Harry Drake.

The pneumatic player, the regulation and repair of some modern types online

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The Pneumatic Player.



Pneumatic Player

The Regulation and Repair
of some Modern Types

By Harry Drake

London: "Musical Opinion" Office
Chichester Chambers, Chancery Lane, VV.C 2.

M L I o S I



TN the follozviiig chapters on player-piano actions^
-^ tJieir regulation and repair^ I do not intend to nse
the language of science^ and this for two reasons. The
first is that perhaps a feiv of my readers might not
understand that lingo ; and the second reason is that
I do not jnyself Fascinating as it might be to explain
that every pneumatic, when at rest, contains billions of
atmospJieric molecules, and that each pfieiimatic is sur-
rounded by an equal number of billions, zvhich latter
turn ivith the utmost fiery and slam to the pneumatic
whefi their fellozvs in the interior are reduced in num-
ber by suction. Yet to a majority of tuners a knoiv-
ledge of such facts is quite unnecessary. It is enough
for one to observe the ivork, and to knoiv just Jiow to
regulate and maintain the movements of each part.

It is very possible that I may tread some old fami-
liar paths ; but I am sure I need not apologise for
this, as to ma?iy the ground must be 7ieiv, — or perhaps
lutth a fezu of the more experienced I may have the
good fortJine to share my enthusiasm for some of the
more intricate devices and the decided improvement of

the player-piano in general.




The Triumph-Auto ...

.. page 7

The Higel


The Pianola


The Stradola


The Angelus


The Kastonome


The Pistonola


The Malcolm


Tracking Devices ...


General Defects ...



The Triumph'zAuto.

THE Triumph - Auto is one of the most
popular and well-known instruments. In
the full compass instrument, we find that
the control consists of the loud pedal lever,
soft bass button, soft treble button, triumphodist
switch, silent lever, ritard and accelerando lever,
tempo lever, and re-roll lever. In the spool box,
on the left hand side, is a metal lever, opening or
closing the automatic damper lift. At each end
of the tracker bar are the two overlapping holes
or ducts which operate the pneumatic tracker
shifter. As I propose later to deal specially with
tracker shifting devices, here and now I content
myself with the remark that when tracing these
holes we find that the four tubes lead us to a
double pneumatic and chest on the left of the
spool box, and that it is necessary to unscrew the
cap held by three or four screws where these tubes
enter the chest. Clear the dust from the sieves
beneath, at the same time blowing the dust from
the tracker bar out of the tubes each time the
instrument is tuned. (I may mention, in passing,
that dust should always be blown from the tracker
bar when air channels are enclosed, the reason
being obvious, — i.e., to clear from a smaller
entrance to a larger exit. Blowing towards the


The Triumphodist.

tracker bar is liable to pack the dust or fibrous
matter in the small ducts.)

The two narrow ducts are for accenting bass
and treble. The large square duct at bass end is
the automatic damper. The primary valves are
easily accessible after removing the "step," held
in place by about thirty-eight screws. The
secondary valves are immediately beneath and
their pouch board is about five inches wide
held by about twenty- eight screws. The loud
lever is purely mechanical and lifts the damper
rod by wires and levers. The soft bass and
treble buttons admit air, when pressed, to
pouches in two small chests at bass and
treble sides of the piano. These operate valves
and collapse two pneumatics, which lift the ham-
mers to the half blow. The whole mechanism is



v.^ e

Cap of Triumphodist Expression Box
(Dotted lines indicate concealed air channels)

'Con^;enient and easily adjusted. The only move-
ment which perhaps calls for a little extra thought
is the triumphodist It is operated in the follow-
ing manner and is the subject of my sketch.

When the triumphodist switch is pushed to the
" on " position, the tubes A are closed and the
primary valves (B) are at rest, admitting air to
the secondary pouches (C). This raises both
accenting valves (D), and the whole power of the
pedalling passes through the governing pneumatic
(E). This governor is held open by a spring, which
of course is far less powerful than the reservoir
springs. As the marginal holes on the roll, when


solo is indicated, admit a pulse of air down the
tracker tubes (F), the primary valves are instantly
lifted, bringing the secondary pouches under
vacuum. The valves (D) are drawn down and
open the full power of wind from either the bass
or treble section of the valve chest. This empha-
sizes any note or notes that are passing over the
tracker bar at the time. It is practically instan-
taneous in action. The switch at the " off " posi-
tion admits air through the tubes (A) and the
primary valves are raised, opening thereby the
normal exhaust from bass and treble. The silent
lever operates the slide shown in my sketch, shut-
ting off all wind from the main exhaust.

The ritard-accelerando lever shuts off wind
from the motor in one direction and opens an
auxiliary port, increasing speed, in the other. The
slide is found on the upper part of the motor
governor, on the right of the bellows set. Beneath
the governor is the tempo slide or re-roll. The
re-roll opens rapid wind from the motor and at
the same time shuts off the main exhaust (shown
in the sketch).

In strengthening or weakening the motor
spring, always remember the old standard : 7ft.
of roll per minute with the tempo indicator at 70.

The automatic sustaining lever lifts the damper
rod by means of a powerful pneumatic, operated
by special perforations at the bass margin of the
roll. A simple primary and secondary valve con-
trol the large pneumatic, which usually contains a
*' scissor" valve or similar contrivance to prevent

In overhauling and repairing this instrument,
it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that the
pneumatics, though powerful enough for their
work, are small ; therefore, the secondary valves
require very little movement, — much less than the


heavier pneumatics of ten or fifteen years ago.
When one has regulated the valve to a movement
of gV of an inch, the clothed wooden button should
just clear a ruler placed across the edges of the
valve chest. To gain complete access to the
primary pouches, it is necessary to take out the
action and unscrew the channel board at the back
into which the leaden tubes pass. Unscrew the
front step and take out the vertical screws at each
end of the spool board and lift the upper action
clear of the primary chest. Now unscrew the
blocks on the upper portion of the chest and take
out six or eight screws holding the valve board to
the pouch board. It will now come apart and all
the primar}^ valves and pouches are exposed.

If the player has been in a damp place, the
valves being so swollen that they have little
movement, sift French chalk beneath the lower
valve cap, twisting and pressing the valve against
its upper seat until sufficient movement is ob-
tained,-^say sVth of an inch.

In tuning this instrument, if a crank be used, it
Avill be unnecessary to take out the action ; indeed,
it is not advisable to be constantly withdrawing
the screws which connect it with the wind trunks.
However, if the tuner has no crank handy, he will
have to slip off the four small tubes at the bass
end of the action and the motor tube at the treble
end. Disconnect the two buttons on the tempo
and re-roll wires. Unscrew the spool box rod to
wrest plank and withdraw the large round-headed
screws, two at each end of the pouch board. Lift
forward and out.


The Higel Action.

MANY well known makes of pianos are
to be found in which the Higel player
action is installed. It may be recog-
nised at first glance by its ebony and
silver appearance. The player w^ork is invariably
black, polished, w^ith the plated metal standing
out in pleasant relief. The Higel player also pre-
sents other features w^hich stamp its identity at
once: the row of vertical metal tubes, for in-
stance, situated immediately beneath the spool
box and marked (F) in the accompanying sketch.
These tubes are held in place by three screws, the
upper gripping a slot, and the tw^o smaller screws
holding the low^er end to the manual pneumatic.
By loosening the upper and withdrawing the lower
screws, w^e can slide the tube down and out.
Beneath the lower flange are two air channels :
the lower is the channel from tracker bar to
pouch, and the higher is the bleed hole. This is
where trouble most frequently occurs. Dust and
paper fibre accumulate in time, affecting the rapid
deflation of the pouch. But here we have a de-
tachable tube which, when removed, gives us im-
mediate access to the bleed hole, and thereby
does aw^ay with the necessity of unscrew'ing pouch
boards covering the whole valve action. This is



a great advantage, for in the majority of cases it
is the bleed hole, and nothing but the bleed hole,
that is responsible for the crimes of a player


Higel Valve and Pneumatic.

(A) Metal exhaust chamber. (B) Pouch. (C) Valve.

(D) Pneumatic. (E) Bleed hole. (F) Detachable

metal tube. (G) Upper valve seat.

The pneumatics of the Higel player are detach-
able, and are each held in position by four
screws to a metal air chest (A, see sketch). This
pneumatic block is composed of light metal, and
when detached can be taken to pieces by with-
drawing the few screws attaching the metal plate
to the wooden pneumatic. One of the advantages
of the detachable pneumatic is that, should a


central note defy all the tuner's or mechanic's
efforts to correct its behaviour, it can be replaced
by one from the extreme treble or bass pro tempore,
and taken to the factory for repair. I do not ad-
vocate this course, however, for I am decidedly of
opinion that all small repairs should be done on
the spot, and the necessary materials — glue, pouch
leather, rubber tubing, &c. — be carried in case of

We will now turn to the pneumatics, and also
to tune, if we fail with the crank. Slip off the
small tubes at the bass and treble ends of the
action, marking them in some way for easy identi-
fication in case of doubt when replacing. Dis-
connect the spool box rod and the two round
headed screws (one found at each end) that con-
nect the metal standards to the air trunks at the
key bed. Disconnect the re-roll and tempo rods,
and pull the action forward first, and then out. It
will then be seen how necessary it is to pull for-
ward before attempting to lift. Two arms of
metal, sometimes accompanied by a tightening
screw, hold down the metal standards at the back.

The pneumatics are now accessible and can be
detached, where desired, with a spindle screw-

Little trouble need ever be experienced with
the^e players, though one case may be worth men-
tioning as typical of a complaint to which all
players are liable. The instrument in question
had been for some months in a very damp place,
and the valves (which, similar to those in the
sketch, were of the single type) had in consequence
swollen so much that their movement was insuffi-
cient to exhaust rapidly the pneumatics. These
valve discs are not threaded on a stem, but are
held in place by a metal collar which is a fixture.
Between this collar and the valve discs are thin


fibre washers, and by reducing their number I was
able to increase the movement and finish the job
satisfactorily. Very little movement is required,
as the pneumatic is a small one.

The valve can be taken out of its chamber after
unscrewing the metal seat (G). If, for purposes of
cleaning and renovation, it is desired to take
down the player entirely, one must be sure to
loosen, or perhaps withdraw, all the metal tubes
(F). This, of course, does not refer to the tracker
tubes. After unscrewing the spool box board and
lifting clear, it is a simple matter to disconnect the
metal air chests, when the two rows of pneumatics
are at your service.

The control of the Higel player consists of a
loud-pedal lever, soft-bass button, soft-treble but-
ton, soft lever, tempo lever, silencing button, and
the play and re-roll, the last mentioned being situ-
ated in the spool box. There are also the auto-
sustaining switch and the solodant.

The loud lever operates mechanically on the
damper lift, but is also controlled pneumatically
by the roll, an auto-sustaining switch in the spool
box being responsible.

The two soft buttons admit air to primary and
secondary valves, thereby reducing the wind
power to a low tension.

The soft or piajio lever lifts the hammers to the

The usual tempo slide.

Pneumatic silencing button.

The Higel expression box differs from that pre-
viously mentioned in that it is necessary to
depress the soft buttons during the passage in
which "solo" is indicated, for the reason that the
air power is normal even when the solodant


switch is at the "on" position. When the soft
buttons are pressed, however, the power has to
pass through low tension governors, and the
marginal perforations on the roll immediately
open large valves to the normal wind.

All these valves and governors are found be-
neath the key bed and are accessible after remov-
ing the cap, or caps, of the expression box. In
some models there are two boxes, while in others
only one ; but they can be recognised easily by
the tubes leading to them. Seldom do they need
any attention: the cleaning of the bleed holes
being the operation most frequently required.

An obstructed bleed hole means slow response :
so it is advisable occasionally to clear them with
a piece of fine wire. As these expression boxes
vary somewhat in construction, if not in purpose, I
recommend the learner to unscrew the cap and
trace the six tubes to their destination. The prim-
ary valves inflate or deflate the large secondaries
by tubes or concealed air channels.

Should a player be inclined to speak when re-
rolling, and the re-roll is pneumatically operated,
it will be necessary to ensure that all the tubes are
perfectly airtight, that the pouches are in a sound
condition, that the valves have sufficient move-
ment, and that no particles of grit or foreign mat-
ter have lodged between the large valve and its
port. If the re-roll is mechanical, however, and
cuts off wind by a slide, see that the slide is not
warped, and that it quite covers its port, when the
lever is pushed well over. Occasionally these
slides need papering down on a flat surface, such
as a sheet of thick glass or metal ; and, if they are
then blackleaded and burnished, their movement
is considerably improved.

The bellows set is easily withdrawn should it
be necessary to repair. I should point out how


vital it is that the bellows should be as tight as a
drum. They are the heart and lungs of the player,
and the slightest leak impairs the striking power
of the pneumatics considerably. Many of us know
that the honeyed phrases and seductive tones of
the sergeant-major's voice are due to the excel-
lence of his lungs. Let us bear this in mind, then,
when dealing with an instrument that is also
surely worthy of a " crown."



T*he Pianola.

EVEN now, when piano players have estab-
hshed their footing in these happy isles for
years, it is not uncommon to hear the re-
mark : "Oh, a friend of mine has just pur-
chased a pianola," — when all the time the instru-
ment bought was of another make than that indi-
cated. To the lay mind, all players are pianolas,
which is, perhaps, a doubtful compliment to an
instrument of such high and worthy reputation.

Of course, I hold no brief for any make of
player, my sole endeavour being to throw a little
light on places that may appear dark to the minds
of some of my fellow tuners. But the Pianola can
always be recognised by the excellence and finish
of its workmanship, — be it in the lever work, the
motor, the valves or their uplifting pouches.

The model most frequentl}^ met with has the
valves situated beneath the key bed, and metal
tubes passing through the keys connect the rubber
tracker tubes to the primary pouches. These rub-
ber tubes enable the spool box and upper action to
be drawn forward after one has released the large
screws at each end of the piano, disconnected the
metal stays attaching motor and spool box to the
wrest plank and slipped off the motor tube. The
piano action can now, if desired, be taken out.


When tuning, if a crank be used, it is unnecessary
to move the player action.

The motor has three double unit pneumatics,
with three slides controlling the six powers. The
face and slides overhang slightly to obviate any
dust settling beneath the slides. The themodist
puppet boxes (if two are employed, for they are
occasionally combined) are placed at each end of
the spool board. In my sketch (Fig. I.) I have had,
of course, to condense the scale considerably, so I
must ask my readers to attach no importance to
the measurements.

Beneath the key bed is the valve chest, at the
top of which is a wooden strip held by many
screws. By removing this, we disclose the bleed
holes, and it is here that attention is needed when
the repetition of the pneumatics is faulty. They
should be cleared now and again with a fine wire
and the dust blown from tubes and tracker bar.
Should it be necessary to attend to the valves and
pouches, they are all accessible when the tube
blocks beneath the bleed hole board are unscrewed.
These blocks are usually in three sections ; and it
is not always advisable to detach the tubes, as dis-
connections made too often loosen them to a
dangerous degree. Simply unscrew the tube blocks
and pull them forward. The pouches and valves
are arranged in three tiers of single rank, and are
therefore quite accessible. The primaries are found
just beneath the bleed holes.

Beneath the valve chest is the bellows set ; and,
if we wish to get the bellows out for repairing pur-
poses or to replace a string, we must turn the piano
on its side and unscrew the floor. The bellows
must then be unscrewed from the back frame, the
control and motor tube together with the themo-
dist tubes slipped off and the bellows drawn down-
wards. There are generally two reservoirs (one of



Fig. I. The Themodist in action, one note


greater tension than the other) for crescendo
effects. On the left of the set are two governors,
one for the motor and the other for soft or low
tension. For the novice to identify each, he should
set a roll in motion and while pedalling press
either of these governors firmly ; the motor will
stop instantly when its governor is pressed. To
test the low tension, push both soft levers to the
"on" position and with the other hand press the
governor, when the piano should be silent, though
the roll be still passing over the tracker. Inside
this governor is a scissor valve connected at one
end to the pneumatic and at the other end to an
armed rod, which is operated by both soft levers.
This rod pushes in the scissor valve at its lower
end, cutting off heavy wind. The pneumatic now
controls the power, cutting down the exhaust to
the strength of its spiral spring, which can be
strengthened or otherwise by turning its milled
nut to the right or left. The speed of the motor
can be adjusted by treating its governor spring in
the same manner.

Screwed to the bottom of the valve chest is a
small board, to which run two rubber tubes and a
large exhaust tube. This board contains the
themodist accenting valves, marked (G) in Fig. I.
Unscrew it and you will see these valves and their
pouches. They cover two ports, which when open
call the full force of the powerful reservoir into

The action of the themodist is as follows.
When we have moved the themodist switch to the
"on" position, the cut-off pouch (A) is drawn by
the exhaust clear of the air channels (B), which
are now ready for action. We push the two soft
levers to the "on" position, which closes two small
pallets beneath the keys (C). These pallets shut-
ting off open air, the pouch (D) is deflated by the


bleed hole (E) and the valve (F) comes to rest.
Open air rushing down over the top of (F) inflates
the large pouch (G) and closes the port (H). All
this takes a fraction of a second.

Now the roll comes in. A marginal perforation
(K) admits air down the tube through B and lifts
D. The valve (F) is raised and G is instantly de-
flated, opening H to heavy wind (as in my sketch).
The marginal holes being cut an atom before the
note they accent, the melody is picked out very

When the themodist is switched off, open air is
admitted through the switch block to the pouch
(A), which is drawn against the channels (B) by
the bleed hole (E), and the valves (F and G) are
only operated by the two soft levers. When these
levers are not in use, they hold the pallets (C) open,
so that under normal wind power the valve (F) is
raised and G is lowered.

In the full compass Pianola there is the auto-
matic sustainer, which is operated in a similar
manner to that mentioned in the description of
the Triumph-Auto action.

The tracker shifting device is often found to
operate by means of the roll's edges, which open a
delicately sprung lever or minute pallet. Should
the spindle spring push the roll too far to the right,
the pallet on that side is opened, air rushing into
one of two pneumatics, destroying its vacuum.
Having matters its ow^n way, the other pneumatic
closes and pushes the roll to the left. Should the
roll be pushed too far, the left hand pallet comes
into play and pushes it back again ; so these inter-
esting little fellows take every care to keep the roll
strictly to the path of harmonious virtue !



The Pianola Grand can be tuned without re-
moving any of the player action ; but should the
piano action give trouble, it is imperative that one
should have some' knowledge of the player
mechanism. I

The action is divided into two sections, — the
upper (comprising the motor, spool box, primary
valves and tubes) being above the key bed, and the
lower (consisting of secondaries, pneumatics, gov-
ernors and bellows set) being found beneath the
piano. Fig. II. is a rough sketch of the latter sec-
tion, and may be useful for. identifying the govern-
ors and controls. Let us assume that we have a
broken .hammer shank to replace. To withdraw
the keyboard we must loosen and depress all the
control levers. Unscrew the secondary tube blocks
(6 and 7, Fig. II.) and the soft pedal block beneath
the key bed ; disconnect the motor and primary
chest tubes (not the tracker tubes), one at each end
of the upper action ; disconnect the tempo and re-
roll rods and unscrew the panel at the back of the
spool box from the iron frame. The keyboard,
primary chest and motor will now draw forward
together. See that the themodist box is clear
though, and take care that all the screws in the
tube blocks are withdrawn. The primary chest
can, if required, now be stripped, and the bleed
holes and tubes cleaned. For the benefit of the
uninitiated, I should explain that primary valves
admit air to their work and secondary valves shut
off the same.

To remove a key, unscrew two nuts from the
tracker box metal work. Disconnect from the
hammer rail ; the same with tubes, motor and
themodist puppet box, lifting off the primary chest
bodily. To remove the secondary valve chests, it



Fig. II. Lower Action of Pianola Grand.

1. Reservoir. 2. Low tension governor. 3. Automatic pedal
sustainer. 4. Motor governor. 5. Secondary valve chest and
levers. 6. Treble tube block. 7. Bass tube block. 8 Re-roll tube.
9. Low tension tubes. 10. Themodist tubes. 11. Tempo lever.
12. Main exhaust tubes.

is advisable to have the grand placed on its edge.

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Online LibraryHarry DrakeThe pneumatic player, the regulation and repair of some modern types → online text (page 1 of 5)