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MMD > Archives > December 1996 > 1996.12.15 > 12Prev  Next

Re: Electrified Pumpers
By Craig Brougher

The electrified pumper, despite the horror of a purist, seems to be an established fact among most old player pianos that you find. Today, you have the vast majority of old rebuilt player pianos still playing with new covers and tubing, but the original valves. Without the suction box, you wouldn't have a chance of playing those pianos anymore.

I know I've said this before, but if each valve leaked only as much as a #70 bleed (which is a hole drilled by a #70 drill bit-- very tiny) the entire player would have the same ambient leakage as if you had drilled a 1/4" hole through a reservoir. By placing an old valve on a tester I have and hooking it up to a vacuum source and a bubble jar tester, you can see that old leather is at least 5 times leakier than new leather. And I'm not referring to leather that would powder up when scratched, either. I'm referring to what appears to be perfect.

We are in the generation which must replace _all_ of that leather, inside and out, or that player is not ever going to work again -- even with a suction box. That also includes the total replacement of original pouch leather and gaskets of leather.

When I restore a pumper player piano the customer invariably wants a suction box. I handle it this way for everybody: I tell them, "Look, I'll be glad to install a suction box _after_ you have examined the piano and pumped it when I'm through. Then, if you _still_ want me to install a suction box for you, I will, and it won't keep you from pumping rolls. But that's my policy, take it or leave it." (This of course if for the local denizens only).

In thirty or so years of rebuilding players, I don't believe I have installed more than a dozen suction boxes, and in the last twelve years, I have installed only three. To my mind, that means they are satisfied with the fun they have using the piano just like it came from the factory. Naturally, I try to talk out-of-state customers out of doing it, too.

The real fun is in the participation. You actually become a part of a living, breathing, live instrument who, like yourself, breathes air. You pump to the cadence. You try adding expression. You sing the words. You learn new tunes. You find yourself whistling them. When everybody else stumbles down the street, you jaunt -- because you have a tune running through your head that won't come out easily, and it's such a good one, you really don't mind!

But there is also a very good reason to have the pumper piano electrified, too. Both have their advantages, so each way mutually excels the other! No, you don't get expression. But yes, there's lots more to it than just expression. Today, rock bands don't use expression, nor are pianos on TV recorded with very much expression content at all! (Miserable recording techniques.) We still get something out of it anyway! So live music is a thousand times better and more indelible in you than TV performances or even the great recordings. Something about it that sticks to you, when other media sources are here one minute and gone forever the next! One is live. The other isn't. Expression or no. Simple as that.

Music is a feast of the mind and heart. Recorded music when done well is at least a sampler that we can throw ourselves into, but live music and only live music is the real McCoy. You can sit down to *that* table. All other media forms are attempts, good and bad, to reproduce live music through speakers. An electrified pump player is just as live a performance as a pumped player piano is. The difference is in the degree of participation and musical involvement, and quality of performance, but it beats speakers a mile.

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Sun 15 Dec 1996, 17:14:21 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  Electrified, Pumpers

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