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MMD > Archives > July 2012 > 2012.07.27 > 04Prev  Next

Piano Roll Repair Using Cellulose Acetate
By John Phillips

Hello MMD.  A long time ago, before I discovered Filmoplast Archival
tape, I was casting around for a way of repairing damaged piano rolls,
that would be less tedious then using Magic Tape.  Someone, I don't
remember who, suggested that it might be feasible to paint cellulose
acetate, which is soluble in acetone, along the edges of a damaged roll.
So I bought some cellulose acetate from a local chemical supplier.

It came in the form of small transparent beads, like animal glue
pearls, but without the brown color.  I dissolved the beads in acetone
and obtained a fluid with roughly the consistency of a runny varnish.
I painted this along the two sides of a very ordinary Broadway roll,
which was not badly damaged; it was available and I was prepared to
sacrifice it.  The cellulose acetate dried very rapidly, and I didn't
have to wait very long before I could roll up the section of paper
I had been working on.

When I gave the roll a test run; it played flawlessly.  I wrote the
date on the roll before putting it away.  Since then I have played the
roll a couple of times, never with any trouble.  The date on the leader
is 13th July, 1974, and it still plays perfectly well.

I was poking around in my workshop about a week ago, and came across
a carton upon which I had written "88n rolls that need attention".
Most of them were rolls that had damaged edges, as one would expect.
One was a large Aeolian Themodist Metrostyle roll of a movement of
a Schumann Sonata, and I decided to have a go at that. I found that
I still had half a jar of beads and that I could still buy acetone from
our local paint store.

This was a pleasant surprise; I had feared it would be banned from
sale these days.  I remember buying black powder (the sort that
explodes, given the chance) from a dusty old shop in Hobart about
sixty years ago, when I was a teenager.  As the proprietor poured the
powder into the bag he said "Nobody smoke, I hope!"  One can't do that
any more, which is just as well.

It probably wasn't wise to choose the Schumann roll; it's about sixty
feet long, and it took a long time to paint on strips of cellulose
acetate -- but not as long as it would have taken with tape.  I started
at the end and worked backwards.

All went well until I had almost reached the beginning when I came
across a section where the roll had been ripped halfway across its
width.  A previous owner had attempted a repair with ordinary sticky
tape, which was well and truly fossilized.  I successfully got this
old tape off with a mixture of 60% alcohol and 40% toluene, and made
a new repair with Filmoplast-R, the iron-on variety. I managed not to
cover any of the music perforations, a refinement that hadn't troubled
the previous repairer.

To my relief, the roll still fitted onto its spool when I had finished;
it certainly wouldn't have, had I used tape.

During all the messing about with acetone and toluene I kept my workshop
door wide open, to ensure a supply of fresh air.  It's wintertime here
so the workshop was chilly but tolerable. I went hiking with a friend
who is a retired chemistry lecturer yesterday and he told me that
neither is particularly toxic, so my kidneys probably won't dissolve in
the near future. Benzene, on the other hand, is bad news; one should be
very careful with that.

I should mention that the roll does play now, almost flawlessly.  There
may be a treble cipher halfway through; I had better look at that.

John Phillips in Hobart, Tasmania

(Message sent Fri 27 Jul 2012, 07:08:07 GMT, from time zone GMT+1000.)

Key Words in Subject:  Acetate, Cellulose, Piano, Repair, Roll, Using

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