Handbell Manufacturers: Top Companies and Industry Insights

Handbell manufacturers play a vital role in the world of music, specializing in the creation of these unique instruments with a rich history dating back centuries. Ranging across various designs, sizes, and tunings, handbells are versatile instruments used in numerous settings both in performance and education. The craftsmanship and innovation behind these instruments have given rise to several notable manufacturers in the industry, each catering to the different needs and preferences of handbell musicians.

Traditionally crafted from bronze alloys, handbells are known for their distinct, rich sounds. Manufacturers invest significant time and resources in refining their techniques to produce instruments that offer a balance of quality, durability, and aesthetics. Patrons of these instruments can choose from a wide range of options, from basic starter sets for beginners to elaborate collections featuring bells with additional enhancements in sound and design.

Various factors have shaped the evolution of handbell manufacturing over the years, including advances in technology, changing musical tastes, and global collaborations. Notably, many manufacturers are dedicated to ensuring their products remain eco-friendly and sustainable, acknowledging their ongoing responsibility towards the environment. With this focus on continuous improvement and innovation, handbell manufacturers maintain their commitment to the art of handbell production, contributing to a rich and diverse musical landscape for players and audiences alike.

Understanding Handbell Manufacturing

Handbell manufacturing is a specialized process requiring precision and expertise. In this section, we will briefly examine the main steps involved in handbell manufacturing, along with some key aspects to ensure quality in the final product.

Creating the Mould: At the heart of the handbell manufacturing process is the creation of the mould. This is typically done using high-quality steel, with precision machining employed to create the desired shape and size. The mould is then polished and prepared for the next step.

Casting the Bell: With the mould ready, molten metal (usually a mix of copper and tin) is poured into it, and then allowed to cool and solidify. This forms the basic structure of the handbell. The combination of metals used, along with the temperature and cooling time, play a crucial role in determining the bell’s pitch and tonal quality.

Important factors for the casting process include:

  • Choice of metal alloy
  • Temperature and cooling conditions
  • Accuracy of the mould shape

Finishing and Tuning: After the bell has been removed from the mould, a process of finishing is required to ensure it is smooth and free of imperfections. This also involves polishing the bell’s surface to achieve a visually appealing product.

The most critical aspect of handbell manufacturing is the tuning process. The bell is finely shaved or filed to adjust its pitch and ensure that it produces the correct musical note. Hand-craftsmanship and trained ears allow for a precise tuning process, resulting in a bell that produces a harmonically rich and pleasant sound.

Assembly and Final Touches: Once the bell has been cast, finished, and tuned, the next step is to assemble the components, including the handle, clapper, and any external fittings. This assembly is done with care to ensure the handbell is comfortable, safe, and practical for use.

In general, handbell manufacturing requires a mix of modern precision techniques and traditional handcraftsmanship to create a product with a beautiful appearance and optimal tonal qualities. Next up we’ll discuss some of the top companies that do it best- let’s get to it!

Malmark Handbells

Malmark Handbells is one of the largest handbell manufacturers worldwide. Established in 1973 by Jacob Malta, the company has built a reputation for crafting high-quality handbells, chimes, and other musical instruments. Headquartered in Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania, Malmark continues to innovate in the world of handbells while maintaining a commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.

The company’s product range includes handbells, handchimes, bell trees, and various accessories. To ensure high standards, Malmark employs the following manufacturing process:

  1. Casting of bronze bell components
  2. Fine-tuning for pitch accuracy
  3. Polishing for a pristine finish
  4. Assembly with clapper and other mechanisms

Malmark Handbells is widely recognized for their unique design features. Their handbells employ a patented clapper mechanism that enables players to execute intricate musical passages with ease, and a specially designed handle for improved grip and comfort. Additionally, Malmark offers Schulmerich Handbell products, as both brands joined forces in 2018 to maintain a strong presence in the handbell market.

Malmark’s commitment to quality extends beyond manufacturing, as they offer various services to handbell enthusiasts. Some of these include:

  • Repairs and refurbishing
  • Workshops and festivals
  • Music publications and resources for handbell directors and ringers

In addition, the company takes pride in its efforts to support the handbell community. Malmark sponsors numerous handbell events, workshops, and scholarships throughout the year, and offers an extensive array of resources for handbell musicians of all skill levels. Their dedication to the art of handbell ringing fosters a vibrant, supportive, and passionate community, which is essential for the continued growth and development of this unique musical tradition.

The Whitechapel Bellfoundry Ltd.

The Whitechapel Bellfoundry Ltd. is one of the largest handbell manufacturers globally, with an impressive history that traces back to 1570. Founded in London, England, the company played a significant role in shaping the world of handbells and church bells. Over many centuries, the Whitechapel Bellfoundry has maintained its position as a leader in the industry, attracting a wide range of clientele seeking their renowned craftsmanship and sound quality.

Interestingly, the Whitechapel Bellfoundry’s reputation stretches far beyond handbells. The company is responsible for manufacturing some of the most famous bells worldwide, including the Liberty Bell in the United States and Big Ben in London. These bells have not only captivated audiences with their melodious sounds but also contributed to the historic, cultural, and social fabric of societies where they are found.

The company’s process of handbell creation is steeped in tradition and involves several stages:

  1. Pattern-making
  2. Casting
  3. Fettling
  4. Tuning
  5. Assembly

Throughout this process, the Whitechapel Bellfoundry’s artisans focus on high-quality craftsmanship, striving for precise tuning and exceptional sound quality that characterizes their products. To achieve this, they employ a mixture of traditional techniques handed down over generations and modern methods backed by advancements in technology.

Notably, the Whitechapel Bellfoundry also offers a diverse range of handbells, including tuned sets for handbell ensembles and untuned ones utilized for change ringing. The company caters to the needs of different handbell enthusiasts, from professional players and ringers to community groups and schools.

Unfortunately, in 2017, the Whitechapel Bellfoundry ceased production at their historic site in East London. However, their legacy and commitment to the world of handbells continue to live on. As one of the largest handbell manufacturers that shaped the industry over the centuries, the Whitechapel Bellfoundry will forever be remembered for their excellent craftsmanship, evocative sound quality, and significant impact on societies across the globe.

Schulmerich Handbells

Schulmerich Handbells is one of the largest and most renowned handbell manufacturers in the world. Established in 1935 by Jacob Schulmerich, the company has steadily grown, earning a reputation for producing high-quality, meticulously crafted handbells. Today, Schulmerich Handbells is a leading name in the handbell industry, providing instruments to countless churches, schools, and ensembles across the globe.

The company offers a variety of handbells, including their signature Shelley series. The Shelley series boasts a dynamic range and rich, resonant sound. With an innovative handle design, these handbells also encourage precision and control.

In addition to their handbell offerings, Schulmerich Handbells is also a pioneer in handchime manufacturing. Their MelodyChime instruments, introduced in the 1970s, have become increasingly popular as an alternative or complement to traditional handbells. These versatile chimes can be used in various musical settings, from education and therapy to performance.

One key aspect that sets Schulmerich Handbells apart is their dedication to innovation and craftsmanship. All of their handbells and handchimes are manufactured at their facility in Pennsylvania, USA, where a team of skilled artisans and technicians work together to assemble and tune each instrument to perfection. This commitment to quality ensures that every Schulmerich instrument meets the highest standards in music performance.

While Schulmerich Handbells is primarily known for its handbells and handchimes, they also offer a range of accessories and services to support musicians and ensembles. This includes:

  1. Handbell and handchime maintenance and repair.
  2. Custom engraving options for handbells.
  3. Stands, cases, and carrying bags for easy transportation and storage.
  4. Educational materials to assist directors and ringers in learning and refining handbell techniques.

With its rich history, dedication to quality, and extensive product offerings, Schulmerich Handbells continues to set the standard for excellence in the world of handbell manufacturing.

Manufacturing Process

Now that we’ve reviewed the top handbell manufacturers, let’s go over the actual manufacturing process.

Casting

The process of manufacturing handbells begins with casting. Foundries typically use a high-quality blend of copper and tin, known as bell metal, to create a durable and resonant alloy. Here are the steps involved in casting:

  1. Creating the mold: Molds are made using a technique called “lost wax casting”. The process involves creating a wax model of the handbell, which is then coated in a ceramic outer shell. Once the ceramic shell has hardened, the wax inside melts and is poured out, leaving an empty cavity.
  2. Pouring the metal: The bell metal is then heated to its melting point in a furnace. Once it reaches the right temperature, it is carefully poured into the ceramic mold.
  3. Cooling and removal: After the bell metal has cooled and solidified, the ceramic mold is carefully broken away, revealing the roughcast handbell.

Tuning

Once the handbell has been cast, it must be tuned to ensure it produces the correct pitch and harmonics. This is a highly skilled process, typically performed by expert craftsmen. Tuning involves the following steps:

  1. Measuring the initial pitch: The roughcast handbell is struck with a tuning fork to produce its natural pitch. This is compared to the desired pitch using a chromatic tuner or other measuring device.
  2. Removing metal: The bell’s interior is then carefully machined to remove metal in specific areas to adjust the pitch and bring it closer to the desired note. This can involve:
    • Lathe turning: To change the fundamental pitch and produce harmonics, craftsmen may use a lathe to shave away metal from the interior of the bell.
    • Filing: To fine-tune the pitch, a metal file or scraper is used to make micro-adjustments until the correct note is achieved.
  3. Secondary measurements: The newly-tuned handbell is measured again to ensure it has reached the desired pitch and harmonics.

Assembly

After casting and tuning, the various components of the handbell must be assembled. This includes attaching the leather or foam-padded handle, the springs, the clapper, and any additional decorative elements. The following table outlines the key components of typical handbell assembly:

ComponentDescription
HandleThe part held by the ringer, usually wrapped in leather or foam for comfort
ClapperThe central metal piece that strikes the inner surface of the bell when it is rung
SpringA tensioned mechanism that enables the clapper to return to position after striking the inside of the bell
Decorative elementsOptional features such as engravings, logos, or patterns to enhance the bell’s appearance

Once the handbell has been fully assembled, it is ready to be played by musicians in various ensembles and performances.

Quality Control Measures

In the handbell manufacturing industry, maintaining a high level of quality control is crucial to ensure that the final product meets the required standards. Various methods and measures are employed to achieve this goal.

To begin with, manufacturers often rely on a strict selection of raw materials. High-quality metals, primarily bronze, are chosen for their excellent tonal quality and durability. Some manufacturers also use aluminum or brass for their lighter weight and lower cost. The purity and overall composition of these metals is checked before use to guarantee a consistent material base.

The actual casting process is subject to several quality control measures too. The bells are cast using either a sand-casting or investment-casting method, ensuring precision in shape and uniform wall thickness. The molding and casting techniques are evaluated regularly to ensure consistent results and adherence to predefined tolerances.

When the bells emerge from their castings, they undergo a rigorous tuning process. Manufacturers rely on highly skilled craftsmen, who utilize both traditional techniques and modern technology to achieve accurate tonal properties. The bells’ fundamental tones, harmonics, and partials are carefully analyzed and tuned to a specific pitch, reducing any tonal inconsistencies.

Finally, the finishing touches are applied to the bells. This includes polishing, engraving, and assembling the clappers and handles. At each stage, the bells are inspected for defects, such as cracks or blemishes, which could affect their longevity or performance. Furthermore, manufacturers may perform a series of tests, such as:

  • Visual inspection: Ensuring that each bell has a clean appearance, with no visible defects.
  • Dimensional inspection: Verifying that the bell has the correct size and shape within specified tolerances.
  • Tonal inspection: Comparing the sound of the bell to a reference tone to ensure accurate pitch.

These quality control measures not only enable handbell manufacturers to create exceptional products but also help maintain their reputation in a highly competitive market. Through a combination of skilled craftsmanship, technology, and rigorous testing procedures, these companies can ensure the satisfaction of handbell players and enthusiasts worldwide.

Future Trends in Handbell Manufacturing

With technology constantly advancing and customer preferences evolving, the handbell manufacturing industry is poised for some notable transformations. In this section, we will highlight a few future trends that are expected to shape the industry.

  1. Material Innovations: Traditional handbells are cast from bronze, but the demand for alternative materials, such as lightweight alloys and plastics, is on the rise. These materials may offer benefits such as reduced cost, enhanced durability, and improved ease of use for both experienced and novice bell ringers.
  2. 3D Printing: The advent of 3D printing technology has opened up new possibilities for handbell design and production. With the ability to create intricate shapes and unique designs, 3D-printed handbells could become more commonplace in the near future. Furthermore, this technology allows for increased customization and rapid prototyping, which can help manufacturers meet the specific needs of different handbell ensembles.
  3. Eco-friendly Manufacturing: As sustainability becomes increasingly important, manufacturers will likely embrace eco-friendly practices in handbell production. This may include the use of recycled materials, waste reduction techniques, and more energy-efficient processes.
  4. Smart Handbells: The integration of technology into handbells could enable the development of “smart” handbells. These bells may feature embedded sensors and wireless connectivity, allowing performers to access digital sheet music, track their performance, or even synchronize with other electronic instruments.
  5. Online Sales and Distribution: The growth of e-commerce has revolutionized many industries, and the handbell sector is no exception. Manufacturers stand to benefit from increased online sales, and customers can conveniently compare products and prices with just a few clicks.

These future trends suggest that the handbell manufacturing industry is far from static. Manufacturers who adopt these innovations and cater to evolving preferences will likely find success in staying ahead of the curve.

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