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MMD > Archives > March 1998 > 1998.03.17 > 13Prev  Next

Wurlitzer Factory Part 2
By Ed Gaida

Before I continue with the piano assembly department where I left off,
I would like to say that throughout my stay I was impressed with the
sense of pride that filled that factory... pride in workmanship and that
which it brings... QUALITY.  I watched women in the cabinet mill, where
the parts for the cases were made.  Each piece passed through two
inspection stations.  The women had a stick of white chalk in their
hands... and they used that chalk to mark imperfections in the veneer,
lumber, or anything else that came by them.  Those marked pieces, no
matter how small the damage, never saw the finish room far less a
completed piano.  They were piled on pallets and shuttled to a giant
room.  I walked in there and could not believe that all of it was going
to go up in smoke which is what they did with it... burn it.  The
employees got first crack at it, and what they did not want fed the
boilers that produced the steam that heated the drying ovens in the
finish department, and  the veneer presses in the veneering department.
By the way, they still used hot hide glue for that operation...and this
was 1982!

Now on to the piano assembly line.  I found one of the old inspection tags,
so I can accurately tell you what each step was.

Case assembly I have already talked about.  Next was Install Action...
the action bolts were screwed into the pinblock and an action was fitted
in.  The actions were without hammers or dampers, just the whippens and
butts as they had come from the action department.  Next was Damper
fit.  Those women were good...could damper an action in less than ten
minutes.  Next was Glue Hammers.  The hammers were stemmed and were "V"
shaped on the end that went into the butt.  That was for fine adjustment.
Most women in this department grabbed four hammers at a time, one in
between each finger and put glue in the holes and lined them up, checked
the travel, and went on to the next four.

The next operation was Block Hammer Rail.  They used a small aluminum
square on the end of a threaded rod to gauge the proper distance from the
tip of the hammer to the gauge says it was 1 3/4".  Next the
keyboards were installed.  The making of those keyboards is food for a
whole post by itself.  Then came Hammer Let Off.  Next step was called #1
Hammer Line...that's it...line the hammers up with the strings, check the
travel...just in case something had moved before the glue had dried
and...just checking what the women at the beginning of the line had done.
A long thin flat piece of metal, tapered on the end was inserted between
the hammer flanges to move them to the right or left.

Next came damper let off...yep those spoons.  Wurlitzer had designed their
own tool for this, not unlike the ones you can get from Schaff and others,
but different enough to make the job easier and therefore faster.  Next
came Rough Regulate, Key Level, Lay Touch (key dip) and the first
inspection.  Now the case was assembled and after the top was installed the
piano went in for its first tune.  There were tuning booths along one wall
and the women in there used the same Yamaha tuners that the chippers did.
Before the pianos were tuned, they were shoved into a sound proof box and
the machine in there pounded the hell out of them.  You could barely hear
it outside, but at my request they left the doors open for just a few
seconds...that was all you could stand.  All 88 notes being played at one
time, over and over.  If the strings were going to stretch, this step
helped them along.

Tone Regulate was next....yep those things with the three needles...but
Wurlitzer made their own.  After the tuning was the proper time to
regulate the tone, some of us call it "voice" the piano.  More on that

Then the  cabinet was gone over in what was called Edge Run.  When you
hand rub a piano as you know, the first thing you rub through are the
edges.  This operation fixed that.

Next was a fascinating step for me...Patch Piano it says on the
ticket...that is where I learned to use a burn in knife and shellac to
repair damage to finishes.  This was damage that had occurred in the
assembly process and those women were GOOD at it, but I never quite got
the hang of it.  Then came another inspection.

Now the rest of the steps that pretty much explain themselves...Final
Regulate, Back Repair, Final Tune, Final Tone Regulate, Final Patch,
Final Inspect and last...Wrap.

Bud Corey, the head of the factory had been with Wurlitzer since he
started on the "back line" in the old Wurlitzer factory in DeKalb,
Illinois.  He was a wonderful man and insisted that if I was going to
learn anything, I had to sit at each station on the assembly line and
"do it!"  After the first day, I realized that those women were taking
a lot of time to show me how to do things, and they were not tearing
off a lot of those tags I told you other words their paycheck
was going to suffer because of their efforts on my part.  That night
Bud had me to dinner at his home to meet the Missus and I expressed my
concern about this.  "I have already thought about that Ed, those woman
are going to get the same pay they got last week when you were not
here!"  That's the kind of guy HE was and the kind of people that ran

That factory had a capacity of over 120 vertical pianos a day, and they
often made that many.  There was a major exception to all of this and that
was what Wurlitzer called the "3000 series" piano.  They got very special
treatment, and that will be the subject of the next installment.


P. S.  I have never been "honeyed" and "sweetied" as much in my life as I
was by those wonderful women on that assembly line.  You have to have been
raised in the South to REALLY understand that last statement.

(Message sent Mon 16 Mar 1998, 19:43:58 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  2, Factory, Part, Wurlitzer

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