Original Location: Belgium
During the restoration of the Pianella orchestrion by Art Reblitz (circa 1999), a number of small rectangular sections of yellowed business card were discovered in the machine. The card had been intentionally cut up and the tiny pieces used to aid in tuning several of the wooden violin and flute pipes. This was a common technique used by servicemen out in the field who were having trouble with hard to tune, unruly pipes. By pasting small sections of cardboard alongside the mouths of unstable pipes the tone could be made more steady, the pipe more or less being forced to speak correctly. Or a piece of card might be used to shade a pipe, changing its pitch for tuning. Oftentimes a loose or damaged tuning slide could be compensated for this way, making for an easy repair when the proper materials were not easily available.
Once the scattered bits of old business card were carefully pieced back together, and although it was still missing several small pieces, it could be seen that the card offered the services of Jules de Kezel, of Brussels, Belgium, who was in the business of repairing orchestrions and electric auto-pianos. Thus, it is very likely that the Model 15 Pianella was routinely serviced by Kezel. Moreover, it is also likely that the Pianella was located for at least the latter part of its commercial lifetime somewhere in or near Brussels, Belgium. Whether it was originally located in the Brussels area cannot be determined from the evidence at hand. It could have been located several places during is commercial lifetime, as it was not uncommon for large orchestrions to be replaced after many years service in one establishment, and then re-furbished and re-sold to another location.
The type of establishment using the instrument is also unknown. However, being that the instrument was originally equipped with a single roll mechanism suggests that it was used in a place where an attendant operated the orchestrion. This was a fairly common situation in restaurants and beer halls, especially in places were a dance venue was offered. In such a case, the machine would have been operated by an attendant, who was responsible for collecting money, issuing dance cards and playing the orchestrion. Being that this instrument was a fairly late model Philipps, without a roll changer, during the time when the "revolver-mechanik" was very popular and a regularly install option, points even more strongly to a dance hall type usage.
The Pianella Model 15 was found by Eugene DeRoy during his search for orchestrions from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s. Mr. DeRoy generally visited the countries of Belgium, Germany, and Holland, and maybe France, following up leads from his Symphonia Music Roll Company mailing list. Thus, his probable itinerary, coupled with the discovery of the Jules de Kezel (of Brussels, Belgium) business card, makes it very likely that the Pianella was discovered in or near Brussels, Belgium, which was a popular haunt for Mr. DeRoy.
Roy Haning and Neal White bought the Pianella Model 15 from Eugene DeRoy circa 1968-1970. The instrument was never fully set up or restored, although the pipes were installed and the instrument and its case side-wings were stored along side each other.
The instrument, beautifully restored, set up and regulated during the latter part of 1999, is now on display as part of the Sanfilippo collection. Restoration was performed by Art Reblitz, Colorado Springs, Colorado. The original single roll mechanism was replaced with a Philipps 6-station roll changer, purchased separately from Roy Haning and Neal White, of Troy, Ohio.
Art Reblitz notes that in the split rank of 61 notes, the lowest 13 pipes, C-C are Fagott (Bassoon). The next 18 pipes pitched above the Fagott are stamped "Violoncello," and have wooden rollers. These lowest 31 pipes (Fagott plus Violoncello) play as one group from one ventil. The Fagott (Bassoon) boots are huge, compared to the smaller resonators, and are all of different sizes, implying that the enclosed air chamber surrounding the reed has as much to do with tonal development as does the resonator. The next ventil turns on the uppermost 30 pipes, which are violins with brass freins. Thus, the playing of this 61-note rank is controlled by two separate register controls.
The next rank of pipes contains 49 violins, with brass freins, and is operated by a single ventil.
The front rank of 30 pipes had been fitted with flute pipes from an orchestrion of unknown brand, and were replaced with copies of Philipps piccolo pipes made by John Nolte, which are the appropriate flute family voice for this instrument. The instrument contains a total of 140 pipes.
An oddity of this particular instrument is the arrangement of the trapwork, i.e., drums, triangle, castanets, et cetera. In earlier Pianella models most trapwork item have their own separate mounting structure, with self-contain valve actions for reiterating instruments like the snare drum, tambourine, triangle, and castanets. These individual units, located variously throughout the chassis and/or casework, are connected to the controlling valve unit by rubber tubing. However, in this later model Pianella the snare drum, tambourine, triangle, and castanet actions are an integral part of a single valve chest that stretches across the front of the upper shelf, located just in front of the xylophone. This control chest also includes the valves for the bass drum, cymbal, and tympani effects, as well as all the lock and cancel valves necessary to control the various playing registers or instrumental sounds for the Pianella.
Information provided Art Reblitz and Terry Hathaway.
Circa 1911/12 Philipps catalogue; and Art Reblitz.