Inside the Wurlitzer

Inside the Wurlitzer
Photo by David Gallagher

I found this piano at a Salvation Army Thrift store in Oakland, California in the late 1980's. It was in very sad shape, having sustained so much water damage that the felt on the hammers and dampers had come unglued, and all the strings and tuning pins were covered with rust. All that was left of the player mechanism was the sustain and soft pedal pneumatics(bellows)in the bottom of the piano. There were very few of the ivories left on the keys, and those that were there were chipped and broken. Once the piano was in the shop we rebuilt the action, including new hammers and dampers, and then recovered, and rebushed the keys. Next,we put in new strings and tuning pins. Once the instrument was adjusted, tuned and playing well we set it aside, and began looking for the parts necessary to make it a nickelodeon again. Since finding original parts would be very difficult, if not impossible, I decided to make an instrument that was musical and fun, if not original. I collected a bass drum, snare drum, cymbal, castanets, tambourine, triangle, and wood block. Also, because space was fast being filled up, I added a small part of an old reed organ to imitate an accordion. At this point, progress became very slow, and the piano sat in the corner for some years until I was able to get back to it. During that time more parts were found and put with it. Still missing was the pump that creates the vacuum supply for the various pneumatics that make all the instruments sound, and a reservoir to control it. Many parts could not be found, so I ended up making them based on the work of the makers of the many pianos I had rebuilt over the years. In order to fit all the pieces into the case of the piano I had to raise the top quite a bit, and as one thing leads to another, I found that I needed to make a new front. The woodworking was simple enough for me, but the glass was another story. I knew what I wanted and drew up a plan, and took it to my friend Robert Perry who, lucky for me, was doing excellent stained glass work as a hobby. Over many weeks, with what help I could provide, he made the beautiful glass that forms the front of the piano. Again, having no time for completing this work, the piano sat in its corner. When I found another part, or had the time to build or rebuild another piece I would add it to the collection. Finally, I got enough done that I could hear it play, and thought that soon I would be finished. But, no, that was not to be. At last I retired, and in closing up my shop I decided to send the piano to Musee Mecanique, hoping that one-day it would play here. That day has come. I hope you enjoy it. Ken Eaton 2007


<< previous page

Sounds of The Musée

Now available, music from our collection of antique player pianos, orchestrons, and music boxes. All recorded live at Musee Mecanique!

Musee Music Volume 1

Musee Music Volume 2

Musee Music Volume 3

Musee Music Volume 3

Musée DVD

Musee Music Volume 3

See Sal