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MMD > Archives > August 1999 > 1999.08.05 > 09Prev  Next

Pedal Pumping Rate
By Craig Brougher

This is one of the funniest overall subjects about player pianos that
ever come up.  For example:

"So, Robbie, you think that two fingers on one pedal is good?  Why,
I played a player one time that we could do that with just one finger!
As a matter of fact, we aimed a baby at that player, and as soon as he
started crawling toward it, everyone swears it threw itself into the
play gear.  One little push on one of its pedals, and the power of the
music scared the kid so badly that he sat up and cried all the rest of
the way through the song!"

(Of course, the kid learned later never to press with all five fingers
at once).

Getting just faintly more serious now, players that have too much
reservoir tend to be great "rewinders" and not much more, unless they
have very effective expression buttons.  It is amazing how easy they
could make a player to pump.  After you've gotten your stack good and
tight again, if you find a design with long, relatively thin pump
bellows and a large reserve -- like the ones with a top reservoir going
all the way across the pumps -- then you have the makings of a super
easy to pump player piano at the standard low vacuum pressures.

Gulbransen just had two small reservoirs, two small bellows, and while
not the easiest pumping player ever built, was still a very easy
pumping piano because of the design, which used a slightly higher
vacuum and less cu ft./minute volume.  Tight is good, but there's
a limit, above which it becomes a negative.

There is a downside to some (not all) of the really super-easy to pump
players.  They are hard to put expression into and accent the music
with the treadles.  One of the very best players of all to put
expression into was the Standard Action double-valve system.  One
reason for this was its "kick" valve in the left reservoir.  To accent
a note, you just "bump" the treadle and that reservoir valve closed
momentarily, throwing all the power of your touch into the note you
want to accent.

If the player doesn't utilize a flow of air well enough, like a "too
small" air motor, and everything is as tight as a tick, the reservoirs
are going to be constantly closed, so no treadle expression can ever
be applied.  That takes some of the fun out of all the things you will
want to do to with your pumper player.

I have just finished restoring a once motorized Needham with a fancy
curved side case.  It has what looks, at first glance, to be a Standard
Action, but is actually a Play-O-Tone.  Its valves look like late
Standard metal stem valves, except they are vertical.  The air motor,
transmission, pumping bellows and lever system are mostly late teens
to early 20's Standard action stuff.  I suspect this was a Kohler &
Campbell design, too.  There is no tracker.

It is what I call a perfect pumping player.  You can pump "cadence" to
any song with about a 1/4" to 1/2" deflection on the treadles.  So when
the family came over to see their new player, and I saw their 4 little
girls, all eager to have it, I demonstrated the player by "dancing on
the pedals" as I played it.  That gives everybody the idea it's easy.

You can cross your legs, touch just one pedal with both toes alter-
nately, or touch a pedal and touch the floor, then the other pedal
and the floor, etc.  and you turn it into a rhythmic "dance."  It's
very show-off, and looks like you are just bumping the pedals once
in awhile.  As soon as they see you do that and realize that the music
didn't fade at any time and the tempo didn't change, then even when
they try pumping by pushing each pedal all the way down to the stops
and the music fades out, they know it isn't the player.  It's the way
they're doing it.

Of course, they loved to race the tunes with the tempo lever.  So I
told their mother in front of them that when we were kids, grandmother
would always compliment whoever played the roll the best, and they soon
got a reputation for really being able to make that player sing its

Naturally then, all the grandkids wanted to be "the one."  Instantly,
the girls stopped racing the rolls and tried to make them sound good,
using the buttons and sustain lever, like they watched me do.  And
naturally, we complimented them profusely.  It was a fun time.

That's a lot of the reward, watching a family get their first pumper
player and trying to sing along.  And, they will never forget it.
That will be a moment in their lives that they will re-live many times.

Craig Brougher

 [ Ah, the joys of the foot-pumped player piano, and interacting
 [ with the music; I love my ol' pumper!  :-)   -- Robbie

(Message sent Thu 5 Aug 1999, 12:44:59 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Pedal, Pumping, Rate

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