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Piano-Lodeon: Repair Information

Hi All,

I'm now the proud owner of a PianoLodeon (correct name is Piano-Lodeon -at least that's what's on the nameplate on the front of the unit). The name on the box of rolls that came with the unit reads Piano Lodeon.

I've read every posting in the MMDigest, and I'm collecting information from various other sources on the web. Notably missing from the history of this cute little toy piano is 'when it was actually made' and how many of them were manufactured. However, since Douglas Henderson's post says there was a white model made after the maroon model, and considering that one post noted a maroon model with a serial number of 909, one can assume that there were at least 1000 units produced.

After my initial inspection of the piano, which didn't work at all, it became clear that there was a definite order to the way it had to be taken apart, so as not to damage anything.

First, the back was removed and the power cord was cut at the two points where crimp connectors where used to connect the cord to one leg of the On-Off switch and one leg of the AC motor. Next, the On-Off switch was loosened from the cabinet. A simple brass, round collar nut is used to secure the switch to the cabinet. Next, the 'striker assembly' was removed. It is actually secured in place by two of the screws that are used to secure the back to the cabinet, but it simply slides out of the unit. Next, the 23 pieces of 1/4" I.D. rubber tubing were removed. Next, the nameplate on the front of the unit was removed. It is held in place by four metal tabs which pass through slots in the plastic case and bent inward to secure the nameplate to the case. Next, the rubber drive belt was removed. Next, the four screws that hold the entire player action and keyboard into the cabinet were removed. Two pieces of metal, one on each side, are located between the screws (two on each side) and the plastic mounts so that the screws apply a more even pressure to the plastic. (Probably to reduce the possibility of cracking the plastic when the screws are tightened.)

The second phase of the dismantling process involved removing the motor assembly. It is secured to the 'action' by four screws which pass through rubber grommets. The grommets are attached to the aluminum housing and there are four brass inserts which prevent the grommets from getting crushed when the screws are tightened. I can only imagine that this extra effort, i.e. the rubber grommets and brass inserts, were installed to reduce the vibration noise generated by the motor and the associated plastic turbine fan and gear drive. (Frankly, the noise generated by the fan is 3-5 times louder than any other mechanical noises in the unit.) Once the motor assembly is free, the first real challenge becomes quite obvious.

Phase Three: The plastic turbine fan (the 'fan') is secured to the motor shaft with a force-fit metal clip. In all my years, I have never found a tool which loosens the 'death-grip' these steel clips have on a metal shaft. The only way they can be removed is by filing them off. A good jewelers file does the trick. The next challenge is removing the fan from the motor shaft. After a number of futile attempts to pry it off -taking extreme care not to crack the old plastic, I opted to use a small hammer and appropriately sized punch to drive the shaft down and away from the fan. By supporting the fan from the underside at four points (it's hard to put this into words) and tapping gently on the shaft, the fan finally came free. In hindsight, this was indeed the scariest part of the entire restoration process. Once the fan was off, the motor was removed from the housing.

Phase Four: "The Actual Problem". While it had become obvious to me some hours earlier that the motor was the heart of a major problem, it wasn't until it was dismantled that I found out what was actually wrong. The motor assembly is comprised of only four basic parts; The rotor, the stator, and the upper and lower bearings (and their associated housings). This fan-type motor is extremely common, and like most old fan-type motors, the bearings are usually the problem when they quit working. This was indeed the case here, and the lower bearing was frozen to the shaft. Freeing the bearing from the shaft turned out to be the second scariest part of the whole process. While the shaft is steel, the bearing housing is made of some inexpensive alloy that looks pretty fragile. Upon very close inspection, I could see the brass collar (or bearing), and I located a steel tube with the same inside diameter as the outside diameter of the shaft. Placing the tube over the shaft, I gently tapped on the tube until the bearing moved a slight amount. Then, using a penetrating fluid, I soaked the bearing for an hour or so, and over the next couple of hours was able to get it free.

In my opinion, the 'problem' could have been avoided if the bearing had been lubricated at some point during the life of the device. BTW, it was the 'lower' bearing that was frozen. So, a maintenance note has been tacked to the back of the piano which advises this simple preventative maintenance action.

Other work needed to be done to the motor with regards to cleaning and aligning of the rotor because the position of the shaft is critical to the position of the fan. And, the position of the fan is critical to the generation of the vacuum. There should only be a couple of thousandths of an inch of clearance between the 'top' of the fan and the felt washer that's glued to the bottom of the player action. If the fan touches the felt, it will cause drag which prevents the motor from reaching full speed -thus reducing the vacuum level. If the fan is as little as 1/32" from the felt, the vacuum leaks out a sufficient amount as to reduce performance -or the volume of the music. Here's a video that shows how easily the motor should turn by hand and how it turns with power applied.

Phase Five: 'The Player Action': To simply say that this action is very unique is a gross understatement. It is ingenious! It utilizes all of the basic principles of a normal player action but employs parts that are anything but normal. At the outset, and being totally forthright, I don't fully understand the physics. I searched Google Patents for hours to see if I could find a patent, but I came up empty. (That, for me, is the saddest part of this whole project.) I would love to get into the mind of the person responsible for creating this very simple, in terms of parts, yet marvelously complex, in terms of action, device.

In a YouTube video that I posted (click here), I demonstrate how the device works, and I show each of the parts, and try to explain what I believe is the function of each part. It only has "TWO" moving parts. I find that amazing!! Equally fascinating is the fact that the unit appears to work on less than two inches of vacuum. (I tried to measure the level using my standard 0-100 gauge, and it didn't even move.) However, it does use a lot of air. I won't attempt to explain that here, but it brings to mind something I've determined for myself after nearly forty years are a player technician. I've determined that there are basically two factors when it comes to controlling the power (or energy) created by vacuum-operated devices like player pianos; air flow and vacuum level.

At this point, I must back-step and state that there is one major difference, vis-a-vis the theory of operation, between this device and a regular player mechanism. In a pneumatic player piano, the maximum amount of power occurs at Time Zero, when the bellows starts to collapse. From there, it curves down to zero -when the bellows is fully collapsed. In the PianoLodeon, the power is minimum at Time Zero and it increases as the "striker vane" (a term coined by Mike Kitner -MMDigest 1999.03.12.05) accelerates. After the vane speeds up, the mass of the vane has enough inertia to lift the key and the plastic striker with enough force to play the note. In the unit I have, there is enough air flow created by the fan to play all of the notes if they are 'uncovered' one at a time across the 23-note scale. (I can only imagine how well it would play if an external vacuum source and a 2" opening were used, and three inches of vacuum was applied...)

In finishing up this phase of the process, it is stated, as others have noted before, that any sort of debris in the 'valve' which prevents it from opening and closing, with just a breath of air, will prevent the note from working properly. Either it will stay 'on' all of the time, or it won't work at all.

Phase Six: "The Transmission": This set of gears allows for three modes of operation; Play, Silent, and Rewind. There's nothing complicated about this assembly. However, the grease that was originally used hardens with age. So, it all needs to be removed and replaced with a modern gear grease.

Phase Seven: Re-Assembly and Testing: Pretty painless. Just put all the pieces back in the reverse order as they were taken apart. Just for fun, I made up a 'test roll' using a piece of QRS roll paper and a hole punch. (Not rocket science... ;-) Finally, here's a link to another YouTube video that shows the device in action from inside the device (click here). It was shot as I was putting the unit back together. I have another video of when I was installing the stack, (click here).

John A Tuttle
Brick, NJ, USA

EDITORS NOTE: The correct size tubing for the trackerbar is 1/4" ID (#8) player piano tubing -click here. You will need 20 feet of tubing.

Also, Player-Care is now selling the drive belt for the device -click here

Here are links to all the information I've collected
about the Piano-Lodeon Toy Player Piano:
Page 1 - Rebuilding Chein PianoLodeon By Mike Kitner
Page 2 - Piano-Lodeon Rollography Update By Jack M. Conway
Page 3 - Piano-Lodeon's Lost Potential By Mike Knudsen
Page 4 - Piano-Lodeon Rolls & Imperial Ind. Co. By Douglas Henderson
Page 5 - Extra information about the PianoLodeon
Page 6 - Piano-Lodeon: Repair Information by John A Tuttle
Page 7 - Piano-Lodeon: Colors and Years by Dale F Rowe
Page 8 - Repairing the Pianolodeon by Arnold Landvoigt
Page 9 - Rebuilding Chein PianoLodeon By Jim Quashnock
Page 10 - Replacing Tubing and Drive Belt

Player Piano Reference Materials - Click Here

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This page was last revised July 1, 2017 by John A. Tuttle, who Assumes No Liability
For The Accuracy or Validity of the Statements and/or Opinions
Expressed within the Pages of the Player-Care Domain.
Cartoon Graphics by E7 Style Graphics (Eric Styles)

Since "Player-Care" is an internet business, I prefer that we correspond via E-Mail (click here to fill out the 'Request Form'). However, if I'm not in the middle of some other activity, you can reach me at 732-840-8787. But please understand that during the hours from 8AM-5PM EST (Mon-Sat), I'm generally quite busy. So, I probably won't answer the phone. If you get the answering machine, please leave a detailed message stating the reason for your call. Also, repeat your name and phone number clearly and distinctly. By necessity, I prioritize everything in my life. And, if you call and just leave your name and number, and ask me to call you back, it might be a day or two before I return your call. Why? Because I don't know why you want me to call and I might not be prepared to assist you in an effective and efficient manner. If you leave me an E-Mail address (which I prefer), spell it out phonetically. The more you do to help me, the more I can help you in return. Don't rush. You have four minutes to record your message.

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