Reply To: La Clavietta Stainless Steel Reed

David Elizabeth

Okay, my Clavietta repair is complete, but it was a bumpy road with a surprise discovery at the end. Bear with me here if you are interested and/or have a leaky instrument. MelodicaMe and Alan both sent reeds to me in hopes that one could be used to replace the broken one, awesome on their part by the way. It was the first time I’ve been inside a reed instrument at all, so removing the broken reed by first melting the surrounding wax was trepidating but not that hard to do with the forum to give me some confidence.

The reed from MelodicaMe was brass-colored, whereas mine were stainless steel in appearance but were otherwise identical. I was pressed for time so I went for it. I bought a hotplate and a shot glass at the Liberty Thrift Store to melt the accordion wax that I picked up from Liberty Bellows (lots of liberty going on here in Philadelphia).

First let me say that sealing the new reed back in with wax was bound to be sloppy. Having no skills or practice, I taped over every possible opening within six keys to prevent running wax from creating an even bigger problem. I managed to apply the new lines of wax but nowhere near as elegantly as the originals. Anyway, I put it back together and I tried to play—only to be instantly disappointed. The new B reed was perfect which pleased me immensely, but the dreaded leaky Italian Melodica problem so many of you have reported was now my problem; it was all breath and no volume like an accordion with a cracked bellow. I took it apart and methodically put it back together again. And again. And again. I was really heartbroken, the air was coming out somewhere near the air chamber or mouthpiece weld or somewhere. It was so bad I thought that I had misplaced a piece or put it together wrong. Did the spit valve fail? No it was working fine. Keep in mind that everything worked fine previously until I broke reed just last week, so I didn’t know where to look next. The material serving as the air chamber gasket is all brand new and had been working fine earlier, so what the $%&?? No visible bends no gaps, no answers.

I gave up for the night. I considered every possible place where air could leak and decided it had to be from the seal of that blasted air chamber, I could feel the escaping air across my fingers, but how and from where exactly was not evident. I thought of cutting and inserting a contiguous pair of soft rubber gaskets, but that sounded tedious and imprecise. I have read how adhesive foam weather-stripping can be applied but that might be too tall and wide with the close quarters I was dealing with. In repair, my rule # 1 is always “Do No Harm” so any material used to troubleshoot must be reversible or removable without damaging the instrument. Then it hit me. I had used this clay-like window caulking from Duck that is called “Press to Seal Rope Caulk”. It comes cheap and is extruded into a strip of five ~3mm wide beads. I could use this to serve as a temporary diagnostic gasket sealer.

Were I to lay one of those beads of that caulk around the perimeter of the air chamber cap, then align and press the two halves together to seat them, it would effectively make an airtight seal that would eliminate or identify this as the source for the mystery leak. I used a razor blade to carefully cut one thin bead and then applied it to the gasket area of the cap. I pressed the two halves together and slowly turned the four bolts tight. I could see the excess caulk emerging slightly from around the crack. I peeled away the excess with my fingers imagining that the same was likely happening on the inside. I blew into the mouthpiece and …………..wait for it………… **********GOSH********** it is WAY better than it ever was before and in fact better even than other Melodicas I have tried. It was a whole new instrument. The fast trilly responsiveness seen in those 1960’s film clips on YouTube was real and alive again at my fingertips. I timed it—I played MelodicaMe’s new B note steadily for 35 seconds on one breath. The chiffs and fipples and pops I like to play I could now play with considerable ease. Earlier I had just accepted that it took a lot of air to play, like my low whistles. Now it’s as tight as a drum. When you apply air pressure with no keys depressed there is no leakage. Although it was intended as a diagnostic step, there is no way you’re going to get me to take that bead out now! I understand that it may be unprofessional to use window caulk on this antique instrument, but this 100% fixed my leakage problem and revitalized the instrument.

1.) I don’t know how long it will last.

2.) I will have to repeat this process every time I open up the Clavietta (which I hope I will never do again). In any event it would be no big deal to repeat the process because it was easy to carry out.

3.) This material is probably not food grade, USDA approved, Non-GMO, free range, organically certified, may have been tested on animals, may be known to cause cancer in the state of California —I Don’t Care!! As it makes no direct contact with skin or mouth and is strictly downwind from the operator (unlike a harmonica for instance) I see no harm in trying this. The stuff seems to be friendly, inert, costs $2.50 for a lifetime supply, and may give you back an instrument you thought you would never play again.

I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but I’m just putting it out there. A couple of us are trying it on older leaky but beautiful instruments. It’s crude but effective.

MelodicaMe, you remain my hero. Your reed tunes 2 cents sharp of 440 tuning which matches its neighbors almost exactly, we got lucky there. Like I said, it looks like brass vs. stainless, I didn’t know there were different reed types out there under the Clavietta name, but it sounds beautiful nonetheless.

Thanks to all who helped me repair my instrument.

D.E. out.

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