By Craig Brougher
|I was interested in the characterization expressed by Terry Smythe regarding the differences between Duo-Arts and Ampicos. While I am not going to get into that one (of which I do not fully agree), I will suggest this: All who feel that their Ampicos are mainly of "salon" value, musically, as Terry describes, and have been fully (ahem) restored, that means, new pouches, new valves _BOTH_ sides, new pump flaps and seats, plus all the rest of the obligatory and necessary restoration, should consider a new set of expression springs which I designed and marketed some months ago. They are now available from Player Piano Co in Wichita, KS.|
(Salon piano refers to a softer background piano performance with subdued artistic details, as opposed to a concert performance. To call a reproducer a salon instrument is actually an insult, when it was designed to do both.)
The project began with a curiosity regarding all the Ampico springs I had in a junk box purchased years ago. Out of a dozen or two springs, I picked the best looking and plotted curves of them while operating on an Ampico A bench test setup. What I saw was amazing to me. They were all over the map! There wasn't two of them that I could say actually replicated a decent intensity curve. So I designed several and chose one design. I figured that the old springs are fatigued by age (age annealing), if nothing else. Age apparently takes a little tension out of wound springs at least to a degree, especially if they are stretched almost twice their normal length in operation very often. I believe that wire companies agree with that, too.
I started by having a spring company wind a spring of exactly the same dimensions, but quickly discarded it because although it was an improvement, it didn't follow the db curve as closely as I knew I could get it. We then tried a few more samples, and the one I chose seemed to land into the ideal almost perfectly, causing me to think that possibly the original spring had been tempered differently or made from older grades of wire , possibly oil-tempered or hard-drawn, or something. If so, these wires would have a mediocre fatigue rating.
The wire I chose had what the spring company said was the best fatigue factor of all the materials available. The point is, fatigue is rated as a factor among all forms of spring wire, and is graded from poor to excellent. Springs which have special ends, like the Ampico springs, and usually coiled soft, and then hardened and tempered in an oven later on. If this was how it was done, then the wire they used could not have possibly been the material I used because it is not successful when used that way.
The final performance was nothing short of amazing. I had listened to Ampico reproducers for three decades, and never heard one play as fine as this. The detail and crispness of the performance is just wonderful. The differences you will notice immediately will be the lovely, soft details in the playing due to the "linearity" of the new spring at and around the "set point". They do not affect piano loudness, unless your original springs were completely overstretched.
If you are interested in a pair, they are cheap and easy to install, usually without having to dismantle the player (in most cases). They should come with a sheet of instructions and information about the spring. They do not look exactly like the originals, but don't let that bother you. In a properly restored and regulated Ampico, they are nothing short of superior. Hopefully they will last you a long time. They may not be "blued" when you get them, but you can do this yourself with a little gun blue.
For those who are interested in a new Ampico B spring, I had these wound, too. They are such that they can be "adjusted" if you know how to do it, and are made from the same high grade wire. Also available from Player Piano Co in Wichita, KS. This is the quickest and cheapest way I know of to improve the playing of an Ampico 100%.
(Message sent Wed 8 May 1996, 14:53:49 GMT, from time zone GMT.)