Author Topic: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info  (Read 7390 times)

Offline geoff004

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Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« on: July 23, 2014, 08:41:26 PM »
First post here - hopefully in the correct place.
I thought I'd post about something I figured out a decade ago, yet I've never found anyone else doing anything similar: replacing broken reeds in wurlys.

Here's the short of it:
Materials: gap feeler gauge.  I get them at auto part stores.  Do not get the one made by OEM - the steel isn't hard enough.  I just bought one from NAPA (NAPA brand, I guess) and it's great - cost ~$7.
Tools: dremel tool, file, solder, soldering iron.

From the gap feeler gauge remove the sizes from .020 to .025.  Throw the rest away.  These will be your blanks.
The holes on the gauges are a perfect match for the mounting holes in the reed.  Line them up and trace the reed shape on to the blank.  I'll either use a sharpie or an exacto blade.
With a cutting wheel on your dremel cut the rough shape out.  Then file the edges smooth and straight.  With the file do your best to get the shape as close to the original reed as possible.
Then on to the solder part: I clamp the reed with a vise clamp leaving the tip of the reed exposed for solder.  Add solder a little at a time, so as to build it up on the end.
Finally file the end to shape the solder.  It usually takes me about 3 times of mounting/unmounting to get the tuning right.

Hopefully these directions are clear enough for others to follow.  I'll do my best to answer questions about it.  I just can't stand to see people pay $20/reed.
For around $7 you can get 4-5 reeds that sound and perform like original reeds.

Offline cinnanon

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2014, 05:18:37 PM »
What a great idea.

On second thought, does anybody know the grade of steel used on the original reeds? Tool steel? Sound and circuit says Cold Pressed steel, which I assume means cold-rolled stamped steel.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2014, 05:21:13 PM by cinnamonrolli »

Offline Max Brink

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2014, 11:07:29 PM »
Why do you feel that $20 is too expensive for a reed?!


Here's a few points from me on my soapbox:

1) I have come across dozens DIY reeds and they never have the right sustain, warmth/brightness characteristics. Minor changes in metallurgical makeup or physical shape have huge effects on the tone of an electro-mechanical instrument. I can appreciate your ambition here but how much time are you going to spend to save $13 on the first reed when it isn't even going to sound the way that a Wurli is supposed to sound?

2) A piano that is in good condition should have less than five reeds that need to be replaced on average. If more are needed that piano likely has regulation issues or was not cared for by previous owners. Once replaced it is unlikely that it will need to be replaced again for a very long time (thousands of strikes for new reeds). For a reasonable price of usually ~$20ea you can usually find a NOS reed or vintage reed that will match the timbre of the piano perfectly.

3) If not NOS/Vintage, Retro Linear is producing reeds that they put a lot of time and research to match the original reeds perfectly. Purchasing a reed for the fair price of ~$20 will support companies that specialize in electric piano innovations and servicing and that is what is going to keep vintage instruments alive for future generations to appreciate. A $20 reed is not being sold by some big and evil corporation that is gauging prices... These are 'mom and pop' stores and small businesses and you are directly supporting the people that are going to help provide future innovations that will help keep your vintage instrument alive.


...All that said there are also unethical companies out there (such as "Vintage Parts Guru") who will buy up vintage instruments that are in good working order in order to profit off of the cannibalization through eBay. Stay away from supporting these guys and others like them who show no care for keeping these vintage instruments alive. "Organ Donor" instruments are necessary to keep others playing properly but to break down an instrument that could be easily serviced back into working order just for monetary profit is not an ethical thing to do.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2014, 03:35:41 PM by Max Brink »
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Offline geoff004

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2014, 07:01:20 AM »
I can see I'll fit right in here - especially with any parts, service, maintenance & repair ideas I might have.

DIY is not for all people.  It's usually for very few.  Personally I prefer the tomatoes I grow in my garden to the ones I buy at the store.  I don't grow enough tomatoes for the whole community, just myself.  Anyway, not everyone has the space or the time or the interest to grow their own.

1) I can tell you that I personally will save a lot of time spending $13 for the first reed I replace.  I can make a reed in about as much time as it takes me to order one off someone's website.  Keep in mind that the $20 reed is not cut to length or tuned.  And after my initial investment I still get more reeds for $0.  As far as the sound is concerned, I doubt you'd hear the difference in the reeds I've made even though the metal isn't laced with the same magic (more of an automotive thing).

2) Pianos that are in good condition have been well maintained.  The reeds get brittle over time and more susceptible to breaking, especially the center group of notes that have seen the most usage - c, d, e, g, etc. (there are 4 right there).  And again with the timbre.  Unless your Wurli is for show and not use, it will need reeds replaced.  It can be hard to find reeds on a Saturday afternoon when the gig is that night.

3)  I think it's great that they figured out what metal to use.  They're doing a good job of keeping parts available.  They also know that they are the only source for parts.  If I can make a reed for myself for $7 I'm sure their cost per reed is a lot less.  Regardless, my growing tomatoes really isn't going to make any kind of dent in the tomato sales at my local supermarket.

In conclusion, who is to say what the proper Wurlitzer piano should sound like?  The most used of the 6 Wurlitzer pianos I've owned is a 206 with a tube preamp (DIY) and numerous replaced reeds.  At one time I had 2 EPs in one road case: with all the gigging and recording reeds would break all the time.  I've spent a lot of time keeping these and other instruments going strong, coming up with my own innovations.  It's nice to have an outlet here, to share thoughts and ideas for keeping these things alive, with others.

Offline pianotuner steveo

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2014, 10:20:52 AM »
Max, I used to buy reeds in music stores for $2-$3.( Before you were born. Sorry,but I had to say it)  I know those days are long gone, but I would never, ever, pay $20 for one reed. That's just nuts.

I'm glad I had the vision to buy numerous unused reeds back when they were less than $5.

No, they are not for sale...



Geoff004, you do not cut pre made Wurlitzer reeds to length, they already come the correct length. You can cut a Rhodes tine if you need a shorter one.

A properly regulated Wurlitzer does not break reeds.( very often,if at all)  Reed breakage is usually caused by let off being set too close and the player having a heavy touch.

Also, don't your home made reeds sound completely different from the neighboring original reeds in the same piano? I do not see how they can possibly sound the same. I think that is what Max was getting at.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2014, 10:36:51 AM by pianotuner steveo »
1960 Wurlitzer model 700 EP
1968 Gibson G101 Combo organ
1975 Rhodes Piano Bass
1979 Wurlitzer 206A EP
1980 Wurlitzer 270 Butterfly Grand
2004 Hammond XK3
2009 73A Rhodes Mark 7
2009 Korg SV-1 73
2017 Yamaha P255
2020 Kawai CA99
....and a few guitars...

Offline Max Brink

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2014, 02:37:25 PM »
140 and 200 reeds are very closely related but there are still differences in the sound produced by each model of reed. If that small amount of a change is noticeable I think it would be very hard to produce a reed that sounds right unless you spend the amount of time that Retro Linear spent manufacturing a replacement reed to perfection. If you try them side by side with your vintage reeds and DIY reeds to know the quality is there to back up the price.


Quote
DIY is not for all people.  It's usually for very few.  Personally I prefer the tomatoes I grow in my garden to the ones I buy at the store.  I don't grow enough tomatoes for the whole community, just myself.  Anyway, not everyone has the space or the time or the interest to grow their own.

I have to politely point out that home grown tomatoes almost always taste better than store bought tomatoes because they are fresh and it's easy to give them a lot of the proper attention that they need. A "fresh" DIY reed does not "sound tastier" than other reeds in every instance that I have come across.

The analogy that I would make if you have a DIY reed in a piano full of real reeds would be that if you have a dish with Roma tomatoes you are going to notice if a couple of bites have a cherry or heirloom tomato in them... They're going to have different sweetnesses, texture, and acidity levels that are going to stand out from the rest of the dish. And in the case of the traditional "Wurlitzer Dish" you do not want to use different tomatoes or it's not going to taste the way that it should.


Quote
1) I can tell you that I personally will save a lot of time spending $13 for the first reed I replace.  I can make a reed in about as much time as it takes me to order one off someone's website.  Keep in mind that the $20 reed is not cut to length or tuned.  And after my initial investment I still get more reeds for $0.  As far as the sound is concerned, I doubt you'd hear the difference in the reeds I've made even though the metal isn't laced with the same magic (more of an automotive thing).

If you can produce a reed that is as reliable and sounds the same then I will gladly admit that I was being too pessimistic. Like I have said I have come across over a dozen different reeds that do not have the proper timbre, volume, or decay characteristics. They all "work" in the sense that you no longer have a dead note, but my clients will often state that "this A doesn't sound quite right" and sure enough when I open it up a previous owner had used a DIY reed or one that just was not manufactured with the attention of detail to get the sound just right.


Quote
2) Pianos that are in good condition have been well maintained.  The reeds get brittle over time and more susceptible to breaking, especially the center group of notes that have seen the most usage - c, d, e, g, etc. (there are 4 right there).  And again with the timbre.  Unless your Wurli is for show and not use, it will need reeds replaced.  It can be hard to find reeds on a Saturday afternoon when the gig is that night.

If you're breaking reeds regularly (especially if it is the same note each time) then there is likely something that is not up to proper specifications. If your let-off is to the proper specs then make sure that you have the right key dip for the way that your action assembly is setup. For instance, 3/8" prescribed by the manual is not going to be perfectly uniform piano to piano so pay attention if there is particularly harsh aftertouch and adjust the key dip levels accordingly. And if you are breaking a note because it has more "miles" on it in a more used area of the keyboard then why would you want to replace it with a less reliable reed???


Quote
In conclusion, who is to say what the proper Wurlitzer piano should sound like?

I think that most people would be in a general agreement that a Wurlitzer should have balanced volume, timbre, sustain, and decay characteristics from note to note. When I personally say "what a Wurlitzer piano should sound like" I am typically referring to something that is fully restored or fully setup rather than something that is just in good or average playing condition. Any musical instrument is only going to play as well as it is serviced and when I use this phrase I am usually referring to having an instrument in its ideal conditions.


Quote
Max, I used to buy reeds in music stores for $2-$3.( Before you were born. Sorry,but I had to say it)  I know those days are long gone, but I would never, ever, pay $20 for one reed. That's just nuts.

Is that really nuts of me??? To pay $20 for a reed that has been out of production since the early 1980's just doesn't seem nuts to me... But I guess that's a matter of opinion and what kind of trade-offs you are willing to put up with when it comes to having a Wurlitzer that sounds 'the way that it should.' If you want something that's built as well as the originals and sounds identical to the originals this seems like a fair price to me.


Quote
A properly regulated Wurlitzer does not break reeds.( very often,if at all)  Reed breakage is usually caused by let off being set too close and the player having a heavy touch.

Agreed. I feel that if you are breaking so many reeds that $20 seems too expensive then something is out of specification.
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Offline pianotuner steveo

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2014, 07:33:25 PM »
Max, I did not mean to imply that you are nuts!

Gas that is $4 a gallon is nuts too, but we have no other choice. I remember when seventy five cents per gallon was a LOT.

I'm just glad that I never have to buy another reed, because I seriously doubt I would pay $20.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2014, 07:49:27 PM by pianotuner steveo »
1960 Wurlitzer model 700 EP
1968 Gibson G101 Combo organ
1975 Rhodes Piano Bass
1979 Wurlitzer 206A EP
1980 Wurlitzer 270 Butterfly Grand
2004 Hammond XK3
2009 73A Rhodes Mark 7
2009 Korg SV-1 73
2017 Yamaha P255
2020 Kawai CA99
....and a few guitars...

Offline 8675309

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2014, 02:54:13 PM »
After some research out of sheer curiosity, I have to say that making a Wurli reed out of a feeler gauge is, well - I can't express this any other way, it's crazy, my apologies, but no gain is obtained in rolling your own here. Its okay to want to save some coin, the economy sucks right now- very understandable but if you are taking the time to repair your vintage instrument  why not do it right?

Making a reed from this gauge even with a Dremel or even if you had access to a CNC/milling machine is just not worth it.
$20 for the right part isn't really steep. A properly produced part from folks who have obviously spent some big $$$ to make the parts for us DIY'ers. supports the DIY community. (agree with Max on that)

Again my apologies- I just don't see the logic in this process. Time is money..

I dearly hope folks do not embrace this.
Sorry - this is not the right way to fix sacred vintage equipment.

Offline pianotuner steveo

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2014, 04:13:03 PM »
Maybe $20 per reed is the new normal, but to me it's highway robbery. It's 10 times what I used to pay.

I'm glad I don't have to pay that much today.



1960 Wurlitzer model 700 EP
1968 Gibson G101 Combo organ
1975 Rhodes Piano Bass
1979 Wurlitzer 206A EP
1980 Wurlitzer 270 Butterfly Grand
2004 Hammond XK3
2009 73A Rhodes Mark 7
2009 Korg SV-1 73
2017 Yamaha P255
2020 Kawai CA99
....and a few guitars...

Offline erer44

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2015, 12:55:10 AM »
Reviving this old thread to share my DIY reed success story. I was missing reed #35 on my newly acquired 200. New production reeds are all sold out, so I tried and tried to locate an original or NOS reed, no luck there either. This thread turned up and I decided to look into making my own replacement, at least to hold me over until I found a proper one.

When I checked my original #34 reed with a micrometer, the metal thickness tapers down to .020" on the narrow part of the reed. This has to be a huge part of the sound that a lot of DIY reed makers probably miss. The taper is on the top side, which the lead tuning slug is added to.  The original Wurly manual says the reeds are "Sandvik spring steel", and I just happened to have a Sandvik steel hand scraper for woodworking, the exact right .030" thickness. These scrapers are available here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Bahco-474-Cabinet-Scraper-New-/221754088811?hash=item33a192dd6b

Did all the shaping work with a dremel and bench grinder, and finished off with diamond stones. The sound is PERFECT. If anything the sustain is a little better than the surrounding originals. Tone is dead on. Well worth it for an hour's worth of work.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2015, 09:01:38 AM by erer44 »

Offline Max Brink

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2015, 09:47:18 AM »
It really has the correct tone and sustain characteristics??? I have seen dozens and dozens of DIY or badly produced replacement reeds being sold and never has one sounded right to my ears... And I guess the other concern I would have would be how many strikes can it withhold before breaking?


If anyone needs a real Wurlitzer reed I have some good condition vintage reeds from a classroom set that have very low "mileage" on them. Besides a few high number reeds I should have what you need.

It sounds like Retro Linear will have their mid range reed blanks back in stock soon! The RL reeds are the only ones I have tested that sound correct and are robust enough for use within a musical instrument. They are the only replacement reed I have ever played that meets these two critical points.
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Offline sopranojam85

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2015, 10:04:29 AM »
It sounds like Retro Linear will have their mid range reed blanks back in stock soon! The RL reeds are the only ones I have tested that sound correct and are robust enough for use within a musical instrument. They are the only replacement reed I have ever played that meets these two critical points.

I just got 3 reeds from Retro Linear, and am about to install them into two pianos waiting for them. I'm glad to hear that you've had good experiences with their reeds.

I'm also glad to see that the mystery of what the original were made of is (somewhat) revealed. geoff004, I admire your DIY spirit and ambition here. Hope you take all the criticism with a grain of salt and don't let it discourage you. Which manual did you find the info on "Sandvik spring steel"? Any chance this manual is around online, or can it be scanned and posted somewhere electronically for us to see?

Offline erer44

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #12 on: August 18, 2015, 03:39:24 PM »
It's in this 720/140&145 manual, but it's a safe enough assumption that the 200s used Sandvik as well.  https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0666/2821/files/Wurlitzer_140-720_Series_Service_Manual.pdf

There isn't anything to these reeds but dimensions and material/hardness. I nailed the dimensions down to the thousandth, and the tone and sustain of the finished reed being indistinguishable from the others leads me to believe these scrapers are the right material of the right hardness. Get either one of these wrong and it'll sound wrong, for sure. Get both wrong and it'll sound REALLY wrong. I'm betting none of the DIY reeds you've come across had the taper, and most were probably feeler guages or bits of bandsaw blade.

A better polishing job would surely increase reed life, as cracks will no doubt eventually develop from the smallest scratch running across the reed. I tried to do all grinding and sanding along the length of the reed, to reduce this. But I'm not very worried about it. My piano only sees light home use. Failure after a few thousand blows will be far from disastrous.

I've heard that 200 reeds are thinner than 200A reeds. Any truth to that? Maybe that's the thickness taper I'm measuring?

Offline sopranojam85

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Re: Wurlitzer reed replacement source - DIY info
« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2015, 12:21:05 PM »

I've heard that 200 reeds are thinner than 200A reeds. Any truth to that? Maybe that's the thickness taper I'm measuring?

I don't know. But, we do know that people who sell replacement reeds make them so that they work with both 200 and 200A series pianos. If 200 reeds were originally thinner, they'd have to have slightly different cut lengths, or a different volume of solder on the ends of them. I'd think that a thicker reed would hold up better to abuse than a thin one.

Is that spring steel coated with anything? Unless it's stainless steel, as I understand it, it will corrode over time and must have some kind of coating on it. Original reeds have some sort of coating, but I am not sure exactly what substance, or process is used to coat them.