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In my continuing effort to help both technicians and the owners of Universal player pianos made in California, today I'm going to address a few problems involving the tubing. Each of the problems has been found at least three times. To me, this indicates that these are common problems.
First, the trackerbar tubing. Specifically, the tubing that runs from the trackerbar to the manifold in the keybed. For those who don't know, the tubing runs between the keys. They are hollowed out like this )( near the fulcrum, or balance rail pin. The spoolbox is elevated about eighteen inches above the keys.
The most common problem involving the tubing is that it sags or 'weeps' as it ages. Because of its proximity to the backchecks (part of the piano action), it often makes contact with the backchecks... pushing them forward (or towards the back of the piano). When this happens, the effected note cannot properly reset. Most typically, the indication is that the note 'mis-fires' or strikes the strings very weakly. Also, because the keys in this 'section' are lighter at the back, the key dips down ever so slightly in the front.
The easiest way I've found to correct the problem is to weave some vinyl trackerbar tubing in and around the areas above and below the area where the backchecks are located. Then secure the ends of the lines to the underside of the spoolbox platform.. pulling all of the tubes closer to the front of the piano, and away from the piano action.
The second easiest way is to attempt to push the tubes further onto the nipples, which are between the keys. My only concern about using this method is the possibility that the position of one or more of the nipples might change if the tube isn't pushed perfectly straight down. If the nipple did get 'bent' or 'forced' out of position, the tube could easily make contact with the side of a key, causing drag... or "a sticky key".
The second problem related to the trackerbar tubing is about tubing that "falls" off. Well, it doesn't really fall off. It is actually being pulled off. The problem is that the tubing was cut too short. The solution is to install short lengths of tubing as necessary. But I have a question..... Why is the tubing "creeping" off? If it's being stretched to the point where it will eventually come off, why does it stay on at all? And what forces are at work that eventually pull the tube off the nipple?
Well, on to the last of the tubing problems, which involves the main supply tubing and auto sustain tubing. The problem is that the tubing cracks where it is connected to a fitting. The solution is to replace the cracked tubing.
To the owner, the indication that this problem is developing is a slow loss of volume over a period of less than a year. In the extreme, the unit will just stop coming "On". It will seem like it's trying to come on. The roll might even roll forward, but the music won't play. Or, it could look like the music is trying to play, but the hammers aren't actually hitting the strings...
To the technician, a quick physical examination will tell all. And note that I did not say a visual examination. The crack could be on the backside, where you can't see.... So tug on them. Bend them around a little. That way you can tell if they're loose or cracked.
This is another problem that poses a question. Why does the tubing crack? From all appearances, it doesn't seem old enough to be cracking. Also, it doesn't seem to have to 'stretched' very much to get 'over' the fitting. However, it does stretch a little. So, how much stretch is too much? Could there be other factors at work here? The logical answer is 'poor quality tubing'.
There is a bit of a difference between the supply vacuum fittings found in the Universal as compared to those found in a circa 1920's player piano. The Universal fittings are mostly plastic, and the ones that are brass are quite 'long'. Addressing the plastic first, I've noticed that the tubing is much harder at the point where it contacts the plastic. Just a 1/2" away from the fitting, the tubing is relatively supple. Occasionally there is a gooey, sticky substance at the connection point. I can only assume that there is some chemical thing going on between the tube and the fitting.....
Addressing the 'long' brass fittings. These fittings are at least one inch long. The folks at Universal almost always pushed the tubing all the way onto the fitting. This makes removing the tubing very difficult. My recommendation: If you have to remove the tubing, replace it! Don't even bother trying to save it. Slice it open at the fitting, pull it off... throw it away. Chances are it would have cracked open on its own in a few more years anyhow.
If you insist on trying to remove the tubing, try pushing it "On" first. Try hard!! Then, using a wide-blade screwdriver, pry under the edge at the end. See if it gives. Then go to the opposite side and do the same thing. The point is to loosen the tubing from the end first. If you simply pull on the tubing, the chances are great that the tubing will rip (or break) apart even if it is relatively supple.
John A. Tuttle
For more information about problems with the Universal Player System, read:
Repairing Universal Player Piano
Diane DeTar from San Diego, California wrote to me and said, "In response to John Tuttle's question (in the Mechanical Music Digest 11/05/09) about serial numbers of Universal Player pianos, I think they were made by Kohler and Campbell for the most part. On the hammer return (spring) rail (on the treble side) there is a date stamped as to when the piano left the factory. The roll drive motor also has a date stamped on it. I started to track all of the players that I worked on starting about 25 years ago. Here are a few of the serial numbers. I wish I would have started tracking them earlier and included the piano serial number with the player but at least I have some information on them."
It should also be noted that according to Robert Stanoszek, who wrote the book "Universal Player Piano Service Manual", there were date codes in two locations in the piano. One is one the Pitman motor. Usually you can see it by taking a mirror and looking on the bottom side of the motor. Another location is on the circuit board. It will have a number like 79-34, which means the 34th week of 1979, or 82-15, which means the 15th week of 1982. Also, Robert said that in his opinion the only significant difference between the P-1 and the P-2 is the electronics.
P-1 1013 3-77 K & C # 708774 1198 1977 1492 1977 2062 11-77 2176 1977 2312 3-78 2351 1978 2430 1978 2665 1978 2782 1-12-79 2914 1979 3053 1979 3159 1979 3171 1979 3176 5-79 3441 1979 3561 5-79 P-2 5018 1980 motor 1979 5558 1980 5635 1980 # 746327 5988 1980 6143 11-11-80 7184 6-81 8579 2-08-84 8900 08-09-85 motor 2-18-1985
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