Reed Organ Repair: A generic approach (2)

Anything you plan to do to the organ's case should be undertaken next. Usually, cleaning is all that's necessary. Various formulations of beeswax were popular polishes when the organ was in regular use, and this has accumulated a lot of dirt. Murphy's oil soap on a damp rag is the best first-step, and is often all that's necessary to get this goop off. Liberal use of cotton swabs and/or toothbrushes may be required on ornate parts.

If the casework is really beat-up, you might have to re-finish it, (a long and messy process). But cleaning, touch-up with a dark stain on severe scratches, and re-waxing (paste wax) is usually all that's required. A few "dings" here and there attest to the instrument's age. SAVE the original finish if at all possible! If you have watched "Antiques Roadshow", you know how important original finishes can be to professional dealers.

It's time, too, to replace the silks behind any fretwork on the case or key-slip. Find something at the fabric store that comes as close to the original as possible. (It was most often a red cotton poplin, and has often been replaced with material much too thick. In removing whatever you find, look for shards of the original still glued underneath - this will tell you what color the original material was). Remove the old material, which invariably was glued on with hot glue. Warm water softens this easily, so the old material comes right off. A damp rag takes off excess glue, dirt and so forth. Get right down to the wood! You may find some *tiny* tacks here and there: try to extract and save them, as they're difficult to find, and you only need a few.

Cut pieces of the new material, observing the "grain" of it, and iron it on an ironing-board so it is dead flat and without creases. It's best to start with a piece that's over-size. Stretch the piece over the fretwork: it can be held in place temporarily with masking tape, or with those tiny tacks. 

What glue to use? You *should* use hot glue, but liquid hide glue also works here. Hide glue can be warmed, too, which quickens its action. Fish glue also works. DON'T USE WHITE GLUE!  Whatever your choice, you will apply the glue first to the fretwork, (usually just around the edges) then (after it dries at least to "tacky" and you have stretched the new material in place) to the back side of the work so that it soaks through the fabric and joins the glue on the wood below. You want the glue *only* where it was originally, and NOT over any area that shows through the fret-work. Just pressing the fabric down lightly into the pattern shows where it should (and should not) go. (Alternatively, you can work over a light-table, or just hold the work up against a bright window). Use plenty of glue, and maybe work it through the cloth with a smooth wooden spatula. Then set this assembly aside to dry. When it *is* thoroughly dry, trim off any excess fabric with a razor blade and straightedge.
With all this completed and the parts set aside, you want to tackle the lower action. This *can* get tricky, and there's a lot to explain. But first, just clean it up with a damp rag, getting all accumulated dirt out of the way. If you're lucky, the rubber cloth on the exhausters and reservoir are in good, tight shape, and the valves on the exhausters are soft and pliable... Yeah, right! It does happen, but not often. More likely, the reservoir has major holes, especially at the folds, and the exhausters likewise. If so, the fabric has to be replaced. There just isn't any practical way to "patch" this stuff; it *has* to hold wind; and you aren't going to want to take this contraption apart again any time soon!

But there are pitfalls here, too, and materials to be obtained.

Begin by taking out the screws, removing the straps, and parting the lower action from the foundation. If you are lucky, the foundation is NOT glued to the lower action: if you are UNlucky, it is, and you need to seek advice on how to get it apart. There is no practical way to recover exhausters if the foundation remains attached! (Mason & Hamlin was the worst offender in this regard, tending to use glue and *nails* to attach the foundation - permanently.  They evidently had a lot of faith in rubber-cloth!) 

In the USA, rubber-cloth is available from Organ Supply Industries, POBox 1165, Erie PA 16512. There are several grades (weights): the direct replacement in nearly all cases is OSI's #6340-00, 0.02" thick, single coated black rubber on 20 oz. heavy cloth back. Avoid the fleece-back, heavier stuff, and the drill-cloth stuff as well. To do it right, you need several yards, so that the reservoir can be wrapped with a single piece, as it was originally. 

The hinges in the reservoir and exhausters you may find to be leather, or heavy canvas. The latter, in convenient woven strips 2" wide, can be had at any place that makes awnings and such. 

Leather can be had from many sources. For the hinges, you need a heavy cow-hide of nominal 1/16" thickness. For the exhauster valves, a heavy cabretta is best, but may be hard to find. On occasion I have used chamois *backed* by a thin cow-hide. The chamois makes a good seal, but is too flimsy by itself. The heavier leather holds it in place. These are not glued together, just tacked over one another. Columbia Organ Leathers has good supplies, but you have to buy whole skins.

Next, take some *important* measurements! You need to WRITE DOWN the maximum opening of the reservoir, and of the exhausters. Don't rely on memory here: the numbers are often close, but rarely the same, and it's easy to mix them up!
Next, you need to observe carefully exactly how the material is applied, especially how it is "closed" at the hinge end. Make some sketches! These details, too, are easy to forget. Another way is to take electronic pictures, if you have a digital camera; these can be printed out and used later as guidance.

Some reservoirs have external springs: remove these, taking care to mark them so you can get them back exactly as they were.

If the reservoir has internal springs, some care is needed. Cut holes in the old reservoir covering and reach inside. Collapse a spring firmly in your hand and withdraw it. Then put one point against a firm surface and carefully allow the spring to open up. It will open into a very wide "Y", and if it gets away from you it can do major damage. Use eye protection at a minimum for this operation. Mark these so that you get them back in (later) in exactly the same position as they were originally.

Revised 01/2001; Copyright 2001 James B. Tyler