[ Re "Quality Of Cloth Used In Player Pianos", 040204 MMDigest:
> Hi all, just wondering what factors are contributing to the fact that
> current available pneumatic and bellows cloth just don't stand up like
> the originals. Is it a factor of environmental concerns, i.e., the
> original manufacturing process creates a hazardous situation, or the
> materials are unavailable, perhaps you can't get the same type of
> leather anymore.
I understand that the useful life of leather depends to a small degree
on environment, but to a much larger degree on tanning methods and on
growing conditions of the animal whose hide is used.
Chrome-tanned (mineral tanned) leather is the leather recommended for
bellows use, as opposed to vegetable-tanned (tannin tanned) leather.
In the "old days," when there was an appreciable market for organ
leathers, some cattle were raised especially for their hides, and care
was taken to produce the best quality hide possible. Today tanneries
have to take what they get, from cattle that were raised for their
meat, not for their hides.
The situation with regard to pneumatic cloth is probably similar to
that for music roll paper. No large industrial producer of paper today
makes paper especially for music rolls. There just is no market for
the product that would warrant making up a special batch of music roll
paper, although in the first half of the 20th century there was such a
market -- and it was satisfied. Instead, people like Richard Tonnesen,
Mike Grant, Play-Rite, and maybe even QRS have to take whatever a paper
mill can furnish that is closest to the thickness and quality of paper
that they need. Then they have to buy what is for them a huge
quantity, but is for the mill a piddling amount.
A small operation like Durrell Armstrong's Player Piano Company is
in no position to dictate to a rubber cloth manufacturer how much clay
filler is used in their rubber. Things like that affect the durability
and life of the cloth. If that manufacturer is a supplier of rainwear
fabric or rubber cloth for other industrial use, longevity of the cloth
is not as much a concern as it is for the player piano technician. Even
if you are willing to pay a premium price for a better fabric, you will
be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer who is willing to deal with you,
when he finds out how little you will buy.
In such a market, you find that every batch you buy is a little
different than the last batch. If you do find a small niche
manufacturer who can and will supply what you need -- consistently,
order after order -- you hold your breath, wondering how long he will
last before old age or a multi-national conglomerate does him in.
Matthew Caulfield (Irondequoit, New York)