Sunday, January 27, 2013

Restore II

For the uninitiated or the lazy the dulcitone was designed and manufactured in Scotland in the late 19th and early 20th century. By about 1915, production was halted as either popularity waned or impracticality of mass production and portability had the final word. Not being the loudest of acoustic instruments, its characteristic timbre was ultimately better sought by composers and ensemble arrangers in the louder vibraphone or celesta.
Photo: Andreas E Beurmann

What does the instrument sound like? To my ears, a lot like an acoustic version of a Fender Rhodes electric piano with a special warmth in tone somewhat lacking in say, the celesta. Of the 2000 odd manufactured, very few are in existence today and even less in passable working order. I suspect that this something to do with the rather bold claim that they were "portable", with fold-able legs allowing for transportation but rather delicate innards to be entirely suited to the rigors of the missionary's ox wagon.

Those delicate innards are best described with the aid of the following diagram courtesy of Sue Mo from her informative website.

In short, a hammering system, not unlike that of a grand piano, was employed to disengage a damper and strike a steel u-shaped tuning fork (which was responsible for the beautiful bell-like tone) which was held in place by oblong leather pieces. These maintained sufficient tension on the forks which rest on u-shaped sheet metal springs.I have made one minor alteration to Sue's diagram above in blue. There is additional felt that may or may not come into contact with some of the tuning forks (certainly some of the larger heavier ones) and this seems to ensure that there is minimal rattle when they are struck by the hammers. As can be seen from the diagram above, a rather intricate series of felted surfaces, springs and even a simple cam work in concert to enable the whole mechanism to work perfectly and noiselessly.

A foot operated pedal can be used to disengage damping entirely allow for more sustain when playing.

EDIT: Parts 1,3,4,5 and 6 of this story

Monday, January 21, 2013


I am looking through an old EXCEL spreadsheet I found on my laptop from when we first opened this thing up after I got it back from the junk shop that masqueraded as an antique shop. I had decided to make some notes about what was broken and what needed fixing.

On a musical instrument with 61 piano-style keys, a lot can not work. A total of 18 keys made no sound at all. That's a success rate of about 70%. Does that sound like a passing mark? The average chord and melody when playing a keyboard requires about 4 keys to work concurrently, so the chances are, that you would play a harmonically weakened chord or strike a horrible empty phantom note in your melody.

I'll admit that when I describe it like that it almost sounds intriguing, but playing a keyboard note in vain has to rank as one of the most soul sapping sensations imaginable. Of those 40 odd keys that produced a chime, very few produced a pleasant consistent, repeatable tone and few had a damping mechanism that worked at all. Looking at the filthy baby coffin sized box, it all seemed like a bit of a lost cause - a lost cause that I was sure I had been over charged for.

It's not like I could shop around for a better deal. At about one hundred years old, and relegated from all but the most niche musical ensembles, if you find an old dulcitone, you buy it.
If these probing torch lit photographs resemble some recently uncovered sunken treasure then you are not far off. There was a sense of a long undisturbed and very brittle find about the whole affair and early forays and views of the structure were beset with some trepidation of making a rather sorry situation a lot worse.

There was a lot of oxidation, desiccated leather, felt consumed by vermin, overstretched springs, missing or broken key components, evidence of wood worm infestation and about a century of caked on dust and cockroach poop. 

This was going to be a real task.

EDIT: Parts 2,3,4,5 and 6 of this story

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Been looking for a clearer, cleaner version of this for years.

and some information to boot

Thank you internet!

Lifted directly from description body of second video)

Oh,kumushki*, be friends with each other 
Be friends with each other and love each other
And love me too
Go to green garden
And take me with you 
You'll gather flowers
Gather some for me too
You'll wreathe chaplets
Oh,wreathe one for me too

Go to the Danube river
And take me with you 
You'll sail your chaplets by water
And sail mine too
Your chaplets were sailing adrift
But mine has sunk...swam like a stone..swam like a stone
Your sweethearts have returned from war
But mine hasn't 
He doesn't come back, he doesn't write any letters
He's forgot about me...about me... 

* 'Kumushki' means lady friends, particularly those, who have exchanged their baptismal crosses for a week, in accordance with the old Russian custom,done soon after Easter Sunday