Re: Questions about Music Box Restoration
By Larry Smith
|> Author: Robert Van Sickle <bob1@IX.NETCOM.COM> at CCGTWINT|
> Date: 11/2/95 7:17 PM
> I am re-working an eight tune, drum style music box for a lady. The
> problem is that 75% of the 4300 pin actuators are bent over or broke ...
> The inside of the drum was coated with
> aprox. 1/4 inch of something, to firm up around the pins to keep them
> from rocking loose. Does any body know what this goop was?
Oboy. This is every music-box restorers worst nightmare. Larry Karp would be glad to know it's "only" a drum box. :-\
First, Robert, _please_ do not take any of the following personally. I don't know you, and don't presume to know the whole of your personal experience, but as the price of answering your questions, I'm going to do a bit of editorializing. It applies generically to _anyone_ contem- plating restoring a music box.
Music boxes bear a lot of passing resemblances to clocks, and I know a lot of people who find them lying around and want to get them restored will take them to horologists because they have them around locally and music-box restores require more than a little footwork to find. But music boxes have some very, _very_ different problems than do clocks, and I've seen music boxes all but ruined by some very good clockmakers trying to fix them. You really need to know what you are doing, and it's _especially_ hard for clockmakers, because their expertise with such similar mechanical equipment gives them the illusion that they _do_ know what they are doing. But it _is_ an illusion.
The best advice I can give anyone who hasn't restored a music box before is - _don't_. You can, very easily, take a box to the point where it can no longer _be_ restored. Larry Karp, in his book "The Enchanted Ear", describes an admittedly extreme example of such, but he makes the case for a variety of problems that a music box restorer _will_ face that a clock restorer, no matter _how_ experienced, will never have seen before.
If you really want to restore music boxes, the best thing to do is to do what _I_ am doing, and take Nancy Fratti's music box restoration course, which is given every two years. The next series is coming up in the spring of '95 and is filling rapidly, if it isn't full already. It is one full week of training in diagnosing problems in music boxes and it concentrates on the repairs - mostly, in fact, the repairs that will be most foreign to clockmakers, it will be an _excellent_ way to get an over- view of the pitfalls without sacrificing a nice box. The course lasts one week and costs $1300. I'll give the address below.
One thing the beginner course at least _doesn't_ cover is repinning cylinders. What you have there is a cylinder that has suffered a "run", which means at some point, someone disconnected the governor (this is a classic example of what happens when an inexperienced person tries to work on a music box) and allowed the full power of the spring motor to spin the cylinder to high speed. If the play/repeat lever is set to "play" the net result is to mung nearly every pin on the cylinder.
Experienced music box repairers don't like to repin cylinders. They are a tedious pain in the neck, and they have a _lot_ of "gotchas" when doing it. The first one is _don't_pull_the_pins_out_, that will deform the cylinder, and may cause the hole to widen such that the replacement pin cannot be set to the proper tilt. If the cylinder is thin walled - very common, especially in drum boxes, the resultant "pucker" effect may make it useless to even try to repin.
The "goop" is cement - generically so-called - recipes for it vary wildly across the spectrum. The cylinder needs to be heated - while being spun - and the cement drained off and saved to be replaced in the cylinder later. The emptied cylinder is then soaked in acid (I don't recall what kind) to loosen the pins for removal. It then need to be cleaned, placed in a lathe, and the pins carefully replaced with the same grade of steel, then each one raked to the correct angle - which varies, but is usually around 7 degrees, then the cylinder must be retracked, where pins at tilted left or right to insure each on is in the correct track - these holes were all drilled by hand, sometimes you will find a hole where a pin might be right between two tracks and could represent a note in either. It needs to be bent to one track or the other, so it won't play in the wrong one. Lastly, most cylinders have extra holes where a hole was put in accidentally, and these are often not marked. Once all of the above is dealt with, the cylinder must be spin and the goop pouring back inside, where it can slowly cool back into place in an even layer. The goop keeps the box from sounding "tinny" or buzzy by reducing the vibrations in the cylinder. You can see that repinning a cylinder is tedious, error-prone, and represents a com- plete subspecialty in music box restoration.
There are many other things that may need to be fixed that are very non-trivial. You don't mention the type of box, piano-forte or sublime harmony, or whatever. If it has broken teeth, this will be crucial to tuning the replacements. Even if the teeth are all there, repinning the cylinder means they will need to be rehoned, perhaps retipped, and will almost certainly need to be redampered. These are all very specialized things that clocks just don't ever need. The course will cover these.
If you take my advice, you will send that box to Nancy or to the Musical Wonder House in Maine and let a professional restore it. If you take _some_ of my advice, you will pull the cylinder and send it to Nancy and have her repinning experts handle the job for you. Nancy usually does not do partial jobs, but she will handle cylinder repinning because it is so often the most screwed up part of an amateur job. Nancy also stocks repair and replacement parts for music box restoration, and you _will_ need her catalog before proceeding no matter how you want to do so.
Nancy Fratti can be reached at:
POB 210 Whitehall, NY 12887-0210
For full restorations, Nancy is now running a two-year backlog. You will find the Musical Wonder House in Maine, run by Danilo Konvalinka, has much faster turnaround, but they _are_ much more expensive. But the do really nice restorations - the MWH is a music box museum, and it's the same department.
Danilo Konvalinka can be reached at:
The Musical Wonder House
POB 604 - #18 High St.
Wiscasset, Maine, 04578
In both cases, mention me and "the net" to them, I'm trying to help convince them to get on-line.
I would strongly urge you to take the restoration course. As you can tell from Nancy's backlog, there aren't enough folks doing it, but as you can tell from Danilo's prices, there are enough that need it that it is worthwhile to take this opportunity to get good at it and do a real job on it.
(Message sent Mon 13 Nov 1995, 18:01:43 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)