The Sound of Bells

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Houston, Texas, St. Paul's Methodist, 8, 11-0-3 in G

Recorded: WAH 11/6/01
Analysed: WAH 14/6/01

These bells are a complete Whitechapel eight of 2001, cast for St Paul's Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. As they have not yet been hung, I do not have a recording of them being run together. Whitechapel and the authorities in Houston were kind enough to allow me to record the bells at the foundry after tuning and prior to dispatch to the US.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 - 8 Whitechapel 2001 -

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 782.3Hz.

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2406 -1207 -889 - 1205 668 -
2 -2406 -1201 -893 -506 1092 679 -
3 -2405 -1199 -903 -506 892 688 -
4 -2406 -1201 -905 - 700 697 1246
5 -2399 -1197 -895 - 502 692 1241
6 -2402 -1198 -898 -497 389 700 1255
7 -2402 -1200 -909 - 194 710 1273
8 -2403 -1199 -903 -500 0 704 1263

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

(I have put the actual frequencies I measured below for comparison with the tuner's figures).

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 390.9 781.2 938.7 1147.9 1568.7 2307.9 -
2 366.2 734.4 877.5 1097.3 1470 2176 -
3 326.5 655.2 777.6 978.2 1309.9 1948.7 -
4 292.1 585.8 695 - 1172.1 1752.6 2406.8
5 261.5 523.4 623.3 - 1045.2 1558.9 2140.2
6 244.6 490.4 583.1 735 979.6 1467.8 2022.1
7 218.5 437.5 517.5 - 875 1318.3 1825.4
8 195.2 391.3 464.5 586 782.3 1175 1622.3

Intensity plots

Here are intensity plots of the treble, third and sixth. All were struck by hand with an iron clapper-ball while hung from a crane in Whitechapel's frame shop. The plot for the tenor is not a good one, due to some extraneous noise, and I have omitted it:

Houston St Paul's treble

Houston St Paul's third

Houston St Paul's sixth


These are of course a super peal of bells cast and tuned to the best modern standards. It is clear from the tuning of the hums, primes and tierces that the tuner's work was very exact. The primes are extremely good - apart from the treble, all are within 3 cents. The hums of the lighter bells are a few cents flat, I understand that in tuning of this accuracy the effect of bolting down the crown of the bell sharpens the hums a little. Therefore, the hums are tuned exact with the crown bolted on the tuning machine, and will return to their tuned values when bolted to a headstock, but appear a little flat with the bells hung from a crane. Bolting the bells to the headstocks will also mute some of the higher partials.

The nominals of these bells are of interest. The second, third, sixth and seventh nominals are flat of equal temperament, but not as flat as would be explained by tuning in just temperament. In fact, the tuner tells me these bells are tuned in a Kirnberger temperament. Kirnberger was a pupil of Bach; it is likely that Bach's Well Tempered Clavier was intended to be played in one of his temperaments. The sound of these bells rung together, for those with an ear for such things, will not be as gentle as just bells but also not as hard as bells tuned in equal temperament. All the nominals are within 5 cents of their theoretical values.

The superquints and octave nominals are quite sharp in these bells, as in almost all modern true-harmonic bells. Whitechapel have in the past produced true-harmonic bells with flatter octave nominals, pretty close to the octave, but presumably chose to use different profiles for this peal.

The intensity plots show the usual transition from front to back bells. The front bells have little in the way of higher partials, higher partial intensity increases as the bells get heavier. As a result, the front bells have something of a mellow glow about them. Some of the bells have very strong primes. In non-true harmonic bells, especially small ones, these strong primes would spoil the tone (the combination of strong, flat primes and sharp hums makes non-true harmonic bells 'scream'). In these bells, with their accurate primes, the effect is to re-inforce the strike note and add sonority.

The reason for variations in partial intensity in different bells is not yet fully explained. It has been suggested that, in small bells, the combination of a thick profiles and a heavy clapper accentuates the hum. On the other hand, I see the effect, as here, in bells struck quite gently. More investigation needed!


Last updated August 14, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey