Music box doctor

by Nancy Fratti
Advice from our resident medical mechanical musicologist

This article is part of the Noteworthy News archives.

April 1996

Rx Dear Doctor: The bass teeth on my music box are slowly succumbing to lead disease. Can I clean the leads and bandage with solder?

You can treat a mild case of lead disease by performing a dermabrasion of the comb with 360 grit wet and dry sandpaper.

Anesthetize the comb by screwing it to a wooden block and turning it upside down. Scrape in a sawing motion with the dry sandpaper, then mist a coat of lacquer. Tuning may be affected.

An advanced case of lead disease will require a lead transplant and the skill of a specialist surgeon.

Warning: Wear a surgical mask or respirator. Powdered lead that enters the body never comes out and can cause debilitating symptoms.

No one is certain of the cause of lead disease, although some researchers contend it is cause by the residue of unwashed flux.

Rx Dear Doctor: My dog has worms and my Polyphon has worms! I've discovered hundreds of tiny holes under the veneer. What worm medicine do you recommend?

Take the ambulance to the professional fumigator who will pump Nasty Stuff into all the little channels during worm chemotherapy.

Your veneer probably requires a veneer graft. Wood putty usually leaves visible scars on the skin.

Rx Dear Doctor: My repinned cylinder requires terminage. What's that? It sounds terminal.

At the original factory the final tuner would break off extraneous pins. Sometimes the amputation was marked with a scratch mark, sometimes not.

When your cylinder was repinned all the little limbs were put back in.

In terminage, you have to be the music box doctor and diagnose which notes are not in time and which merit removal.

(April 1997)

Rx Dear Doctor:What nutritional supplement does my grandmother's music box need to stay healthy and happy?

Grandmother knew best. She took a teaspoon of castor oil every day. Feed the bushings and moving parts a heavy weight clock oil like castor oil.

Use a stem grease on the governor worm.

WD40 and 3-in-1 oil are contraindicated: stay away from them.

The pins on your cylinder will digest the notes more easily if you lubricate them, too. Bead some clock oil along the bottom of a piece of plate glass, turn the box on, and hold the edge of the glass against the pins to distribute the oil. This procedure will also excise the damper breather noise in the high treble end of the comb.

Rx Dear Doctor: Why can't I transplant discs from one brand of machine to another?

Disc transplants were not allowed for patent reasons. However, the following transplants will not be rejected:

Be careful. The sympton of a transplant rejection can be bent star wheels.

(September 1996)

Rx Dear Doctor: My daughter is losing her dimples, and my Regina is losing its dimples. Why does my Regina have dimples, and what can I do?

Dimple loss is normal with aging. The dimples disappear because of wear.

You can renew the dimples by squeezing the little suckers with a specially made pair of dimple foreceps, but this is at best a temporary palliative.

The proper remedy is an excision of the rail and microsurgical soldering of new dampers. Your Regina will not work with sick dimples.

Rx Dear Doctor: My Regina is too fat! Its gantry is so wide that the star wheels no longer line up with the comb. What's the recommended procedure for a gantry tummy tuck?

Early music box gantries were composed of soft solder; later ones were brass or cast iron.

The gantry is a delicate organ. You have described the symptons of a classic case of cracked gantry syndrome. It is usually caused by trauma to the gantry from a blunt screwdriver through overtorqueing the screws on the gantry's ventral side. Occasionally the same sloppiness was caused by birth defects at the factory.

It is theoretically possible to open up and resolder the gantry, but this operation can cause so many complications that the patient dies. A cure is beyond the knowledge of present medical musical technology.

Copyright 2016 Lynn Bilton

Lynn Bilton
Box 435
Randolph,OH 44265
330 325-7866


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