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MMD > Archives > December 1996 > 1996.12.15 > 11Prev  Next

Re: Electrified Pumpers
By John A. Tuttle

Well, Robbie has sure taken some heat on this issue of "electrified" pumpers. [ I guess I asked for it, John. ;-) -- Robbie ]

The fact is, Aeolian Corp. produced a huge line of electrified pumpers that have a very crude vacuum regulator which helps reduce "drop-off" during heavy passages and regulates the vacuum at three different volume levels, namely Low, Medium and High, via a "user-controlled" volume switch in the spool box.

Professionally, I electrify at least ten units every year at the customers request. However, realizing the need to maintain originality, I have "engineered" all sorts of configurations which do not "damage" the integrity of the unit and actually add one other feature beyond the "self-playing" aspect.

I call this feature "Pump Assist". It's really pretty simple. The vacuum pump system that I install utilizes an electronic controller to vary the speed of the pump and hence the volume of the music. However, if the speed (volume) is reduced to the point where the piano just barely plays, the pump is effectively compensating for all the leakage of the "less-than-perfect" valves, air-motor and pneumatics. At that point, foot-pumping the unit becomes quite easy, even enjoyable. Further, adding accents is almost effortless. I also think, although I have no proof, that utilizing the system in this manner actually increases the life span of the exhaust bellows since they will not have to be worked so vigorously.

The point I'm trying to make is that I believe there is a time and a place and a procedure for almost any modification.

I have been told a number of times by cardiac patients and heart specialists that "pumping" the player piano is excellent exercise. But if the unit is worn to the point where pumping it is more like running-in-place, the "assist" feature can easily "fill the gap" for a lot less money than rebuilding the piano. Furthermore, when the patients recover and return to work, they'll be in a more favorable economic position to have the piano rebuilt and they'll remember all the fun they had getting better health. I've experienced this particular scenario at least half-a-dozen times in my career.

On the other side of the coin, I've seen dozens, perhaps hundreds, of poorly-electrified players which utilize a constant speed vacuum pump with a "bleeder" to control the vacuum level, and a one inch hole is cut in the reservoir where the vacuum supply is attached. In some cases, cutting a hole in the reservoir is virtually unavoidable. In those instances, a new spring access panel can be fabricated and modified as necessary and the original put away for the future.

In my opinion, the only real down-side to electrifying an aging player, besides those considerations already mentioned, is that some customers insist on playing the unit _very loud_. This will literally beat the piano to death in relatively short order, and effectively destroy dry- rotted (or rotting) valve facings.

John Tuttle

P.S. To the list of manufacturers who make or have made electrified pumpers I should have added Baldwin, Wurlitzer, Universal, National, Classic and Story & Clark (and perhaps others I can't recall at the moment). However, to the best of my recollection, Aeolian is the only one that has a vacuum regulator built-in which reacts to changing loads. The others have a variable speed pump very similar to the one I explained earlier that rely on the reservoir's capabilities during heavy passages. Kimballs also have an in-line regulator but they're not "pumpers".

John A Tuttle "Self-Playing Pianos"
407 19th Avenue 908-840-8787 (leave message)
Bricktown, NJ 08724 Rolls:1-800-870-8784 (leave order)
"We Keep Your Music Rolling"

(Message sent Sun 15 Dec 1996, 14:06:15 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Electrified, Pumpers

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