There are two schools of thought when proceeding to build an
orchestrion. How do we want it to sound? We can proceed two ways:
1. Utilizing the materials, percussion, pipes, xylophones, and other
solo instruments available, we can build up as fine an instrument as
components we choose will allow us to have, or
2. We can copy the scheme of an original orchestrion.
When we intend to mimic an original, unless we have used many original
parts, including pipes, xylophone or bells, the piano itself (because
they have their own tone, for sure), and without question the
specialized trap instruments that are no longer available, and then
scavenge an original pump and coin box for those original little noises
that come only when you scavenge, there is just no way that you will
ever end up with an original sounding Seeburg, Coinola, or Peerless,
Another problem is special hardware, including many strange and tricky
castings, springs, and parts that allowed the original builders to fit
those original mechanisms into their original cases. Unless these are
carried through the design, it would be impossible to build certain
other parts to scale, like pipe chests and pumps, reservoirs and spool
frames. And it is the scale, placement, and venting as much as
anything else which determines the overall tone quality-- that original
In my dozens of recordings of original instruments, I can tell
immediately what I'm listening to simply by the sounds and scaling of
the instrument. Were I to decide to build an "original sounding"
instrument, say I chose the Wurlitzer D, (just pipes and piano) or even
just a simple style I. There is no way I could do that without a set
of original pipes or pipes that were dead ringers for the originals
(and where do we get those?), even the piano's individualistic sound
which was like no other, plus all the other little sound effects that
go along with it. It would instantly sound like a buildup when it
began to play. No contest.
The worst part is, I would be scouring the world's limited supply of
remaining rolls to stock it with. Those rolls really should go to the
collector who has a real D.
No amount of mechanical fakery will ever create an exact replica,
tone-wise, of most of these instruments. There is just too much going
on to do it, unless you build an exact, authentic-sounding replica, and
then you will have to begin with the original piano plate and case
design. After all, the case, plate, and bridges have everything to do
with the sound of the basic instrument. So you are left with your only
option -- finding original orchestrion parts and building up your own
orchestrion from these much-needed parts.
In the Orchestrion Builder's Manual, pp. 20, 25, and 150, are
illustrations donated by Art Reblitz showing several views of one of
his own buildups. I believe these are all representative of his
opinion concerning authentic sounding buildups.
You will also notice that Art makes no pretense to "copy" an original
orchestrion. He has several orchestrion buildups to his credit, even
one with an outboard xylophone, and as a good example, did not use (to
my knowledge) original orchestrion parts, although I believe he did use
a reproducing piano pump, painted with a red and white spiral to add
interest. But suction boxes and blower boxes still work quite nicely,
and can be quieted down, given the right motor (say a 220 v. motor run
on 120v.) and a good muffler system.
I believe that most professional rebuilders agree that unless they
decide to tool up and build an authentic orchestrion reproduction,
sufficiently duplicating the original, that we are kidding ourselves to
imagine that our buildup will sound just like the original instrument
we are trying to copy. It cannot possibly!
Trust the roll, and build an instrument that will play the music well,
and you will have an orchestrion that anybody would be proud to own.
The better the instrumentation, the better the overall instrument. The
better the regulation, the better the evenness of playing and
expression content. Don't fear to trust your own instincts, and don't
limit yourself or criticize yourself that it doesn't quite sound like
that Wurlitzer DX you loved. It can sound as good-- or better, but it
will NEVER duplicate the original sound. I promise.