I recently received a small 1927 Chickering Ampico console reproducer
(88-notes, but only 46" high) with the strangest top action frame I
could ever imagine in a player of any kind.
There may be something missing that I haven't seen, but from what I can
see, there is no way to tune this piano because the tray containing the
top action and spool box completely covers the top of the piano action,
and fills the rest of the piano flush with the underside of the lid.
That puts it smack against the ends of the tuning pins. It then is
tubed into the stack and expressions the usual way.
The user plays a roll by raising a hinged flush hatch cut into the lid
and loading the roll from the top. All controls are in the action
frame spool box. There are no control levers on the keybed.
(Whoever rebuilt this player about 30 years ago forgot to replace the
top of the motor governor's reroll valve cover, which would create an
enormous leak that could not be heard. Their solution was simple:
they used a very large motor pulley to rev up the pump to about three
times faster than it was designed to turn. Of course, the motor had no
problem with that, since the leak to air would have been gigantic, even
though the motor governor sits flush against the bottom of the keybed
and so may have retained a little bit of vacuum by reason of its
My question to anyone who has seen one of these pianos (it is not the
"Tom Thumb" Ampico, by the way) is, how did Ampico expect a tuner to
actually service the instrument? Is it true that perhaps John Tuttle's
mentor was jealous of his fellow tuners who actually did have magic
wands instead of tuning hammers? I have noticed what I think is pixie
dust sprinkled here and there, but it doesn't seem as though it can be
recycled. I have just vacuumed it up. Don't tell me now, "That's the
stuff. That's it. You shouldn't have done that, Craig!"
There are two swivel brackets at each end of this top action frame,
but they only position it in relation to the tuning pins. They cannot
allow it to rotate out of the case. And of course, if it were designed
to rotate upward, then all the tubing would be stretched taut in front
of the tuning pins like spaghetti.
What I think to do is to redesign it to allow perhaps rotary
displacement down, between the keyboard and the tuning pins. This
action frame is about 3-1/2" deep x 10-1/4" wide x 49-1/2" long. That
gives it a couple of inches clearance on each end. However, if anyone
knows better, before I undertake this project, please let me know.
I have only seen what's left of this mechanism after a botched first
And if anyone can shed some light on this piano or this type of player,
I would appreciate it too. I don't think there are too many of them
(Thank goodness). I have noticed, however, that certain areas and
stores carried certain models that no one else carried. Perhaps
certain stores in a few large cities even had some of these made to
order for their own apartment dwelling clientele. So it may be an
experimental reproducing piano idea indigenous mainly to a certain test
sector of the country.
Reminds me of the Duo-Art cross valve stack with the pinched stems and
top stem guides having a thin slot instead of a round hole, obviously
to prevent rotation. It was a nice try.