custom tunes

Creating a box with your own choice of music

I am frequently asked about the process of putting a custom tune onto one of my musical boxes. I have often done so with excellent results. However there are many factors which contribute to the difficulty and cost.

I have taken two different approaches to putting custom music on a cylinder. I have modified existing music box movements and I have created a custom musical program for one of my own boxes. The results of these two approaches are very different and have very different costs (Click Custom tune pricelist to view or download).

Custom tunes on a Herz or commercial music movement

TypeTypical cost for bare movementTypical cost of replacement cylinder and retuning for custom tunePlaying timeTypical range
Reuge brand 18 tooth$50.00$410.0015 seconds2 octaves
Sankyo brand 30 tooth$220.00$590.0030 seconds3 ½ octave
Sankyo 72 tooth$700.00$980.0040 seconds4 ½ octaves
Herz 61 - 122 tooth$4695 - $5895$500.0060 seconds6 octaves

A reasonably priced music box movement which has metal parts which I am able to modify is the Sankyo brand 30 note movement. Although there are many small cheap 18 note movements, I can only modify an all metal movement. These can be purchased for $50 each. 18 tooth movements are able to play only very short, simple tunes within a very narrow pitch range. Playing time and musical range increase as you move towards larger movements.  

My own musical boxes are priced at $5165 and up. Where no other changes to the mechanism and the comb are required and the customer provides me with a MIDI recording of the tune ready for transcription to the cylinder, a custom cylinder and a custom tuned comb will cost about an additional $600. If you chose to purchase a bare movement which you will fit into a case or a much shorter comb with fewer teeth, these changes would reduce this price.

Obviously there is considerable cost savings in choosing to modify a commercial movement and for many projects it is the logical choice. The commercial box will play for about 30 seconds. The Herz box will play for about eight minutes – eight 60 second tracks. The typical 30 note cylinder plays about 80 notes. The typical Herz cylinder play about 5000. The differences in resonance, volume, range, note sustain, and longevity are detailed elsewhere in this web site. I invite you to explore the details of my work elsewhere on this site.

The very size of the Herz movement begs for a more complex polyphonic arrangement. If your tune is a simple melody, a 30 tooth movement may be a more logical choice. If, however, your chosen music has a wide range and several voices, realizing it on the Herz movement will require far less compromise.

Regardless of the chosen movement, you must determine who owns the rights to the music. The customer must either own the rights to the song, or the song must be in public domain, or the customer must negotiate a fee for use with the rights holder. I can help with this latter circumstance, but the difficulty and cost of this process is hard to predict. The Herz Music Box Company will NOT violate copyright on any product, no matter how small.

Additional considerations depend on the chosen movement:

Custom tunes on a Herz movement

The following musical considerations must be taken into account:

1) Tune length.

My standard musical box will play for approximately 60 seconds, then pause for a few seconds to change tune tracks, and then play the next tune in the program for another 60 seconds, repeating like this through the entire program, which can be anywhere from 6 to 12 tunes. Your tune must be arranged to play for very close to 60 seconds or be broken into multiple 60 second “movements” with a tune change pause between the movements.

There are two exceptions to this. First, we can use a movement with an over-sized cylinder for an additional fee. This can be made to play for as much as two and one half minutes per tune. Second, Herz music box can provide you with a unique spiral-pinned musical box. I know of no other maker which offers this. The cylinder is designed to move to the left by a tiny increment with each rotation, allowing the tune to play without interruption for up to 10 minutes. This is a complex precision mechanical system which adds significantly to the cost.

2) Tuning.

Musical box combs are not tuned to a chromatic scale as is the case with a piano. Only notes required by the musical program are represented on the comb scale. With a range of 6 octaves, a chromatic scale would require far too many teeth to be practical. Customizing a comb for a particular musical program is much more complex than merely choosing which notes to include, though. A comb tooth is raised above its rest position when it is plucked and swings below its rest position when it vibrates. If the vibrating tooth hits the next cylinder pin as soon as it is release from the plucking pin, it will not play, merely clunk. So there is a period after the sounding of a note before the same tooth can be played again. That means that the arranger must determine which notes are played frequently and add second (and in some cases third, fourth, fifth or sixth) tooth tuned to the same pitch. The final comb tuning is a result of careful selection of notes, trills, and ornaments by the arranger and a simultaneous selection of notes with multiple teeth. The comb tuning must fit all of the tunes in the musical program.

3) Arrangement.

Hand in hand with the tuning comes the arrangement. An inexpensive 18 tooth movement may play only 40 notes. My boxes typically may play 500 to 1000 notes for each of the tunes in the program. Although a direct transcription of a single melodic line is feasible, it will in no way have the rich, full sound that remains interesting to hear after countless repetition. On the other hand, an orchestral arrangement is very unlikely to work unmodified on a musical box. I strongly recommend the use of an arranger to create your musical program. I work with well known arranger Peter Mansfield to create unique custom arrangements. A custom arrangement is the only way to marry a particular tune with the capabilities of a full sized Swiss musical box. Fees for arrangements vary widely depending on the project but can be in the range of a few hundred to several hundred dollars.

Please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss your project.

 

 

Custom tunes on a commercial movement

The following musical considerations must be taken into account:

1) Tune length.

The exact playing time of a music movement depends on how tightly wound the spring is. A fully wound box plays about 25% faster than it does when it is half wound. On average a commercial 30 note movement plays for about 30 seconds. A shorter tune can be played but there will be a correspondingly longer wait before the tune starts again.

2) Tuning.

Musical box combs are not tuned to a chromatic scale as is the case with a piano. Only notes required by the musical program are represented on the comb scale. While 30 teeth may seem at first like plenty, the arranger must select some notes in his program to be played on more than one tooth. A comb tooth is raised above its rest position when it is plucked and swings below its rest position when it vibrates. If the vibrating tooth hits the next cylinder pin as soon as it is release from the plucking pin, it will not play, merely clunk. So there is a period after the sounding of a note before the same tooth can be played again. That means that the arranger must determine which notes are played frequently and add second (and in some cases third or fourth) tooth tuned to the same pitch. The final comb tuning is a result of the careful selection of required notes across the octaves, shaping the location of multiple tooth notes to fit the trills, and ornaments chosen by the arranger and a simultaneous selection harmonies and ornaments to suit the available notes with multiple teeth.

3) Arrangement.

Hand in hand with the tuning comes the arrangement. Although a 30 tooth comb will provide far less scope for polyphony and ornamentation than a 92 tooth comb, the arranger’s ingenuity can still be challenged by fitting the tune to the required length (about 30 seconds), an interesting arrangement that will be pleasing to hear through many repetitions, and a not distribution that can be encompassed by a 30 tooth comb. I, or my contacts can be of help in this process for an additional fee.

An 18 tooth movement will play for about 15 seconds. Although the opportunities for ornamentation are very restricted by the length of the piece and the size of the comb, skill is still required to create a piece that fits within the note restrictions of an 18 tooth comb and that sounds complete in a 15 second rendition.

Please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss your project.