In response to a recent inquiry about the Aeolian-Hammond BA player
organ, I can answer some of the questions posed, having owned two of
these strange machines more than a few years ago.
These were built by Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company around l938, using
then standard Hammond BC electric tonewheel organs installed in special
B-series cabinets, with elevated upper cabinets to accommodate
Aeolian-Skinner's pneumatic player components. These came with Hammond
D-series tone cabinets to amplify the music generated by the 91
tonewheel main generators, plus separate chorus generators mounted
directly above the main generator.
Aeolian-Hammond Semi-Automatic "Duo-Art" Organ rolls were slightly
modified E.M. Skinner Semi-Automatic Pipe Organ rolls on different
spools. Measuring approximately 10 1/8" in paper width, Aeolian-
Hammond rolls had 12 bass notes which actuated a separate pneumatic
pedal contact assembly. The remaining 107 holes actuated small
pneumatics mounted on two-tier decks beneath the great (lower) and
swell (upper) manuals. Lock-and-cancel reverse-colored keys at the
left ends of each manual were used to set presets for varying
tone-colors called for by circled numbers printed on the roll.
Whether or not such an instrument is worth one's time and money is a
value judgment. Compared to today's extremely sophisticated keyboard
synthesizers, the Aeolian-Hammond Player Organ is definitely going to
suffer mightily. The Hammond Model BC organ is capable of generating
only flute tones, despite the Hammond Organ Company's advertising
claims of that era. The D series amplifier/speakers of that era are
tonally very limited as well. Obtaining vacuum tubes for those units
is quite difficult and costly, not to mention the travail of rebuilding
the amplifiers electronics.
From a musicological standpoint, all of the Aeolian-Skinner "Duo-Art"
Music Rolls for the Aeolian-Hammond Player Organ I've heard have been
drafting-table arrangements. Granted, some of these are quite
enjoyable, but unless one goes to the trouble (and expense) of
replacing the original Hammond D-series amplifier/speaker with a large
Leslie rotating-speakers unit, the music is unlikely to excite the
listener. Too, Aeolian-Hammond rolls are very rare. Finding E.M.
Skinner Semi-Automatic Pipe Organ rolls is quite difficult and even
then one has to respool them onto cut-down 88-note piano roll cores
to make them playable on the Aeolian-Hammond Player Organ.
Since the Hammond Organ Company is no longer around, replacement parts
for the l938 BC-series Hammond organ are probably hard to find, too.
Later series Hammond tonewheel organs used different drawbar
assemblies, different "match" transformers, different busbars,
different pre-amplifiers and so forth. Even when Hammond Organ Company
was still in business, their parts department seemed congenitally
unable to provide usable repair parts for l938 series BC 91-tonewheel
generators and manuals.
This is a distillation of my experiences with the Aeolian-Hammond
Player Organ. I have not mentioned the necessity of rebuilding the
pneumatic components either. I'll let the readers draw their own
conclusions about whether or not one would be well advised to purchase
one of these unusual instruments.
Electric Orchestras, Inc.