It's been awhile since anyone has commented on Ragtime Automatic
Music's parts here on the MMD. Thoroughly fascinated by their patented
automatic guitar and banjo mechanism, I ordered the picker assembly and
some of their plastic pneumatics to make fretters. Here's what I've
The pickers are nicely made, with really fine quality injection molded
castings. They have metal clutch inserts supplied by an outside firm
that are the best quality possible. Now anyone using this stuff must
realize that it's not 1923, and Mills Novelty probably would have used
plastic too if they could have avoided that nasty pot metal that was
common at the time.
The pickers do what they are designed to do; they pick the strings
well. They are plastic, and Ragtime has several different composition
plastics for different sounds. They are reported to wear very well,
and it appears that they will. The actual picking devices can be
replaced without tools and are available for perhaps $5 each should
they need replacing.
The unit pneumatics are plastic injection moldings also. They are
covered with the assistance of a machine using a solvent to "weld" the
fabric to the plastic. The valve is contained in the pneumatic, and is
plastic too. The pouch is of the same fabric as the pneumatic cover
and is attached with a press-fit ring, so it appears that replacement
won't be too difficult.
What is neat and clever here is the modular design of the pneumatics.
They can be mounted on a 1/2" rod with a set screw tapped into the
plastic, or on 1/2" square bar stock. Using bar stock prevents their
rotating, but also eliminates adjustment. Using rods may permit more
movement than desired and may require glue or tightening.
The vacuum supply is fed from one unit to the next using short tubes
to bridge the gaps between them, so you can string together a bunch
of them. Ragtime says the valves operate on a minimum of 8" vacuum.
They don't recommend them used with a foot-pump vacuum source for this
reason. Using a turbine pump, the leakage through the valve bleeds
is not a problem, and they operate very well. Of the 66 pneumatics
I purchased, all work well and are consistent.
Over the years, many folks have commented on Ragtime's customer
service, its founder Ken Caulkins' personality, and the general quality
of the products. Obviously these pneumatics are not the wooden things
from yesteryear. I wouldn't expect a full range of expression or the
sensitivity I'd expect from something made by hand eighty years ago.
These pneumatics do a job, and that job has brought mechanical music
to perhaps millions of folks who may never have heard or seen it if
this guy in California didn't spend a lifetime trying to make a living
at mechanical music. They do it in a way that is affordable to be
manufactured and assembled in California -- not an easy feat. They are
versatile and easily replaceable and repairable.
When I spoke with Ken he was informative and helpful. I got great
service and had all my subsequent phone questions answered by folks
who were knowledgeable and nice.
One of the arts we learn is that of using the right material for the
right job. I would never substitute plastic in a valuable antique
machine, but everything has its proper place in the industry.
When I build my player guitar with Ragtime's components, I won't be
building a Mills Violano or a Wurlitzer, but I'll have a machine that
plays a guitar using American stuff made in 2004.
Long Beach, New York
[ Ragtime Automated Music
[ 4218 Jessup Road
[ Ceres, CA 95307 U.S.A.
[ tel.: 1-209-667-5525
[ See and hear the "Blue Grass Special" orchestrion at
[ -- Robbie