This Mills Violin Virtuoso is part of the Guinness Collection housed at the Morris Museum in Morristown New Jersey. If you are ever in North Jersey take the time to visit. You'll see automatic pianos, music boxes and automata.
This machine was in good working order and had been worked on through the years to keep it going but it had never been restored. I was hired to rebuild the machine. The cabinet had been refinished at one time so that was to be left as it was.
This is the machine before restoration.
Interior showing old cables, coin mech, back of roll frame (right) and piano magnet stack (left).
Unrestored back showing piano magnet stack (piano action removed).
Plate (harp) removed, being fine sanded and defects filled in with auto body scratch filler.
Plate after applying primer.
This piano was subjected to a great deal of moisture during its life. On top of that, someone stripped the finish from both sides of the soundboard not doubt to make it look better for a sale. Without the protection of a finish, the wood flexed in every direction and broke down most of the glue joints.
Here you see the soundboard fell completely out of the structure without any coaxing. The piano bridge fell off as well after removing its screws, there was no glue holding it on.
The bass section of the bridge came apart with just a bit of help.
The back structure (upside down) in front of the sound board.
Back structure showing nonexistent glue joints.
Gluing bottom structure of frame (upside down).
Gluing up the board the soundboard is attached to.
This shocking sight shows the filler boards used by the Mills factory. A few collectors stopped by my shop while I was working on this and had the same reaction. I can't believe they used this wood in the structure.
There are two more layers of wood that are glued on top of this surface.
Here's the same area that was in the last photo. I routed out the bad areas and filled in with poplar to increase the gluing area. Then I roughed up the wood to insure a solid glue joint.
This layer of maple has been glued on top of the structure of the previous photo. This is not the pinblock, the pinblock is yet another layer added on top of this wood. The ends of the tuning pins do enter this area. Rather than replacing the entire board, I have made an insert from pinblock material. This insert will be screwed and glued in place and the gaps will be filled with PC7 epoxy.
The new pinblock blank has been made to the exact dimensions of the original above. It will be glued in place over the surface shown in the previous photo. The plate will be installed and the holes for the tuning pins will be drilled.
The soundboard is scraped and spruce shims are glued to fill in cracks. The wood plane is used to level the shim material. The board is scraped clean. It is important not to apply paint remover to the soundboard as it would affect the quality of the sound.
The bridge is glued in place.
The soundboard is finished in shellac.
Ready to install after stringing.
The piano action shown upside down. Applying new felt to bottom of action parts (whippens).
Applying new felt to the action parts. Jacks in the forefront, dampers in the upper photo.
Completed piano action.
The bottom structure of the cabinet fell to pieces. Here we see the piano lying on its back. The right side of the photo shows an area where the foot or toe has been broken off. The entire bottom of the cabinet has been removed due to glue failure.
The toe has been repaired and is being glued in back in place.
Bottom view of the bottom of the cabinet. The structure has been glued in place and new corner blocks have been made to replace the old ones. The bottom will be painted after the paint has dried.
The converter that is stationed in the bottom of the cabinet is bolted to the two vertical steel bars shown here.
The cabinet is back on its feet and the back has been installed.
Magnet stack for operating 44 piano notes. The center magnets have been removed. These magnets have more power than the others to compensate for the added weight of the larger bass hammers.
Disassembling the magnets.
The covering has been removed to reveal the original copper magnet wire. New lead wires have been soldered in place and the old rubber has been scraped from the fiber tops. The old covers will be put on again as will as new rubber rings.
Preparing to replace the old cable. Facing out are the tiny adjustable nuts used to set the length of the contact brushes. These brushes made up of two fine wires, rub against the paper music roll and complete the circuit when a hole in the roll allows them to meet with the contact roller. There are 123 brushes on this assembly and some of the brushes have two electrical wires attached to them. The old cable is light green, the new is dark.
The new wires are being soldered in place. A short length of insulating shrink tubing is slid down over the solder joint.
The new cable is installed. The contact assembly is ready to be installed.
The old cable for the violin finger magnets is being replaced. Another cable leading to the piano magnets will be replaces as well as smaller cables for the bow motor and the bow magnets.
Assembling the violin section.
I don't have a picture of the completed machine so, until I'm able to get one, here's a photo of mine.