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 Boosey & Hawkes
Author: rita 
Date:   1999-09-23 17:30

I was browsing through the Klarinet archives and came across a discussion about B&H making clarinet keys out of pots metal! I was wondering was this during the war (II) years and/or was it to cut costs? Also, did they put it only on their student and intermediate models? Couldn't find anything else on internet re: B&H's clarinet history (other than serial numbers.) Does anyone have any information on the model names of their clarinets before Buffet bought them?

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 "Pot Metal" Keys
Author: paul 
Date:   1999-09-23 19:56

Actually, Boosey and Hawkes bought Buffet. IMHO, it was a good move, both for Buffet and for the clarinet market.

As for the use of low grade "pot metal" on certain models of certain brands of clarinet during certain times, I haven't a clue.

Today's good quality horns use a metal for keys that's most likely an alloy for the vast majority of the thickness of the key and then they electroplate it with either nickel, silver, or (for the truly fortunate few who can afford it) gold. From what little I can personally tell, the exact materials and metals for the keys is a guarded trade secret. The keys on the good horns (Buffet, LeBlanc, Selmer, Yamaha, plus the high end custom makers) can be bent slightly to meet each player's individual fingering needs and to make sure the pad clears the tonehole enough to not have an affect on that note's tuning when fully open. A good pro level player can bend the good horns' keys with bare hands and fingers to get it "just right", yet the key retains its strength and shape for a lifetime of playing. Lesser horns' keys cannot be bent for customization purposes without snapping fully in two, or getting so distorted that the key is basically useless. If this kind of low quality is what you mean by the term "pot metal", then I guess it's pretty much on target.

As a pure (and slightly educated) guess, I'd venture to say that the better horns' keys have a high amount of good quality steel (iron mixed with carbon and hardened by heating and quenching in a very specific way) in the alloy that can take the bending stress for slight adjustments and stay there, yet continue to be strong enough for pro level playing for decades. Steel has a very nice stress curve, taking lots of tensile (stretching) stress while retaining its original shape. Then, as the stress becomes greater, the steel stretches in a very consistent and predictable manner for a very long time until finally yielding in a catastrophic failure by snapping roughly in half. If you take a metal alloy consisting primarily of lead (which is much cheaper, hint, hint) and try the same thing, it doesn't take much stress to stretch it way out, with very little ability to retain its starting shape. Been there, saw that in a college level Strength of Materials engineering lab many years ago.



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 RE: "Pot Metal" Keys
Author: Dee 
Date:   1999-09-24 04:21

Paul, you really ought to take time and look things up not speculate. Much of this stuff *is* documented. Many clarinets at all levels have reasonably good quality metals in the keys. "German Silver", actually a nickel alloy, is frequently used. Some manufacturers in the past (even on high quality instruments) didn't even plate the keys when using this alloy as it can be buffed to a nice soft shine. While there are many variants of this, the manufacturers will tell you what the keys are made of although not the exact alloy formula.

"Pot metal" is also a very specific alloy and a specific process. It is not a lower grade of the material commonly used. It did happen to be inexpensive. It was not a particularly good choice for clarinet keys. Not being a metallurgist, I don't happen to know the alloy but again it can be looked up in the reference works that metallurgists use.

Speculation of this type can lead people astray and then this information gets quoted as a "fact".

As far as gold plating the keys goes, the layer of plating is thin enough that the cost differential due just to the plating isn't as great as many people think. Although I no longer remember the exact figures, when I had the keys on my daughter's clarinet replated, they quoted chrome, nickel, silver, gold, and platinum. I don't happen to like the look of gold on black so I chose chrome (didn't want to have to deal with the tarnish for nickel or silver and the platinum was a little spendy for an intermediate quality horn).

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 RE: Pot Metal vs Nickel-Silver
Author: Don Berger 
Date:   1999-09-24 18:26

Yes, Rita, some of us will remember the zinc pennies back in the '40's!! I haven't been able to find [in my Chem. Eng. handbooks and Chem Tables] reference to pot metal! [Will look in the big Webster]. I believe this somewhat-derogatory term is applied to inexpensive alloys, likely having a high conc. of zinc, possibly used and reused in the printing trade for type [thrown back into the melting pot?]. Will look further! Some months back on the Onelist "Early Clarinet" site we discussed Nickel [German, because of its ancestry] Silver [it does not contain Silver, Ag, except as a possible trace impurity in the major conc. of Copper, Cu]. The other alloying metals are nickel, Ni, and zinc, Zn, usually in about equal conc.s. There are many formulations of which I posted some on E C, or look in your metallurgy [library] books. This is the most preferred key metal, sorry Paul, 1040 steel might be too tough! I agree with Dee's comments on "malleability" [sp?]. If there is more interest, I'll do some research when my cl repair time allows. Don

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 RE: Boosey & Hawkes
Author: Willie 
Date:   1999-09-25 05:00

I think what you're refering to as pot metal is an alloy called zamak in the automotive & boat trade. It was used alot for hood ornaments and grill peices during the 40s & 50s. It is still used today for cheapo cleats and fittings on small boats. When chromed it looks nice but it has no strenth or flexabilty and would be a very poor choice metal to use on keys or levers such as found on wood winds. This stuff so lousy it ought to be banned for anything.

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 RE: Pot Metal ,Zamak [zinc!]
Author: Don Berger 
Date:   1999-09-25 18:01

Well done, Willie, with your help, my Chem Tables show 3 compositions, all above 93% zinc with small amounts of aluminum [Al] or copper [Cu] and a trace of magnesium [Mg]. No wonder its so poor and brittle! Don

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 RE: Pot Metal--Thanks!
Author: rita 
Date:   1999-09-26 01:52

Thank you, Dee, Don, Paul & Willie for the info. As always, I've learned a lot (even though chemistry was definitely NOT my subject.) I did find some other postings on pot metal ... enough so that I will avoid instruments with it.

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