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Pedal-Electric Ampico A
Gary Dragona's 1926 Marshall & Wendell

(Julian Dyer 10/28/20)

Some pedal-electric Marque Ampicos were sold, certainly it was a regular model in the UK. The one I had contained no crescendo, and teed the crescendo tubes into the intensities. Much less complex than the regular A expression. It was just like this with the grasshopper pump. Mine would have been 1926-7. Pic 1 of the expression...

And the pump. I always read this was like the model for the spinet pianos of a decade later - which is back-to-front, as they clearly used the pump from this earlier model.

(Bob Taylor)

I think we have found an American Pedal/Electric Ampico! Just when we Ampico experts have thought we've seen it all. Don't forget Bob Stewart found an Ampico B upright!

Great pictures. These verify a couple of things I've found out about the system. Unfortunately, no one has a tubing diagram of the system, and making one will be difficult and time consuming. Although this might not make any sense to you at this time, I want to document what I see here. One, the valves used in the system are the common right-side up Ampico A valve blocks with a built-in bleed. Two, there are no crescendo devices in the system. However, it appears that the signals from 1B, 5B, 1T, and 5T (which normally control the operation of the crescendo devices) on the trackerbar are Teed into expression levels 4B, 6B, 4T, and 6T respectively. This would further seem to indicate the need for a spill valve of some sort in connection with the electrically-driven grasshopper vacuum pump. It's location, if present, is still unknown. It would also mean that there is no amplifier pneumatic. And, that being the case, the expressions levels do not platform as in the normal Ampico A system. It's unclear at this point what happens to expression levels 4 and 6 when crescendo levels 1 and/or 5 are called for at the same time as levels 4 and 6 -which is not uncommon in Ampico roll coding. With regards to the expression levels, it's my feeling that the system functions more like a Recordo system than an Ampico system, i.e., in descrete steps. Based on these and other pictures, it now appears that there's an Ampico Cut-Out block in the upper half of the piano in the area behind the tracking device and the Pressure sensing bellow. The operation of this block is controlled by an Ampico 'On'/'Off' switch in the spoolbox. If true, then all expression, including auto-sustain, are disabled when the switch is in the 'Off' position. It's still not clear if Auto-Rewind or Auto Shut-Off still function when the switch is in the 'Off' position. What complicates the functioning of these automatic features is the presence of the transposing trackerbar feature, which has five positions. Unless these features are all completely disabled when the switch is in the 'Off' position, it would be possible for regular note holes in a regular 88-note music roll to trigger these features in the middle of the roll, which is completely undesirable.

I'm trying to figure out what would happen if the slow or fast crescendo holes were to open at the same time as the 4 or 6 holes were open -which is not uncommon in Ampico coding. In this picture, it's clear that the 1T and 5T tubes go into a valve or block instead of being directly Teed into 4T and 6T. Makes me wonder if they somehow changed the stack pressure in the expression bellows to fool the system into playing slightly louder when the crescendo perforations were present.

Automatic switch uses the same switch as the Modify switch in regular Ampico A system.


This system gets more interesting every time I see more pictures. As you can see in the attached picture, the air switch that is normally used as the Modify switch in a regular Ampico A system is being used for Automatic in your system. As to why they have the bellows connected to the switch -which must be there to change it's position- I have no clue. When the bellows closes, is the switch in the 'On' or 'Off' position. Also, I see this 'pin' in the slot (see 'pin-1.jpg'). Is it securely connected to the switch lever arm? (When the bellows closes, the switch is in the 'On' position.)

I do see what's called the Automatic Expression Cut Out Block on the back of the spoolbox. It's operation is controlled by the Automatic 'On'/'Off' switch. So, in the 'Off' position, the player system should function as a regular player piano. My feeling is that when the switch is in the 'Off' position, the Expression device is triggered to operate at full volume -or whatever vacuum level is being created by the foot pumps or the electric vacuum pump. I'm also going to assume that in the 'On' position, the intention of the designers was to operate the system with the electric vacuum pump -as opposed to using the foot pumps. However, the foot pumps could still be used if desired. (The problem with using the foot pumps when the Ampico system is 'On' is that the Ampico system requires a constant vacuum level in order to produce a life-like performance. So, the user would have to maintain a very steady pumping technique in order to create a very steady vacuum source.) The 'upside' of having the foot pumps is that even if there was no electricity, the user could still enjoy the life-like music produced by the Ampico system when using Ampico rolls.

From MMD posting 201107 by David Perry

Subject: Pedal-electric Marque Ampico in UK

Dear Sirs, I have followed with mild interest the recent thread concerning the pedal-electric Marque Ampico. I happen to own such a piano, which I am led to believe is now the only example here in the UK, as the unrestored instrument to which Julian Dyer made reference in his own recent posting on this subject was, sadly, scrapped a few years ago following the death of its then owner.

Having acquired my Marque Ampico, I quickly found that there was little reliable published information on this particular type of player and my aim has therefore been, firstly, to attempt to establish and record its intended mode of operation and variations from the standard Ampico action, and then, secondly, to compare its actual reproduction of Ampico rolls when compared with rolls played on my Marshall & Wendell Ampico which has the full Ampico 'A' action.

Although I have made some progress towards these dual objectives, in that restoration of the Marque is moving slowly towards completion, there is still some way to go.

I confess to being somewhat of a novice as far as the Ampico action is concerned and I have therefore relied to a great extent upon the advice of Francis Bowdery -- an Ampico expert here in the UK -- in unravelling the key differences embodied in the Marque mechanism.

So far, it has, with his help, been possible to compile a series of schematic diagrams that set out the vacuum flows in all the various states of the mechanism -- thus giving a clearer picture of how the mechanism was intended to work. And I am now working on a tubing diagram, but this will take some time to complete as my spare time is limited.

From the work that I have already done on the Marque, it has been possible to draw some preliminary conclusions as to its effectiveness as a reproducing player. My overall conclusion is that it is a pale shadow of the full Ampico, being severely under-powered (the little "tugboat" electric exhauster cannot seem to create sufficient vacuum to operate satisfactorily the dynamic control mechanisms, even when assisted by the pedals).

A fundamental design flaw, in my view, was the use of the huge Amphion pedal exhauster mechanism which takes up two-thirds of the space below the keybed, leaving insufficient room for an adequately-sized electric exhauster to power the reproducing mechanism.

By comparison, Aeolian's Pedal-electric Duo-Art upright (where the familiar compact Aeolian pedal exhauster allows the accommodation with ease of a four-lobe exhauster and its motor alongside) represents, in my view, a far more sensible - and effective - use of the available space.

A second important shortcoming has been alluded to in Julian Dyer's posting, in that both dynamic controllers lack the Crescendo pneumatic found in the Ampico 'A' mechanism. Thus, when a 'Slow' or 'Fast' Crescendo is ordered from the roll, all that happens is that the current dynamic setting is overridden and setting T4/B4 or T6/B6 (respectively) is applied.

Julian suggests that the crescendo/decrescendo effect is left to the pianolist to provide through the pedals and this may, indeed, be the case. But then that hardly represents automated reproduction. It also reinforces the view that both the electric exhauster and the pedals must be used in combination in order to play Ampico rolls.

There are a number of other, smaller, issues that I have come across that lead me to conclude that my Marque Ampico, when completed, will compare unfavourably with a full Ampico, and if I am proved right, may help to explain (along with its relatively late introduction onto the market in the mid 1920s) why it appears to have made little or no impact here in the UK (and perhaps elsewhere) where the highly successful Aeolian PEDA was already dominant.

I am willing to supply (for the cost of postage) copies of the schematic diagrams I have already compiled for my own instrument -- and of the tubing diagram in due course -- if anyone would find them of use. Meanwhile, I attach a couple of photographs of my instrument, in case they are of interest.

The first is of one of the dynamic controllers, showing the substitution of a simple spring in place of the crescendo pneumatic. The second shows an intriguing indicator in the spoolbox designed to show the vacuum pressure at any moment in the main reservoir, suggesting, again, that the pianolist is required to 'top up' the output from the electric exhauster by working the pedals as well. (Note that the notched adjuster alongside the pressure indicator is for manual operation of the transposing tracker bar.)

I have not offered any more general pictures of my Marque as it appears to be identical to the instrument pictured in the illustrations associated with Mr. Tuttle's recent MMD posting. I am hoping, in the longer term, to produce an article on the Marque Ampico for publication in the UK's North West Player-piano Association newsletter, to help offset the present dearth of published information about this particular type of player and would welcome contact from any other owners of Marque Ampicos (pedal-only or pedal-electric) and to learn of their experience with this type of player.

In conclusion, can I just say that I was only alerted to this discussion through the good offices of a colleague as my own e-mail receipt of MMD postings has been intermittent at best and largely non-existent in recent weeks.

Regards to all,

David Perry
Newark-on-Trent, UK

(Correspondence with David 11/10/20)

Hi David,

Your MMDigest posting immediately caught my attention because I started gathering information about the system a couple of weeks ago.

First question: Would it be possible to scan the diagrams you've already produced so they could be emailed or downloaded?

Second Question: Can you measure the size of one of the bellows on the electric pump? My feeling is that the bellows are actually bigger than the bellows in the regular Ampico rotary vacuum pump. Also, the flywheel appears smaller, which might indicate that the pump is able to move more air than the regular pump. What I've been unable to locate in the pictures I've been sent (by the owner of the piano) is a spill valve.

Third Question: Have you been able to determine what triggers the bellow that changes the position of the Automatic 'On'/'Off' switch?

Fourth Question: Have you seen inside the valve block (marked in the attached picture) to determine how it functions or what effect it might have on the expression levels when the crescendo perforations occur at the same time as the level 4 or 6 perforations occur?

It was clear to me at the outset that Ampico rolls can only work when the transposing trackerbar is in the center position and the On/Off switch is in the On position. What's not clear at all is what expression level is set when the switch is in the Off position. It seems somewhat unlikely that the level would be set at a minimum playing volume because that would make it necessary for the user to constantly use the pushbuttons when regular 88-note rolls are being played.

In closing, I hope to continue corresponding with you as the 'secrets' of the system are unraveled.


John A Tuttle

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