D. L. Bullock probably has a good idea building orchestrion and other
player parts for sale. I had another call yesterday asking if I would be
willing to build parts for someone's project (who wasn't good with
tools!). Besides that reason, it takes a lot of time to build every
single part from scratch, and some builders would rather pay the money
than spend the time.
Among the orchestrions I have built have been several with manufactured
parts. One reason I saw a need and agreed to write The Orchestrion
Builder's Manual was because of this experience. They "worked," but they
weren't well-designed, and had little or no latitude for a wide range of
Most people who start on these instruments don't realize the long-wearing
quality and fun of a good orchestrion that utilizes expression to the
full-- compared to the average home-built job that cannot do that. One
gets played for many decades and the other doesn't. It's the expression
that puts the "hump" in the rhythm, as well as the feeling in the theme!
It just "makes it."
The most important percussion instrument is a good snare drum! It is the
instrument, more than any other, that has to have good expression. That
means, its pneumatics, first of all, have to be sized correctly and its
beaters designed with the right weight and length so that the rest of the
expression devices will not change the characteristics too much.
Anybody can build the usual fare in drum beaters-- the stuff that's just
noisy. It takes more of an artist to build a beater system that plays a
drum with the same feeling of a good drummer. It would actually be
better if a drum beater stand were built in such a way that would allow
the customer to retrofit his own snare drum and a clamping slide carrier
to adjust the beaters to the proper depth. That way, a buyer isn't stuck
with the drum supplied with the beaters.
That was my major complaint, after the expression thing. A snare wire
clamp can be designed which will screw onto any drum shell and become
part of the system after the snare drum is mounted.
Another mistake of manufacturers and builders alike, was in building bass
drum and timpani beaters too large, thus slowing them down and using up
too much vacuum to get them swinging. They were always late and the beat
was always lagging. Bad design, so they continued doing it-- kinda like
a "trouble light" that will never stay where you put it. It never
worked, either, so they have built them the same way ever since.
The number one item, however, that I am asked the most for are block
valves! That is the one component of all these systems that need to be
manufactured. They don't even need to be assembled, but somebody needs
to cut out and finish the bodies and provide the poppets and inside and
outside valve seats, and let the buyer assemble and test them himself.
One reason for personal assembly is that not all valves are adjusted the
same, and not all valves can use the same size bleed.
If a builder would build a block valve of about the same dimensions as an
Ampico block valve, then just think what many different customers could
also use them for?
The block valve (in several common configurations) is the basis for
everything in this business, unless you are making stacks to
specifications. One "universal" block valve is given in my manual and is
one of the most responsive valves I've ever seen. It operates hard and
fast on 5" of vacuum and 10 feet of trackerbar tubing -- better than most
reproducer valves. It also uses an adjustable bleed that can be set for
different purposes, optimally.
I encourage anyone who is thinking of building components to start here
and progress. Once you have a valve that can do any of a number of jobs
well, then that is the degree that you can do anything, too. Remember
also, if you want to clamp these valves down, Bob Streicher makes the
clamping springs and they are very inexpensive.