Journal of Technical Questions & Answers

Reviewers: Allen Miller (AM), Carlton Smith (CS), Clark Wilson (CW), Don Phipps (DP), Jelani Eddington (JE), Jon Ortloff (JO)


Q. Is the Solo to whatever Pizzicato coupler on most theater organs on first touch or second touch? I thought I had seen it on second touch only but the new Allen organs apparently have it only on first touch.
 
A. First touch. (CS)

Pizzicato is on 1st touch. The confusion here may be because the Pizz tabs are/were usually located on the backrail with the 2nd touch tabs. (CW)


Q. What is the correct original colour of the bushing felt of pistons in key slips of Wurlitzer Organs
 
A. The correct color is green, also known as 'billiard cloth.' (JO)

Jonathan is absolutely right. Material is woven and not the pressed felt that is to be found in hobby and craft stores. (JW)

Some of the tricks in application might be useful. Nothing would be worse than gluing on a layer of billiard cloth (available from OSI) and wondering what is wrong. I will note that some builders used Red Bushing Cloth, the type with the rounded edge, not the thin red that has a white center. This is much thicker than the billiard cloth. Skinner and Austin (when they bushed pistons and knob shanks) used velvet, which comes in a variety of colors, of which I have seen green, brown, and violet used most. Billiard cloth is a short nap velvet. All of these have a fuzzy and a cloth side.

The material is folded over and glued to itself, fuzzy side out, and the folded edge is what will show. One can imagine getting messed up in glue and easily destroying the results. Here are the tricks I learned.

Work on a clean surface. Butcher’s paper or brown wrapping paper is good for this.

Cut the cloth into workable strips at least 1-1/2” wide. I prefer 2” for ease of working. Cut these strips 12” long.

You will need more than enough length for the total of the piston hole circumferences, or at least 2” per piston. You will have waste, so make up extra.

Lay the strips of cloth face (fuzzy side) down on the paper. Spray lightly and evenly with 3M #77 Spray Adhesive. Lightly! Do not soak the material, you only want it to be tacky.

Allow to dry a few minutes until tacky. Then, working with one strip at a time, transfer to another clean paper surface. Keep some Acetone and paper towels on hand as you will get some glue on your finger tips. Do this in a well-ventilated area away from flames or smoking!

Apply paper to the strips, covering only one half the width. 11” will cover all but ½” at each end.

Now carefully bend the cloth over the paper, folding it at the middle (edge of the paper) and smooth it out.

The paper gives the material just enough stiffness to make it easily workable.

Carefully determine the necessary lengths for each bushing piece. They will be about 1.9” long.

Using a paper cutter with a guide, trim the width to either the thickness of the key slip, OR, I prefer the thickness plus 1/16”. Wurlitzer slips I have seen used the narrower bushings and left the hole partly uncovered. My preference is to use the bushing width as a guide to how deep to insert the bushing…flush with the rear.

When cutting the strips to length, I prefer to taper the ends slightly so that there is more width at the fold edge.

Since the key slip/piston rail is usually pre-bored and newly refinished, you should sand the overspray from inside each piston home, using fine sandpaper over a small dowel. Always sand INTO the hole from the front.

Using hot hide glue, apply a thin coat to the inside of the hole. Wrap the bushing around a dowel (I like 3/8”) and insert it into the hole, again working from the front. The “overlap” should be at the bottom so it won’t show, and it should not actually overlap, but instead “butt” completely.

It is very helpful to have a few short dowels with a tapered end to plug the bushing as the glue dries. In a pinch, take the piston buttons and wrap a turn or two of masking tape around the buttons and use them as plugs.

This is generally a good job for a woman’s patience and dexterity. (AM)


Q. I have bought a set of Wurlitzer 25 note chimes, what is the best way of cleaning them, they seem quite dirty and have only slight pitting.
 
A.  have used plain old chrome polish and a buffing wheel to clean up Chimes like this. While not looking like brand new, they came out very shiny and looked good.(CW)

A. I have used Brasso with good results. Note that pitting is an eruption in the plating and that polishing may make it look worse, or lift the plating even more. (AM)
 


Q. I have just acquired a small all-original Wurlitzer organ of four ranks, and I plan to install it in my home. This is a hobby project on a very limited budget. I can't hire a professional builder or consultant and I want to do the work myself as a learning experience. My chamber will probably measure something like 10 feet by 14 feet or the size of a typical room in a house. The swell opening will be somewhere on the longer wall. How would best the ranks and parts be placed in this size chamber space and what treatment should the walls, floor and ceiling have. 
 
A. Is this organ original enough to still have its ground frame with it? If so, it should go back together exactly as it was in its first installation if at all possible. If not, certainly the manual chest should be near the shades with the offsets back against the three other walls of the chamber. In a home situation, I would be happy if the walls and ceiling were plaster (if older) or, in a newer case, double drywall glued and screwed, then painted gloss. It's hard to say exactly what to do not knowing just how the house is constructed, and it could also be argued that the organ will develop in a normal house pretty well no matter what the walls are. They should be thick enough to hold the organ back when the shades are closed. A floor ought to at least be good plywood that is painted (in a newer case) or sealed and in good shape (if old flooring of good construction). If the ground frame is missing, plywood that is doubled and securely screwed down can be used as a chamber floor to mount all parts to. It's a good idea to try to see that any floor is as level as you can get it. (CW)

My first reaction is “DON’T!” For two reasons, limited budget and “can’t hire a professional.” You should at least hire a professional THEATRE ORGAN restorer to advise you a bit further than this forum can. What you spend on good advice will FAR outweigh what the project will cost you in time, blood, sweat, and tears (perhaps big ones,) and most importantly, help you achieve an organ that will play and not wind up a pile of junk.

More organs have been destroyed by well-meaning enthusiasts who figured they would learn along the way, than perhaps by any other type of disaster.

An original theatre organ, now 80-90 years old, has long passed its useful life and will need total restoration. At this point, that also includes most organs that were supposedly “restored” 20 or more years in the past.

Four ranks is not a difficult size to restore and install.

I would add to Clark’s suggestions that without a floor frame, a ¾” plywood floor or overlayment, painted with gray deck paint is excellent flooring. For new construction, a first layer of ¾” plywood, covered with a layer of 5/8” sheet rock GLUED on (Elmer’s with a paint roller works well) makes for the ability to screw on braces and pipe racks or supports wherever convenient. For old walls, it might even be advisable to apply ¾” plywood over the existing walls, often only 3/8” sheetrock, and gloss paint that. If the house will later be sold and the room converted back, additional 3/8” sheetrock may be necessary to refinish the walls without cracks (between sheets) and any windows given new treatment.

Suffice it to say that existing windows should be covered. (AM)

The worst environment for a pipe organ is one where walls are not totally solid. (AM)
 


Q. What is the best and safest method to remove old ivory from keyboards to prepare for recovering?
 
A. I would send them out for recovering and bushing, but application of moist heat (wet cloth on a hot iron) is one method. (AM)

I agree fully with your suggestions and in that order. (CW)


Q. What's the best way and the best products to use when polishing the brass resonators of the trumpet, sax, etc. We have three sets that need to be done and I'd like to know opinions. Also, which lacquer or sealant is best to prevent tarnish over the years.
 
A. Sometimes there are secrets you hate to give away. I stumbled on this accidentally about 30 years ago. It enabled me to "polish" brass resonators for Bill Brown at a speed and price he never could figure out. So I got the business.

Traditionally, they are polished mechanically on large buffing wheels with lots of jeweler's rouge and elbow grease.

I figured that a first step, removal of the lacquer, would make life easier. That was the start of a new process:

1. Clean grime and loose lacquer with tri-sodium phosphate (Spic and Span.) My first step is to put all resonators I can fit into the dishwasher and run a cycle.

2. Remove remaining lacquer with Acetone in a well-ventilated area, such as outdoors.

3. You will be left with some reddish or even greenish oxidized or corroded areas that were originally missed when lacquered. Tackle these with Brasso and elbow grease.

4. Clean the brass to its original shine with Twinkle, following directions. Twinkle works chemically, you mainly wipe it on and wash it off.

This may reveal areas you missed. If so, repeat 3. and 4.

5. Rinse and dry the resonators. Handle with cotton gloves. Do not touch the brass from this point on.

6. Spray with lacquer or hand finish with brushing lacquer. Either works well. Krylon plastic coating (the original Krylon) also works well. Krylon now has spray lacquer, also Deft and a few other companies.

I have yet to find anything that will not change the appearance over time. The brass will eventually take on a more orange color looking more like gold. (AM)

This seems like the quickest way, as most of what I've seen did indeed involve a lot of time, polish, muscle, and anguish. I've seen Allen’s results and they look very, very good, so I can't see trying much different than what he suggests. (CW)

Also, which lacquer or sealant is best to prevent tarnish over the years. Thanks!

Maybe there is a better answer to this than lacquer, but I haven't found it. (AM)


Q. How to remove dents in the tin tubing for the stop action. What's the best way to remove the tubing without causing damage
 
A. It is usually adhered with burnt shellac, in which case, I would immerse the wood junction in alcohol until the tubing was loose. I might try forcing a screen door spring into the tube if it would fit...never tried it. That is a common way to remove dents from tubing, and also for bending it. (AM)

I agree on the removal, and Stout's guys actually used wood dowel rod to round everything out before re-bending and fitting for the California console. It looked like new. (CW) .


Q. We are making an organ functional for fund raising, a Wurlitzer Style 216. All the percussions & traps are now located outside the swell shades on both the Main and Solo chambers. The 12 16ft bourdon is also out of the chamber. This is how we found them upon first inspection. The traps block the original 5 rank solo chest, between the shades and the exterior grill. The Question is when the complete restoration takes place, should they all be moved back inside the chambers back under expression?
 
A. I would say definitely yes. (CW)

I agree completely; everything should be enclosed. (JW)

The Bourdon should be against a solid wall. If you need to lay them horizontally due to space limitations, keep the mouths as close as possible to a corner. The Traps should be placed high and if at the rear of the chamber, they should have a clear line-of-sight path to the shades (tone opening.) (AM)


Q.  How do I punch nice clean holes in leather or felt?
 
A.  Arch Punches are the tools of the centuries.  More modern punches have been custom made as “steel blade” cutters, as were used in the shoe industry with hand-operated Clicker Punches.  These cutters can be made in any size and shape as well as in multiples in a single die.
 
Arch punches are hand forged and the cutter is not well centered on the handle, which is also somewhat square.  This type of punch, available from organ suppliers, must be used with a soft head mallet and it is necessary to punch into end grain of a wood bock.  The block must be re-surfaced (sawn off) after numerous punchings.  For a clean punching, you must punch into a new area each time.
 
My preference is for rotary punches or cutters.  For small holes from 3/32” to ½”, a set of 9 punches are available from Harbor Freight (#03838) for $4.99, $3.99 when on sale.
 
In use, you set them in a drill press and cut into a stationary piece of wood or a backing such as hard cardboard (not corrugated) and set the drill stop so that you only bore into the backing enough to get a clean punch.  You may punch several layers at a time.
 
Self-healing cutting boards such as are found in fabric shops or for kitchen use make excellent backing boards.
 
For larger holes, there are hand punches that come in sets with several cutters and one threaded hand tool.  The set I have has a standard 5/8” thread, so I simply made a tool for the drill press from a 5/8” machine bolt by cutting off the head.
 
The larger tools are used the same as the smaller ones.
 
The slowest speed on your drill press is recommended. (AM)


Q. What is the span of a Wurlitzer Primary pneumatic?
 
A. Original chest primaries had an internal span of ½” resulting in an overall span of 1”.
 
This is an important dimension.  When installed and the valve spool threaded on, the primary pneumatic should be no more than 1/8” collapsed when in the off position.  All non-pouch pneumatics rely upon the vector force of the sides of the folds pressing inward to impart extra force toward collapsing the pneumatic.  The purpose of this is to give extra force to break the initial pluck of the valve uncovering the exhaust hole.  If you start with a pneumatic partly collapsed, you have lost much of its force.
 
Likewise, the pneumatic must not be adjusted to be any less than 3/32” collapsed.  You need to allow for changes in the materials.
 
If the pneumatic has too much leather (too much span) you either cannot properly adjust it, or the head will start to cover the refill hole in the chest. (AM)


Q.  Has anyone ever come up with a “lift” for the upper horseshoe section of a console so that it might be raised by one person?
 
A.  Garrett Shanklin came up with this idea and the design was around a standard cylinder used in Shanklin shrink wrap packaging machines.  After designing this, the cylinders were never incorporated into the console by the rebuilder.  Neither of the Shanklin consoles have the pneumatic lift assists he "invented."

At Karl Saunders' in Zanesville, OH, I used two  1" diameter air cylinders I purchased from The Shanklin Company (with their name on the cylinders.)  These were "specials" and I believe were by "Bimba."  They were installed about halfway back from the front, the location determined by the length of travel needed to match the cylinders.  I then installed a small pressure regulator and gauge and the console is connected to shop air by a hose which runs along with the console cable, with typical disconnect.  I am not certain of the exact length, but I think they are 8".

The regulated pressure is set to about 80 PSI in the Saunders' console.

When I want to raise the horseshoe, I turn on the shop air compressor.  The console can be raised with two fingers and toggles over-center so that it stays up and needs a slight bit of force to lower.  The bypass of fill or exhausted air through the regulator slows the motion such that it is nicely controlled and can't get away from you.  I  still use the original steel stops or wood blocks if I want to raise the top further, as a safety precaution.(AM)