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Farrand, Cecilian and Bush & Lane
Player Actions... Comparison.
by Dean Randall

Rebuilding the Bush & Lane Metal Cecilian Action - Click Here!

From: (Dean Randall)
To: John A Tuttle
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 00:46:31 -0700

Subject: Farrand, Cecilian and Bush & Lane Player Actions

Hi all, In MMD 990514 Ed Gaida mentions having a "double-hernia" model Bush & Lane player action to restore and notes that, while PPCo suggests that the action is common, he hasn't previously encountered one.

Here (in Western Washington State) they are indeed relatively common, although I can't imagine why that is so. They were made a long way away, in Holland, Michigan (no matter what the fallboard decal says). Then too, Bush & Lane pianos were _very_ expensive, and this was not a particularly prosperous part of the country in the 'teens and 'twenties. But there were, nevertheless, three Bush & Lane stores in Seattle by 1917, selling Farrand, Victor and Bush & Lane pianos. I've never seen a Paulus, the bottom-of-the-line Bush & Lane marque.

In 30 years here I have encountered about 45 Bush & Lane Cecilian actions in the above three marques, many of the same brands containing the earlier Farrand-Cecilian action, and countless numbers of the same pianos which were not players. Uprights seem to have outsold grands by a large margin.

The early Bush & Lane players used Autopiano actions. Later, Walter Lane opted to use the Farrand-Cecilian action which, while it was doubtless excellent, is a very difficult restoration today. (Paren- thetically, we call these the "Teakettle Cecilian" locally because the primary valves look like 88 little teakettles on the front of the stack.)

After Bush & Lane acquired Farrand in the mid 'teens, to have the name "Cecilian", they completely redesigned the action to the variety which Ed has. If this was not the tightest player action built in the US it must certainly run a close second.

In the usual configuration the only wood parts are the pump and reservoir boards (often 7-ply and varnished inside and out) and the pneumatic boards themselves. All tubing from the tracker-bar to the die-cast valves is also metal, first lead to a brass tube, then nickel- plated brass from the brass to the cast valve. The only rubber tubing is from the finger buttons to the accessory pneumatics, and a short length of hose from each end of the pump to a manifold on each end of the stack. Oh, and from the governor to the right manifold and from that to the 6-point double-opposed wind motor.

The point being that there's very little opportunity for leakage. Every separable joint is gasketed.

It was a beautifully designed mechanism which works extremely well, but it is incredibly heavy. Do _not_ attempt to lift it in or out of the piano by yourself, even if your nickname is "King Kong".

The pump has four reservoirs; two of the normal variety at each end of the lower unit, and two smaller (each about the size of a pedal pneumatic) on the front. Each is sprung differently and they collapse in order, thus enabling extremely subtle accents.

When installed in Bush & Lane instruments the player is usually veneered and finished to match the piano, and Bush & Lane was noted for exceptionally beautiful veneers. In Victor and Farrand pianos the player was usually lacquered black.

Generally, a fine Wessel, Nickel & Gross hammer action was used. I've seen one Bush & Lane with a very deluxe Wessel, Nickel & Gross action incorporating lost-motion compensation and genuine sostenuto, but only the one. That style of hammer-action is, however, not uncommon in non-players.

As you can tell by this over-long post, it's my favorite player action and there is, in fact, a walnut 1921 Farrand-Cecilian with this action stressing the floor in my dining room at this moment. I bought it for my own use this past weekend and it was moved in today. It requires restoration of everything from the casters up and I paid too much for it, but...

Ed mentioned that in his the die cast parts are still in good condi- tion. This is the usual situation here as well. I suspect that perhaps Bush & Lane learned early on that it was not good to have a lot of lead in the pot metal. I've found only the earliest of them showing much deterioration and that damage was evident as long ago as 1970.

There seems to have been some experimentation with aluminum for the valve castings as I've encountered several which had a few aluminum valves scattered in with the rest, all dating 1917-1919.

Robbie asked about the Otto Higel Metalnola: I've done two of those, both in the early 70s, both in Canadian pianos (one was a Dominion from Bowmanville Ontario, I don't recall the marque of the other) and both had themeing devices. I recall them as being rather straightforward restorations with (at that time) no pot-metal deterioration, and I remember that both played well and were pleasant to pedal. Sorry, I don't have any pictures.

Again, apologies for the length of the post -- you hit my "passionate" button!

Dean Randall, on sunny-for-a-change Puget Sound

1st Addendum:

There are at least 4 versions of the Cecilian built during the B & L period.... the die-cast 3-tier, a 2-tier version, a version executed in wood, and the very late and very scarce "Unitype" action, a single-tier stack in which the valves work on an entirely different principle from the norm. Alan Pier did a brief piece on it for the AMICA Bulletin with a diagram back in the mid 1970s.

2nd Addendum:

John Tuttle wrote:
Your article helps clarify some of the confusion surrounding Bush & Lane, Farrand and Cecilian.
Dean Randall replied:
I guess I hadn't realized there was any particular confusion. First there were the Cecilian 65-note pushups which play the weirdly spaced rolls, then the "usual" Farrand-Cecilian (teakettle) then after Bush & Lane took over, the B & L Cecilian actions.......perhaps it's just because they are common in the Puget Sound region that I tend to think they are equally common elsewhere.

Bush & Lane pianos were beautifully built - rather much over-built at times - and often with rather unusual cases; always with beautiful veneers.

The B & L Company operated between 1901 and 1931 - a rather short history, unfortunately. By 1931 it was apparent there there was no longer a viable market for very expensive top-of-the-line pianos (uprights especially) in any great quantity. The factory closed still solvent, and that was the end of it.

For more information about these instruments and actions, visit the Archives at the Mechanical Music Digest.... Still the best web site for indepth information about thousands of topics related to mechanical musical instruments.

This page was assembled by John A. Tuttle on May 16, 1999. The information contained in this page may not be used without the express written permission of Dean Randall's heirs, and the owners/editors of the MMD. (It is with heavy heart that I inform you of the passing of Dean Randall, of Tacoma, WA, on Sunday, February 23, 2003.)

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