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MMD > Archives > February 1999 > 1999.02.26 > 08Prev  Next

1968 Wurlitzer Solenoids
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  Isn't there a saying somewhere that basically says, "No matter
how hard your day has been, it's been a good day if you've learned
something."  Well, I had a 'double-good' day, and I didn't have to chew
any gum.  ;-)

What I learned is: ** Do not, under any circumstance, use WD-40 to
lubricate sluggish solenoids in a model 1203 or earlier Wurlitzer
electric player. **

What I also learned is that Wurlitzer placed a semi-hard rubber-like
collar on the rod portion of the plunger, inside each note solenoid.
The collar, which is more like a sleeve, is about the same size as
thin-walled tracker bar tubing, cut 3/16" in length.  It was obviously
installed to prevent the main portion of the core from 'topping out'
and clicking when it reached the top of the stroke, like a shock

They appear to have been slipped onto the rod just prior to inserting
the core into the solenoid.  All but the last 4 or 5 notes on each end
of the solenoid rail are destroyed.  This fact was discovered while
investigating the exact cause of the sluggishness effecting all the
other solenoids.

Each of the plungers was coated with a slimly black fluid, that turned
out to be a combination of WD-40 and rubber or perhaps neoprene.  After
removing one of the sluggish plungers and cleaning it thoroughly, a
Q-tip was used to clean the inside of the solenoid.  What came out,
along with more black slime, was tiny little pieces of what was the

This fact was discovered as I moved from the center of the rail towards
the outer ends.  For as I proceeded up the scale, the pieces that came
out of the solenoid started looking like pieces of tubing.  At note
#83, the first intact piece was seen.

Even thirty years after been installed, #83's 'shock absorber' has a
small amount of flexibility, but there is still an audible tick when
the plunger 'tops out'.  So, even though intact, it's not doing its job

So the first questions are:

What were the 'collars/shock absorbers' made of?  And, do you think
neoprene tracker bar tubing will be an adequate replacement given its
intended function, i.e., shock absorber.

On to WD-40...  What makes me think that the 'shocks' were made of
rubber or neoprene is the way they broke down.  It's almost like they
melted.  The evidence of this is _stuck_ way up inside the 'roof' of
each solenoid.  After aggressive cleaning with lacquer thinner and
Q-tips, a number of the solenoids are now 'squeaky clean' inside.

It becomes even more obvious, from the wear marks inside, that
something was 'bumping' into the roof for a long time.  It looks highly
polished; as opposed to the sides of the inside, which are dull.

Fortunately, the customer stated early on that he had used WD-40 "many
times over the years" to combat the sluggishness.  Apparently, it was
fairly effective for a few years because he repeatedly lubricated 'as
required' until the plungers started clacking loudly or had become so
sluggish that they couldn't activate their respective note.  Also,
(after asking) it was found that the unit hadn't been tuned or regula-
ted since (are you sitting down?) 1972 or 1969, depending on who you
ask, husband or wife.  Hello!  27-30 years!

What's my point?  I had a good day!  Learned a lot!

Here's one for the records:

'Why'd you buy a player piano?' "If the kids didn't do well with
lessons, I'd still have a nice toy.  I love those old tunes! You get to
know the arrangers by their style....."

Question: Were these kids under any pressure?  Whoa!

Well, I'm straying from the subject at hand.  If you know more about
these solenoids, I'm all ears!  I will be back on the job Saturday
morning (9:30 EST) but I'm going to tune the piano, finish cleaning the
solenoids and get everything prepared for assembly by 12.  Since the
customer is only ten minutes away; I'll come home for lunch.

Hopefully, someone will respond privately (and to the Digest) to
confirm or dispel my reasoning.  I do plan to use tracker bar tubing
as the shock absorber.

And here's the bonus information:

After carefully examining the entire Wurlitzer solenoid operated player
system with my newfound knowledge, it becomes reasonable that the line
assemblers may have had a small variety of collars.  Since there is
_no_ stop rail in the Wurlitzer, it's possible to 'regulate' the throw
of the solenoid by choosing the appropriate length collar.  Limiting
the throw is synonymous with the setting the dip of the keys.  Thus,
the solenoid rail could be 'regulated' to the piano action in terms of
the 'catch point', 5/8" from the strings.

Bottom line: If you have any information regarding the collars, please
email me immediately.  I'll check my mail at lunch.

Thank you for your time,

John A. Tuttle (
Brick, NJ

(Message sent Sat 27 Feb 1999, 01:13:30 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  1968, Solenoids, Wurlitzer

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