Gulbransen Player Piano 

 Arguably the most successful, certainly the most prolific manufacturer of player pianos in history, the Gulbransen Co. mass produced player pianos  in Chicago Illinois. Established by the innovative Axel Gulbransen in 1904, by the late teens Gulbransen was the largest player piano manufacturer in the world.  The Gulbransen 'Registering Piano' and trademarked 'Easy to Play' baby logo, was one of the best known brands of it's time and one of the best known trademarks in the world.


Gulbransen pianos were well built and high quality despite being produced en mass. The player system utilizes very small channels in the pneumatic board to minimise the suction required to run the player pneumatics, this allows a minimal pedalling requirement to achieve full sounding music. With a well restored Gulbransen player, you may literally feel each note play through your feet on the treadles. If there were awards for efficiency, the Gulbransen would win hands down. 

Originally each of three pneumatic boards (housing the valve assemblies) were glued to the vacuum chest and while this made for an extremely airtight stack, it was and is equally difficult to separate and repair. These glued stacks may be recognised by the lack of screws on front of the pneumatic board and are not recommended for inexperienced restorers. When a stack was returned for service during the 10 year warranty period, the faulty stack was burnt and a brand new stack delivered to the customer. Later stacks have unit pneumatics screwed to the chest and are easier to restore, bearing in mind that each unit must be split in order to effect replacement of valve faces, pouch, and recovering of the pneumatic. This screwed unit pneumatic system, was introduced as far more cost effective from a service point of view, as one single faulty pneumatic could be easily replaced and did not necessarily condemn the entire stack. 

In fact, an economy of all the player systems were effected by Gulbransen. The foot pump is small in comparison to similar systems and controls such as the motor governor and rewind stack shut-off pneumatics, are attached directly to the wind chest. All directly attributed to the restriction of vacuum channels, as previously mentioned. The wind motor is a compact three hinged double pneumatic unit with rotary valve to open and close all three double pneumatics. It works smoothly and with a slight 'chugging' sound as the valve works.

A simple mechanical roll centering device commonly known as a 'fishing pole' for obvious reasons, may be seen in the picture above. The device works with one ear against the left margin of the roll. To simplify its operation: two friction disks are utilized, as the roll wanders to the right, the aluminium friction disk is pushed into contact with the brass disk,  this allows the fishing line to be wound on its spindle, pulling down a lever that pushes the roll shaft to the left.  As it then touches the ear, pressure that contacts the disks is relieved, causing the fishing pole string to unwind slightly, allowing the roll right side movement again, thereby maintaining a constant balance with the continual left-right adjustment holding the roll to centre. When the lever is set to rewind, the left ear is moved away from the roll margin. The string length is 9-1/2 ". The string originally used was radio dial cord, but I use the heavy duty string that is used on rolls. Any heavy duty cord (woven) will do the job. The friction disks must be free of all lubrication materials.

To adjust tracking sensitivity, the wire that connects the ear may be adjusted to the left or right and is held in adjustment by two leather nuts (you can see then in the above picture behind the disk pressure lever) Some older systems have a loop in the wire that may be bent to allow adjustment. The disk pressure lever is a one-way scissor when switched to play, it acts as a rigid lever. When set to rewind, the lever is pushed right and scissors back to disengage the tracking ear. The levers are all tensioned by springs, that may be gently bent by hand to provide more or less tension on the lever. The disk pressure lever is fastened to the transmission with leather nuts. These nuts must be tight enough to support the bar, but loose enough to allow for easy scissor function. It is vitally important that this adjustment moves the ear from the rewinding roll, or serious damage may be inflicted upon the roll margin. Ensure that the lever scissors as per design.

When set to rewind, a brake is automatically applied to the large brass take-up spool drive sprocket (located at right of the take up spool inside the transmission. It may easily be seen in the picture above). You will plainly see this brake engage and disengage as you go from play to rewind, it must contact the sprocket, with light pressure, on rewind. There are two screws holding the brake arm to the transmission, the lower screw is an adjustment point, although you may need to gently bend the arm as well to get full flat contact. It is important that this sprocket be free of all lubricants on its brake contact surface, and the felt brake pad is in place and also is free of lubricant to allow for friction and has it's leather side contacting the sprocket face. Just enough pressure to slightly brake rewind speed. In this fashion, your rolls will wind properly and not billow out, particularly with very large rolls.  If the sprocket face has worn too smooth, it is acceptable to lightly sand the face with 400 grit wet & dry, from shaft to teeth, to restore friction to the face of the sprocket. Do not burr the teeth. This procedure should be done by hand, no power tools here. Some repairers may have disabled the brake, it needs to operate to tension the roll and should not damage delicate rolls if set properly and if not too much pressure is brought to bear on the brake.

One of the best performing players ever devised, it's simplicity is deceiving, in order for the player to perform correctly, the motor valve timing must be adjusted correctly, the fishing pole tracker must be adjusted properly, and the motor governor rotary valve must also be set.

In order to set the timing of the motor valves; loosen the screw on each valve guide, gently pull the centre pneumatic arm fully forward. Move the left valve guide up until the top port is just closed, tighten the valve guide screw. Now turn the right valve guide to line up with the left, it may be necessary to push the right valve guide a little forward or back to achieve a smooth running motor.

When re-covering Gulbransen wind motor pneumatics, it is advisable that the hinge end sides (at the pneumatic apex) are covered with sealed pouch leather, cutting the cloth just short of the hinge, this allows for ultra smooth operation as the leather is far more pliable for long term operation than pneumatic rubber cloth*. I also apply the leather across the top end of the hinge section of each pneumatic, for air tightness and appearance.  
*NB: This is NOT how the Gulbransen designers built their wind motor and is the only non-standard easily reversible modification that I would recommend for this particular device and is totally optional. As with Aeolian wind motors that utilize pneumatic leather for the hinge area, the  same benefits apply.


Never oil these valves, use only dry graphite mixed with a little metholated spirit, rubbed onto the wooden seat. You can see the valve guide on the shaft directly in front of the valve. Do not push the valve guide too close to the valve, it is spring tensioned and if too close will tip the valve off its seat. Once these adjustments are set, it should rarely if ever, need further adjustment. 

Another important adjustment in the Gulbransen system is wind motor governor speed or tempo. By adjusting the control linkage forward or back, the tempo of the motor is increased or decreased. (this device restricts the suction feed to the wind motor by controlling a scissor valve inside the pneumatic, as the pneumatic collapses the internal scissor closes, choking suction to the motor which results in slower tempo and vice' versa) You can see the screw adjustment point at left top of the device, attached to its linkage. Correct settings are at 0 speed, no movement of the motor at all, at 10, it should barely start to move. By use of either an 88 note test roll, or a roll marked at 1 foot intervals, set this device to run 7 feet of roll per minute at a speed of 70 on the tempo indicator. This will allow correct control of tempo at all points of the tempo indicator. The pictured governor unit is a little different in appearance from the norm, but all work on exactly the same principal and all have the same tempo control device on the governor. Do not lubricate this device at all. Ensure that both mating surfaces of the control valve pictured are perfectly flat, and easy to move.

The automatic sustain is a large pneumatic usually located in the base of the piano. On receiving atmosphere from a large inlet to the left of the tracker bar when a sustain perforation passes over the inlet, the built-in sustain valve activates the collapse of the pneumatic, lifting the dampers off the strings and providing an automatic sustain effect. This can be musical if the roll is well coded, sometimes it is best turned off. The on/off switch is located in the spool box.

Regarding Gulbransen's choice of Olive Green paint for the structural components of the stack; it is my belief that this colour was chosen as an acceptable alternative to black, to differentiate and define the Gulbransen product from all others.

Gulbransen player pianos can still be found in working order having undergone no restoration after 80 - 90 years, a testament to fine manufacturing and quality materials. Of course  it will require restoration to restore full life and proper working order after this length of time.

Although I have since fully restored all components and need to amend this history sheet, I find it of value to record all known history of a piano, including features, work carried out and other information, on a sheet of paper attached by shellac to the inside of the kick board. It can be invaluable for future owners and keeps a sense of history alive.


Gulbransen Stack Cross Section 

Stack To Piano Action Position 

Screwed Stack Detail - later Gulbransen Stack (circa 1928)

Behind the strip of polished wood,you will find the pneumatic bleed cups, these need to be clear of dust and debris in order for the stack to operate correctly, the bleed channel is under stack suction when the machine is playing. Blocked bleeds can cause a lack of repetition, slow operation of the pneumatic or a silent note. Be careful when cleaning the brass bleed cups, that you do not enlarge the bleed hole. Usually the strip of leather seal on the bleed cover will need replacing. The vacuum channels reside behind the three strips of black pneumatic cloth between the rows of screws.

Gulbransen Tracker Finger 

Two internal views of the Gulbransen tracker finger assembly. Left photo; as seen from above.  Right photo; side view

If your Gulbransen is playing notes when set to rewind, it is likely that the valve controlled by the stack shut off pneumatic (the small pneumatic on the left side of the pumping bellows), is not fully closing the valve inside the trunk, allowing suction to bleed into the stack. This may be adjusted easily by holding the pneumatic closed, loosening the linkage set screw, pushing the protruding valve arm left to fully closed  then tightening the set screw. This can be achieved without opening the trunk. If it continues to be a problem, the internal valves may be rotten and would require re-covering. The trunk face may be opened to access the valves by removing the linkages, disconnecting the right side external governor valve and unscrew 12 screws on the forward face. The face board is gasketed for air tightness  with leather gasket strips. These gaskets must be renewed when re-assembling.

As you can see in the above photo, the linkage starts at the left side stack shut off pneumatic. The linkage is fastened to the stack shut off valve by way of a set screw. The linkage then continues to the right side, where it links the rewind accelerator valve. When the shut off valve is activated by the pneumatic, it opens the right side accelerator valve. When the pneumatic is at rest, the right side accelerator valve is closed, allowing for adjustment of the valve position to closed, via the set screw. 

The Gulbransen also features a fast forward control in the spoolbox under the take up spool. By activating this pallet valve (marked 'silent'), the transmission continues in play, but the linkages are activated by the shut-off pneumatic to shut off the stack, and open the accelerator for fast forward. Both of these valves must work in tandem, therefore correct adjustment will result in a properly working machine.

Rare Gulbransen Pedal Grand Piano 

 Gulbransen Historical Facts by L. Douglas Henderson

 Axel Gulbransen went together with a partner and formed the Gulbransen-Dickenson Co. in Chicago around 1904. When they went into players they were OK, but nothing special, sort of a watered down Standard Pneumatic Action (Autopiano) design, as was the Story & Clark series for many years. [The Reprotone was more like a Simplex but with the valves in boards, and very different in design from the older ones. It was part of their 3 piano 'Miniature Player Piano" series which had the pedal player, the Repro-Phraso (pedal/elec.) with manual solo devices, and the Reprotone - possibly a Recordo but I've never seen one advertised. The Repro-Phraso might have had the Recordo on the electric versions of that style.]

During this time, Gulbransen worked with Melville Clark who had a hobby player/piano business, after making his fortunes with Story & Clark. In the latter 19th Century he produced a 58 note organ called the Orpheus, which sold well in Great Britain, having an upright piano style case. A friend bought in Maine on eBay a 58 Note Apollo pushup player by Melville Clark and what an instrument it was. Inside, where only the mechanic would see, they had ornamental bronze castings for the roll transport, tracking (manual) and the "fingers" which attached it to the keyboard of a piano. He went on to the Concert Grand Apollo rolls (15.5" wide, 65-Note perforations for 88-Note) and the Solo-Apollo (same width but 88-Note perforations) and it was during this period that Gulbransen and Clark crossed swords. Every Apollo player differed; nothing was standardized. Gulbransen realized the potential of standardized, well designed player actions, so the Gulbransen Co. that most people know began during this period, cresting in the 1922-1929 era. (The Apollo was the only 88-Note player from 1900-1908 using those wide rolls.)

They coined the word "Registering" piano to make it sound like "Reproducing" and with an 80 key action, they could play Ampico rolls, for example. (My 1929 Reprotone has a cutoff system: 3 keys for "reproducing" rolls and 5 keys for full "88-Note" rolls.) The valve boards of the Gulbransen-Dickenson lines were changed to unit valves, and there were 2 years (when most were sold) when Gulbransen stacks were glued together. Supposedly, you could buy a replacement stack from inventory until about 1940, piano men once told me - and not bother with re-building. After the glued together line ended, around 1925, the same player re-emerged, but with removable unit valves. Most surviving Gulbransen players here are the early style - mentioned - or the removable unit valve kind.

People in the midwest didn't trust sleazy piano companies, which included Steinway having several models with the same model number on them (like the A series from the early 'Teens to 1941). Prices also varied. Edison got the farming market because the # of the phonograph was the price: Amberola 30 was $30, Chippendale Diamond Disc C250 was $250 and so on. Chicago piano companies followed suit, especially Story & Clark and Gulbransen. My S&C Reprotone has $750 on the plate plus a decal for $25 extra on the back with the mandolin attachment called a Ukulele, as I recall. (Would have to look.) Somebody wrote me from AZ who had a Boston "Lord Piano" for $800 and it was a Reprotone; I had a "Lord" once which was a Conway Simplex, so that was a stencil name for this area, obviously. Gulbransen burned in the price on the back: Suburban, Community, White House and there were a couple of others in the line. This was to show the "honesty" of the company, which was held in disrepute for the East.

The instruction rolls (The Martin Method) were originally a 6 roll QRS release, then a 4 roll Aeolian one (more typically seen). Tours in local communities featured the "Registering" piano in solo, especially in the midwest.

Since catalogue and magazine advertising was paramount with Gulbransen, they took a "customer to you" approach in many cases. The National Geographic had many Gulbransen ads in the '20s, for this reason - unlike other piano manufacturers.

The piano itself was  real value when compared to others of the day. Gulbransen (and M. Schulz, #2) made more actions than any factory during the 'Twenties, there in Chicago. The largest piano factory ever was built by Gulbransen and it allowed trains to enter in order to load the piano crates, since export was also a major activity. The collapse came soon, so they began renting out the facilities, primarily to Mr. Rockola, of the jukebox fame. For a time he put out combination piano/jukeboxes (actually called "coin operated phonographs") and they probably used Gulbransen parts but w/o a keyboard. Rockola also made radio/jukeboxes (5 cents for radio or a 78 record) and "profit sharing" players/phonographs. These were gambling machines where you got more music for your money - or none at all, depending upon how they were set up  to  'serve' the customer. Remember, the Chicago suburb of Cicero IL - where Sunbeam irons etc. was located until recently (China, now) - was the home of gangster Al Capone, so "gambling" pianos/radios/phonographs fit into the speakeasy scheme of things.

Gulbransen lost control of his company in the early '30s, but the pianos (and organs, after '28) kept on coming. By then they were part of CBS, along with Steinway, Fender guitars and other musical instruments - or soon to be. The Gulbransen glued-together stacks (taken apart today and fixed now) were dumped until recent times, so many Gulbransens made during that short period were used as quality pianos ... and still are.

Gulbransen went after TONE, response (for  the player) and VALUE FOR THE PRICE ... and they delivered. They didn't seek endorsements of famous artists or stage city concerts as did Welte-Licensee, Aeolian and The American Piano Co., since export and the small town market was theirs. (This is also where the Angelus and Artrio-Angelus "reproducing" pianos were sold, but that's another story. I knew Russell H. White and have his correspondence form the '50s about that family owned company with ties to Aeolian and later Theo. Brown/Simplex.) 


There was a furniture store, local music store, magazine ad (catalogue the na local store) nature to Gulbransen, a market which outnumbered the people in city areas. By eliminating all the hoopla of fancy ads, they focused on the essentials and put out a terrific piano (usually with a player added). Most Gulbransen "Registering" pianos were $100 to $200 less than the cheapest Aeolian product, also. By being in Chicago, along with other piano makers, shipping cost less. Eastern companies had higher prices when their crates of pianos went West.

 As a sideline, two organ (then piano mfrs.) who had the rural farming market "sank" while Gulbransen took over those customers, being in players. These were the mail-order pianos Crown and Wing - two separate companies, dating from the late 1890s. Those are terrific pianos and a few were made in the end with installed players, but that's the "down home" market Gulbransen captured in the '20s. By now being focused on players, Wing and Crown faded away after several decades of successful sales.

 A Gulbransen Restoration In  Indiana

(Following the re-building of a Gulbransen glued stack- step by step)

One of the most difficult restorations in the player world is the early Gulbransen glued stack. But not impossible as proven by Mike from Indiana, who is in the midst of the second restoration of  his Gulbransen glued stack. Mike  first restored the player 37 years ago, and following advice at the time, used polyurethane for pouches.  The urethane has failed, and it's now time to restore again.  As you will see from the following pictures, Mike has a terrific workshop facility, and carries out very fine repair and restoration of his player piano. As Mike explains:

"Don't remember exactly what got me interested in player pianos, that was a looong time ago. I've always been interested in mechanics and interested in mechanical objects. Also, I've been a jack of all trades for much of my life. As a career I've always worked in some type of electronics research and development as a technician. Amateur Radio license WA9TSP though not active in a long time. Have always done all automotive & home repairs including total engine and automatic transmissions rebuilds on my own autos (and son's and daughters - good ole dad) and I'm very thankful to be able. For 30 years my wife and I lived in Indianapolis, Indiana after my tour in the US Air Force. We moved here to our present location in Indiana, about 12 years ago. I had a local framer build the framing for our current home and completed the rest by myself. My wife is very glad I finally finished the inside trim just last year. A patient woman to say the least!
  As to player pianos, it was mechanical, mostly wood construction and I  like woodworking so it seemed like a match. I wish the web had been available to me those 37 years ago! Never been afraid to take something apart so the job was on.The only help I found were some old library books and that's where I found contact information for Player Piano Company, where I bought my first supplies. At the time, I think a lot of people thought the urethane pouches were the way to go but researching for this new rebuild I see it was a mistake many others made too". 

 Gulbransen still an entertainment centre that fits well in all modern decor's. I like Mike's roll cabinet, I may have to steal that idea.

 A fine example of how all workshops should be; neat, well set-out, clean and functional. Plenty of storage and arm-room for working on the benches.

 Pneumatic boards separated, waiting sanding for unit re-installation.

 Pictures of a fixture Mike made to cut striker pieces - I cut the 1x2 length's to 11" each and then ripped to size (thickness) and then cut to length & width.

Cutting new striker boards. 

Drilled pouch well and drilling new bleed.

When I did the first rebuild 37 years ago the only book I had recommended breaking the tier boards off the main supply board - I see most re-builders recommend sawing the main supply board now. Again, hindsight is 20/20. The top tier board did splinter a bit on the mounting edge when first removed so I had a local cabinet shop run it over a jointer taking about 3/32" off the splintered edge. The gasket you see is glued to this main board and the top tier board will have one on it too (2 gaskets making up for the lost edge). I also had drilled 4 additional holes in each tier board for 4 extra mounting screws on each tier to make sure they were tight and seated well. These extra 4 hole along with the 3 original on each tier were all used with long metal screws - you know, I never understood "tapered" wood screws!

On this rebuild I decided to drill out all holes for 3/16" threaded rods for tighter mounting. Problem being, which I suspected would happen, some of the 3/16 holes broke into main vacuum supply holes to strikers.  

Looking at the mounting hole towards the bottom center of picture, looking into the hole you can see the side of the vertical supply channel that is exposed.

The main supply board mounted over the peg. The drill press stop is set to drill a .250" hole .5" deep only, which is roughly half way from the supply holes to the bleed holes. Bleed holes are smaller diameter and survived the 3/16" mounting holes.

One hole drilled for the brass sleeve and you can see the breakout is a bit bigger.I don't believe the supply holes will be reduced enough in cross section to affect the air flow. The tier boards also have the main vacuum channel sawed along their mounting length to allow other holes to help supply vacuum to other strikers.

The 5 each, .5" long brass sleeves with their outside surfaces roughed up.

The top edge of one of the sleeves - I used a small screwdriver this time to point at it. The 5 sleeves were each coated with a thin film of epoxy along with the insides of the wood holes and then pushed in place, level with the top of the wood and well below the gasket surface.


The remaining 2 mounting holes on this top tier were at the ends and well away from the supply/bleed channels. The second tier board down is in a "little" better position to survive these extra tier holes. I will inspect them closely and may use sleeves here too to make sure!

The third tier board has room for these mounting holes with no problem

In addition to the above, I also made detailed notes of exactly which striker numbers are next to each hole in case a problem is noted in striker response when finished, I'll be able to at least look at my notes and see if the problem striker happens to be next to one of the mounting holes.

 One of the 2 pieces of hard maple ready to be cut to 12" lengths, seems like I've done this before?.

(Mike had to re-make the pouch boards, as the first set was a little too porous in nature, and was difficult to seal without too much seepage. Hard or 'Rock' Maple is recommended)

 The new pieces being cut to length and they will be cut to width with the same set-up.

 One of the tier boards having its edge cleaned up on the jointer. Not shown, but very important, I put new blades on the jointer first, that was overdue anyway, and blades were very carefully adjusted. Not a place to take any chances!

 New pieces ready for drilling pouch & bleed hole etc. Done this before too??

 We live less than 100 miles from the old Gulbransen Factory location in Chicago. I know they shipped pianos all over the world. I do still see some for sale around our area but many do not even have the player still in them. If mine is still around in 70 or 80 years, I know I will not be. I would like to think someone would rebuild it again at that time. Likely hood is not on my side, however I would want to think it at least would have a chance. Hard maple pneumatics and the correct glue used this time will give it a better chance.

 Several pneumatic pieces being heated prior to sizing.

 Pieces are sized with a very thin mix of hot glue and set on small wood pieces to dry. Parts laying on the upper section of the action are already dry.

 All pieces were lightly sanded, on a flat surface, to remove any wood fibers that raised due to sizing. The 4 edges were also lightly sanded.

 A drill bit in a pin vise was used to clean any plugged bleed holes that had sizing in them. These were all new wood pieces so I put a thin sizing coat on all surfaces that were to be hot glued to another surface. I know hide glue will not adhere to shellac and other finishes so pouch wells and mounting ledges were also sized. 

 These are hardwood toy wheels that I ordered to replace the valve covers. I was going to make my own, but a web search for wooden washers had these pop up from A bag of 100 was $6.50. Shipping however added another $8.95. Still cheap I thought and very close to original covers.

 I used lacquer thinner to remove the old glue and leathers from the valve lifter discs and this shot shows them being sanded a little to clean up for new leather.

 The main stack having air blown thru it to clean out dust etc. before sealing with shellac. Also shows small pieces of tubing from bleed to bleed for shellac sealing step. You can also see a one of the temporary mounting feet attached to the ends of the stack to enable working on it easier. 

The 3 tier boards with thru bolts sticking thru - just to make sure all holes are aligned for thru bolts. I want to make sure everything fits "before" final assembly when pneumatics are glued on. 


Mike has developed a simple and extremely effective method to set pouches, as set out below:

 I drilled a scrap piece of lumber to hold a short section of 3/4" copper pipe at its bottom, a bigger hole the rest of the way up and a shallow hole the same diameter as the pouches at the top. 5 pieces of the copper are shown behind the wood block.

A piece of emery cloth in a short dowel rod used to polish the insides of the copper pieces. Hard to see in picture but the edges of the pipe pieces were also very well smoothed. 

 One of the copper pieces setting in the bottom hole. Exact dimensions not critical but the top of the copper pipe is just below the top of the wood.

 A pouch laying over the pipe and inside the shallow hole for it.

 A 1/2" dowel rod ( bottom edge sanded smooth) over the pouch.

Dowel rod just starting to push the pouch in the pipe.


 Pouch at the bottom of the pipe. It's a loose fit in the pipe but its folded edges hold it inside just fine.

6 pouches loaded and ready to install. 

 A pouch inside a pipe and setting in the well & ready for the pipe to be pulled up. Note there is no glue in the edge of the well yet. There will be but I couldn't glue and hold a camera at the same time. The pneumatic wood is setting on a small fixture I made to rotate the wood while using a syringe to put glue around the edge of the well. My wife has an old "Lazy Susan" in the attic but I knew I could make one before I ever found hers! I'm sure the whole thing looks like over-kill. I tried brushes and squeeze bottles and this worked the best for me. I have no doubt there are easier techniques - Again, this worked best for me. I liked this way as I could hold the syringe steady while turning the wood piece to spread the glue.

(Doesn't look like over-kill to me, I think the factory would have snapped you up to streamline production, had you been around in the '20's - Paul)

The flat end of a marker holding down the pouch while the copper pipe is lifted out of the well leaving the pouch in the bottom.


 The pouch pretty well spread out in the well.

 A glued pouch.

An ingeniously simple and inexpensive method to build and centre perfect pouches. The result speaks for itself. I thank Mike sincerely for sharing his step-by-step photos and captions. I will certainly be giving his method a work-out. -Paul  

 Cutting and ironing pillow ticking for pneumatic hinges.

 Starting to glue on hinges. I used liquid hide glue for these. Gave me a bit more time to align both wood pieces and clamp with waxed paper between hinge halves. Pieces of scrap wood is shown on one side to keep clamp jaws away from new pouches.

 This shows the trunk board ready for re-sealing with shellac. Also need to mention the trunk was set on a level surface. Short pieces of old tubing were used to jumper brass nipples, masking tape over holes and a bent piece of copper pipe with a funnel to pour shellac in. Tape leaked, major flood, so a strip of tape was put over the top edge holes, the truck laid over on its back, the funnel and bent copper pipe removed and the funnel used to pour shellac into the trunk. Tier side tapes were all removed and shellac could be seen filling all holes. Trunk was stood up, draining shellac and then hole blown out with compressed air. Before any of this was done, two heavy coats of sizing glue were used on the top edge of the trunk. Denatured alcohol was used to clean exterior surface after draining. In clean up, this top area was sanded to remove any shellac coating so hide glue could be used on new sealing covering.

 Top side valve facings glued on and a black dot put in center to help center valve cover later. Roughest side of leather facing up for this side. Bottom leathers have smooth side down and were glued at the outer edges only.

 Cork/neoprene gasket being marked for holes.Drill bits used to locate sides of holes and horizontal lines drawn for punch locations. Burnt shellac has not been used to seal valve seats yet and a couple of seats are seen as missing. These will be glued in place with burnt shellac soon.

 This shows holes being punched in gasket, using the same punch I bought 30+ years ago for the first rebuild.

 A few new pneumatics just setting on a tier board. A square used to locate them and then a line drawn around the new pneumatics. Old partial lines were from the first rebuild. Note BB's setting in bleed holes. I used this idea from another re-builders site and its a great way to locate the pieces.

 Old valve stems cleaned of old buckskin and lifter discs. Shown are the discs recommended by PPC for the urethane pouches on the first rebuild.

 These are the very original lifter discs that I had kept all these years and they now get a chance to live in the same piano they started life with.

 The new tier gasket was glued to the tier board and temporally mounted in place to let the glue dry. I used PVC-E glue for this. It gave me enough time to apply it and mount the tier board before the glue dries. The old gasket was glued with PVC-E and I found lacquer thinner is a great remover of the same.

 Showing a felt bumper pad in a pneumatic. The circle was made with a pencil thru the 3/8" port to make sure the felt wasn't directly over the hole. The felt is in the center of the width and far enough from the open end to keep the new covering from having its folds pinched when collapsed.

 Line drawn across new bellows material and ready to cut. I did try tearing the first piece and didn't like the result so scissors were used for the rest. Much slower though.

Pneumatic strikers being recovered. Actually I guess just covered without the "re". These were all new wood. I trimmed the cloth before the hide glue dried  completely. Then, let them dry overnight. 

I glued the hinge end the next day and let that dry before trimming. 

  I'm reusing the original lifter discs. However, some of the original buckskin punchings were loose so I decided to remove all the old ones and glue on new ones.

 Lifter discs glued to pouches. All discs have new buckskin punchings glued to them and then glued to pouches with a very small dot of hot hide glue.

 This looks a bit dangerous and is. It worked great but I made sure the heater was ONLY ON while I was in the shop and watching it with extinguishers close at hand. Basically just a hot box to pre warm the tier boards for gluing on pneumatics. tier board ends can be seen thru opening in cover.

 A few pneumatics being warmed in the heat box. New ones were put in heat box as ones were taken out to be glued on.

 Some pneumatics glued on. The piece of rubber tubing was used to gently blow in the bleed hole to ensure hide glue did not clog holes. The small curved piece of wire was used to clear holes if needed.

 New piece of pneumatic cloth glued over holes in top of main trunk. I removed the old piece earlier. It looked OK but getting far to old to trust.

 I checked each bleed channel, while gluing pneumatics on the tier boards, and all bleed channels were clear of glue. I checked them again before stems were glued in and did find 1 channel on each of the tier boards that were clogged. Likely I should have let the glue set a bit more before my first testing. A short piece of curved wire was heated with a candle and poked thru the tier hole into the pneumatic hole and wiggled around. Worked great.

 I dropped valve stems in all stem holes and checked each for clearance to the top of the brass valve seat. Making sure all were just barely below the edges of the seats. You can see a small air gap above the buckskin and the flat edge of a scale setting on the brass seat. Not shown, several stems needed the buckskin shaved off a bit to get clearance. Each stem was then removed one at a time, a small spot of glue put on the bottom of each and dropped back into its hole, slightly pushing down to insure glue contact with the pouch disc.

Below: a few stems with new buckskin glued on the top end.

 Pneumatic boards being sealed with shellac. These external areas were shellaced after cloth glued on and pieces glued to tier boards - just to make sure I didn't get shellac on areas to be hide glued.

 Valve covers being glued on. Thickness of each first measured & written on top. Then each held down over its valve and the distance measured from top of washer to valve face. That distance minus cover thickness equals clearance. All were set to .030". A lot of ways to do this, method not important but valve clearance is important.

 I brushed a thin coat of pure silicone grease thinned with MEK, "NOT RTV", to tier board gaskets facing main stack.

One tier board mounted back on main trunk. Small pieces of white painted steel straps are shown under two of the tier mounting nuts. These were used under all nuts to spread force and keep nuts from digging into wood. Three bolts shown in unmounted holes were just temporary to check hole clearances. Black tubing on one bleed hole was used to puff air into each hole and check operation of valve and any blocking of pouch air supply.

All tier boards mounted back on stack and ready for push rods.

 Pneumatic push rods being Hot Hide glued to new buckskin hinges. Lightly stretched rubber bands were used to hold them together while the glue sets.

 Push rods all glued in (light colored one is new piece). Exteriors of motor boards are shown shellaced here. Tracker bar tubing is shown lightly tie wrapped and supported to keep clear of piano action. Electrical stuff is part of electric player pump.


 The air motor is shown completely disassembled. some of the pieces simply feel apart after being removed from the support. I put the remainder in the microwave a few seconds and took all pieces apart to clean and re glue. Motor wood pieces were clamped together and carefully sanded to remove all traces of PVC-E that I had used on the first rebuild.

 Just to be sure all old PVC-E was removed, I glued a scrap piece of pneumatic cloth to one of the motor sets and let it dry 48 hours before peeling off. From that test it appears all traces of the old glue were removed.

 This was the air motor before being removed. Looks don't mean much. It looked OK but material was hard and very leaky. The cloth was hard enough that it make a knocking sound while "trying" to run.

 Below left shows a motor glued together and clamped. On the right, screws pushed thru to keep everything aligned when glued.

  Motor pieces all glued back together and ready to recover. New hinges were also glued in and all pieces layed on a flat surface to keep everything aligned while drying.

 In trying to seal the motor air channels with shellac, I was putting shellac in the top right motor hole shown and found the shellac would just barely pour into the hole. Short hole sections on each end looked OK. So, I drilled a 3/8" hole into the top end aligned with that particular channel. Looking into the channel from the drilled hole I could see a partial plug of old hide glue about 4" down. Hole was not totally clogged and many years ago the motor did seem to work OK. I cleaned it out by using a long piece of dowel rod and glued a short 3/8" dowel piece in the new hole. Then resealed that channel. Not pictured, the vertical leg with air holes was also checked with a bubble jar and one channel had a bad leak. Sealing the holes in the leg took care of that leak. An important point here, on the first rebuild many years ago I know I did not reseal "any" channels in the entire stack. I should have, just didn't. guess I thought if they looked OK they were OK. Wrong. This time I resealed everything!

 Motor sections recovered and leather glued on the hinge ends. Top ends were covered in motor cloth. 

 Wind motor mounted back on stack.

 Back to square one with motor. The finished motor did not run well at all. It shows you cannot be too careful with any step. I had sealed all channels with shellac but apparently did not recheck for leaks before assembling motor. So, back apart, channels drilled out and dowels glued in the holes. Some are shown here with pilot holes drilled in dowels. These were drilled to .312" after glue dried. A lot of steps not shown, such as holes drilled to access other holes, plugs and wood epoxy to fill gaps and joints. All passages were then sealed with shellac. This time I triple checked everything before final assembly.

Holes in top were to repair passages I had drilled too far. Covered later with maple covers. Some of these will be seen on bottom also.


 Motor is back together and mounted on stack. I had sealed all motor boards inner faces before covering. Exterior faces will be sealed later. Maple patches shown were HHG back on motor support and SS screws were also added to secure original laminated top & bottom. Motor runs MUCH better this time.


 Stack being installed back in piano. The seven black painted steel straps are for the same reason as the small white ones on the back of the tier boards. Two small valve blocks laying at bass end of keys are from the auto rewind pneumatic.

My original goal was to make it as close to original as possible but to also improve what I could without trying to redesign Gulbransen's wheel!

This is the reward; A perfectly restored player piano that is 100 years old and playing as it did when first delivered from the Gulbransen factory.  Note repetition is of utmost importance and depends upon the quality of the re-built valves and pouches. This video is an excellent demonstration of everything that you want to achieve when restoring a player piano.*

*Pause the page background music (audio control at bottom of page) to enjoy the performance. 

Well it doesn't get any better than this; perfect repetition; uniform and solid note striking; an airtight stack; one of the finest examples of re-building I have ever seen. That it has been performed on a Gulbransen glued stack, notorious as the most difficult stack to restore, is quite amazing. Mike's attention to detail and professional workmanship, has ensured that this particular Gulbransen Player Piano will continue to perform and entertain for many decades to come. I thank Mike sincerely for sharing these wonderful pictures and experiences through the entire process - Paul 

September 09, 2012 

Finely Made in the USA 

 Gulbransen serial numbers and corresponding period of manufacture:

1915-90000   *    1920-140000   *   1925-218000   *   1930-301000   *   1935-309000   *   1940-344000 
Gulbransen branched into the manufacture of organs around 1928, introducing many innovations including transistors in electronic organs in 1962. Gulbransen continues to manufacture quality pianos to this day...


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