Nov 17, 2009:
Beltower support added.

Jan 1, 2010:
Controllers now available at lower prices.

Jan 4, 2010:
Beltower Version 11 released.

Jan 5, 2010:
Handbell Manager Version 1.2.1 released.

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“This is easily, by far, the best development to happen to handbell learning. Whilst a good tutor is invaluable in guiding one's learning experience, this gives every 'would be' learner and developer of handbell skills the ability to expand their skills at any time, anywhere, and in an accelerated timescale. It could easily lead to an explosion in change ringing on handbells, and I think will.”

Richard Grimmett

Improving the Experience

Although the ActionXL wired motion controllers work very well with Abel or Beltower, some people may find that they are rather small and light, as they do not have the weight or feel of ringing real handbells. Below are the results of some experiments conducted by Richard Johnston and Simon Humphrey to make these controllers into more realistic dummy handbells. If you have ideas for improvements, please send them to us, and we will include them on this page.

The ActionXL "FriiHand" wireless controllers on the other hand are larger and heavier. Although the balance of weight is not like a real handbell, it is a closer match, so modification is less likely to be considered necessary or easy to achieve.

The lack of weight of the ActionXL wired controllers means the ringer needs good fine control of his or her arm muscles, which some people find difficult. There is no handbell weight to provide the inertia that creates a physical sense of rhythm. The balance is wrong too - real handbells project beyond the ringers hands and this too helps create the feeling of weight. Finally, there is no physical feedback from the sensors to the hands as the clapper hits the bell.

Just adding a one ounce weight to the sensor and holding the sensor a bit nearer to the wire makes a surprising improvement to the balance. In figure 1, a piece of lead solder was taped to the sensor, and the unit held as shown.

Figure 1

Figure 1 - Adding weight

A design by Simon Humphrey using a piece of wood as an extended handle (Figure 2) provides greater realism and ease of use.

Figure 2

Figure 2 - A weighted handle

Neither design provides the clunk into the hand as the clapper hits the bell, which some people find useful for their striking. Could a dummy clapper be added without adversely affecting the operation of the sensor? The dummy handbell (Figure 3) was hastily and inelegantly constructed, which proved that clapper feel could be created without causing sensor problems. But this design was difficult to make. Something simpler was needed.

Figure 3

Figure 3 - A dummy clapper assembly

The impact feel was produced much more simply by developing Simon Humphrey's design (The side view is Figure 4). The handle is a rectagular piece of 9mm (3/8") plywood, about 25mm (1") wide and 200mm (8") long. Two holes were drilled close to one end to take bolts of about 9mm (3/8") diameter. In the end one was placed a steel bolt of total length about 80mm (3"), with a long unthreaded shank. On this bolt is a leather washer, then a weight (a bronze bush was used in the photo but an oversize nut will do, provided the threads do not catch on the bolt) which emulates the clapper, another leather washer, then nuts on each side of the handle, which are tightened up. The second bolt is provided to provide extra weight representing the bell and balances the assembly on the handle. None of the dimensions are critical, so this can be made from oddments of scrap. The sensor is taped to the handle. A slot could be cut in the user end of the handle to hold the sensor wire, or the wire simply taped to the handle for greater security.

Figure 4

Figure 4 - Adjustable design

Adjustments: The length of the bolt on which the clapper weight slides affects how soon the "clapper" hits after the dummy handbell is rung. A shorter bolt results in the "clapper" hitting earlier in the swing, a longer one later, so it is possible to adjust the strike. Odd struckness can be addressed by adjusting the other bolt nearer to balance or further out. The weight of the clapper weight affects how much clapper response is provided - more weight and longer travel produces a greater impulse. The leather washers reduce the rattle sound made by the weight when it hits the ends to an acceptable level, and also make the impulse felt more realistic. The overall balance of the bell is achieved by moving the sensor up and down the handle until the balance feels right.

This dummy handbell shown in Figure 4 gives a satisfactory thud in time with the Abel's bell sound and Handbell Manager's standard calibration settings, and has been tested as a reasonable approximation to the weight and dynamic feel of a 14D handbell.

Of course, one other option is to attach the controller to an old handbell with its clapper leathers or assembly removed. If you have any other ideas, please let us know. You can send an email by clicking on the name in the footer.