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MMD > Archives > May 1999 > 1999.05.07 > 11Prev  Next

European vs. American Violin Pipes
By Craig Brougher

Since we are on the subject and I am very interested in these violin
pipes -- as one might find in a Philipps, Weber, or even a Losche --
I wonder if anyone has a scale for a set of European violin pipes to
compare to?  I think that would be a good place to start, right there,
because to my mind, these quality differences are very pronounced.

I have closely examined these sets before, as I'm sure many rebuilders
have, and the difference that I notice immediately -- at least in the
pipes I have looked at -- is without exception the Europeans used
(perfect) quartersawn spruce, or possibly treated white pine, for all
sides of the pipe, and that it was very fine, close-grained wood, like
one would find in a good violin top (that is, in the sample sets I have

On the other hand, the grain lines in American wooden violins that
I have examined are not precisely quartersawn, but have many radial
percentage cuts, and some of it comes too close to the heartwood.  They
were made much as any other white pine pipe is, from the same boards.
This probably includes Seeburg and Wurlitzer as well.  American factor-
ies didn't waste much.

It is impossible to blow a pipe or a few pipes together and say for
certain, "Now that's a very nice violin pipe."  An organ builder knows
that the proof is to place them together and voice it at the pressure
it will use, and then hear them as a final rank in the place it will
be within the instrument (which should be as close to the swells as
possible in the case of violins).

For example, if you have two ranks from two makers, and one has a few
millimeters difference in width between the sides of the pipe and its
front/back, you cannot hear this singly-blown.  They both sound superb
that way.  But mount them in a rank, and you will hear subtle differ-
ences which are accumulative and make for an overall difference in

In regard to "Violin pipes" in American jazz orchestrions like the
Seeburg, it would have been a waste of money to put the finest European
pipes into it, if for no other reason than its capacity to regulate the
pressure.  The finer and keener the pipe tone has been voiced, the
proportionally greater regulation and reserve you need.

Reserve and regulation was not designed into in the Seeburg G.
It had just enough power to play a certain maximum number of pipes
momentarily, and beyond that, it would detune quickly.  If the roll
held a chord, particularly in the lower half of the rank, even 3 or
4 notes would collapse the reservoir.  That's why G music was never
allowed to do that -- very often, at least.  And if it ever did,
it is very careful which ones to play, limiting the number and the
seconds played.  It was very critical.

I think the discussion we had earlier here in the MMD about the
materials used for the pipe, versus the overall tone quality of the
rank is germane in this discussion as well.  American orchestrion
builders in general have never put as much emphasis on inherent quality
of materials and details as did the Europeans.  In those same days for
example, piano makers in this country were trying to make soundboards
out of everything from sheet steel to fiberboard to save money, all the
while Steinway Hamburg was trying to secure better and better spruce at
any price.  It shows a different set of values, which is basic between
the two countries.  The one was selling to a mass market, and the other
was selling old-world craftsmanship at a much higher price to a small
market.  Neither is wrong, and both could have profited from the other
-- but neither did that.

If there is no difference in the basic scales of wooden violin
pipes, then I suggest that perhaps the main difference is both in
the carefully guarded methods of harvesting, seasoning, and preparing
the wood (just as the violin makers did too), as well as the perfect
quartersawing, assembling, and final voicing.  We also do not know how
much waste was allowed a pipe maker in Europe, versus the United
States.  But given a cheaper source for wood, like having a Black
Forest next door, one might suspect too, that with cheaper resources
and family knowledge handed down through generations, more perfection
is likely possible.

Craig Brougher

 [ Are audio recordings available, of both European and American in-
 [ struments, which might demonstrate the similarities or differences
 [ in tone?   -- Robbie

(Message sent Fri 7 May 1999, 12:57:31 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  American, European, Pipes, Violin, vs

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