[ Ref. 080827 MMDigest, "Restoring Orchestrion Percussion Instruments"
The replacement, as Stephen Kent Goodman outlined, was terrific.
I was in the same position a number of years ago. I had ordered a
new, blank, split rawhide drum head from a drum supplier and it hadn't
arrived at the time we wanted to use it in the instrument. The old
head was covered with 25 years of smoke, dirt, grease and grime from
it's original location plus 40 more years of less-than-hospitable
To make the head look presentable my partner, Joe Hanulec, and I looked
around his house in desperation for a suitable cleaner. His son had
some leather sneaker cleaner and I decided to try it.
As I applied the cleaner to the head of the bass drum (actually a
24-inch diameter parade drum) I was happy to see the years of age
disappear as the head gradually turned from brown to yellow to light
yellow to off-white. That would have been satisfactory in and of
itself, but I was further amazed that the head -- which originally was
stiff as a board -- was now as supple as I later found its replacement
We installed the newly cleaned head on the drum and after re-tensioning
it we were amazed at how well it sounded. We decided to let the
original head perform as Bass and Kettle Drum, as it had in 1910 when
it was originally installed in the Wurlitzer Mandolin PianOrchestra
It still beats, and enforces, the tempo of all the songs we have played
on it since its restoration in 1995. If this head could survive and
perform as it was designed for almost 100 years, you might be able to
save yours as well.
We are looking forward to celebrating the 100th Birthday of the drum
and the PianOrchestra in May of 2010. Perhaps we'll have a party for
So keep leather sneaker cleaner in mind the next time you have a
leather drum head you are thinking of replacing.
Syosset, New York