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70. Bellows repair in Player Pianos

We offer bellows rubberized cloth and various sizes of rubber tubing for players.
Bellows material is available for all of the bellows in the player piano.

There are three main areas of bellows troubles in a player.

First, the big pumping bellows in the bottom of the piano can give real trouble. There are usually two, and if they leak, you cannot keep up with them and make the piano play. Open the bottom of the piano by moving the metal clip and lifting it out. Look at the corners of the bellows. this is usually where the trouble is. Are the corners cracked badly? If yes, paint yellow rubber cement around the area, layer on a patch of cotton cloth, and paint the cloth again.

If there are no holes or cracks in the corners of the bellows, your problem is a leather valve strip inside or on the back of the bellows. If this leather strip is right in front as you look at the bellows, then you can replace it to get a better seal. This strip lets air out of the bellows as the bellows closes, and it stops the holes while the bellows opens, thus making a vacuum which operates the smaller key bellows above. Replace the leather strip if it is not sealing right as the bellows opens.

Second, the bellows in the "motor" above on the "stack" can also leak. The result will be that the roll refuses to run. Open the top of the piano until the "stack" (player works) is all exposed. Check for cracks and leak holes in the corners of the bellows.

If you find leaks, use the same treatment as the lower bellows as mentioned above, but try to make your work neater and more miniature to avoid inhibiting the movement of the smaller bellows.  Use very light weight cotton cloth. 

There is also a regulator bellows, sometimes more then one, which can develop the same problem. Repair it the same way.

Third, there are 88 little bellows under the stack which operate the keys. You may be able to see these from the front with the piano open above, but you will not usually be able to see all 88.

The symptom telling you there is a problem with key bellows is that one or more of the keys will be sluggish or dead, while all the rest work well.

Or; as soon as you turn on the system, a hammer will bang against the wire and stay there throughout the whole piece.  This is not a vacuum leak but a defective valve.  Only your tuner should venture into this area. 

If your player is so bad that you are willing to risk all to fix the little bellows, go ahead. Remember, this is only to repair a sluggish key which tries to work, or which works if you turn the volume all the way up.  

First, starting at the right hand end of the key board, count off the keys until you get to each of the bad ones. Write down the number of each bad key on a piece of paper.

There are mounting screws or bolts on wither end of the "stack."  Take them out. There may be a brace at the top of the stack which is attached to the harp of the piano.  Remove it.  Loosen the big hose or hoses at either end. Remove any rubber tubes that clearly run from the "stack" down around the ends of the "stack" into the bottom of the piano. Take the leather nuts off of two or three rods where they attach to the main body of the piano. Grab the "stack" by both ends, and lift it out-- if it comes away freely.  If not, look some more for bits and pieces to disconnect.

Once you have the "stack" in your hands, you need to lay it down very carefully. The 88 little bellows are on the bottom, so DO NOT set the "stack" on the its bottom. Try to lay it down on a table with the front face down-- that is the front of the "stack" which you originally looked at it in the piano. Nice trick, eh?

Now that you have the 88 little bellows exposed, go around and look at each one. Count them off from the end which is on the right in the piano. Be careful as you count not to get disoriented, since some player bellows are staggered in a weird way to make them all fit.

Put a dab of "White Out" on each bellows that is bad. Look at each of the bad bellows for holes. If you see them, put a layer of rubber cement over the holes. Do this several time, not using the cloth this time, until the hole is filled with rubber cement.

If there are no holes, sorry friend, you have either got bad rubber tubing, or the valves in the bad bellows are not holding. Put the "stack" back, and go have a cup of coffee. Be thankful you didn't have an earthquake last night.

If the bellows had holes, and if you have them all fixed, put the "stack" back, reversing the order above. If the leather nuts are ruined as you work with them, make new ones out of some piece of rubber in the garage.

I hope the thing works better, but remember, this is not going to bring things back to work first rate. The player must be a long time since it was manufactured, or its last restoration, and you will not get 100% performance unless you invest in a professional restoration. Start a fund right now for that.

On to task 71.