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MMD > Archives > November 2001 > 2001.11.25 > 06Prev  Next

Percussion Instruments in Orchestrions
By Craig Brougher

The drum of the Coinola was mentioned by Don Teach in his last posting
as not being as loud as those in buildups.  That is true.  They are
more "mellow-sounding."  I think he speaks of the snare drum there

One of the most important things about an orchestrion is the sound of
its percussion.  Most buildups I have heard sound like WW2 in a toy
store.  Balance is everything, when you are making an orchestrion play
well.  They just don't do the rolls or the original sound justice if
they are not also pretty and rhythmic.  One good test is to see how
many tunes in a row you can listen to at one time, before you want to
call it a night.

Too often, however, the builders have concentrated on the mechanics
of the art, and primarily endure the noise for the joy of watching the
beaters hit.  I suspect it's one reason why so many collectors have
never changed their roll in over 20-30 years!  A new roll would not

Coinola did scale their drum power, but that is done with the size of
the beaters and the travel of the bendable beater rod, rather than the
size of the supply hoses.  Were you, as a drum designer, to try to
scale its loudness at the end by throttling, using supply hose
diameters or valve travel for the given pneumatic size selected, you
would quickly be in trouble with the response time of the drum, both
in its ability to actuate quickly enough, and to return.  So if you
want to control the maximum volume of a drum, do it primarily with the
snare wires and the size and shape of the pneumatic and the bendable
beater rod that allows you to make fine adjustments.

I personally like to put an adjustable 12/28 machine screw into either
the moveable leaf or the fixed leaf of the single strike pneumatic (of
a buildup) and initially adjust the minimum gap first.

There are other little things you can do, all of which depend on the
range of drum expression air you can use.  Coinola couldn't use much of
that because of the way in which the pipes were played from piano stack
vacuum into the pressurized pipe chest, and there was a tricky balance
between the two, along with an adjustable spring inside the pipe chest,
in order to get each pipe to speak promptly and cut off promptly.

Craig Brougher

 [ At the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival I listened attentively
 [ to a very loud 8-piece band performing in a big hotel ballroom with
 [ no amplification.  I could see the drummer at work but all I could
 [ hear was his bass drum, and it sounded simply beautiful -- like a
 [ well-damped bass drum in a good hot 1920s band should.  Its sound
 [ was "bump bump", not "bong bong"!  A musician in the band said the
 [ drum was 26 inches diameter by 14 inches deep, with new calfskin
 [ heads.  The beater appeared standard, covered with short-hair wool
 [ or a similar synthetic.  The damping is possibly lots of balls of
 [ tightly crumpled stiff newspaper inside the drum; I've heard this
 [ method was favored by Hollywood studio drummers in the 1930s.
 [ -- Robbie

(Message sent Sun 25 Nov 2001, 17:12:59 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Instruments, Orchestrions, Percussion

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