Tuning pegs, who knew?

So, I’m not much of an aficionado when it comes to traditional music. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s entirely appropriate for people to get enthusiastic over whatever kind of traditional music they’re into. Bluegrass, Celtic, classical, calypso, or just world music: I get it. I understand how a person could be in love with traditional music; personally, though, I just can’t get into it. What I can get into, however, is the methodology of constructing traditional instruments. Making a machine that transforms physical motion into musical notes seems to me to be an analogy of what it is to be human. Creating the universal from the specific, the beautiful from the mundane; transforming some imperfect, errant, mortal action into a sublime poetical expression of immortal beauty which can stir the soul of any man.

All of which is to say that I discovered something entirely elegant today about tuning pegs. Something that I actually felt a little silly for not already knowing: throughout most of the history of musical instruments, stringed instruments were tuned by a peg that fit into a tapered hole. The upshot of this is that the question of what type of tuning peg to use on my Aeolian harp has been decisively settled. Instead of trying to adapt one of the “machine head” type solutions found here: tricks for DIY tuning pegs, I’ll simply use a tapered reamer to drill a tapered hole in the end-block of my harp, and then carve down a tapered tuning peg to fit. Thankfully, I can borrow a tapered reamer from my work, instead of having to purchase one.

This is an example of why I think it is worthwhile to study the history of how things are made. When I originally read the article for this project I saw that the author suggested buying tuning pegs, and my mind immediately jumped to the, more modern, industrial machine head tuning pegs. Even though that is obviously not what is pictured in the article, I simply could not picture any other way of building a machine to adjust the tension on the strings of an instrument. And yet, a tapered pin is such an elegant mechanism for this project. It’s simple to build, and it’s easy and effective to use. I think this is an interesting example of the differences of mass-production and personal creation. I often find myself thinking in terms of mass-production. That is to say, when I consider how to make an object my first thought is: “how would they make this in a factory?” However, it is often the case that the objects produced by a factory are made in the way they are because those methods suit mass-production, not because mass-productions suits the objects being made. If you’re making a single chair, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to create molds, forms, and jigs for each individual piece before making any of the actual pieces. Likewise, if you’re making a single window-harp, maybe you should consider using taper tuning-pegs.


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