Over the last several weeks I've read about the good, the bad and the
ugly of new nickelodeons, and one would have to believe that "the only
good nickelodeon is an old one". I must disagree. I have restored too
many "original" machines that were poorly designed to begin with,
and/or constructed of second (or third) rate materials. These were
utilitarian machines; their purpose in existence was to "get da money"
from the pockets and purses of anyone wanting to hear a tune. Only since
the 1940s have they been worshipped as musical gods and as temples of
While most of the attention on modern nickelodeons seems to be reacting
to the shoddy and flimsy, there are some truly outstanding specimens
being constructed and sold today that will be tomorrow's classics as
well. The new BanjOrchestras made by Dave Ramey (along with his Seeburg
"G' & "H" reconstructions), the new Hupfeld Phonoliszts and Weber Maestos
by Siegfried Wendel, and the Seeburg KT Special replicas by Bill Edgerton
manufactured a few years back- all are of outstanding quality and
workmanship. I had the pleasure of examining the WurliTzer Harp
replicas first-hand made by George Baker in the mid-1980s. There are
countless band and fair organs and orchestrions made recently by skilled
craftsmen that are of the same high-quality as first generation pneumatic
instruments. I have seen replica WurliTzer 105 band organs, and calliopes
made from plans available right now, that are probably better built than
their factory assembly-line counterparts of 70+ years ago. Granted,
much of the quality cloth, leathers, woods (like Brazilian Rosewood)
etc. available then is no longer available now, but in terms of actual
construction, these modern instruments are equal and in some cases
superior to their first generation counterparts!
My creative imagination was fueled by comments made by Craig Brougher
in his excellent book: as builders of new, quality machines, we
are not held to assembly-line specifications, which were in reality
limited by economic and practical considerations of the era,
but can now take artistic license to experiment and to innovate
with combinations of instruments that were never used, or augmentations
in instrumentation that might have been economically unfeasible given
the actual "real-world" market for the instruments when their entire
"raison d'etre" was to earn money or generate ancillary income in a
The innovation offered by MIDI control allows us to build machines
with independent control of any number of pipe ranks, tuned or untuned
percussion, etc. So I cannot see why one would want to destroy the
originality of a classic machine by "putting in the set of bells" or
drums when it didn't originally have them. I once angered a "collector"
who wanted me to add "as many drums and traps in the case as I could,
and convert it to play "G" rolls." I declined the job and lost the
client. Original machines should be restored to exacting original
specifications. The alternative: build an instrument up by designing
it from the ground up. Take advantage of the new MIDI technology for
music and end dependence on recut "O" rolls. Explore. Create.
But make it quality.
My 2 cents for the subject...