stainless steel as a material for a music box comb?

stainless steel as a material for a music box comb?

Postby Robert Haines » Tue Apr 04, 2017 9:20 pm

I'm starting on a project for making a music box that will be permanently mounted out-of-doors here in the San Francisco Bay Area, about a mile from the ocean (and consequently subjected to the corrosive atmospheric conditions that we get). I was thinking of machining the comb (or "harp", if you prefer) out of stainless steel, since it will resist rusting far better than the typical carbon steel used for music boxes.

I've been unable to find any examples of stainless being used for this purpose. From that, I could infer that it's unsuitable for making musical tones, or that there's simply no necessity for using it (since most music boxes live inside of climate-controlled rooms), or that it would sound different from a carbon steel comb of the same size (thus preventing them from working with existing cylinders), or a host of other possible explanations.

Setting aside those questions, can anyone tell me if they've heard a struck or plucked instrument that used stainless tines? -or know any reasons why it should (or shouldn't) work OK for that purpose?

FWIW, I won't be using a standard cylinder, so that part of the thing won't be a factor.

Thanks in advance!
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Re: stainless steel as a material for a music box comb?

Postby Chris Reed » Wed Apr 05, 2017 1:18 pm

I suspect your only course is to find a piece of stainless steel about the size of one tooth and twang it, to hear how it sounds.

If it's not musical, would bronze be worth a try? Statues survive outside, though I'm sure they're not the same bronze as sheet material.

Hope you find something, as an outdoor music box thingy sounds rather splendid!
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Re: stainless steel as a material for a music box comb?

Postby David King » Wed Apr 05, 2017 1:52 pm

You may also want to try titanium or aluminum, specifically Ti 6Al-4V and Al-7075 alloys.
A high carbon stainless as used in knife making would be a logical start and may be cheaper too. I'd start with 420 stainless as it's easily heat treatable.
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Re: stainless steel as a material for a music box comb?

Postby John Morton » Tue May 02, 2017 10:16 pm

I agree that some empirical tests are a good way to go. I have made chimes from 1/4" aluminum plate (6061 T6) and the notes were spectacular and pure. I think the corrosion might be so slow that it wouldn't matter, except for appearance. (7075 has poor corrosion resistance, I believe.)
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Re: stainless steel as a material for a music box comb?

Postby Ken Grunke » Wed Jul 18, 2018 3:31 pm

I used kitchen utensils for the tines of a kalimba I made. Specifically, cake spatulas, which are between .030 and .040" thick. They are hard and stiff, and sound fairly good.
I'm also in the process of forging a one-piece jaw harp, aka jew's harp, from a butter knife.
These go for pennies at thrift shops.
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Re: stainless steel as a material for a music box comb?

Postby Jim McConkey » Thu Jul 19, 2018 2:05 pm

There is another ongoing discussion on Kalimbas here, and the original video that spurred the project used steel electrician's fishing tape for the tines. It is probably stainless, and available at every DIY store. Also look for rakes with metal tines. they are usually about the right size, and often stainless.
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