685 1231

(The figures in this table are given in cents. For all partials except the nominal, the interval is given from the nominal of the bell. Intervals for the nominals are relative to that of the tenor. Pairs of values indicate a doublet. Frequencies for the quint are often not given, especially if inaudible.)

Intensity plots

Bells 1, 2 and 4 are similar sounding, pleasant bells. Here are their spectral plots:

Bremhill 1st, 2nd and 4th

The third and fifth have a rougher sound:

Bremhill 3rd and 5th

and here is the tenor:

Bremhill 6th


It is clear from the figures for the nominals that, compared with the tenor, the treble is 1/4 semitone flat, the second 3/4 semitone flat, the third 1/2 semitone flat, and the fourth and fifth about 1/10 of a semitone flat. Looked at another way, the back three are too sharp compared with the front three. The discrepancies in the pitches of the bells are very audible in the recording of the bells in rounds. Note that Dove incorrectly gives the note of the tenor as E.

The bells are also of rather different qualities. My descriptions of the sound of each of these bells prior to tuning, ignoring the exact tuning of the lower partials, is that the treble is pleasant but with a loud sharp hum, the second is very pleasant, the third is rough and doubletted, the fourth is brassy but pleasant, the fifth is rough, and the tenor sonorous but with a loud sharp hum and a little doubletted. The origin of these effects can be seen in the spectral plots above. The strong hum for the treble can be seen in the first plot, together with low intensity higher partials. The tenor has a weak nominal. Even the superquint is louder, which gives it a little edge.

The problem bells from a quality perspective are the third and fifth. The third has strong doublets on hum, prime and tierce. The third's prime is sharp, but only by a fraction, not enough to further mar its tone. The fifth has less doublets, but both bells have strong higher partials which gives them a rough, brassy tone.

Tuning these bells will be a matter of balancing conflicting issues. The correct solution for 1, 4, 5 and 6 would be to tidy up the nominals a bit, flatten the hums as much as is possible (especially on the tenor) and send back four quite nice sounding bells. However, it may be impractical to raise the nominals on the second and third sufficiently to bring them into tune with the others. If so, it will be necessary to flatten the other four bells, especially the tenor which is the sharpest bell in the tower. This risks spoiling the good bells to fit around the bad ones. Improving the tone of the third may be quite difficult if its profile is bad.

With the kind permission of both Ken Webb (Bremhill tower captain) and Whitechapel I recorded these bells at the foundry before and after tuning. For an analysis of the bells after tuning and some before-and-after comparisons go straight here.


Last updated April 8, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey