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Grace Note Chimes: Inside a Small Manufacturing Business

Rochelle's journalism experience in college led her into writing feature stories and human interest articles for several newspapers.

Shopping for Grace Note Chimes at their factory sale.

Shopping for Grace Note Chimes at their factory sale.

A Noteworthy Business

A business of some note—or actually several notes in the key of C—operates at full speed to turn out hundreds of sets of musically tuned wind chimes each month at the Grace Note Chimes factory in the Bootjack region of Mariposa County, California.

From the open door of the production area, a deafening roar of heavy machinery emerges as metal tubes are cut, polished and drilled.


A Pipe Dream?

At first glance you might think that this operation has something to do with plumbing.

Racks and stacks of thousands of silvery pipes in various lengths and diameter are sorted into carrels and categorized by notes of the musical scale.

Orchestrated by machine operators wearing ear protection, a squall of saws, and the strident whining of drills combine in a discordant cacophony, as 20-foot sections of extruded aluminum are transformed into polished musical "notes."

"We know what lengths to cut for each particular note," shouts operations manager John Samples over the unmusical din. "Variations in the density of the material can affect the tuning, but each piece is cut close to the final length."

Perfect Pitch

Finishing operations smooth the cut surfaces and remove a fraction of an inch more material from each end of each pipe as it is checked against an electronic piano tuner for its final tone

"Once we get our setting, we check about every 15th piece to make sure we are maintaining the correct tuning," Samples says.

Each precisely machined cylinder will emerge from this place of acoustic chaos as part of a tuned instrument whose calming melodies are played by the gentlest breeze.


Words for the Music

In fact, the clamor that marks the start of the process is in stark contrast to the musicality of the finished products, which range from the melodious jingle of the petite "Treasure of Heaven" to the sonorous and euphonic tones of the six-foot "Earthsong," whose mellow sounds evoke images of giant bells tolling in the misty distance.

Other models are named "Himalayan Echo," "Sunrise Serenade," and "Island Melody."

"My wife and I named them one night, " says co-owner Jeff Kile, "It was really her idea. I thought it was fine just to call them A minor, or whatever chord, but people seem to like the names," he admits.

Many of the letters received from customers are from musicians who appreciate not only the names, but also the precise intonation of Grace Note Chimes. Some customers go so far as to say that they find the atonality and "noise" of other chimes annoying.

It's no surprise that Kile, the originator of Grace Note Chimes, is himself a musician who understands the physics of sound. Instead of attaching the suspending string to a hole cut in the upper end of the hollow tube, as is commonly done in other wind chimes, an aluminum pin inserted inside each tube at the point of least vibration provides the suspension point.

This innovation gives each note a clearer, more sustained resonance.

Hear the Chimes

The Inspiration Goes Forward

Armed with inspiration and a sample he made by hand in 1982, Kile convinced his brother, Mike Kile, to invest his $300 tax refund and join him in producing wind chimes in their parents' barn in California's Hunter Valley region. They took their products to craft fairs and festivals, personally marketing their melodious creations one by one.

After a short time they developed a loyal customer base, outgrew the barn, and moved to their present spacious facility. Today most of their business is wholesale, selling to dealers who supply nurseries and garden suppliers. Their busiest season is spring, according to Samples, when buyers are supplying the garden centers.


"A Good Place to Work"

Production worker Eddie Lemire emerges from the fabrication area for a break. "I've seen a few people come and go during the five years I've worked here, but good workers stay a long time. It's a good place to work," he says.

After the tubes or "notes" are finished, they are taken in sets of six to the assembly area where each chime is put together by hand. Workers cut white dacron cords to length, seal the ends of each, and tie the knots, which assembler Audre Reed compares to a "a secret handshake."

"No one but us knows how to do this," Reed says with a smile, "and you can't make us reveal the secret."

Kile, standing nearby, takes a length of the braided cord and deftly loops it around his finger. "It's just a Boy Scout slipknot," he counters. "See—pulling down on it only makes it tighter."

The Knot Trick

Reed knows the knot trick well after 12 years of employment with the company. She and the others in this department seem to work with a harmony and rhythm appropriate to the products they put together.

The slender sturdy cords attach each brushed aluminum tube to an aluminum ring which places them in an equally spaced circular arrangement. The notes are set at varying levels, allowing the striker, a softly rounded redwood disk, to contact each tube at its center where it radiates the purest tone.

A flat " wind paddle" trails below the disk, catching breezes and sending the striker toward one note or another in varied succession while creating an endless musical composition.

At the top, all of the cords are brought together on a chrome-plated brass ring, ready for hanging.

Individual Assembly

Each set of chimes is fashioned by an individual assembler. Francille Jouett finished a set she was working on by putting her personal initials on the informational tag, as all assemblers do, before the chimes are packed into custom designed cartons.

"All of the notes are tuned in relation to middle C, " Samples explains, "If you have two or three sets of chimes in your yard, their sounds will all work together. In fact, some people have as may as seven or eight sets, set up in various places."

In one of the many rooms of the complex, Travis Baars glances at his computer screens and checks the fax for incoming internet orders. A display of custom-etched wind paddles on the walls show some of the made-to-order work the company does to personalize special requests.

Packaged chimes on the warehouse floor, headed for Germany.

Packaged chimes on the warehouse floor, headed for Germany.

Personalized Paddles

Each chime has an engraved aluminum wind paddle, which indicates the chord and notes of the set. Special designs, reflecting business logos, graphics, or personalized inscriptions to commemorate birthdays, weddings, or other specific events can be ordered.

Baars will even create a special motif for a client. "Generally, after they give me an idea, I will create the design and send it back for their approval." Often, he says with a satisfied grin, the customer gets back to him with a response of "That's perfect!"

"In the early days, Jeff and his brother scratched the letters into the paddles by hand with an awl," says Baars. In contrast, today's method is automated. A diamond-tipped engraver transfers the computer-created design and graphics onto eight aluminum plates at a time.

From a Tiny Town to a World Full of Customers

Currently the factory in Bootjack, with more than a dozen employees from the local area, ships Grace Note Chimes all over the world.

Wholesalers buy most of their output, selling them to nurseries and garden shops all over the United States as well as to England, Canada and Guam, among other places. Through sales on their website, the musical tones of their chimes can literally be heard around the world, constantly creating new melodies according to the rhythm and inclination of the wind.

The UPS truck comes daily, and is often totally filled with outgoing sets of chimes.
"We get a lot of individual orders from Germany," says Samples. A giant custom model with three-inch diameter tubes and an overall length of over six feet hangs by itself in one part of the shipping area.

"We get orders for about two dozen of these extra large custom sets a year." He explains that giant models like this cost over $1000. "You can see that the notes are hung from thin stainless steel cables instead of strings. This one's going to Sweden. For some reason, Sweden seems to be a good market for these."

Twice a year, just before Mother's Day and near Thanksgiving, the factory opens its back room for special sales, which save the buyer 40% off the retail price. Local folks look for the sales to buy gifts for the holidays or other special occasions, or just to add to their own collections.

Proud new owners of a set of Grace Notes Chimes understand the company slogan: "Let the good chimes toll."


Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on October 05, 2019:

This is a fascinating article about 'classic' wind chimes. I really had no idea that there was this much complexity involved in producing the wonderful striking tones. Even the videos were calming and spiritually connecting. Thank you.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 31, 2018:

What a great promotional piece you wrote for this brand of a wind chime. I have always admired them but have never yet purchased any. The melodic sounds of these wind chimes in the videos were lovely to hear.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on September 15, 2017:

Glad to hear you are enjoying them. Visiting the factory was interesting. They are under new ownership now, but still maintaining their quality. I sometimes hear mine at night-- a gentle reminder that the wind is bringing a change in the weather.

Deborah Demander from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on September 15, 2017:

I am lucky enough to own a set of Grace Note chimes. The sound is beautiful, magical and enchanting. Thanks for a great article, about a wonderful company. I was pleased to learn so much about the company.


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 16, 2014:

It was written a long time ago. I understand the company has been sold, but it still retains the name and continues the same product line.

Mike on July 16, 2014:

This is out dated.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 10, 2013:

You are welcome, Vibrant Views. It is an interesting process.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on December 02, 2012:

Thank you, seanorjohn. It was an interesting experience to see the manufacturing process.

seanorjohn on November 30, 2012:

Very informative. I have always been fascinated by a neighbours windchimes but never really understood the mechanics of it. Really well explained. You are still in the teaching business. Voted up.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 30, 2012:

You're welcome-- thanks for commenting.

VibrantViews on June 27, 2012:

Neat, thanks for the demonstration!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 16, 2012:

Thank you, Lita-- I also like that chimes are a memory jogger for you.

When I hear my outdoor ones at night, I know the weather is changing.

Lita C. Malicdem from Philippines on May 16, 2012:

I love wind chimes. I hang one each atop my bedroom doors where my head touches them whenever I go in and out and I love the music each produces. I have a bigger one outside my house in front of my main door, too. It makes sound when the wind blows stronger, then I know I must check out my hanging laundry, or close windows. I enjoyed your hub for all the new information I learned about chimes manufacturing business. The more I appreciate those chimes.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on April 16, 2012:

Thank you, prasetio. I had never thought too much about wind

chimes until I heard these. I think musicians could be inspired by the simple melodies they create.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on April 16, 2012:

Wow...very informative hub. I love wind chimes. The sound of the wind chimes so relaxing. I really enjoy all videos above, including giant wind chimes. Thanks for share with us. Good job and rated up!


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 31, 2012:

Hellow, alocsin. They are a little pricey, but very durable. I've had a set for at least 10 years, and they look like they will last a long time. If you get some, you'll never want another kind.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 31, 2012:

Thanks, WillStarr. They are always best if you live in a quiet place, like the desert or foothills.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 30, 2012:

Wow, this sounds like a great place to get the chimes. I appreciate hearing them for myself. Voting this Up and Useful.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on March 30, 2012:

Wnat great sounds! We love wind chimes here in Arizona.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 20, 2012:

I live in a very quiet area of the woods. My chimes, in a protected corner, play beautiful tunes when there is a little wind. At night, when I hear their melody, I know there is a weather change coming through.

I don't miss the city noise-- but when visiting this factory, I was surprised at how noisy the manufacturing process was.

The soothing melodies of the finished product is the the opposite of the jarring noise from it's birthplace.

Woody Marx from Ontario, Canada on March 20, 2012:

Well-made wind chimes are always a lift to the life of the audio-atmosphere in which they are placed. I recall a lady who lived next door to us had a small chime in her kitchen window, and on quiet, summer nights I could hear them tinkling on the gentle breeze lulling me into dreamland. I never got tired of hearing them.

Right now in Guelph they are jack-hammering down the street and I was thinking, 'why can't they make a jack-hammer that sounds like a wind-chime?' Perhaps some inventor out there will get inspired....:)

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 13, 2012:

Thank you, Healthy Pursuits. I think anyone who has them will never want another kind. I appreciate your comment.

Karla Iverson from Oregon on March 13, 2012:

Thanks, Rochelle. I have two sets of these and have given them as gifts to people who love their yards and are difficult to buy for. They are well worth the money! After I bought my first Grace Note chime, I took most of my other wind chimes down, because they sounded terrible by comparison.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 12, 2012:

Interesting. I wonder why. Thanks for commenting, drbj.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 12, 2012:

Thank you, samadaslam. My research was not really extensive, but I did visit the factory and talk to the people who worked there.

Samad Aslam Khan on March 12, 2012:

I must say WOW for such a well researched hub about chime bells. I never even thought that I will ever read such a detailed information about chime bells. I used to love this chime bell but Now I don't. Well voted up for this great hub!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on March 12, 2012:

It's true, Rochelle, about the chimes being very popular in Sweden. I found, I mean heard, them everywhere I went in Stockholm and Gotenberg. Thanks for this informative hub.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 12, 2012:

I put a link in the first paragraph (after you suggested it) but the chimes can also be found on Amazon and eBay through the ad links.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 12, 2012:

Thanks Denise, they are the best ones I ever heard. (This is a hub.)

Glenn Frank from Southern California on March 12, 2012:

Great chimes. We have a set and we have sent them as gifts. Is the link to their website on this page? Looked for it and can't find it.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 12, 2012:

Small businesses that employ 10 or 12 people are really appreciated in rural communities. Thanks, DonnaCSmith.

DeniseClarke from Florida on March 12, 2012:

I love wind chimes. This is fun information. Thanks for the great lens!

T. R. Brown from Nashville, TN on March 12, 2012:

Interesting, there is a music recognition company called Grace Notes that did pretty well selling to Sony as well. They power a lot of the music recognition we are seeing in electronic devices like car stereos.

Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on March 12, 2012:

I love reading stories about folks starting a successful home-business into the big time. And I love wind-chimes. Good hub!