The Sound of Bells

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Llandaff, South Glamorgan, Cathedral, 13, 24-1-15 in Eb

Recorded: WAH 1/9/01
Analysed: WAH 2/9/01

These bells are a Whitechapel 12 of 1992 with an additional flat 6th. They replace a previous ten of a mixture of founders and dates - and are acknowledged to be an enormous improvement. They hang in the north-west tower of the cathedral and can be heard to great effect from the far end of a path which rungs past the west end of the Cathedral, just outside the Prebendal House. Here are the twelve being rung to call changes, and the back ten in changes. My thanks to the ringers at Llandaff (especially John Vesey and John Baldwin) for making me so welcome when I went to take the recordings.

Some interesting comparisons are drawn with the bells at Tewkesbury Abbey: Both peals are 'modern' true-harmonic, of roughly the same weight, but Tewkesbury were cast by Taylors.

Bell Founder Tuning
all bells Whitechapel 1992 -

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 623.5Hz.

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2403 -1204 -887 -499 1904 637 1126
2 -2402 -1202 -890 - 1701 652 1156
3 -2403 -1203 -880 -483 1603 646 1147
4 -2402 -1202 -890 -501 1401 660 1175
5 -2404 -1203 -897 -501 1200 669 1190
6 -2405 -1205 -887 -502 1101 670 1195
6f -2405 -1201 -894 -504 1000 682 1221
7 -2406 -1204 -900 - 902 688 1230
8 -2405 -1199 -900 -498 699 694 1240
9 -2405 -1200 -892 -497 499 696 1248
10 -2404 -1201 -895 -495 400 697 1249
11 -2400 -1200 -897 -573 199 703 1260
12 -2400 -1199 -898 -516 0 695 1245

(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

Here are intensity plots of various bells in the peal. All were taken from recordings in the bell-chamber with the bells chimed apart from that for the tenor rung up, which was recorded from the aisle roof. Here are the treble, second and third:

Lladaff trebles

here the sixth:

Llandaff sixth

here the tenor chimed:

Llandaff tenor

and here the tenor rung up to the balance:

Llandaff tenor, rung up


These bells are tuned in equal temperament, with no stretch. The tuning of the hums, primes, tierces and nominals is extremely good. No partial is more than a few cents out, and the nominals are very close. This shows excellent work on the part of the tuner. There is really no more to be said about the tuning of the low partials - which hardly does justice to the work involved in turning out bells as good as this! I did notice while taking the recordings that there was some scuffing inside the soundbow of the tenor, as if the tuning tool had chattered a bit. However, there is no sign of doublets in this bell, so this is of no importance to the sound.

What is quite striking is the frequencies of the superquints and octave nominals. These partials are not tuned, so their frequency is determined by the design and profile of the bells. Typical modern true-harmonic bells have octave nominals in the range 1230 to 1270 cents. The back six here are quite typical in this regard. However, as the bells get smaller the octave nominals and superquints start to fall. I have seen this before in smaller bells, but in the trebles here these partials are the flattest I have encountered. The plot below shows just how well the design of the bells extends from big to little bells. The tuning of both these upper partials shows a steady progression from back to front, despite in effect being 'maiden' partials:

Llandaff tenor, rung up

At the same time, the intensity profile of the front bells (see above) has the usual loud hum, and quiet nominal and upper partials. The effect of these two factors taken together, one supposes, is to give the Llandaff trebles a flattish, gentle sound, quite the opposite of bright.

The next interesting point is that these bells typically have very quiet tierces - look at the intensity profiles compared with those at Tewkesbury. In many bells, the tierce is the loudest partial, which is certainly not the case here. Loud minor-third tierces can make bells sound mournful, in my opinion. Whether the reason for these quiet tierces is profile or clappering is not entirely clear.

The tenor, chimed, is all nominal compared with the same bell at Tewkesbury. When rung up, the higher partials are a bit stronger, as usual, giving the brassy sound one gets in true-harmonic tenors. On the other hand, there is hardly a trace in this bell of the partials between nominal and superquint that in other bells might give a secondary strike. What is also noteworthy about this bell is how close the partial above the octave nominal is to a double octave: 2395 cents, to be exact. In the Tewkesbury tenor, the sequence of 'octave' partials in cents from the nominal goes -2404, -1205, 0, 1260, 2444. In the Llandaff tenor the sequence is a remarkable -2400, -1199, 0, 1245, 2395.

These bells are very enjoyable both to ring and to listen to. The outside acoustics in particular are good. The tuning is most accurate, and the even gradation of design across the peal shows very careful attention to profiles. There are clear differences between these bells and the Taylor peal at Tewkesbury (setting aside the stretched tuning of the latter bells). It's perhaps a bit precious to read too much into a comparison of just two peals - but one can imagine the differences can be heard by a skilled ear. Which bells are better is a matter of taste!


Last updated September 20, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey