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MMD > Archives > March 1996 > 1996.03.16 > 02Prev  Next

By Craig Brougher

[ I sent Craig the standard invitation plus a request for permission
[ to post our initial conversation (see above).
[ Here's his "real" introduction. Please welcome aboard Craig Brougher
[ Jody

Hi Jody,

Thanks for signing me on. True to form, I haven't the slightest idea yet how to download any of these articles in your list, yet, but I'll bet you'll tell me.

You are welcome to use those letters I sent to you any way you wish. If you think they adequately describe me, that's fine. But I can give you a short synopsis right here.

I have been rebuilding automatic instruments for about 30 years or so. My first project was to turn an old Standard Player piano into an Ampico upright by taking the principles I had learned from literature and the TB scale. At that time, I had never seen or heard one. It turned out very successfully. That old player is still around, somewhere.

I restored my first player for a "customer" in about 1969. Again, I had no inkling what I was getting into. It was an old glued up Gulbransen. It was a little rough compared to how I do them today, but it played very well with the pedals. The success was apparently noted around town because I started getting calls right after that.

I first learned how to restore pianos and the fine points of regulation. I already knew the art of fine finishing, so I was able to put a factory piano finish on an instrument as well as a number of other kinds of finishing and repairs. So as I studied player actions I added to my experience and learned it by looking at them from the designer's standpoint.

The only players I didn't work on were the things like Cicilian with metal valves that had decomposed. I built a lot of stacks though, including experimental ones, and never rebuilt anything that I didn't fully restore every speck of soft working material in it. I discovered that old valve leather is tight, as long as it isn't used very much. But once the vacuum is reapplied and the pouches begin to force the valves off their inside seats again, dry rotted leather begins to get pulled apart internally since its surface is sucked down to the inside seat while its poppet is being pushed away. This delaminates rotted leather in a hurry, and the player simply stops dead. (if each valve only leaked as much as a # 70 bleed in total seepage, the result is the same as drilling a 1/4" hole through the stack.)

I studied the characteristics of all kinds of player valves, and redid a lot of my own rebuilds and adjustments in those first years, but I learned invaluable lessons regarding valves. I built test equipment to measure everything on a practical basis. I could test everything completely before I installed it, so I seldom ever had to go back and do anything over again. Then I started to actually make some money rebuilding. It took a lot of time to get equipped, first, though.

Today, I can set up the expressions of a Duo-Art on the bench and it will be almost perfect with the stack before it is ever played. I discovered that almost everything I read about valves was totally wrong, and even today we are still reading just a rehash of the same nonsense. If a player is anything, it is valves.

During the early '80s, before remarrying, I repaired/restored 49 reproducing players in the customer's own homes. I slept in one of their beds, ate their food, and didn't leave until I had each one playing perfectly. They enjoyed seeing the internal boxes opened up right in front of them (since they had already paid once for this service, usually less than five years ago). In every case, either some or all of the valves had never been touched. Their former rebuilders will never be revealed, but I learned that the cost of a rebuild has NOTHING to do with quality and thoroughness! In most cases, these people paid 300% more for a slick-looking repair job than I was charging for a total restoration, and in each case, were told that everything had been replaced.

I remember one XR Steinway sold to a customer in Florida for about 20K that had the original materials in the pump and the original cloth strips across the valve shelves. It had new covers and hoses, was all. This was a little worse than the typical "fully restored" reproducer, but was passed off by a very well known rebuilder. It is this kind of dishonesty that is presently discouraging collectors and shutting down the demand for rolls and new music. (Owners have become very disillusioned with the performances of almost all reproducers that they have heard.)

As time went on, I built a number of Orchestrions as well as restoring the old ones. Some were done according to the owner's budget, but most were totally restored. A particularly interesting project was a Mills Violano which came to me in boxes, and which I knew nothing about, initially. It is, to this day, the best violano I have ever heard, but then again, I'm very prejudiced toward that particular machine. I decided after that exercise that never again would I attempt one. I'll leave them to the expert machinist/specialists Like Ralph Schultz and Terry Haughawout who helped me over the rough spots. I strongly recommend these two experts on the Mills.

A pneumatic reproducer is able to outplay any commercially available MIDI piano. It's dynamics range from pp or ppp to ffff, whereas, the MIDI piano seems to have a useful range of between p and mf, albeit 128 levels therein.

I like to give this example: The solenoid used to play most instruments will last perhaps 10-15 seconds when it is turned on full power (mf). Then it burns up and destroys its neighbors as well as the board that drives it. If that same solenoid were given a "very soft" (pp) impulse, it would not even move the key, so it has a threshold sensitivity below which it cannot function. Most reproducer pneumatics will support over 10 lbs (most support 15#) at 40" H2O. Granted, piano keys play by impulse, but force is a required factor of the impulse formula. (dt being the other) This makes most MIDI instruments "Salon style" instruments, whether they are playing Chopin or Elton John.

My interest in MIDI is primarily as an interface to introduce to the great old pneumatic reproducers and Orchestrions a host of new and exciting music. A properly restored pneumatic reproducer will amaze any musician who hears it because it is so lifelike and because it is live music on a powerful, acoustic piano which uses as its enclosure and audio characteristics the room as well as the persons listening to it. The mind recognizes this intimacy, and understands that it is actually a part of the live performance-- as opposed to a set of speakers doing their own thing.

Children in a home with a player piano early-on will be gifted with a sense of music, and often be able to exercise this gift as well. Given a set of speakers and boxes of CDs, nothing too amazing happens. But when kids grow up playing a player piano, there's no such thing as a tin ear.

I presently own an "O" roll Orchestrion and an Ampico "B" Chickering.

I don't believe that MIDI can fully replace the player roll. There is another intimacy achieved when the eye and ear collaborate as you watch a roll and sing the words to the song. I think that we should no longer do as our forefathers have done, discarding the old for the new, and then wishing three decades later that we had not pitched everything out. Each medium deserves respect, and each mutually excels the other in so many ways. One medium is exceptional in concertizing. Another is unsurpassed in being able to teach, to enjoy a one-on-one relationship with, and to become the basis from which new utilities will always spring.

The way to sell this is the way it was always sold successfully-- high quality, powerful, resonant tone, beautiful instruments, and brilliant arrangements. Quality, Quality, Quality. Improvements are the order of the day. We can make it irresistible! That is done by continual encouragement, constructive criticism, and collaboration. I have a saying that has helped me a lot: "If it isn't challenging, profitable, and FUN, then you're doing something wrong."

It is a pleasure to be a member of a group who loves the music, the artistry, and the technology of the hobby, and not just how extensive their collection may be, or how they "stole" this or that instrument. I believe Automatic Music Digest is a perfect forum.

Player Pianos are the happiest machines that have ever been devised. They have been around for hundreds of years, but only in this century has it been possible to own one manufactured for sale. Now what we need is MUSIC and lots of it! When people hear what these instruments are able to do, the demand will become insatiable.

Yours Truly,

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Sat 16 Mar 1996, 19:47:05 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

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