The Sound of Bells

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Lyminge, Kent, 8, 15-3-25 in E

Recorded: WAH 11/4/02
Analysed: WAH 12/4/02, 17/5/02

The bells at Lyminge were retuned and rehung in 2002. See here for details and an analysis of the bells before tuning. This page gives an analysis after tuning to show what changes were made. I am grateful to Ro Edmond (tower captain), Matthew Higby (bell-hanger) and Whitechapel for permission to record the bells and publish the details. Here is the sound of all eight after tuning.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 - 3 Mears 1904 Whitechapel 2002
4 John Wilnar 1631 Whitechapel 2002
5 Mears 1785 Whitechapel 2002
6 Knight 1727 Whitechapel 2002
7 Mears 1785 Whitechapel 2002
8 Lester & Pack 1759 Whitechapel 2002

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 659.8 Hz

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2328 -1286 -859 -504 1209 671 1207
2 -2326 -1275 -868 -487 1094 682 1226
3 -2338 -1309 -876 -518 893 689 1239
4 -2332 -1298 -876 -515 697 680 1222
5 -2325 -1274 -891 -486 504 706 1269
6 -2403 -1200 -857 - 390 685 1224
7 -2292 -1213 -874 -496 197 683 1229
8 -2336 -1201 -878 -485 0 699 1259

(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. The links in the first column provide recordings of all the bells.)

Intensity plots

A plot is given for each bell, showing the spectrum before tuning (in blue) and after (in red). Both spectrums are plotted with the nominal before at 0 cents, so the absolute movement in each partial can be seen.

Lyminge treble

Lyminge treble

Lyminge treble

Lyminge treble

Lyminge treble

Lyminge treble

Lyminge treble

Lyminge treble


An inspection of the nominals in the tuning table will immediately show that the peal has been retuned in meantone, with great precision - no bell in the back six is more than 2 cents away from the mean value. The trebles are stretched by about 9 or 10 cents. This stretch arose from a discussion with Nigel Taylor at Whitechapel about the virtual pitch of old-style bells being flatter than the half nominal - hence some sharpness in the trebles is needed for them to sound in tune in changes. The result, to my ear, is a success. Sometimes retuned trebles, with nominals dead-on can sound flat to those who hear virtual rather than spectral pitch.

What I did not expect is that all the nominals in the peal have been lowered considerably, by an average of about 35 Hz or 60 cents - over half a semitone. The purpose is to create some 'headroom' in all the partials allowing them to be retuned to more harmonious values. Across the peal there is considerable improvement. All the hums are considerably lower, the primes are much improved - 6, 7 and 8 are now fundamentally true harmonic, and the tierces have been generally lowered, especially in the sixth which was previously quite sharp.

The plots of before and after spectrums shows how the effects were achieved. The primes (which were the only flat lower partials in the untuned bells) have ended up pretty where they started, except in the 6th and tenor, where they were tuned down a fraction to the exact true-harmonic value. The other low partials have been tuned down past the primes - the nominals least of all, the tierces more and the hums most of all. What is interesting is that the superquints and octave nominals, although they have dropped a little in absolute frequency, have not fallen as much as the lower partials. They have in effect been left behind in the tune-down, and are now closer to the values they would have in a modern peal.

So what of the changes in intensity profile? I took some care with the recordings to a) avoid distortion, and b) use the same equipment on both occasions. Both sets of recordings were taken in the tower, with the bells chimed while stationary. The existing clappers were re-used. There is quite a level of compatibility in the before and after profiles, though most of the bells, apart from the treble, have come out with stronger nominals. The fourth, the Wilnar bell and the oldest in the peal, had strong low partials. It was little tuned and seems to have kept a similar spectrum.

The tenor lost quite a bit of weight on the tuning machine - it went down just over 2 cwt. However, its canons were removed. They weighed 81 pounds, so that the body of the bell went down 157 pounds or 8 percent. The effect of this on the high partials of this bell can be clearly seen - they are generally stronger, giving the bell a brighter, brassier tone. However, this is offset by the plummier timbre brought on by the near true-harmonic low partials.

The overall effect of the tuning has been to produce a peal which is pleasant to listen to and has a warmth and uniformity about it which the old peal lacked, while being clearly the same bells. The considerable drop in pitch was a surprise, but the result is worthwhile. The slight stretch in the trebles avoids any temptation to flatness in their pitch, and is well justified.


Last updated June 10, 2002. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey