Antique Mechanical Restorations
Restorations Since 1973
The Purpose of this Writing
This writing focuses on aspects of restoration that are unique to the Ampico "A". The text and the photos will lead you through the restoration process of components found only in the Ampico "A" mechanism. Most of the processes necessary to restore an Ampico are common to all player mechanisms. These common techniques have already been covered in other books and therefore are not duplicated in this writing. If you are a hobbyist you should have a copy of: "PLAYER PIANO SERVICING & REBUILDING" by Art Reblitz.
While restoring your player mechanism, follow safety precautions pertaining to all power equipment, chisels and the like. Use proper ventilation and masks when working with dust and fumes. Be especially careful of old lead tubing. Dispose of the lead properly, and be careful not to inhale the lead dust or to get the dust on your skin.
Introduction to Ampico "A" Restoration
Many of the restoration tips and techniques found in this writing are collective ideas that have been shared by other restorers such as my long time friend Ben Gottfried (Ben’s Player Service). There are always different ways to approach a restoration. It takes considerable devotion in time and effort to properly restore an Ampico. You may choose to use different materials or methods than are discussed in this text. If I can stress one point, it is craftsmanship. Do neat work with attention to detail and realize that someone else will be working on the piano in the future.
I use traditional materials such as hot glue, shellac, leather etc. for most all the work I do. However, In this writing, I occasionally will refer to the use of some non-traditional materials. In the 1920's, player factories had limited materials to choose from, such as shellac and hot glue. Shellac was often used as a glue as well as sealant. Shellac is best for sealing wood to make it air-tight, but it is not a good substitute for glue. In this writing, the use of modern glue is suggested in place of shellac, as it is applied to non-porous surfaces. Also, I suggest slight changes to aspects of the mechanisms that have some shortcomings in their design.
If you would like to restore an Ampico, you should have a good bit of prior experience restoring other instruments. If you restore an Ampico without this proper experience, your piano may not express well upon completion. If you have been successful in restoring various types of upright players and can get them to pump with ease, then you are probably ready to take on the restoration of a reproducing piano. A good restoration means your piano will express well upon completion and the restoration will last a long time because there will be plenty of excess vacuum to take it through the years as the mechanism starts to age.
Your piano action must be in very good regulation. Remember that the player can only work as well as the piano action. If you are not familiar with action work add this book to your library: "PIANO SERVICING TUNING & REBUILDING" by Art Reblitz.
The old hammers are replaced on every piano I restore with Renner blue hammers. Voicing of hammers is a very important step in getting the most music from your piano. If you choose not to replace the hammers you must at least regulate the action.
If you are working on a grand piano replace the knuckles on the shanks and make sure your repetition springs work freely. Also, re-graphite the tops of the repetitions as well as the jacks.
Upright actions must be regulated as well. If your hammers do not check given the proper key dip this is an indication that you must install thicker butt felt. Butt felt is the felt square that the jack rests against. Very often, the buckskin on the butt is worn. When it is worn, I replace it with a high grade buckskin. I use fish glue to replace felt and buckskin on action parts. I also re-pin many of the action parts. I try to preserve as many original action parts as possible.
I replace the jack springs and re-glue the jacks as well as re-graphite them with DAG liquid graphite (Schaff Piano Supply). A good restoration will last 20 years, possibly longer if you keep your piano in an atmosphere with consistent humidity control. After 20 or 25 years you will probably only need to recover the note pneumatics and possibly the pneumatics covered with medium grade cloth.
Time has marched on and restorations have become more involved. Player mechanisms deteriorate more every year. It is important to be aware of this fact and to look for the next weak link in the chain. At this point I only restore a few pianos a year because restorations are more time consuming than ever. An average reproducing mechanisms takes more than 200 hours of labor to complete, not including piano work. The biggest challenge facing all restorers today is restoring a mechanism that has been worked on once before. Previously restored mechanisms are all too often subjected to further damages rather than preservation. And so, if you decide to restore any type of player, exercise craftsmanship and consideration for the next worker.
A great level of appreciation for an instrument can be developed when a collector restores his own instrument. I hope you enjoy the process.