"How Hard Can That Thing Be To Fix?"
Ah, someone who uttered those innocent and naive words evidently got
their hands on an Ampico I'm restoring right now in my shop. Rather
than describe the nightmarish destructive 'repairs' in a vain attempt
to "make her play" -- 'repairs' which necessitate remaking several
parts -- I want to offer some suggestions to the do-it-yourselves
out there who insist on diving into a project that, without proper
knowledge and technique, usually results in a disappointing finished
effort, and many questions on the MMD asking "why doesn't this or that
First, one should know some basic pneumatic rebuilding techniques and
practice them before attempting any rebuilding of an extant instrument.
As a teenager I used an old dish cloth to practice gluing cloth to
decks (scrap wood pieces) before wasting any expensive pneumatic cloth
and slopping glue on it and the wood. I had the benefit of having an
artist for a mother, who taught me brush technique at an early age.
Building plastic models helped with understanding hand-eye coordination
and gluing technique.
Sometimes one can acquire junked player piano mechanisms at no cost --
a good place to practice developing technique.
Secondly, become a detective and develop diagnostic and observational
skills when documenting mechanisms before you actually tear them down.
Measure, sketch or photograph everything. Notice the slightest details,
then come back next day and search for more while reviewing your notes.
Try to imitate factory work: tubing patterns, trimming of cloth, leather
work, paint finishes, etc. Don't think you know better than the
factory -- you don't! After all, it was _their_ product.
The present day re-builder must assume skills of not only many
individuals of different departments of specialized manufacture, but
also of many different companies with their individual departments of
special assembly. (Pneumatic covering, gluing to decks, pumps and
reservoirs, tubing, regulation, etc. -- all had their own departments
where employees specialized in those separate tasks day in and day out).
Do not delude yourself into thinking you can develop technique of
restoration/conservancy overnight; it took qualified restorers years or
decades to develop and perfect their techniques. That's what collectors
and museums pay for when employing them to do their restorations of
Thanks for allowing this restorer to vent his frustration.
Stephen K Goodman - Professional Player Piano & Nickelodeon
Tarpey Village (Fresno/Clovis) California, USA