Buzzing Notes

Buzzing Reeds in Harmoniums & Shrutiboxes

Irritating buzzing, rattling or ringing noises at specific notes may occur spontaneously in all harmoniums and shrutiboxes at any time. Such noises usually indicate a minimal displacement of the metal reed that produces the affected note. Due to the displacement, the reed touches against its metal frame during vibrations. This phenomenon is widespread, often disappears by itself after some playing and can be fixed easily. No need to worry!

The displacement is usually caused by a gentle shock (e.g. while moving the instrument) or a temperature change (metal expands in heat and shrinks in cold). In some rare cases a tiny particle of wood, metal or dirt may have gotten stuck in the extremely thin gap between reed and frame.

If you would like a professional to fix the buzzing reed, you can bring or ship (safely packed with thick padding!) your instrument to India Instruments. The repair itself takes only a few minutes and can be done on the spot when you come by personally. We charge by the hour - our repair rates are available here.

Size and weight or your instrument, shipping and repair cost or time constraints might make it difficult for you to get the repair done by a professional. In that case you may want to try and do it yourself. It's actually quite easy! Underneath is a brief manual:

Preparation

First of all you have to open the instrument to access the reeds. In most shrutibox models the wooden board with the movable levers for the notes must be completely unscrewed and removed. You will find the reeds on the inside of this board.
 
In most scale changer and premium harmoniums, you can just take off the cover (jali) above the keyboard mechanism and open the two locking wedges at the inside of the harmonium's back side. Then you can flip the whole keyboard block open to the front by pulling it upwards.

In simple harmonium models, you have to take off the cover (jali) above the keyboard mechanism and unscrew all the large screws (usually 2 to 4) that are perpendicular to the back and sides and fix the keyboard block to the air chambers below. To access these large screws the two sheathings at the lower and upper end of the keyboard have to be removed in most cases. After opening the large screws, the front panel under the keys has to be unscrewed and removed as well. Hidden behind the front panel you will find two large hinges. Now you can flip the whole keyboard block open to the front at the hinges by pulling it upwards.

Repair

First you need to identify the affected reed beyond any doubt. This can be tricky in harmoniums with two or three registers, i.e. two or three different reeds per note. In most cases the reeds have Western note letters engraved, e.g. C, D, etc. A sharp note is often indicated by a * symbol, e.g. C*, D*, etc. The engravings can help to find the right reed. But mind you: In some cases the reeds have a wrong engraving – their tuning has been altered manually during production for some reason or another! Best check whether you have identified the right reed before taking any further steps – e.g. by muting it temporarilywith a small piece of tape and then playing the note (the buzz should disappear when the right reed is muted) or by gently flipping it with your fingernail or a thin object to hear its sound.

Once you have identified the buzzing reed beyond any doubt, try to figure out where it touches the fixed frame by very gently moving it up and down while observing it very carefully. When you have a guess, use a very thin solid object (e.g., a very thin carpet knife, a razor blade, a needle, or a very thin screwdriver), insert it into the gap between reed and frame on the side where you think they touch, and gently push the reed a little bit towards the other side. If  your guess about the touching side has been correct, the buzz has become less now or has even disappeared completely. Congratulations! If the buzz has become stronger, you have made a wrong guess and moved the reed  into the wrong direction. In that case you need to insert your thin object on the other side and push in the opposite direction. If you don't notice any change in the buzz after the first try, you might have pushed too gently, not achieving any change in the dislocated reed. Try again a little harder.

In rare cases the buzz is caused by a tiny object (e.g. wood fibre, metal scrap, saw dust or dirt particle) being stuck in the gap between reed and frame. In these cases the stuck object must be removed – just centering the reed as described above won't help.

Danger

Harmonium reeds are very sensitive – especially he small thin ones for the higher notes. They can permanently twist or even break when too much pressure is applied to them. In that case they must be replaced. Unfortunately it can be very difficult (or nearly impossible) to find matching replacement reeds. Therefore, always manipulate reeds with full attention and great sensitivity and make sure not to twist or break them!

Photo of the lateral push of a reed.

Video of the lateral push of a reed.