Damon Atchison writes about traveling to hear a Violano Virtuoso's song
only to be sadly disappointed by a poorly maintained instrument.
In many ways the Violano can be more closely compared to old time
vending and amusement machines than to the typical pneumatic musical
instrument. It operates entirely electrically, at 110 Volts DC, which
makes for sparking, arcing and ozone. If you've ever visited a seaside
penny arcade, you know the ambiance of grease and ozone.
Much of the machine's more intricate parts are constructed of cast
white (or pot) metal parts, wherein lies many problems plaguing today's
Violanos. The pot metal formulas were patents of Sandell, the Violino's
inventor. Much of this metal has deteriorated over time, with
intergranular corrosion altering its shape and size. Unless distorted
parts are replaced, the machine will never sound right.
Adjusting and regulating a Violano is unlike anything a seasoned
mechanic may encounter. It can easily take the better part of a day,
taxing your patience, vocabulary and marriage. The 64 player "fingers"
rise up to "mute" the strings at varying lengths and these must match
the strings quite exactly. Each successive finger must lift a string
slightly higher than the previous, to permit the instrument to raise
from one note to the next without lots of buzzing.
Unlike many mechanical instruments, a maladjusted Violano is not mearly
out of tune. It simply makes noise -- really bad noise. Strings buzz
rather than play when fingers do not cleanly mute them. Since so many
rolls play "double stops" or chords on the violin, often even mimicking
several instruments, an out-of-tune violino sounds horrible as the
strings tones "beat" against each other. The piano has only 44 notes,
plays through "telephone" type solenoids, and has several levels of
expression chosen by moving the hammer rail up or down.
As mentioned, some roll arrangements are not very good and most of the
music consists of popular fox trots. The rolls were recorded in actual
time from two keyboards with, obviously, minimal if any editing. We
wonder how well some of this stuff was rehearsed, as some music changes
tempo and has misplayed notes. Other arrangements are absolutely
beautiful, a wonderment to hear, cleverly formulated around the
machine's shortcomings. Well arranged rolls on a properly regulated
Violano can truly move the soul. A bad roll on the same violin makes
Along with the piano, both the bow wheels and the violin strings are
affected by humidity. Different weather conditions appear to make the
rosined bows play the strings differently. Perhaps the biggest factor
is the amount of playing that a machine receives. The sound softens
greatly after a Violino has played several numbers; the first songs of
the day are often a bit raspy.
After countless hours of regulating, replacing and breaking parts and
setting some rolls afire with 110 VDC, I have played my instrument for
every friend neighbor and mailman in the neighborhood. So any MMD
subscriber is welcome to stop by and hear the thing. The most common
question is "Where are the speakers?"
Maybe it will be having a good day and sound nice. At least I won't
have to hear, "Wouldn't a CD Player have been cheaper?"
Long Beach, Long Island, New York