By William Gurstelle, Workshop Warrior
The Tuning Fork
Build the 18th-century tool that replaced faulty pitch pipes.
AFTER MUCH OF THE CITY WAS
destroyed by fire in 1666, London was
elegantly rebuilt, and by the end of the
17th century it was perhaps the most
prosperous city in Europe. Concomitant
with that rebirth was a cultural revival that
placed great emphasis on music.
Music, especially in the Baroque style,
was everywhere, and many of England’s
most well-known composers, George Frideric
Handel, Henry Purcell, and Jeremiah Clark
among them, wrote and regularly performed
in this period. One talented young trumpet
player, John Shore, was feted by royalty and
commoner alike. As his star ascended, he was
named Sergeant Trumpeter to the English
; CLASSIC TUNE German-British composer George
Frideric Handel’s 18th-century tuning fork.
Crown, a lucrative position that allowed him
to collect license fees from nearly every
trumpet player in England.
dimensioning it, the wonderful thing about
a tuning fork is that it’s fairly simple to make.
By 1711, the multitalented Shore was a rich
man who had a bit of leisure time. He decided
to investigate alternatives to the pitch pipes
that musicians of the time relied on to tune
their instruments, which were often unreliable
due to changes in temperature and humidity,
especially in England’s ever-changing climate.
Given a small strip of aluminum or brass,
fabricating a fork to strike a particular tone
(Concert A, or 440Hz, the note that orchestras tune to, is particularly popular) can be
accomplished with a few tools and a little
Shore devised a new method for tuning
instruments that he called the tuning fork.
Impervious to weather, the metal fork provides the same clear, constant tone when
struck, in all conditions. When he was asked
to help tune an orchestra assembled for a
concert, Shore would often say, “I have not
about me a pitch pipe, but I have what will
do as well to tune by — a pitch fork.” He is
said to have laughed heartily at his pun.
Calculating the pitch of a tuning fork is a
function of its material composition and tine
dimensions. The formulae are available in
acoustical handbooks, but the equation gets
complicated in a hurry because it has some
higher-order terms and requires knowledge
of several material properties, including
the modulus of elasticity, density, and the
moment of inertia for the shape of the tines.
Although great care must be taken in
Here’s how to make a fork close to Concert
A that can be fine-tuned by listening to the
pitch and incrementally removing material
from the ends of the tines.
The Foundling Museum, London, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library
172 Make: makezine.com/29