Articles & Historic Publications

These are historic articles and materials pertaining to pianos, organs, and theatres

A Sad Kilgen Story

A Sad Kilgen StoryBy James Grebe

St. Louis was the home of the George Kilgen Pipe Organ Company, which was located in north St. Louis.  Between the years 1911 and 1927 Kilgen had installed at least 22 pipe organs, including the largest unified organ they built in their entire history, that were installed in St. Louis theatres.  I have not found any that were resurrected in any form anywhere in the St. Louis area. 

St. Louis Pipe Organ is arguably the largest service provider of extent Kilgen organs on the planet.  Recently in speaking with Alan Nagel, owner of St. Louis Pipe Organ Co, whose firm took over all the Kilgen ledgers and records and service, when Kilgen went bankrupt around 1959 I posed 3 questions.

1.                 Have you run across ANY Kilgen Tibias in any of the organs that you have serviced since your taking over the company?  Answer , NO 2.  Have you serviced any Kilgen organs in and around St. Louis with wind Pressure 8” or higher? Answer, NO 2.                 Have you come across any Kilgen horseshoe consoles in or around St. Louis?Answer, NO.I had thought, if he did, this would be some clue as to what might have happened at least to some.  As a result, we can only conclude that out of these 22 theatre organs Kilgen installed here, none survived in whole or in part.  It is a shame that the home town of one of the larger theatre pipe organ companies in the world could not have one example of the brand.  Indeed, there is only one theatre in the world that has an original Kilgen Theatre Organ (a 3m/11r) in it’s original location, the Palace, in Canton, Ohio, one of the featured organs in this years ATOS convention in Cleveland, Ohio.  So, we can only conclude that all of Kilgen’s theatre instruments wound up being junked.  A shame for our heritage in St. Louis.

African-American Only/Owned St. Louis Theatres

African- American Only/Owned St. Louis Theatres
by James Grebe updated 11/11/14

The years before the mid to late 1950's were a different time than what has followed since. When the author was growing up during that time, “African-American only” theatres were not even known by my age group and area (Soulard, St. Louis). Although many of my friends there were African-American it did not even occur to me that it was strange that they did not attend the same school as me till 1954 or that they did not go to my nearby movie theatres, The Peerless and New Shenandoah. It simply never came up, just as my Jewish friends from grade school never played outside with us when not in school. Later, I would learn that the facts I had grown up with were not the facts of the real world. One of my African-American friends, Robert Ray, grew up and became “Artist in Residence” at UMSL, the University of St. Louis in Normandy.
Some of the theatres switched from 'whites only 'to integrated, to 'African-American only' during the early to mid years of the 1900's. Most were smaller theatres seating less than 1,000 and virtually none had theatre pipe organs as the large mid town theatres did. They were content to have a piano banging out the soundtrack for the silents or very small bands. Some had white owners while others had African-Americans as owners. During the early 1970's the “Blacksploitation” movies came in to vogue which temporarily gave the African-American theatres a boost, featuring African-Americans as heroes and especially 'African-American themed' soundtracks. By the late 1970's, most of the African-American only theatres had fallen into low attendance due to the availability of African-Americans being able to frequent the more fancy regular theatres. With available transportation, African-Americans were no longer limited to their own neighborhoods but could venture out into all realms of the city. This meant that the usually small, cash strapped, theatres were closed and abandoned to be turned into churches or some other use and finally became blighted and the ultimate destruction, razed.
In my research thus far, it has been enlightening th4e the African -American organizations and newspapers seem to know nothing about the 50 year span of African-American Theatres. The same is true of the African-American piano tuning clients I have contacted. Perhaps it is because this knowledge is distasteful in their memories.

Amytis 4300 St Ferdinand 640 seats

This is a picture of the auditorium before conversion to the movie theatre when the college closed

The Amytis opened in 1934 after Poro Colleg closed and closed in 1960. It was then demolished for a neighborhood redevelopment plan that never materialized. It was operated for a time by Mort S. Silvers, a former vaudeville performer and Universal Pictures employee for 40 years. It never materialized. The auditorium was originally the auditorium for Poro College which had been founded by Annie Malone, one of the first African-American millionaires due to her success at formulating womens hair care products.. In February of 1934 it became a commercial operation and presented films and occasional live performances. The last ad for this theatre was in July of 1960.
Bonanza Theatre 2917 Olive 602 seats

The picture previous to this what is left of the Bonanza Theatre. The building on the right is the remodeled Bonanza building and is empty and for lease as of 9/29/14.. It was and independent theatre closed to the Star Theatre. It had a small balcony and was well maintained and cleaned. No one ever figured out why it was called the Bonanza other than it was a bonanza to the neighborhood. It had beautiful red drapery around the screen and also presented local stage shows. It operated as a theatre from 1909 to 1916.
The building on the right is the remodeled Bonanza building. It was and independent theatre closed to the Star Theatre. It had a small balcony and was well maintained and cleaned. No one ever figured out why it was called the Bonanza other than it was a bonanza to the neighborhood. It had beautiful red drapery around the screen and also presented local stage shows. It operated as a theatre from 1909 to 1916.

Booker Washington Theatre 2248 Market, 506 to 909 seats

The theatre opened in 1913, just a block west of Union Station. It had no fancy ornamentation. It opened at 10 in the morning and remained open till after midnight. It was known for being boisterous and noisy from the servicemen waiting for their trains. The theatre closed in 1930 during the depression with re-development of the area and torn down.
The Booker Washington Theatre was owned by Charles H. Turpin, brother of Tom Turpin and co- owner. Tom Turpin was acknowledged to have published the first “rag” before the introduction of ragtime at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Tom Turpin was a very large man at 6' tall and 300 pounds. It is said his piano had to be lifted up on blocks so he could play standing up as his belly was too large, keeping him from reaching the keys if he sat down to play. He was called the “Father of St. Louis Ragtime” He also owned, with his brother Charles, gambling houses, a dance hall and sporting houses

Turpin also was a deputy constable and was one of the first politically powerful African -Americans in St. Louis. Turpin died in 1922 and was buried in St. Peters Cemetery in Normandy, Mo.
The theatre has been long gone for many years on the now widened Market Street.

Comet Theatre 4106 Finney 900 seats

There evidently were two theatres with the name Comet. The first was at 2110 Market and opened in 1911 and closed before the new one in 1931 on Finney. The 2nd opened in 1939 as built and operated by Tommy James. Its outstanding feature in the front was a neon across the top with a comet shooting across it. In 1940 it became an African-American theatre. It closed in 1972.

Criterion Theatre 2644 Franklin 892 Seats
Opened in 1924, by Greek owner George Pleakos. Another source says the first ad for the theatre was in 1917 differing from the 1924 date above. In 1934, publicity for the building came from “the colored cashiers society: picketing for better employment opportunities. It survived till 1966 as a movie theatre with its last ad. After that it became a church, and later boarded up with ply wood. Vandalism plagued the building til a police sub-station was built across the street. It was said it was the best shape of any old north St. Louis African-American movie theatre, now demolished. Its vertical sign spelling Criterion in streamlined lettering was one of the most beautiful in town. It has been torn down

Douglas Theatre 4201 Finney 850 originally then 700 seats, and 650 in 1950

Opened in November, 1918 by Charles Pitman as the Jest-A-Mere Theatre It was built as a just for African-Americans type by the owner. In 1927 it was bought by Thomas James and renamed the Douglas after the abolitionist Frederick Douglas. When it opened it advertised as being built entirely by colored labor., and was a triumph for the race as there was continuous opposition from the white unions. It closed in April, 1962.

Laclede Theatre 3116 Laclede 500 Seats

Built by Alex Pappas and the architect was O.W. Stiegmeyer and opened on March 23, 1940 and had an African-American audience. It had a plain appearance but served the are for 34 years until June 23, 1959 when the Mill Creek Development leveled the entire area. St. Louis University now occupies half the whole area.

Marquette Theatre 1806 Franklin 795 seats

Opened in 1913 to serve originally the Irish-Italian people. It became an African-American theatre in 1943. In the mid 1950's it went to weekend only and closed in 1961 when demolished for an industrial park.

Regal Theatre 3144 Easton

Roosevelt Theatre 810 N Leffingwell seats 646

Owner Christ Zolos opened the Roosevelt for African-Americans in 1927. It was a single floor building in the middle of a block, just 3 blocks from the Criterion theatre and outlasted the Criterion for many years. The front was a simple block front with a cream and orange mix with a large marquee with loads of neon lights. It closed in 1966 though it remained busy till it closed when the neighborhood was slated for redevelopment. Admission prices were 0.75c for adults and 0.25c for kids til the very end. . Torn down

Star Theatre 16 S Jefferson owner C. Eithen

Torn down
Venus Theatre 4264 Finney, 492 seats

The Venus was owned by A. Sanowski in September of 1915 as The Pendleton. In its opening publicity it was publicly stated as “the only house for colored west of Jefferson”. The name change to Venus was in February of 1924. It closed in 1933 and long since demolished

Credits: African-American Registry, Gerald Alexander, Charles Von Bibber, James Grebe Archives, Wikopedia, Ken McIntyre, Chris Utley,

Buying the New Piano from the Internet

     It is considered to be cheaper to buy a new piano from the internet when you just consider price.  The final cost, however,  you pay will be vastly different.  Things that you pay extra for include moving to your home, unpacking and checking the piano and final regulation and  tuning.  Once you get the piano to your home you have to do all the preparatory work, that the local  dealer would be doing at no cost.  A raw piano from the factory will have a certain amount of mechancial work to put it in proper playing condition.  Most of the pianos available on the internet, straight from a wholesale distributor will have been manufactured in a Far East country and will have been shipped in a container over the ocean with all the changes in humidity and temperatures it will have gone through.  The piano must be stabilized in the climate of your area and to your home.  If there is a problem with the piano, you will have no local dealer to diagnose, repair , or even to have someone answer your questions.  Many of the pianos available have no real track record in this country even though they may have familiar American sounding names.  These long standing names have been bought up by these Asian manufactureres to place them on whatever instrument they choose to make whether very cheap or  fine quality. Once you get the piano it is yours with no recourse to have a local place to complain to or change to a different model.  In other words, let the buyer beware.   When you by from a local dealer you will pay a little more BUT you will have a more finished instrument and much more peace of mind.

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

Early bio History of St. Louis Piano History

Early History of St. Louis piano history
By James Grebe
I began in the piano business after graduating from Harris Jr. College, a division of Harris Teachers College in June of 1962. I had secured apprentice employment with Piano Service Associates (PSA), a wholly owned subsidiary of Aeolian Co. of MO. At P.S.A., I worked and was taught by Ed Stevens, Ed Summers and finally Gene Kracke. At that time, it was not fashionable to be taught tuning, as it was feared that as soon as you could tune you would leave. In early 1963 I was transferred downtown to 1004 Olive at the main store and got further training in new piano preparation and touch up work. Back then, pay was laughable at $1.25 per hour.
Later in the spring, I made arrangements to be taught piano tuning by Clarence Trump, who owned PianoLand on Clayton Rd, the successor to the Kieselhorst Piano Co. Clarence had begun his employment with Kieselhorst as a floor sweeper and wound up, in the end, owning the company. I attended sessions on Tuesday and Thursday nights\s and Saturdays in the afternoon. I was able to book private tunings in the evenings and on Saturdays to supplement my Aeolian pay after about 6 months. At that time Charles Tice was being retired from tuning at the symphony and Ed Summers had taken over. Aeolian, at that time was the main place for piano rebuilding, along with being the Steinway dealer and many top notch pianos came through for the magic of Ed Summers, Ed Stevens, and Gene Kracke’s expertise. By 1967 I longed for greater pay and was offered a job with Ludwig Music House for greater pay. Though not the quality image of Aeolian I prospered in my knowledge and workload. In 1968, Ludwig bought Aeolian and became Ludwig –Aeolian, and Gene Kracke, Ed Summers and Ed Stevens all left to set up their own shops and businesses and piano rebuilding by the “big” stores ceased. The Japanese and Korean export pianos had begun to make their mark.
Ed Stevens began having his own apprentice’s like Bill Reichert, Jr. Bill had already had a great beginning with his Father, Bill, Sr., one of the top tuner technicians in the area for many years. Also taught by Ed Stevens was Tom Adams, a top notch quality rebuilder. Except for Bill Sr, none of the other top technicians belonged to the PTG as in past years it was mainly a social opportunity rather than a strict professional organization to further piano service quality.
By 1972 the lure of greater pay led me to leave Ludwig-Aeolian and I joined forces with Vince Hand , a used piano merchant in Webster Groves who dabbled in rebuilt pianos. My job was to rebuild his pianos. At that time in 1972 or 1973 the PTG convention was at the Sheraton-Jefferson Hotel and we attended to meet with Gordon Laughead a piano builder at the time and we took a trip to visit his factory as well as to tour the Charles Walter factory who had just bought the Janssen piano Co. I joined the PTG at that time and was given the tests by Ed Oventrop and Bill Reichert, Sr. Hand began to sell both brands of pianos.
Toward the end of the year I began to grow weary of just rebuilding and left to begin in earnest my own service company. I also was able to sell a few Gordon Laughead pianos on my own also. In the intervening years I got caught up in woodworking and began piano case repair and bench rebuilding to piano bench construction. Then I got into making caster cups for pianos and into writing instruments. Along the way came theatre pipe organs and doing histories on St. Louis theatre. Due to eye problems, and not being able to drive at night, I dropped out of the PTG in around 2002 but I have remained on good terms with my friends in ht St. Louis PTG.
On tips for Associate members, I offer this advice. Choose an area or two that you can become immersed in, whether it be historical temperaments, becoming an expert in particular repairs or particular pianos. One of the things I keep track of is piano scales. Start making a journal for the scales of the various pianos you come across. The way I keep track is by name, model, size, type, what note the treble begins and the number of wound strings in the treble . For instance a Yamaha P-22 would be Yam 45, D#3- 2. A Steinway M grand would be B2- 2. If you are into digital tuning keep track of the Stretch number or FAC numbers or the number you ascribe to that particular piano on and keep a master list. With computers it is an easy task to keep all sorts of important files at your beck and call. You would be surprised what similarities you can find in the various instruments by just keep track of certain things. If you would like to see a complete show of all my services and how I treat them, my website is

Equal Temperament Piano Tuning-The Process

Equal Temperament Piano  Tuning-The Process  By James Grebe     

     Since the late 1980’s we began using digital computers using programs written to them.  In past years, piano tuners had their ears and reasoning ability along with aural tests to place the notes at the correct pitch of the tempered scale.  Piano tuners now have devices to set numerically the correct pitch of every note with an accuracy of + or -  0.02%.  The following is a brief explanation of how I tune your piano.  Within the scale of 12 notes, musical mathematicians found a way to divide up the distance of an octave into 12 notes (1200 cents) with an equal distance between each note.  Within this equally tempered scale, music can be played in all 12 keys and still sound equally correct.  The process goes like this: since there are 12 notes they could take a starting pitch and multiply that figure by the 12th root of 2 which is 1.0594631 and obtain the frequency of the next higher note.  This method allows the notes to have the same proportion of cycles per second (or cents) as the previous noted dividing them.          The next problem we have to deal with is the problem of inharmonicity, which is the distance between the theoretical frequency and the real world frequency of the harmonics present in the tone of each different piano.  Because the wire in the piano is relatively short and stiff, the speaking lengths do not quite behave like the theoretical model.  Following is a chart of the partials in musical tone that we use in piano tuning: 1st partial  -     root or fundamental2nd partial –            octave pitch3rd partial -             octave + a 5th4th partial –               double octave5th partial –           double octave + a 3rd6 partial -                double octave + a 5th7th partial –               not used8th partial –     triple octaveThese are the partials we use to tune pianos.  If the piano behaved like the model, all these would be exact multiples.  However, because of inharmonicity each partial up the ladder gets progressively stretched away from the model.  In general, when we hear an aurally  perfect octave, the sound of the 2nd partial of the lower tone is equal to the 1st partial of the higher tone.   Because of inharmonicity, the 2nd partial is stretched so the higher note has to be tuned slightly sharp to sound perfect, which means the 2nd partial is equal to the 1st partial of the lower note. This is what is meant by stretching the octaves.  The preceding holds true for the middle and upper parts of the piano. In the bass section we generally tune the 6th partial of the lower note to the 3rd partial of the higher octave note because these partial are generally louder than the 1st and 2nd partial in the bass section and our ears listen for the louder partials present to determine if the note sounds flat or sharp.  This is a general description of what we listen and measure to tune your piano to the highest standards possible.                   The instrument I use is a programmable digital computer (Sanderson Accu-Tuner III) with equal temperament in its memory with a quartz crystal built in with an accuracy of + or- 0.02%.  With this instrument, combined with my over 46 years of experience tuning pianos, I can give your piano the best tunings it has ever had and also to be able to duplicate it each time I tune it.  Here is the process I use: I set the device to F-5 and play the note F-3 and the note gets tuned to its 4th partial at a deviation of 0.0.  Then I set the device to F-6 and measure the difference in cents.  This measures the distance between the 4th and 8th partial of F-3.  I store that amount in the computer and proceed to A-4.  I set the device to A-5 and tune A-4 to 0.0.  Then I reset the device to A-6 and measure the difference in cents.  That measures the distance between the 2nd and 4th partial of A-3.  The device records that figure and then I proceed to C-6 and tune that note to 0.0 and reset the device to C-7 and record that amount.  That measures the distance between the 1st and 2nd partials of C-6.  With these 3 values the computes calculates the optimum tuning for that particular piano.  Thus, we have measured the amount of inharmonicity in 3 places on your piano to be sure of the most balanced tuning for this instrument.  I then end up with a tuning fulfilling the designers’ purpose, the manufacturers handiwork and my skill giving you the best tuning possible for your piano.  The fact that I record these measurements in the devices memory bank is what ensures duplicity tuning for your piano.  You will notice I keep a binder with the most popular recorded tunings already to go.

Copyright/2008/Yesterday Once More Publications,James Grebe

Maintaining Your Piano

Maintaining Your Piano
James Grebe Piano Service
(314) 608-4137
1526 Raspberry Lane Arnold, MO 63010

Now that you have a new or used piano there are certain things you need to know to be able to take care of it to your and your piano’s best interest. A piano is a complex device that has certain physical characteristics that need to be addressed throughout its life. A piano consists of mainly 3 types of materials, namely wood, felt, and metal. These three materials do not react the same way to changing conditions. Wood moves in relationship to changes in humidity and temperature. With changes in humidity, wood moves, mostly, across the grain expanding or contracting. That means wood is changing its’ dimensions, which increases or decreases the crown on the soundboard. The crown is the bowing configuration of a soundboard to place it under compression to better amplify the sound of the vibrating strings that are under great amounts of tension across the soundboard. When humidity changes to the greater, the soundboard expands across the grain and puts greater tension on the strings, so they go sharp. When humidity drops, the soundboard shrinks and the tension goes down and the piano goes flat compared to where it was. As daily humidity changes affect the piano, it wanders further and further from being where it was left in tune. Keep in mind; the piano never goes back to exactly where it was, even if it goes back to the same humidity level. It is always traveling further and further from its place immediately after tuning.
Changes in temperature affect mainly the metal (cast iron plate) of the piano. From the time of tuning, if it gets colder the plate shrinks and if it gets warmer the plate expands, each time moving the top, where the tuning pins are to the bottom, where the hitch pins are.. Again, it never goes back completely where it was when the same temperature is reached.
When a piano has gone for a long period of time without being tuned the general trend is to drop in pitch, as the tension on the strings is always trying to lessen itself. The longer between tunings the greater the opportunity for having a lower overall pitch. Thus, you can expect if it has been a long time since the piano was tuned it is going to be below pitch. Raising the pitch is more than a one time tuning fix. The piano has to be brought up to standard pitch and then needs an opportunity to re-adjust to the new level and another tuning is required to get it back to A-440. Generally, the time in-between if dictated by how low the pitch was to begin with. I have another brochure that deals with pitch raising your piano available if you would like it, and all my brochures are available at my web site.
On new pianos it is the owner’s responsibility to let the piano get tuning stability by frequent tuning the first year when the piano learns where it is supposed to be. The wire is new and takes about a year for the stretching to stop. Generally, that means tuning in one month after delivery, then re-tuning in 2 months, then 3 after that, and 4 months after that. In home situations after that group of tunings every 6 months is what it takes to keep the piano at a stable A-440. In certain institutional situations, more frequent tuning is required because of more changing conditions, heavy use, or playing with other instruments. I have churches that have their instruments tuned every 2- 3 months to make sure they are in good tune for their expected use.. There is NO piano that maintains tune indefinitely and many times the better the instrument more tuning is needed because the quality of the piano sound shows up the slightest imperfections in pitch.
All of this may sound like it is over kill, but it is not if you want your piano to be worthy of your use for it. There is no substitute for a fine piano in a fine state of tune. Along with that, if it does have to go for a longer period of time without being tuned and you have maintained it well, it will do better than the piano with hit or miss type service.
Now, a word about piano placement.
The piano should be in a place where it will go through the least changes in temperature and humidity over the long haul. If it is a grand piano, it should be placed where when the lid is open it opens facing the longest dimension of the room. The keyboard should not be placed too close to a wall in case the keyboard and action need to be removed for service. Obviously, the grand should not be places with the right side of the piano next to a wall. If it is a vertical piano, the right side of the piano should not be next to a wall, as there needs to be room for the tuner’s elbow and arm to have enough room to manipulate the tuning pins. Whichever style of piano, it is a good idea to have the casters sitting on caster cups to protect the pile of your carpet, your wood floors, and maintain the pedal to floor distance of the pedals. Ask me about the caster cups I make for pianos. Treat your piano with respect. No eating or drinking at the piano and do not place things on the piano that are going to fall in, like pencils and paper clips. Remember, it is a musical instrument, not a place to put things.

Mason & Hamlin Pianos

Mason & Hamlin Pianos

By James Grebe

The fine name of Mason & Hamlin as a company began in 1854.  Since that time the name has perked up the ears and eyes of craftsmen of piano and organ construction. 

          Lowell Mason was called the “Father of music in America”.  He believed that music should be an integral part of the public school curriculum.  He was also a composer and is credited with the hymns like “Nearer My God To Thee” and My Faith Looks Up to Thee” and “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”.  His son, Henry had the fate to meet Emmons Hamlin.  Emmons Hamlin is credited with the perfecting of voicing organ reeds to imitate their orchestral counter parts.  Together in 1854, they formed the Mason & Hamlin Company which began building organ harmoniums which developed into the “American Cabinet Organ” The author, in the late 1970’s owned a Mason & Hamlin reed organ which had been modernized with the addition of an electric blower.  In St. Louis I know of the location of a full 2 manual and 32 note pedal board Mason & Hamlin Reed Organ with a decorative display of organ pipes on top.  Sadly, it too, has been electrified.          In 1881, they began production of pianos along with the continued success of their reed organs.  The organs produced were so grand that Torakuso Yamaha, in Japan, copied the design and began a company of producing his own there.  That was the beginning of the Yamaha Company.  In the 1890, Lowell’s son, Henry Lowell Mason, joined the company and his chief task was to be the publicist for the company.  The next step was to hire Richard Gertz and Mason & Hamlin was about the soar.          Richard Gertz was born in Hanover Germany in 1865, the son of a concertmaster of the Hanover Orchestra.  At a young age, Richard became friends with Richard Wagner, Brahms, and Liszt who took a liking to the boy.  Richard’s father began selling pianos in 1873.  and introduced the American Steinway to Germany.  He also became the Bechstein and Bluthner dealer.          After a short time they also sold Mason & Hamlin Reed Organs.  The Gertz showrooms became the meeting place for all the leading musicians around the area.  The first imported Steinway sold went straight into Liszt’s teaching studio.  This instrument is still in possession of the Gertz family (1913).  While in school, Richard would take every opportunity to work in his gather’s workshop taking the larger grands, cutting them down in size and designing new scales for them and making sellable instruments.          During a visit from William Steinway to his fathers’ home, Richard was encouraged to come to America to visit the Steinway factory.  Richard did come in 1881 and, not only visited, but went to work at the Steinway factory for 2 years. He then left in 1893 and traveled to St. Louis and went to work for Bollman Brothers as head of their piano Department.  He traveled some for them thru the southern states and decided to go to work for Mason & Hamlin until 1886 when he returned to Hanover to his father for more education.          In 1888 he designed his own pianos to sell and in 1892, after taking over the business from his deceased father he began to experiment with adding iron rods across the inner frame to force the contraction of the frame and compressing and arching the soundboard.          In the spring of 1895 Richard was invited by Mason & Hamlin to draw up new scales for their pianos and were so impressed by his work that they placed him in charge of piano manufacturing.  Between 1900 –1905 he received patents for his “Centripetal Tension Resonator”.  In 1903 he was made secretary of Mason & Hamlin.  At the St. Louis World’s Fair, in 1904 he was the principal judge as the technical expert for the piano manufacturing competition where the Baldwin Piano Company won First Prize. In 1906 he was made president of Masson & Hamlin.          After these years Mason & Hamlin catered their advertising to the very well-to-do and became their status symbols for the “Yuppies” of their day.  Many of the Mason & Hamlin pianos are still found in fashionable homes in the Central West End of St. Louis and well –to- do homes in St. Louis County.  To those owners they referred not to their pianos but to their “Mason & Hamlin’s”.          As world conditions heated up, in preparations for World War I, Richard returned to Germany and after the war moved his family to South Africa and began the building of harpsichords.  His grandson, Wilhelm came to live in New Haven, CT and the name of the company is Wilhelm Gertz, Piano Makers.  Wilhelm died on March 7, 2007.          In 1924 Mason & Hamlin was taken over by the growing Aeolian Company who were in the process of buying up old, well-established piano companies when the heirs would let them go.  In the late 1920’s many of the Mason & Hamlins were fitted with Ampico Reproducing Mechanisms.  Around 1930 Aeolian combined with the American Piano Company and became Aeolian-American,.  Business continued until the 1980s and hard times bankrupted them  After a year, money was raised and they went back into limited operation and then failed again.  Today there is a New Mason & Hamlin Company, which seems to be flourishing with a return to the earlier scale design and most of the previous models

I hope while you are on this site you will visit the other portions of the sie where my hand crafted wares are described.  Aeverything on my site is crafted in Arnold, MO by James Grebe and not mass produced like you will find on most other sites advertising similar products.

Copyright,2016/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

Music & Pianos- A Perspective

Music and Pianos

By James Grebe

          Are you tired of society trying to steal your time from you?  We are bombarded by ads to entice us to spend your money to do things for entertainment, watch television so we can see more ads, go do this or that because it will be fun.  Of course, most of these will cost money and have little or no socially redeeming value.  Most of the things that can really benefit us are looked down upon because of the amount of time it takes to master or become proficient at them.  These are the very things that will entertain, educate, cost less, and really mean something to our overall development as interesting human beings.          In my business, I meet a lot of older people who are just literally crying to have someone to talk to them for a change.  Did you ever notice that people who get the most attention, and indeed are searched out to talk to, are people who have a skill that others can appreciate?  If you have a musical instrument, hopefully a piano, you have one of the greatest means of getting you into the social whirl, and at the same time, the center of attention.          Take a look at it, sitting there against the wall.  How long has it been since someone has played it?  How long has it been since you had it tuned last?  Have you forgotten what it sounds like when it is in tune?  You have one of the most entertaining pieces of hardware (high tech lingo for a machine, device, or instrument) and all you need to do is to supply the software, (you-the player with your music books or your memory).  Chances are, you use the piano as a great place to display your pictures and belongings.  Get out your cleaning rag and clean those keys and get into your piano bench and become re-acquainted with your old friend. A friend is what the piano really is.  With you supplying the playing, music can become a mind-altering substance.  Music can lift you from the depths of despair to the heights of mountains. It can lower you to solemn stillness or thoughts of happiness, laughter, bring you up   or let you down.  You say that your hands are too stiff and your fingers won’t do what you want them to?  Coax them along and as your mood changes you will feel less of your aches and pains and more of what you can do to make your feelings soar.  It is when times are the most quiet and you are really alone when music can over take you.  Your piano is your friend and you can cultivate that relationship.  If you have a TV in the same room, move it. If you spend your time alone and feeling sorry for yourself you will never accomplish anything. Now is the time for music.            Now the keys should look inviting to you.  Your chair or benchshould put you ate the proper height. To see if it is right look at the angle forme3d at your elbows while playing.  The angle should be slightly more than 90 degrees.  If you have any of your old music, especially the early instruction books, this is where you begin.  Do not be alarmed that you are going very slowly, as that is the neat part.  What you mastered before you can master again. Set aside a certain time each day when you will not be distracted for your new-old friend. Forget all your troubles and concentrate Your skill will come back and grow.

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

Pitch Raising Your Piano

Piano Pitch Raising

By James Grebe

Pitch raising a piano is probably one of the most troublesome experiences a piano can go though.  I will explore with you what happens when gross pitch change has come to your piano.

          First of all, to keep your piano at standard pitch requires regular, frequent tuning.  The piano will hold the tuning much better when pitch is not altered greatly.          Imagine, that as the string comes off the tuning pin, it gets divided into segments along it’s entire length.  The first segment is between the tuning pin and the capo bar leveling the string to its neighbors and giving it up bearing.  Another segment is formed between the capo bar and the front bridge pin (the speaking length).  Then another between the front and back bridge pin (at this point the string is deflected right at the front  pin and left at the other) and lastly from the back bridge pin to the hitch pin.  If the piano has a duplex scale it is deflected again up before the hitch pin.In order to cause the speaking length of the string to change pitch the first segment moves when the tuning pin is turned which then causes the 2nd segment to move which causes the 3rd segment to move and on to the hitch pin.  After all the segments have changed it is the problem of getting all the segments to have an equal amount of tension in order to get stable tuning. Changing the tension on the speaking length is like a freight train beginning to move on the track.  The moving of the speaking length is not a direct result of pin motion but an indirect result.

Once all segments are moved, a short time allows the segments to equalize their respective tension levels.  Playing the piano will do this in fairly short order, which is why I encourage a lot of playing before the first and second tunings of a pitch raise.  This time period allows the case (back support) and plate and soundboard to readjust to the increased tension and will have worked their way out by the time I come back for the second tuning.  It took a long time of neglect for the piano to get this low and it does not come back to stability without a fight.

     The soundboard, under the increased tension, will sort of compress under the increased tension and then expand to equalize it’s crown and move the tuning around with it.

If you notice, I try to bring up the pitch in groups of 2 or 3 octaves at a time to spread the increasing tension over as much of the piano as possible so as not to put so much pressure on just a small area..  Without doing that would cause a great deal of unneeded stress on your piano.  As you may notice, as I go up the scale the treble gradually becomes flatter than the middle due to the fact that a given tension level has a greater effect as the string become shorter.

The bass section is almost like a separate piano in the same case and generally will not move around as much as the plain steel wires, because the bass strings are individually tied and being longer, tension does not have the same effect on them as it does the treble.

Pianos 10c to 20c low should be tuned again in 2 months and every 6 months after that.  Pianos that are 20 to 25c low should be tuned in 1 month and then every 6 months.  Pianos that are 25c or more should be tuned in 2 weeks and then in 3 months followed by every 6 months.  Pianos receiving hard use or go through many changes in temperature or humidity will require more frequent tuning.

String breakage is always a potential problem in pitch raising and I raise pitch very carefully to avoid this as much as possible.  Still, especially when rust or corrosion is present, they will break occasionally.

          You will find that once A-440 is achieved the best tone the piano has to offer will be presents it was designed to have that amount of tension on the strings and soundboard

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

Remembrances of "A" Choir

Remberances of “A” Choir

By James Grebe, Mc Kinley High School, class of June, 1960 

Back from my birth in 1942 to the middle 1950’s I lived at the intersection of Lesperance Street (1/2 BLOCK North of Russell) and S. Broadway.  At that time, integration was not a popular or familiar word.  The artificial dividing line between the “colored” and “white” neighborhood seemed to be Third Street in our area.  The boys in our neighborhood did not care about all that as we all played together.  We, for some reason, did not think it was unnatural for our friends, who happened to be “colored” went to a different school.  We just did not think about it.  My one friend below Third Street was a fellow named Robert Ray.  I can remember that a group of us friends used to be in his house and gathering around his piano to listen to him play. We called them houses though they would probably be called apartments today.  Later, in 1956, the schools became un-segregated (I don’t remember the word de-segregation being used).  In 1956, I began my studies at McKinley High School and since I always liked to sing, joined the choir.  Robert was a year or so younger than I so I was already a sophomore when he began at McKinley.  He wanted to join the choir and sing also.  When Mr. Perrine (the choir leader) found that Robert played piano, and well, he was called upon to be accompanying rather than being able to sing. 

     This was a colorful time for Mr. Perrine, as he bought his  1958 Thunderbird, and was a very popular teacher.  Robert Ray did not get to sing all 3 years, that I know of, but became the official accompanist of the choir.  I can remember the class encouraging Robert to play piano when we were early for class.  Remember, this was “A” Choir, and that meant really early (7:30 AM).  I can remember also some of the things we sang, some quite serious.  Some, in particular, were selections from Gounod’s “Redemption”.  Mr. Perrine had a favorite soprano soloist who was about a year ahead of me whose name was Joyce Tomich.  Her voice made a person think that the heavens opened and out came the voice of an angel.  I can remember being on the choir risers while we performed at various places and Joyce would be center stage and, I remember these words, still today, from, a selection from the “Redemption” called the “Lovely Appear”.  Gee, even those words sound glorious.  From the “Lovely Appear” Joyce would sing,

“Then the timorous birds

Where so ever they fly,

Shall not fear any more,

The hawk’s merciless cry……” 

The last word, cry, was a very high note and I can remember getting goose bumps hearing her sing out this portion of lyrics.  Still, today I can picture myself hearing it. 

Then it came time to leave McKinley.  I was member of the choir all 4 years and had my “Orchestral Letter” to sew on my McKinley sweater.  I made, and have kept, the best memories of my life from choir experiences.

          Then I graduated, and went on to Harris Teachers College.  One of the classes everyone had to take then was piano instruction.  This was at the beginning of the 2nd year.  I had no clear idea if I was going to go on and become a teacher but as soon as I hit that piano class I knew something happened.  I decided, like love at first sight, that I wanted to do something with pianos for the rest of my life.  I have now been in the piano service business over 45+ years and counting. During the dead of winter, 1961-62 I wrote letters to the different piano companies around and got only one reply back from the Aeolian Co. of MO offering me an apprenticeship position after school had completed in June.  I graduated with my A.A. on a Friday and started working for Aeolian the next Monday morning in the piano rebuilding shop.  I felt like I died and went to heaven.  I soaked in the knowledge like a dry sponge.  I worked under some of the greats in the St. Louis piano industry.  After 10 years total of working for Aeolian, Ludwig Music House and then Ludwig-Aeolian I left their employ to continue my career as an independent piano tuner-technician in 1972.            It was in the 1980’s that one of my client accounts was University of MO in Normandy.  Evelyn Mitchell was the artist in residence as well as the head of the music department and she was retiring.  I did not hear of who was replacing her till in the fall when I was in the process of getting the schools’ many pianos in tune for the fall semester.  Lo and behold I found out the new head of the music department was none other than my long lost friend, Robert Ray.  I had heard snippets about his accomplishments in the newspaper through the years but had lost track of him personally.  I kept thinking to myself, great talent shows it head very early in one’s life and if nourished it can make a person soar.   And so it did for Robert Ray, McKinley High School’s own.  I remember meeting him while I was there tuning and congratulated him for his accomplishments.Though the following has nothing to do with how talent wins out, that day was the last time I was called to tune for the University of Mo. at the Normandy Campus.  Strange but true

Copyright,1995/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

Repair or Replace

Repair or Replace

In these days of shortages of household money it may be wise to re-evaluate decisions on whether to repair what you have as compared to replace with a new piano.If you have an older piano, these things are true.  Trying to keep your head above water as to never have more invested in something than what you can sell it for.  In general, full size upright pianos, have little or no resale value. That means, except for sentimental feelings, putting money into your older upright is an exercise in a losing proposition.  For grand pianos, the rule of life expectancy exists which is , “the general life expectancy of a piano with original parts is about 75 years”  Once again, people will not pay a good amount of money for an old piano more than 75 years old.  Pianos that have cosmetic issues are not good candidates for putting a lot of money into because of resale value.All this means that if you must keep your older piano, invest enough to make it usable but do not go overboard as you will not get a monetary return if you trade it.  Tuning is the one thing that can make your piano sound it’s best.  If the piano does not sound in tune no one will want to play it.  Likewise, it should be up to standard pitch of A-440 to do the pianist any good.  Minor things should be taken care of like removing lost motion in the keys and just making all the keys work.If you have the money to replace, keep in mind that this is still a buyers market.  Choosing a piano with a simple case design has nothing to do with the quality of the piano.  Choosing a new piano that has an odd color or outdated design will often go at lower prices.  Even though pianos cost a lot of money the length of time they last makes a high cost a little more livable.

Selecting Your Last Piano First

. Your Last Piano, First

By James Grebe

This article will help you choose a new piano that you can live with for the rest of your life.  Your new piano will be a valued, lifelong companion if you choose wisely.  Do not be swayed by a fast talking salesman, lowest price, or trendy looks.  A piano should be chosen just as you would a valued friend. 

          A piano is a musical instrument first, and a fine piece of furniture, second.  All fine pianos will have certain characteristics that are common with them.  This is a discussion of what to look for.          All fine pianos use solid spruce soundboards, not laminated spruce or anything else.  In my opinion, I have heard no laminated soundboard pianos that sound as good as a solid spruce soundboard piano, period.  The reason for that is that a laminated boards will be much more rigid than a solid spruce board and because of that one fact, it cannot vibrate as easily or as long.  This is the very essence of sound amplification, sustain, and carrying power.  The soundboard is not a simple flat board, but is crowned, bulged in the middle towards the strings and this is controlled by the ribs, which are glued to the underside of the soundboard and at right angles to the grain of the soundboard.  They, too, are made of spruce and give the board a way to transmit vibration across the grain.  Vibration normally travels with the grain.  The ribs also impart some stability to the board and assist in letting the soundboard operate as a unit.          Actions are pretty standard in design and the big difference is in the quality of materials used.  Generally, real leather and buckskin have stood the test of time for wear ability and reliability .  Some companies are using synthetic products in their lower priced models so you have to check the individual specifications on the piano you are interested in, not just assume that a given brand name uses the same quality parts in all their models.  There may also be other features left out in the lower priced models and that is individual weighted and leaded key sticks.  The lead weights assist in key return and it should have separate key buttons with bushings on the side of the key buttons rather than bushings in the key stick itself.  The hammers are graded in terms of the number of pounds of felt the hammer is made from.  The heavier the weight, the better.  In small vertical pianos 8lbs are common. The larger grand pianos use 12 lbs or higher.  The hammer weight will be in sync with the size of the piano.  The large the piano the heavier the felt should be.  There is a lot of bragging in the specs so don’t be dismayed.  The fact that hammers may be reinforced, stapled or pinned does not seem to matter.          Vertical pianos range in size from 36” tall ( spinets) up to 52” tall.  Generally you want a  taller piano you can live with that you can afford. The space it takes up on the floor is the same for the smallest piano up the the largest vertical.  The only difference is height which allows them to less compromise in design the taller the instrument.  Most of the time, the smaller the instrument the more it will cost to service due to the fact that everything is so condensed and makes working on it more of a chore.  The more heavy duty a piano is means the longer it will take of normal use from you.  Grand pianos range in size from 4’6” to 9’6” in length.  In a grand, size gets pretty important as a larger grand may generate too much volume for a given space.  Size the piano for the amount of space you have in the music room.  The test is not how loud a piano will play but the difference between how loud and how soft, with control, the piano can be played..           Plastic (high-tech variety) is now being used in some makes of pianos in some action locations.  The advantage of this is the lighter weight of plastic parts, which can be translated into a lighter action with more control and the extreme uniformity of action parts not affected by humidity.          In general, the simpler the case design the more timeless the case.  This means you will not grow tired of trendy styling that goes out of fashion and forever dates you piano to a given era..  It will have more universal appeal to would be buyers, if you do sell your piano later.          Wise piano buyers must be prepared for a certain amount of price haggling.  NEVER by a piano on the first trip to the store.  If you play, bring your favorite music along to make sure you are compatible with the piano, Ask the salesman that the particular piano you are interested in be tuned to A-440Hz. So you can hear exactly what it sounds like.  Do not be shy in asking questions like this.          Once you get your new piano in your home, treat it wilh respect and teach those around you to do likewise.  When placed in its spot provide adequate light to read your music and keep extraneous trinkets off the piano.  Keep it away from places in the room where temperature and humidity variations occur.  Follow my tuning recommendations and your new piano and your new piano will last your life time.

          After you receive your piano it will be up to you to take care of it properly.  During the first year, expect to tune it frequently.  My recommendation is tune in 1 month, then 2, then 3, then 4, and then ever 6 months after. By following this procedure I can spot how well the piano is doing and alert you of any possible problems that may concern your warranty.  Better to spot problems early and have the factory pay rather than later and you pay to repair a larger problem.

Copyright 2008/Yesterday Once More Publications,James Grebe

Selecting Your New To You Piano

How to Select your New to You Piano

By James Grebe

          The purchase of a piano is a major acquisition, and it pays to ask all the right questions before commitment. After purchase, a piano, like other things that are made to last, requires a certain amount of preventative care to ensure it’s long life.  Keep in mind that after purchase, it will take a certain amount of money to keep it performing properly.          The first decision to be made is how much can be spent on the instrument.  If bought from a dealer, you will be paying sales tax on your purchase.  You should not have to pay for any repair, moving, or tuning fees.  If bought from an individual, you will be paying for repair, tuning, and delivery and at the same time receive no guaranty or pay sales tax.  Normally the piano from a individual should be lower in cost than the same piano in a store.          Used pianos can have many names that may be unfamiliar to you.  Most people can only name a handful of piano brands off the top of their head. Do not be dismayed by a name  unfamiliar to you. There have been many manufacturers that have gone out of business not because of inferior quality but because of unfavorable market conditions.  When you see the piano for the first time, write down the name and serial number and style and call me.  I can tell you a number of facts about the piano with just those 3 facts.  While you have the lid up, check the top of the pin block for separations or water stains.  Look to make sure the action is all there and look for straight lines in the alignment of the parts.  While playing it note-by-note, note how uniform the volume and tone quality are.  Do all the hammers go back to rest at the same speed or are there some that lag behind?  Do you see any rust or corrosion?  Are the hammers wore down so that the striking surface seems flat?  Is the action noisy or difficult to control? Ask how long it was since it was tuned  to A-440 and by whom? It should have been within the last 12 months.  If not, expect that it may need a pitch raise, which will cost you extra money. Does the case have obvious signs of abuse, like cigarette burns, deep gouges water stains?  Are there rodent droppings inside the case in the bottom of the piano? BEWARE of piano made in the 40’s and 50’s that have plastic parts.  They will need to have the parts replaced. Never buy anything on the first trip. The first trip is just a fact-finding mission. If the person is giving you the rush act pass it up.  Please call me if you have any questions about anything before you buy.  If the piano seems to fit your qualifications put a down payment on it with the stipulation that you will have it inspected by me or another piano technician before final payment is made.  I charge a modest fee for inspections, but the long-term reliability is what is at stake.

          If you follow these suggestions you will get a piano worth having and worthy to be kept in good condition.

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

Selling Your Piano

  So, you’ve decided to sell the “ old girl”.  Remember what it was that first attracted you to her in the first place?  Was it the feel of her to the touch?; Was it the sound of her voice?; Was it the presence of her magnificent design?; Was it the exquisite look of her?  Remember what it was that attracted you to her and chances are that will be the same thing that attracts her new owner.  Do your best to do get her as close as possible to her original condition as possible.          In order for your piano to be shown in her best possible light she should be well tuned to standard pitch A-440Hz.  A written history of regular maintenance is an attribute, as it shows you cared for her well.  If she has not been regularly maintained, start now with the current fresh tuning date. This gives the potential buyer an idea of how well the piano has been respected by you.  If the piano has minor problems, have them taken care of so you do not have to offer excuses.  Sticking keys do not show well.  If there are scratches do your best to touch them up with touch up products sold at finishing supply stores, The same thing is true of the bench including tighten up the bench nuts.  A good thing to do is to thoroughly vacuum the inside and th aback of the piano.  Have some music laying on the piano so it looks like the piano has been used.           The best person to buy the piano is someone you already know.  If you had a piano teacher, let them know your piano is on the market and that there would be a small reward for their help in referring a buyer.  Selling to strangers is the next step.  Price the piano at a reasonable amount so you have some negotiating room but not so high to scare people off.  If you try selling to a piano tuner or store, remember their offer will be at a wholesale level, not retail.   Selling to them relieves you of moving the piano or bringing strangers into your home.  Who ever buys the piano, the mover should be bonded and insured.  You do NOT want a person injured inside your home moving it.  The way most people sell a piano is by advertising and that is the part that has changed most in the recent history.  Everyone who is looking, looks at least in the Sunday Post.  Ads run any other day are a waste of money.  Most other places are a waste of money unless your piano is a junker.  The simpler the ad, the better.  You want the buyer to call you to ask questions so be basic in your ad.  Do not bargain on the phone from your asking price.  Only bargain when the come to look.  Here is a sample: Piano for sale, name of piano, style, finish, bench included, good condition, your phone number.  Always talk as if you are a family rather than a single person.  Always have someone else in the home when buyers come looking and always use we and us when referring to yourself.  If the price you are offered keep their name and phone number and amount for future reference.  It may take several times of advertising before a buyer is found and remember there are slow times of the year.  Give the people who did not come up with your price time to call back so skip a week in your ads.  Remember the people who offered you a price are your best prospects.  When you do accept an offer get cash, or money order and wait until the check clears before the piano leaves your home. Copyrightr,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe 

St. Louis Piano Newsletter, Aug,2009

Saint  Louis Piano News

Vol. 1, No.1

Published by James Grebe Piano Service



Phone (314) 608-4137

Herein lies a new publication geared towards piano and music news of interest to piano owners.  I am happy to accept questions or your ideas to incorporate what you would like to learn about in these newsletters. 


In these troubling times the sale of a new piano has competition from a happy source, used pianos.  Because the life span of the typical piano is around 75 years many pianos find themselves in 2nd or 3rd homes from which they began their service.  That is one of the attributes of a well-made piano; it’s life span.  Pianos are one of the few products we buy that truly do last a lifetime if cared for.  Piano should be treated with respect as when your family moves up to a larger instrument or one of better quality it need not be discarded to the junk heap but can be  

sold and passed on to the next piano owner to use.  Good care means regular tuning to A-440 and to take care not to abuse the finish.  The sale of new pianos are for people who would like to upgrade the quality of instrument in their home or have the money to purchase a good quality piano to begin with.  Moral: buy the best piano you can afford with the knowledge that when you are ready to pass it on you will get the highest price if you have taken good care of it.


Permanent Piano Tuning

        Through the years there have been a number of designs that were made to try to make the process of tuning not needed or at least a service that would not be needed often.  One of the earliest was the Mason & Hamlin “Screwstringer”  This was brought out around 1900 and it’s tuning system involved gears similar to the tuning gears that a guitar neck has The idea was to make the gears locked in position once it was set.  This system was very clumsy and hard to manipulate and, in the end, did not work.  A fellow named Wagman invented another system.  His idea was instead of a wooden pin block the tuning pin is split into 3 sections with a wedge in the bottom spreading the side of the tuning pin against the side of the cast iron plate forming the holes.  The idea was to try to make the pin immovable once it was set.  Another failure.  Lately the Story & Clark piano Co devised a system in which once the tuning on the piano was established there were devices at the bridge pins to change the temperature of the music wire to maintain a specific tension on each wire, thus, maintaining tune.  It was supposed to have come out several years ago, but because of the complexity of the system it has not made it to market.  The big realization of most of these failed systems is the fact that it is usually not the tuning pin which is moving but the movement of the soundboard due to humidity fluctuations which causes a piano to go out of tune.  Of course the digital electronic pianos do not, nor can they be tuned, but they have their own problems, with lack of true piano feel and the nuances of tone that a real piano has. TidbitsThe last Hammond B-3 produced in 1974 was recently sold.  It was still in its unsealed box; price was not disclosed. 

Summer Tips

Remember that the sun, if it shines on your piano, will tend to bleach out the finish over a period of time.  It will also lessen the longevity of the fine finish by drying it out.  Remember to protect your piano bench lid form perspiration from people who swear shorts.  The salt in the perspiration will eat through any wax on the bench and will cause them to stick to the finish. Remedy is to put on a bench pad.  Remember also that every time you open the window on more pleasant days the humidity goes up dramatically inside and the tuning will be affected.


Keep in mind that my full line service includes the making of the largest selection of hardwood caster cups on the planet, as well as hand crafted writing instruments and most piano accessories like piano lamps, bench cushions, piano covers and dollies.  Of course I am always available for your phone calls for questions about appraisals and estimates of rebuilding and purchase advice.


St. Louis Piano Newsletter, October, 2009

The St. Louis Piano Newsletter October, 2009

 Published  by James Grebe Piano Service


     In addition to pictures and descriptions of the products I create, on my website there are numerous articles about histories of various piano companies, helpful discussions on purchasing new and used pianos, maintenance guidelines and bios of various theatres in St. Louis.  Feel free to browse the site and if you have any questions about any of the topics feel free to call or email me


     In the current issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine, the entire issue is dedicated to families being able to survive catastrophes and being able to have those things we use in our everyday living to not only last longer than currently but to be able to recycle them for further use.  How does this relate to musical instruments?  In newer instruments, it means really taking care of them, which does not mean only dusting but really maintaining them with regular thoughtful service to keep them operating at peak efficiency.  I run across pianos each week which have been solely in rooms that their only purpose was to display pictures, lamps and memorabilia.  Just last week, I performed a pitch raise on a really nice grand with a reproducing system that had not been tuned since purchase 3 years ago.  Even if no one played the piano, it would play itself and yet it sat unused.  This is the case so many times.  Mechanically, the piano is part machine and all machines need use to keep them working.  One of the things keeping owners from repair is the high cost it seems of repairing them and refurbishing instruments.  This past week I was called in to service a studio piano that I had serviced early in the spring.  At that time I had to replace 6 bass strings on the badly beaten piano.  This particular piano had replaced strings before and the design of the piano found that the strings were too heavy and to get the proper pitch tension was so high that the strings break when played at more than soft levels.  Last week, the piano had 10 broken strings, many of them, the same notes I replaced just 6 months ago..  At the last visit I recommended not doing any more work on the piano but replacing it.  This school, a parochial high school, like most are hard pressed for finances.  They have 2 other pianos, one in a gym area and the other in a chapel.  After giving them the estimate on replacing the 10 strings and knowing the same thing would happen again they opted for me to work on the chapel piano, another studio piano.  The piano had a few broken parts and I was able to get it useable for a fair amount.  In working on it, I found that the treble bridge was delaminating for about 8 inches affecting all those notes that crossed it.  I pointed this out the teacher .If this piano was maintained properly, its problems could have been dealt with as they occurred rather than, finally, the whole thing was almost a lost cause.  Bottom line is, deal with problems as they occur rather than letting them build up to a crisis situation.


     One of the items that have become part of my interest lately is the reed, or pump organs that used to be the family instrument just before the advent of the affordable upright piano.  In the 1800’s there were literally hundreds of pump organ manufactories that sprang up.  The pump organ factories did not need sprawling expanses of factory but could literally be made in small shops, sometimes even by one person operations.  Many of the famous names in pianos got their start in building pump organs such as Mason & Hamlin, Kimball, Estey, Clough & Warren, Cornish, Packard, Story & Clark and others.

     In 1922 Kimball produced their last reed organ.  The last one they made was their 403,390th organ and that was just one company..  Probably the largest reed organ built was the Lyon & Healy “Peloubet” Church Organ that had 1,948 reeds and 36 stops. Most however were of modest size and cost.  The cases, generally the simple woods with small decoration of stenciling and carving.  Many had “fake” pipe organ pipe tops and elaborate mantels with shelves, mirrors and various other decorations.  Most of the reed organs had 2 sets of reeds.   They were relatively small, had 1 keyboard with no bass pedals and you pumped it with your feet..  When I was in the army in 1964 I played a military pump organ, in the field, for Sunday services.  It was a small 1-keyboard model finished in OD Green. The larger examples had hand cranks on the side so a pumper was required.  Many of these with the pipe tops are highly sought after today.  I believe Estey continued to make reed organs till the 1940’s though by that time they had electric suction units.  There was an elaborate Estey reed organ in the mansion that sits across from Reservoir Park on south Grand Ave in St. Louis.  It sat on a stair landing on the grand staircase in that home.

     With the advent of the winter season coming upon us, I will remind you that maintaining humidity in your home is very important on stabilizing the tuning on your piano.  Ideal level is 42% relative humidity.  You may look into adding a humidifier to your central heating system.  The more the humidity changes in your home, the more the tuning will change in response to it. 

ST. LOUIS PIANO NEWSletter, Sept, 2009

The St. Louis Piano Newsletter September, 2009

 Published  by James Grebe Piano Service


Note :  If you do not want to receive this monthly notice of the newsletter just send your request to and you will be removed from the list.

In addition to pictures and descriptions of the products I create, on my website there are numerous articles about histories of various piano companies, helpful discussions on purchasing new and used pianos, maintenance guidelines and bios of various theatres in St. Louis.  Feel free to browse the site and if you have any questions about any of the topics feel free to call or email me at 

News for September

The St. Louis Chapter of the Piano Technicans Guild has invited  James Grebe to give a technical presentation of a demo on using the Sanderson Accu-Tuner Model III, and Model IV to their monthly meeting in October.  On subsequent meeting dates, demos will be give on the other brands of tuning devices such as , the Reyburrn Cyber Tuner, TuneLab Pro, and the Verituner.  James Grebe has used Sanderson devices since the 1980’s with a break of a few years in the early 2000’s when he used the Reyburn Cyber-Tuner.  James once had the honor and gave a class on using the Sanderson Accu-Tuner at a Guild Seminar with Dr. Sanderson present in the class. 


Tidbits from around the news

With all the clamor around products being made in America rather than abroad, the Samick Piano Company of Korea is offering 2 lines of grand pianos (Knabe and Pramberger,) that are assembled in Gallatin, Tennessee.  Much of the material used in this assemblage is material from the U.S.A.

            According to a recent Gallup poll in nearly 3 out of 5 households there is at least 1 member who plays a musical instrument.

.  That is an increase of 52% larger than 2006.  Of the instruments being played, 30% play the piano followed by 25% who play guitar.  .

The latest digital piano by Yamaha (AvantiGrand N2) features a tactile response component which sends vibrations of the tone being played through the keys themselves in addition to the on board speaker systems.


     In the year 1958 Steinway and Sons had sold their Showroom and Hall across from Carnegie Hall.  That location housed their headquarters since 1925.  Ten years ago Steinway re-purchased the property and was one of the first steps to a more profitable piano company. 

     In our town of St. Louis, the building that housed the Steinway dealership the longest, Aeolian Co. of MO, which was at 1004 Olive has long since been dormant and is now the home of Ludwig Lofts.  Back in the 1960’s, when my career began, I roamed those 7 floors and basement and had the privilege of working with some of the highest qualified piano technicians around such as Charles Tice, Ed Summers, both concert tuners for the St. Louis Symphony.  I was the one who drove Charles Tice home from Aeolian after he retired.  Charles was well up in years and he had the south section of the 7th floor piano shop to himself.  At the end, he began making mistakes and was forcibly retired after a lifetime of service to the company.  It was a sad day in a life long career.  Ed Summers took over concert tuning and Ed was one who was my first instructor in the art of piano technology.  Ed was a sharp-witted mind who performed all his tasks well and was a humble man of great intelligence. Others on staff were Ed Stevens, who was highly skilled re-builder, who later went independent and was instrumental in training Bill Reichert, Jr. and Tom Adams, both highly skilled piano technicians.  Gene Kracke, a 2nd generation technician, was highly skilled in managing the rebuilding shop.  Gene was the type of person who did everything well and was a soft-spoken guy.  Another technician, Cy Young, was a former fireman in Arkansas.  Cy was a very strongly built man whom, though soft–spoken, commanded respect.  Later Cy would be the head technician of SIU, Edwardsville,  Bill Hennen later left the piano business and Earl Wamble left to go to work for Browning Arms finishing gun stocks.  Gary Analak who did touch up repair on new and used pianos was also a drummer who played at cocktail lounges and the burlesque houses in St. Louis.  He was a single fellow back then and would bring in some of the stars of the burlesque shows to introduce them to us.  He settled down after he left Aeolian and has now been married for over 25 years.  Gene Denny, former foreman of Ludwig Music House shop left to start his own retail store in St. Charles County and I just talked to him and he is 81 now and still tuning 2-3 pianos a week to keep him out of trouble.  And of course there were the blind tuners that worked for Aeolian and Ludwig Music House.  Charles Harrison, long time stock tuner at Aeolian also moonlighted playing the Hammond organ at various nightspots. LaVerne Boley, who did contract tuning when things were busy at Christmas times.  I bought my first tuning hammer from LaVerne.  Al Krume was a highly skilled blind tuner who had the skill of being able to tune pianos beginning with A-1 and going up 1 note at a time through the entire piano.  Al was a cranky man who, for some reason, did not like me though I never found out why.  In addition, there were some great piano salesman back then, Gene Mezlow, Louis Dunn, I always called him (Dunn) Mr. as he was an ex marine with a very gravely voice.  Back then was the heyday of hi-fi and stereo and Aeolian was the dealer for Fisher, Bose (when they first begun), McIntosh, Marantz, Klipschorn and the first Acoustic Research speakers.  The Fisher “President” was their most elaborate stereo console system and contained a Garrard record changer, and an Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder.  I remember back then it was about the most fancy console around and sold for $1,995.The Baldwin store handled H.H. Scott products in the 900 block of Olive, next door to St. Louis Band and Instrument Co (owned by Ludwig Music House).  I look back at those glory days of the 1960’s with fondness. On a side note, many of the downtown St. Louis buildings (Aeolian) had no furnaces of their own and most were heated by steam from Union Electric, now Ameren.All for this month  

The Essex Piano Company

The Essex Piano Company

By James Grebe 

Today, the fastest growing phenomenon in the piano world is the existence of a piano company without the actual existence of a free standing factory building dedicated to the production of an instrument..  It is the process of having clearly defined parameters and choice of materials exacting specifications that is built into a unique instrument though built by a large conglomerate and yet having the distinct characteristics of the design and tonal goals of the designer.  Great confidence and constant inspection is necessary for this process to be successful.  One example of that is the Essex Piano.   It is designed, down to the choice of materials used , and the tonal goals of Steinway, its parent company

The Essex is manufactured by the Pearl River Piano Company of China as well as some models in past years by Young-Chang Piano Company of Korea.  If the name Essex is in Art-Deco script it is made by Young-Chang.  If it is in handwriting script it is from Pearl River.  By using the lower wage rates off shore, the pianos can be built to a higher specification and still lower cost than would be possible by building in this country.  The Essex has at least 23 Steinway features built into it..  Here are some of them:

1.                 Same shape hammer flanges of Steinway Grand (rosette) enabling more frictional area at attachment of hammer rail to ensure exact placement over the years and is less prone to clicking when moisture changes contract the wood.

2.                 All action parts are made of hardwood. (no plastic)

3.                 Steinway designed vertically laminated bridges with a maple cap.

4.                 Tail of piano is more squared off as in a Steinway concert grand to allow more central placement of the bridges toward the middle of the soundboard.

5.                 It features the duplex scale, which was invented by Steinway.

6.                 The entire piano was designed by Steinway engineers and has a Steinway inspector at the factory to ensure strict adherence trio the design and quality of execution.

7.                 Features a low tension scale which allows greater sustain time and a thicker, richer, non-forced tone quality. 

8.                 Has a tapered soundboard (thicker in the middle and thinner along the perimeter to give strength and still have maximum flexibility.

9.                 Features a 10 year guaranty (parts and labor) with full trade in price on a new Steinway grand

Since the Essex has been on the market some exciting veneers have been used, like Kawazinga Bubinga, probably the most handsome wood grain short of Rosewood..  These days the big push is to cram as much value and lasting characteristics into a comfortable price range and the Essex Piano fills that space.

The Essex comes in vertical pianos from 42” to 48’ models and in grand piano sizes from 5’1” to 6’ sizes.  All models and sizes seem to be a solid piano for those interested in buying a piano. 

The Baden Theatre A Time Capsule

The Baden Theatre: A Time Capsule

By James Grebe

             The Baden Theatre opened in the year 1916 as a neighborhood theatre having 939 seats at 8201 N. Broadway in a    predominantly German neighborhood.  One would assume that music accompaniment for movies would have been from a piano or small band as there is no record of any kind of organ ever being installed there.  Toward the end of theatre operation it went from weekend only operation in 1965 till its closing in 1972.  It is now known at the Town Hall and is a rental hall facility.From corespondent Wes Kamischke:  In the building adjacent to the Baden to the right was an opening from a place called the “Sugar Bowl”.  There was a window higher than normal from the Sugar Bowl into the theatre where patrons could buy their snacks for the movie.  According to Wes , the Baden had no concession stand of it’s own.  This was during the 1940’s when also on Thursday and Friday nights, ladies got free dishwarre for attendingCome back with me now to November 19, 1992 when I was called to tune a piano for a function at the Baden Town Hall, formerly the Baden Theatre. I gained access to the building from what would have been the front left exit door.  When you go in that door, to the immediate left, which would have been the stage area behind the screen, there is about 2-3 steps and that is where the ownr’s office is.  A Mr. Carpenter owns the building and has owned it for about 25 years. Before WWII he sold popcorn at the theatre.  When he bought the Baden, at the same time, he had an opportunity to buy the Kingsland Theatre for $5,000.00.  At that time, he, and one of the Kaimann brothers had planned to build the North Drive In Theatre on land they had purchased, but before the deal was consummated the one brother died and the Kaimann family decided to build the North Drive-In on their own.  When Carpenter bought the Baden theatre about 25 years ago he remodeled it.  He simply gutted the interior and what would have originally been the entrance and vestibule is now a kitchen with bathrooms on either side.  There is no evidence of a projection booth but the whole interior is covered with a drop ceiling.  One cannot be sure there is no projection booth up above the ceiling.  Mr. Carpenter seemed to be a very crass person and he said the main reason the owners of the smaller neighborhood theatres have bad tastes in their mouth about their buildings is because most of them lost their shirts financially on them.  The way things were set up back then, the only way the owners could make a fair profit was to rent the films for one price for an extended period of time and for the owners to have a close co-operation with other small theatres close by where they could trade off the films among themselves.  Mr. Carpenter mentioned that he would trade off with the O’Fallon Theatre (1931-1955) at 4026 W. Florissant and the Janet (also, earlier known as the Cardinal, Theatre) Theatre at 6900 W. Florissant (1937-1955) and would transport the films themselves.  That way there evidently was a big reduction in rental costs because it would show one theatre renting the film, rather than 3 separate theatre renting the same film.  So, competitors found a way to co-operate in spite of their rivalry in order to survive. Sources: Charles  Von Bibber, Gerald Alexander, James Grebe Archives‹ The (Steinway designed) Essex Piano CompanyupThe Baldwin Piano ›

© Copyright 2009 James Grebe. All rights reserved. 

The Baldwin Piano

The Baldwin Piano

By James Grebe

          In the period of time between 1850 and 1900, one of the most enlightened personalities after ministers, lawyers, and physicians was the music teacher.  The music teacher would make their rounds, regularly bringing education and entertainment to their clientele.  In the area of the Ohio Valley,Dwight Hamilton Baldwin was one of the most important.  He not only was the teacher of a number of musical instruments but also was the person looked upon for guidance when it became time for a family to purchase a musical instrument, which led him into selling his own musical instruments.  In 1862, he opened up his first store in Cincinnati.  He first tried to obtain the Steinway franchise but it was not offered to him.  During the first 25 of business he became an important purveyor of musical instruments.  More stores appeared as his business grew.            In 1866 Lucian Wulsin came to work for Baldwin as a clerk, then bookkeeper and made himself so indispensable that he was made a partner in 1873.  In 1889, the Hamilton Organ Company was begun as a subsidiary.  The Valley Gem and Ellington Piano Companies following as well as the Hamilton Piano Company.  Baldwin began with different price points with different quality standards in the piano industry.          In 1899, D.H. Baldwin died leaving much of his wealth to the Presbyterian Church, as he was childless.  At this time Wulsin arranged to buy all the outstanding stock, with the help of George Armstrong.  With the new control, Baldwin Pianos became the artistic models, not only in product design as well as the factories that produced them.            In 1900, Baldwin was awarded the Grand Prix in Paris and in 1904 the Grand Prize at th4e St. Louis Worlds Fair in St. Louis.  As the company entered the player piano years, Baldwin introduced their Manuelo player piano.  More Baldwin names appeared like Saint Regis, Franke, Monarch, Modello, Sargent, Winton, and Acrosonic.  During the late teens, Baldwin fitted their best pianos with the Welte-Mignon Reproducing mechanisms to compete with The Ampico and Duo-Art Reproducers.            Baldwin continued the use of the company owned stores until the 1970’s and went to straight franchised stores.  The Baldwin factory store in St. Louis was in the 900 block of Olive Str. in downtown St. Louis. The Acrosonic spinet pianos (in the authors opinion) were the best made in that size.  Their Hamilton Studio pianos have always been one of the most popular school and church pianos ever built.  During the 1980’s the company was rescued from bankruptcy by the upper management buying the company.  The money problems came from Baldwin’s involement with the banking and financing industry.          The company had carried its own research and development and now has the floating plate principal and accu-just hitch pins.  With the new hitch pin, the tail of the string is suspended and is adjustable on the cylindrical piece of steel.  The string can be placed for optimum down bearing for that individual string..  Because the diameter of the termination point is larger than the diameter of the former hitch pin the wire does not become kinked and will move more freely around the pin.  Because of this individuality, each note can be put at its’ best place rather than across a raised potion of the plate.  They also have Syncro-Tone bass strings, which are made on a lathe with both ends rotating so that the core wire does not get twisted in the winding process of the copper wrapping. The lack of torque on the core wire gives out a cleaner sound.          The Baldwin Company purchased the Pratt-Read action company in the early 1980’s and moved that operation to Juarez, Mexico where labor cost are dramatically lower .  The Wurlitzer and Chickering names were purchased which has given them more clout.  The Baldwin Company went bankrupt again and is now owned by the Gibson Guitar Company and Baldwin now produces Chinese made as well as American made instruments.  In the near future Baldwin will only domestically make the full Baldwin grands and all else will be made in the far east.

     Baldwin now owns their own plant in China and all their instruments are made there. and the pianos they are now producing there have a very cohesive uniform quality and tonal quality and have risen to be of very high quality.  Though it is sad to have all Baldwin products here in the U.S, they are producing quality pianos at all price points.

     In vintage pianos, Baldwin spinets: mostly carried Acrosonic names but some carried Baldwin and Howard names.   All of these spinets are identified by 6 notes of 2 bi-chords of wound strings beginning with C#3.  The best ones of these were the Acrosonics containing their best solid copper winding in the wound strings and their better grade of  hammers.  For a while during the 1960’s they tried no individual notching on the treble bridge which gave a louder overall sound but less clarity.  They abandoned that and went back to individual notching.Baldwin consoles in the earlier versions used no wound strings in the treble and began the treble section with C#3.  Later, they changed to using 2 wound string bi-chords beginning with C#3.  The newest uses 4 wound bi-chords at C#3.     The earliest Baldwin studio size began with C#3 with no wound strings in the treble.  The next version came with 2 bi-chords of wound strings at the same point and the newest version of the scale has 4 wound string bi-chords at the same point.  Next comes the 48” Baldwins which begin their treble at C#3 with 3 wound string bi-chords.  Next in line is the 52” Baldwin with no wound strings in the treble.During different eras they would use the Hamilton or Howard name and during the earlier times would use the Monarch names on the studio size pianos.These days they market the Hamilton and Ellington names on their Chinese built consoles. In grand sizes they built the M, R, L, F, and CF.  The M had 2 scales one with 2 wound bi-chords beginning at B2 and the newer with 3 bi-chords beginning at the same point.  The R has 3 bi-chords beginning with B2.  The L has 5 bi-chords of sound strings beginning with F2.  The F has no wound strings in the treble and begins with F2.  The CF uses 9 wound bi-chords beginning with F2.In their less expensive grands the Howard-Sargent-Monarch names were used interchangeably.  Those grand are around 4’11: and begin their treble section at F#3 with no wound string bi-chords.  These were generally fairly decent small grands and the biggest problem by this time in their life is that many have loose tuning pins  Some more recent Howard grands were made by Samick for Baldwin and their treble section begins with B2 with 3 bi-chord wound strings.  There was a DH Baldwin grand with the shared name of Chickering with 5 wound bi-chords beginning with B2. In times before 1930 they had a Baldwin grand that began it’s treble with F2 and 7 wound bi-chords.  I believe they were the Model H.

I hope while you are on this site you will visit the other parts of the site to see the various wares I handcraft from my shop in Arnold, MO.  All of the things I sell come from my hands and are not mass produced items to be resold to the public.

Copyright,2008/ Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Bosendorfer Piano Company

The Bosendorfer Piano began in 1828 by Ignaz Bosendorfer in Vienna, Austria.  Ludwig, Ignaz's son took over in 1859.  In 1860 and in 1870 new factories were built.   In 1909 Carl Hutterstrasser bought the company untill 1966 when Kimball bought the company. 

In 1828, the first year of production made 4 instruments. Most other years production stayed around 400 pianos a year.   Bosendorfer was one of the very few companies that began their serial numbers with 001.  Bosendorfer has always been one of the most expensive pianos to buy simply because of all the handwork.  Until recently, the 9'6" grand was the largest piano in production.  Last I heard that piano list for $179.540.00

The Yamaha Piano Company now owns Bosendorfer

Please visit the other portions of my site to see the various other hand crafted items I make in my shop in Arnold, MO.  Nothing I sell is mass produced like those on most other sites selling similar items.

Copyright,2008/ Yseterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Boston Piano Compnay

by James Grebe
     The Boston Piano Company was begun by Steinway to offer most Steinway exclusive features to to a slightly more competitive priced instrument.  All Boston's are made in Kawai factories in Japan and are exclusive Steinway designs, not repackaged Kawai designs, and use Steinway approved hardwood action parts.  The pianos range from a 46" studio vertical piano to the 52" vertical.  In grand sizes they range from the 5'1" size up to a 7'1" size.

New as of December, 2009 is the new upgraded "Performance Edition".  Steinway has enhanced the specs to Maple inner rims, all-new synthetic ivory key coverings, a new "Octagrip" pin plank, and Mapes made bass strings.  Also new upgraded polished brass casters with dual wheels, and a slow close fallboard on the vertical models.

Boston pianos hold up very well in serious piano homes as well as high use in schools and churches.  They are a good choice for those wanting high performance but less cost than a full Steinway.

The Cable - Nelson Piano Company

      The Cable Nelson Piano company began in Chicago in 1903 as The Fayette S. Cable Company.  Nelson joined the company in 1905 with  Fayette S Cable and thus began the Cable-Nelson piano.  Its serial number started with 26000 and ran up from there.  In the late 20's Cable Nelson was bought by the Everett Piano Company and production resumed in South Haven, Michigan.  THe Cable Nelson served the lower priced market  with the Everett on the higher priced end. After 1950, Everett became part of the Meridian Corporation and in the early 1960's became part of the Hammond Organ Company at which time there became a Hammond Piano and a Everett Organ Company.  Years earlier in the 1940's there was another orgasn with the Everett name on it called the Everett Orgatron and later it was bought by Wurlitzer .  It's tonme was derived by amplifiying wind blown reed. Both were short lived. Later, Everett became part of the Yamaha Corporation and a little later production ceased for the Everett and Cable-Nelson piano.  In 2007, Yamaha resumed production of the Cable Nelson brand and is macde inj the Far East..  The last American made Cable Nelson ended with serial number 427000 in 1981

I hope while you are on my site you will examine the other hand crafted items I produce form my shop in Arnold, MO.  Most other sites sell similar wares that are mass produced but mine are made one at a time by hand.

Copyright,2008/Ysesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Chickering Piano Company

The Chickering Piano Company

By James Grebe

          The Chickering piano, until it’s demise a few short years ago was this nations oldest documented manufacturing company with the original journal of Jonas Chickering still in existence to day.          Jonas Chickering was born in 1798 in Mason, New Hampshire and in his teenage years was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker in New Ipswitch who took the job in 1817 to restore the cabinetry on a square grand, the only piano in the county.  The piano belonged to a family who obtained it form Princess Amelia, daughter of King George, in England.  It had suffered the ravages of time and a trip across the ocean.  The cabinetmaker was able to restore its cosmetic beauty but not the musical instrument.  Jonas, his apprentice, was enthralled by the piano and was able to restore it back to health.  This experience turned his direction in life to one of research and experimentation to build pianos.          Chickering moved to Boston at the age of 20 and went to work for John Osborne, a piano builder who made the first upright piano in Boston.  Once again he immersed himself in every detail of piano craftsmanship and began to incorporate many of his own improvements.  In 1823 he left Osborne’s employ and with James Stewart who had also worked with Osborne, began a company as Stewart & Chickering in a small workroom on Tremont Street.  Shortly thereafter Stewart left to go back to Europe and thus began the Chickering Piano Company.  Chickering’s first piano is still in existence in the Ford Museum in Dearborn , MI.  Chickering’s fame spread as he built more pianos and in 1830 built his first upright piano, modeled after existing English instruments but with his own improvements.  Also in 1830, he entered in a partnership with John McKay, a sea captain and changed the company to Chickering & MacKay.  MacKay made frequent trips to South America taking Chickering pianos to sell there and on the return trip brought fine rosewood asnd mahogany to craft into paino cases.  In 1841 MacKay was lost at sea in a tropical storm and all was lost and the name Chickering was restored on the company name.          In 1837 Chickering developed the full iron plate, bringing on tuning stability that had not been seen before.  In 1845 he developed over strung construction and with these 2 improvements the modern piano was born.  At the first International Exposition in 1851 Chickering won the highest award.  In 1852 a devastating fire burned the factory down and Chickering built a new factory which turned out to be the largest structure in the U.S. except for the Capital Building in Washington D.C.  In December of 1853, Jonas died and showed greatness does not depend on a large number of years of life.  Chickering had 3 sons, Thomas, Frank, and George who carried on the expansion of Chickering fame.  The carted a piano to the home of Franz Liszt in Rome and Liszt could hardly pull himself away from the instrument.  Needles to say, the piano stayed with Liszt and other artists soon afterwards gave praise to Chickering pianos.  In 1896, all 3 Chickering brothers had died and the business floundered until 1903 when the American Paino Company bought out the Chickering Company and held it till 1932 when it merged with the Aeolian- Piano Company.     The business continued until the early 1980’s when the parent company concentrated on building cheap spinet pianos and went bankrupt.  A short time later the Chickering Company was started again but the former magic was gone and other top name pianos like Mason & Hamlin, Weber, and Knabe fell away again.  This time the names were sold by the banks and Wurlitzer bought the Chickering name and began building Chickering pianos again.  The new Chickering had cheapened cases and a little later Wurlitzer was sold to the Baldwin Piano Company and Baldwin has built a few Chickerings in name but with Baldwin innovations like the accu-just hitch pins.  As of now no Chickerings are being built.          Among design quirks that Chickering pianos had were smaller thickness hammer shanks to decrease the woody sound of the hammer striking the string.  Chickerings’ dampers ran about 6 notes higher than everyone else.  In the early part of the century they used several weird designs like the Quarter Grand which had pin blocks in 4 sections and bolted from underneath rather than screwed on form the top of the plate. These design are conversation pieces for the piano tuners of today.  Fortunately, because the  pianos live a long time there will be older Chickerings to tune so that they may bring praise the House of Chickering.  Baldwin now owns the Chickering name and currently (2008) has cease production of all Chickering named pianos.

Please visit the other parts of my site to see the different wares I hand craft in my shop in Arnold, MO.  Most other sites sellikng similar items are mass produced and resold rather than being made one at a time by a craftsman.


      As of 2008 the Baldwin Company has ceased production of all Chickering Pianos.

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Onmce More Publications, James Grebe

The George Steck Piano Company

The George Steck Piano Company

By James Grebe

          The George Steck Piano Company had a long history of solid, consistent pianos. The first piano I owned was a 1904 Steck upright that had an iron frame in the back in place of normal back posts.  The year I bought it was 1962, but let us go back to the real beginning.           One of the early pioneers in the piano trade was Sebastian Erard of France.  Erard was a child prodigy in music instrument making , beginning with the designing and building of harpsichords.  In 1777 he constructed his first piano at the age of 25.  In 1785 he began building in earnest with the partnership of his brother, Jean Baptiste.  When the French Revolution came to Paris Erard vacated to London where he opened a harp and piano factory.  He was charismatic and became a friend of the aristocracy which helped his business flourish.  After the revolution in 1796 he returned to Paris with the knowledge of English piano construction in his mind.  He used this knowledge and blended the two types of construction into his own.        

Around 1837, at the Erard factory, a man named Carl Scheel from Cassel, Germany was employed through 1846.  He left to begin his own piano making and hired a young man named George Steck who also hailed from Cassel to work for him.  Steck was born on July13,1829.  Before leaving Germany, Steck had absorbed the thorough knowledge from Scheel  In 1853 Steck came to America and in 1857 started his own factory.  By 1865, he opened Steck Hall in New York, so much had his fame spread and his bvusiness flourished.

A little later he constructed a bigger hall on Fourteenth Str. For his growing business.  Stecks’ main thrust was in scale design and it is said that many of his scale designs were copied blatantly.  One of his boosters was the composer Richard Wagner.  As a forward thinker, Steck incorporated his company and allotted shares of his stock to his employees in 1884.  Profit sharing to insure worker responsibility and quality of workmanship had begun.  The last 10 years of his life was spent on trying to build a piano which would permanently stay in tune and his experiments toward the same are said to be most interesting.  I believe my first piano, with the cast iron webbing instead of back posts were one of his attempts at this goal.  Steck died on 3/31/1897 and in 1904 the company was consolidated into Aeolian control until bankruptsy came in the late 1970’s.            Some of the most interesting pianos Steck made were the model R, which featured a concave shape on the lid.  The piano was made with an extra heavy plate and no back posts at all. The piano, though small stayed in tune very well and I tuned many of them while I worked for the Aeolian Co.  of MO.  The console size was called the model N and was a stalwart among vertical pianos.  Many hundreds were sold here and again I tuned many of them while they were brand new.  The official piano of the Muny Opera was George Steck and many went to the hotel rooms of the stars appearing at the Muny and finally at the end of the season became part of the Muny Opera Sale.  The Steck Grand that was produced for 20 years was the model T.  It had a very graceful appearance and a very heavy full cast iron plate, which made it hold tune very well.  Steck also made a studio piano, model E, and Aeolian had one they used for rentals and it help up unquestionably well.  In the late 1960’s the production of verticals was moved to Memphis from  E. Rocherster, NY and though the materials and design were the same it was never the same agion.  These models were called model O and had slightly different case design.  The end was in sight now.  Towards the end, the company was putting the Steck name on many of their cheaper instruments produced.  Finally the end came with shame on the company who knew how to produce better, but didn’t.  The name is all that is left now and has been bought and put on pianos of Korean production.  Fortunately many Steck pianos live on in many homes for me to continue to service. 

While you are at my site, I hope you will browse the different piano products I make in my shop and sell on my site under the different banners, from caster cups to writing instruments.  The old world craftsmanship is alive and well.  They help fund this site.  Thank you.

Copyright,2008/ Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications,James Grebe

The Good and the Not So Good

The Good and the Not So Good
By James Grebe

Many times I have been asked how to tell a fine piano from a mediocre piano. A piano should have relatively a uniform frequency response, i.e.; with the same downward pressure from the low to the high. Iit should have a uniform tone quality and volume on all notes. In other words, although tone quality should remain constant, a change in touch should yield a different tone color. It should be the pianist in charge of the tone, not the piano. In order for the piano to accomplish this it must have been designed carefully and in care in it’s assembly. This is what makes a piano a piano rather than a machine with wire in it.
When the sustain pedal is used it will not only sustain the tone but also cause a swelling of the volume level when the dampers are raised. When the dampers When the dampers are raised it should take on an ethereal quality that takes your breath away. When the pedal is released while holding a chord it should return to it’s purity in pitch definition again.
When the soft pedal is used there should be a definite difference in tone quality and volume level (luted). The difference will be subtle but noticeable.
When you have found all these qualities present , you have found “your” piano for your needs and you wil not want to let it go.

The Gulbransen Piano Company

     The Gulbransen Piano Company was begun by Axel Gulbransen at a factory at 816 W Kedzie Blvd in Chicago. Later  at 100 Wilmot Rd in Deerfield, IL  in 1915 with a serial number of 90000 and continued up from there.  The Gulbrasen was the first maker to make an upright piano with a player piano action in the same case.  The firm of Gulbransen and Dickinson made thousands of player pianos in  the 1920's. Around 1950 it was sold to CBS and later in 1964 to Seeburg, the Juke Box Company,  In the 1960s Gulbransen began building electronic organs and was one of the first to use transistors in their circuitry.  Their larger organs used individual tone generators for each note of the scale and their Rialto Theatre Organ was one of the best in the 1960's featuring  2 manuals of keys and a 25 note pedalboard.  During this time they also owned the Bremen Piano Company factory.  Production ceased in 1969 with serial number 571000. In 1985 the name was bought by Mission Bay Investments which owned Ludwig-Aeolian here in St. Louis, a company I worked for for 10 years beginning in 1962.  In 2002 QRS Music Technologies acquired the name and pianos were made by Samick.

It was on Gulbransen pianos that the author learned to tune in 1962 taught by Clarence Trump, owner of the former Kieselhorst Piano Company who sold Gulbransens in Clayton, MO .

I hope while you are on my site you will examine my other wares I handcraft in my shop in Arnold, MO.  Most other sites feature mass produced items made by machine by the thousands.  Each one of my products are hand made one at a time.

Copyright,2011/Yesterday Once More Publications,James Grebe

The Haddorff Piano Company

     Charles Haddorff was born in Sweden in 1864. and had studied European methods of manufacture and learned to play piano before he emigrated to the America. By 1898 he had become a piano factory superintendant.  Founded by Charles Haddorff in 1901 in Rockford, IL with financial backing from P.A. Peterson they embarked building high quality pianos.  Haddorff designed new piano scales for his grand and upright pianos preceded by a study  of the scientific studies of theoretical acousticians.He called his soundboard design, "HomoVibrating Soundboard", and was constructed to allow greater freedom of vibration.The cast iron plate was of extra heavy construction and was made with a custom shoulder mating aginst the pin block.    The company also built the Bush & Gerts, Bennet , Hartzell, Karl Zeck  and the Clarendon brands of pianos.  From start to finish (1901-1960) there were aproximately 160,000 pianos built.  After Charles died the company was run by the Krakauer Brothers.  The Krakauer firm  then sold out to the Kimball Piano Co and then  folded completely.  All of the Haddorff pianos I have serviced have been quality built pianos with very sturdy construction.

Please visit the other parts of my site to see the handcrafted items that i make in my shop in Arnold, MO

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Haines Brothers Piano Company

The Haines Bros. Piano Company

By James Grebe

           In 1832 Napoleon Haines traveled with his younger brother Francis and arrived in New York after crossing the ocean alone to join their father.  Napoleon was very enterprising and earned money as a boot black to earn money.  At the age of 15 he and his brother apprenticed themselves to the New York Piano Company learning all aspects of piano manufacturing.  By 1851 the 2 brothers began their own piano company with an output of 2 instruments per week.  By 1856, they built a factory and output rose to 20 pianos a week.  With the passing of Napoleon in 1900, Francis sold the business to the American Piano Company  In the year 1923, the Haines Bros name was carried by grand pianos as well as Ampico Reproducing Pianos.  Towards 1930 many similarities became very similar to Chickering pianos.  In 1930 the name ceased to be used. Please visit the other portions of my website. Copyright,2008, Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Hardman, Peck Piano Company

The Hardman & Peck Piano Company

By James Grebe

           In 1815, Hugh Hardman was born in Liverpool, England.  At the age of 25 he came to New York in America to build pianos.  His son, John, was admitted into the company in 1874.  His firm was the first to develop good commercial grade upright pianos.  Leopold Peck bought into the company in 1880 and the company name was changed to Hardman, Peck, and Co.  The company rose from good commercial grade pianos to high-grade. As so often the case, after the turn of the century, the Aeolian Corp bought out the company.  The name was continued, but quality went down.  Later. the factory in the 1950’s   was moved to Memphis,TN and a new line of small foot powered player pianos were produced.  The smaller, shortened keyboard pianos were called Pianolas and the larger full compass pianos were marketed as Hardman Duos. , This meant they could be hand played or with rolls.  Just a short time later they were able to played electrically.  It seems that after the option of electric powering the player interest died out in them because you might as well put on a recording since owner participation was not required.  In 1982 the company was folded.  In more recent times (1987) the company name of Hardman, Peck, and Co. has been re-introduced and manufactured by the Chinese firm of Dongbei, a huge Chinese piano company.  The Hardman is one of a few identical pianos produced by the firm.

I hope you will take the time to visit the other parts of my web site to examine the custom made products I produce.

Copyright, 2008, Yesterday Once More Publications. James Grebe

The Henry F. Miller Piano Company

     The Henry F. Miller Piano Company began in 1863 with the first factory in Wakefield, MA. Henry also made the Trowbridge piano as a sideline which was discontinued in 1928.. One of the unusual things is that they marketed a pedalboard piano.  (similar to the pedalboard on organs).   In 1949, ownership was transferred to the Ivers & Pond Piano Company in Cambridge , MA.  When Aeolian-American absorbed Ivers & Pond, the Henry F. Miller became a lowest price piano as they did with many of the makes they controlled like Ivers & Pond and moved production to Memphis , TN during the 1960’s .  The push was on to make things as cheaply as possible.  Finally, Aeolian- American went bankrupt and the many names of pianos  they controlled were sold to the highest bidder.  The name was silent for a number of years and finally the Pearl River Piano Company of China (largest piano manufacturer in the world) was hired by a group of USA retail piano stores to build a new Henry F. Miller piano using high  quality modern construction and top notch raw materials. In grand pianos, they use both laminated and solid spruce soundboards in their builds.  Tone quality in both styles of pianos is good for their size and build quality is excellent for a low cost piano.

     Please visit the other parts of my site to see the different handcrafted items I produce one at a time in my shop in Arnold, MO

Copyright,2008/ Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The J & C Fischer Piano Company

     In the year 1840 two brothers, John and Charles Fischer began working at the firm of R and W Nunns and Clark Piano company.  Later it became the Nunns & Fischer .  In 1845 it began with serial number 2500.  By the turn of the century about 500 pianos were made anually.  At that time they were located in New York.  After the turn of the century it was sold to the American Piano Company and later in 1932 by the Aeolian Corporation.  It continued to be manufactured until  1982 with serial number 219400.

It is hard to figure out how long it remained a unique piano unto itself rather than another one of Aeolian's pianos with a different leg style or different music rack design and slapping on a J & C Fischer decal on the fallboard

Please visit the other portions of my site to see the hand crafted items I produce in my shop, one at a time, in Arnold, MO

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Kimball Piano Company

     William Wallace Kimball was a pioneer in the American Piano industry in that he helped put more pianos into the homes of average people who could not afford the high cost of the higher cost pianos of the day.  Kimball was, by profession, a poor country real estate salesman when he began in 1857.  He entered the reed organ as well as selling pianos from a 2nd floor space in Chicago.  Within a few short years he gave up the real estate part of his profession.  His business grew fast.  In 1891, the first Kimball Grand piano appeared.  Around 1900 Kimball began the manufacturing of pipe organs starting with compact designs and towards 1930 built huge pipe organs installed in many municipal auditoriums like those in Memphis and Minneapolis.  Kimball pipe organs installed in St. Louis included Covenant Theological Seminary, Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Orpheum and St. Louis Theatres now the Roberts Orpheum and Powell Symphony Hall.  With the onset of WWII, piano and organ construction ceased.  When the war was over pipe organ production never resumed and the design of their pianos took several steps backward.  The post war Kimball pianos wre terrible instruments.  In 1959 the Jasper Corporation bought Kimball and sales were accelerated.  Laminated soundboards were used and more modern case designs came into play.  Production increased and the modern day Kimball piano became the norm: mediocre piano- nice case design.  Kimballs from this era used very high tension scales and in their later years have become known as string breakers as their propensity of breakage increases with age.  In the late 1990’s piano production ceased as the Jasper Corp wanted to concentrate on their furniture business.  To their credit even though piano product ceased they still honored their guarenty

This year, 2008, a new company began selling pianos under the Kimball name.

Please vist the other portions of my site to see the different hand crafted items I sell from my shop in Arnold, MO

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications

The Kohler & Campbell Piano Co.

The Kohler & Campbell Piano Co

By James Grebe

           John Calvin Campbell was born in 1864 and was gifted in the field of mechanical things.  After serving as an  apprentice in machining he invented several wood and iron making machines.  In the year of 1890, he made a scientific study of piano construction and began making pianos.  Success came almost immediately as the wholesale trade latched on to his instruments because of their large commercial value.  Unfortunately, he died in 1908 at the age of 44 and his partner, Charles Kohler, who was born in 1868, at the age of 20 became a partner with Campbell.  Kohler took over the business at the death of his partner.  He enhanced Campbell’s genius with the use of modern methods of manufacture and because of the factories efficiency was able to offer his pianos at very tempting lower prices.  There were a number of other manufacturers who carried Kohler & Campbell pianos in their owned factory stores.  During the heyday of player pianos, a wholly owned subsidiary, Standard Pneumatic, manufactured over 50,000 player actions per year.    The early Kohler & Campbell grand pianos were made for them by the Brambach Piano Co. in North Carolina.  Around 1984, the name was changed to just Kohler and Brambach was used on some console and spinet pianos.  In 1985 the make was sold to Sherman Clay, a piano retailer, and they contracted with Samick to build some grand pianos for them.  Later, Samick bought the name from Sherman Clay and increased production.

The following is a list of all the names made for and by Kohler & Campbell:  Amplithene, Amplitone, Art-Electric, Artist Record, Artistyle,

Arto, Autopiano, Astor, Autocrat, Autopiano-Playette, Autotheme, Francis Bacon, J.C. Campbell, Carter, Celeste, Conreid, Barker Bros, Behning, Behr Bros& Co., Bjur Bros, Davenpoert Traacy, Design, Electra, Gordon, Hazelton Bros, Ideal, Kohler, Kroeger, McPhail, Milton, Jeffersonian, Charles Kohler, Ministrelo, Mono Player, Newton, Peter Pan, Pianista, Playerette, Preston, Stephen Foster, Simplex, Soloist, Solostyle, Stratford, Stulz & Bauer, Symphonia, Symphotone, Tom Thumb, Triumph, and Waldorf.  Can you imagine trying to keep inventory with this large number of names they used?  Today, the name Kohler & Campbell continues as Samick has endeavored to increase the quality of the name

The Old/New Grand Central

The New/ Grand Central Theatre
By James Grebe
Vers: 1.4

Our story begins with the Central Theatre, which was at 525 Market in downtown St. Louis. The Rex Amusement Company, which was a liaison of three men, operated that theatre
The first was Edmond Koeln, who was born September 10, 1866, in Carondolet. He married Annie Jodd and they had 4 children and resided at 3624 Loughborough. His home has been replaced by new construction. He was an active Republican politician and the Collector of Revenue for the City of St. Louis. The street named for him, now known as Koeln, runs from Water Street to Field Street in the Carondolet area.
The second man was Theodore Rassieur, a graduate of Washington University in law in 1887 who was a prominent attorney, and had been a personal lawyer for John Queeny of Monsanto, and other powerful men in that era of St. Louis history. He was born July 26, 1866 and was married Carrie Miller in 1896 and resided at 3663 Flora Blvd in St. Louis.
Shown next is the stately home of Theodore Rassieur where he lived on Flora Place in the early 1920’s

The third man was William Siever, who had a history in the film distributorship and entertainment business. In the year 1914, Sievers had taken over the Alco Film Distributorship in New York and was involved in a lawsuit when he bought Alco Film Company. He allegedly was defrauded as the company was not worth as much as he paid for it. When Sievers bought it, Alco was a company and later, under his control, the name was changed to Alco Film Corporation.
These three men formed the Rex Amusement Company and built the New Grand Central Theatre.

The New Grand Central originally had a seating capacity of 1,750 persons. The building cost $150,000.00 to build. The New Grand Central was built at the northeast corner of Grand at Lucas, now the parking lot of what is now, Powell Hall, formerly the St. Louis Theatre. The architects were Hirsch and Watson.
The first pipe organ installed in the theatre was a Kilgen 2m/10r, installed in 1913 and had a tubular pneumatic action. This action pre-dated electro-pneumatic action and was the first of 3 Kilgen organs installed in the theatre but the original Opus number is unknown. This could mean that it was a transplanted church organ.
The names Old and New seemed to be mixed up in the early days of the theatre. The New Grand Central came first as there was a “grand” Central Theatre in downtown St. Louis at 6th & Market.. The “grand” in that sense meant it was “grand” as compared to ordinary. The theatre on Grand remained the New Grand Central, until the Skouras Brothers bought it in 1920 and they removed the “New” from the name. In the year 1920, the Skouras Brothers, George, Charles and Spyros, bought the Central and New Grand Central for $350.000.00. The New Grand Central name stayed with Grand Avenue theatre in spite of the Skouras Brothers dropping the “New”. The New Grand Central was the first theatre in St. Louis devoted to showing motion pictures, although, it did succumb to having some vaudeville. The brothers were anxious to gain control of these theatres since, along with the theatres, came the lucrative First National Films Franchise
. The proscenium of the New Grand Central was 45’ wide though the stage was only 20’ deep as it was built for film, not live theatre. In 1921, the building was remodeled and the seating capacity was increased to 2,500. The replacement seats were smaller and were closer together. The new orchestra pit could house a 21 piece orchestra for film and the organ console.. The interior was decorated with gargoyles looking down at the audience. It is reported that they were not the threatening type. Ornate plasterwork dominated the whole interior of the New Grand Central shown below one of only two pictures known showing inside the auditorium
In 1920, Opus #3066, in the New Grand Central, a rebuild was done and many additions were added to the earlier installed Kilgen.

In 1923, the theatre became the NEW Grand Central again with the organ enlarged once more and it became to be the largest Kilgen Theatre Organ in St. Louis. Kilgen called it one of their “Wonder Organs” and moved the console to the pit area from its’ former place under a special arch on the south side of the theatre. The pipe chambers were also moved and enlarged to accommodate the enlargement of the specification.
The organ now became Opus #3204
. The specifications for this “Wonder Organ”, 3M/20R, follows.
The disposition of ranks are:

16’ Diaphonic Diapason 1-97 pipes right side
16’ Tibia 1-85 Pipes right side
16’ Bourdon 1-97 pipes left side
8’ String (Gamba) 1-80 pipes right side
8’ VDO 1-61 pipes right side
8’ String Celeste 13-73 pipes right side
8’ Quintadena 1-55 pipes left side
8’ Gemshorn 1-85 pipes left side
8’ Gemshorn Celeste 13-73 pipes left side
8’ Solo String (unison) 1-73 pipes roof
8’ Solo String (flat) 13-73 pipes roof
8’ Solo String (sharp) 1-73 pipes roof
16’ Tuba 1-73 pipes right side
8’ Trumpet 1-73 pipes left side
8’ Oboe Horn 1-73 pipes left side
8’ Clarinet 1-61 pipes right side
8’ Saxaphone 1-61 pipes left side
8’ Orchestral Oboe 1-61 pipes right side
8’ Kinura 1-61 pipes right side
8’ Vox Humana 1-73 pipes right side
Marimba Harp 1-49 bars left side
Chrysoglott (Glockenspiel) 1-37 bars roof
Xylophone 1-37 bars left side
Orchestra Bells 1-37 bars left side
Tuned Sleigh Bells 1-25 notes left side
Chimes 1-20 tubes roof
All of these percussions on the left side:
Bass Drum (Kettle Drum), Cymbal (Crash Cymball), Snare Drum (Tap), Tamborine, Castanets, Chinese Block, Tom tom, Triangle, Auto Horn, Fire Gong, Steamboat whistle, Horse hoofs, Two birds, one in each chamber, Door bell, Siren
The console had 3 expression pedals , including a Master and a Crescendo pedal. Double Touch was offered on the Great ansd Acc. Manuals as well as Pizzacato Solo to Great coupler. There were a total of 10 double acting Combonation pistons under each manual.. The entire organ was on unit chests.
There was also a 2nd Touch grouping of ranks.
There were 2 genaeral Tremolos, one for each side as well as a
Tremolo for Tibia, Tuba, and Vox Humana, and Solo Strings
This was a groundbreaking part of history as it was the largest fully unified theatre organ Kilgen ever built, though not the largest console. The Piccadilly Theatre in Chicago had a larger console but 1 less rank of pipes being a 4m/19r. There were two larger Kilgen organs in theatres, one in the State in Minneapolis, MN and the Capital in St. Paul, MN being 4m/31r each. The difference is that they were straight, not unified organs. Below, this is an the actual picture of the New Grand Centrals’ console with Dr. Alfred G. Robyn seated at the organ in the pit. Dr. Robyn, a noted musician in St. Louis, was also the brother of Charles Kilgen’s wife, Louise

Unique also on this organ, was the fact it is only one of several larger theatre organs known to have the 3 rank string chorus with one rank at unison, the 2nd slightly flat, and the 3rd slightly sharp. Two of the other organs are the Atlanta, GA Fox Moller and Macy’s “Wanamakers” Grand Court organ in Philadelphia, PA. Apparently, WurliTzer, Barton, and Morton did not see fit to do this. Those 3 ranks combined with the other 3 string ranks would have made this a very lush sounding organ. In its specification, almost a third of the organ is in string tone and even more is the reed tone comprising 8 of the 20 ranks.
By 1930, the Skouras Brothers also owned the St. Louis, the Missouri and the Ambassador, the Pageant, West End Lyric, the Shaw, and Arsenal.
The ‘Talkies’ began here with a 13-week run of “The Jazz Singer”. The New Grand Central also had the distinction of showing the first all color, all talking and singing movie in June of 1929 with the Warner Bros movie, “On With The Show”. In 1930, the New Grand Central, as well as the other theatres above were sold to Fanchon & Marco.
After leaving St. Louis for California, the Skouras Brothers would go into major film distribution and owning movie studios after selling their theatre building holdings in St. Louis and became very wealthy and famous in the motion picture industry in America.

In the Missouri Historical Society files there is a picture of the New Grand Central with the St. Louis Theatre steelwork going up. The St. Louis Theatre’s 4m/19r Kimball was 1 rank smaller but had larger scale pipework and the competition right next door to the New Grand Central did it in. When the St. Louis opened, along with the competition of the Missouri with an even larger organ, and a little later the Fox, with the largest theatre organ in town, the New Grand Central could not compete with the opulence these new theatres boasted. By the year 1930, the theaters on Grand Avenue consisted of the St. Louis Theatre, Grand Central, Missouri, Fox, Schubert Rialto and the Empress just down the street on Olive and the Lyn on Grandell Square and the New Grand Central closed.

Shown next is what the Kilgen console New Grand Central console looked like in their sales brochures. Note there is no decoration or gilding on the plain paneled ebony colored console.

By 1931 the front of, the once proud, New Grand Central, was boarded up due to declining attendance. Shortly after, it became used for warehouse space only.
Finally, by 1948, if you looked inside you would have found the stage and orchestra pit were filled with seats and debris from the auditorium, the stage curtain was torn and hanging down over the seats. Remember, the seats would have been removed from the auditorium to use the floor space as warehouse space The marquee, with the name of the theatre, had gradually lost it’s letters and merchants had moved into either side of the front opening. At the one side was White Mills Restaurant; a kind of clone to White Castle, and the other side advertised free parking for the Missouri, St. Louis, and Fox Theatres.
By the year 1931, the theatre was boarded up already, due to declining attendance. The new St. Louis Theatre had now come the scene and captured most audiences by then next door. In 1936, Fanchon & Marco made plans to open the theatre once more as an Art house and cinema but when the costs were calculated they decided against it. Remember, that the Great Depression was still having its effect on people spending money for entertainment. In December of 1948, the building was torn down to become the parking lot of The St. Louis Theatre. Fanchon & Marco had leases on the building, as well as the Ambassador Theatre, until 1946 and the building could not be razed till then.

The previous picture was taken after the New Grand Central closed and after the marquee was removed for safety reasons.

And to end it all the New Grand Central being torn down. The balcony is left holding forth. It was torn down from the stage area towards the Grand Avenue entrance and the St. Louis Theatre is shown looking sadly to its left quickly becoming ruins.

There is no record of the disposal their largest, the Kilgen Wonder Pipe Organ. Hopefully, the pipework found its way into various other organs around the area. The fate of the pipework still remains unknown.

And finally, from a correspondent, Darren Snow:
The following is certainly "fuzzy" information, but it's the kind of thing that often jogs people's memories and brings certifiable facts out of the woodwork, so here goes. The old Arcade Lanes bowling alley on Olive Street in University City, MO had a "party room" that contained at least two rows of old wooden theater seats, and I asked the owner of the Arcade where they had come from. He said they were from an old theater on Grand that had been "near the Fox" and was torn down in the '40s or '50s. The "Grand Central" name didn't ring a bell with him, but it's the only theater that fits the description. I was hoping to acquire some of these seats--or at least direct them to a good home such as the City Museum--when and if the Arcade closed, but unfortunately the bowling alley and (presumably) the theater seats were destroyed by fire a couple of years later.

Sources of information, Gerald Alexander, Mary Bagley, Darren Snow, Frank Rassieur, James Grebe Archives, Max Nagel’s Kilgen Ledgers, Dave Junchen, Bernard McGorrey,III, Steve Koeln Charles Von Bibber
Copyright, 2008, Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Steinway Piano Company

    So much has been written about Steinway pianos that most of their history is already known to most piano people.  I will tell you about those things that a piano tuner knows about Steinway pianos.

    Piano have ranged in size from the 52' model K types, the studios (45") and even the console (40").  Today they range from the 45" to the 52" and in grands fro 5'1" to the 9'. 

   The old 52" variety had wondrous cases of beautifull rock solid construction though their actions by now are difficult to work on and sometimes to even get parts for.   Their console piano, though beautiful in woods and case design are not made anymore  They ceased to produce them because cost priced them out of the  vertical market.  The newer 45" and 52" vericals are rock solid and solid performers.  In grands all their sizes from 5'1, 5'7.5", 5'10.5", 6'2", 6'10.5", and 8'11.75" are standards for their size of piano.  Each offers rock solid performance at premium prices.  The exclusive features like the diaphraghmatic soundboard, and accelerated actions have proved themselves through the years.  Though Steinway has the shortest guarenty in the industry (5 years) it does not matter as the pianos seem to last forever lending themseles to countless rebuilding and refinishing processes.  Usually the only competition for the Steinway is another Steinway.  Steinway pretty much has the concert artists endorsements as almost all concert performers use Steinway.  Even the poorest Steinway is still a Steinway when it comes to investment considerations.  No piano is built stronger in the world or holds its retail value better than a Steinway.

The Story & Clark Piano Co.

The Story & Clark Piano Co

By James Grebe           Hampton L. Story, a Chicago piano dealership owner known as Story & Camp, in 1868, had also been a partner in Story & Powers in Vermont, a firm  that built pianos.  In 1884 he retired from the retail establishment and he and his son, Edward H. Story, along with Melville Clark, founded a firm that began manufacturing reed pump organs. In 1892 and 1893 they opened factories in London and Berlin.   In 1895 the firm began manufacturing pianos.  In 1901 a new plant was built in Grand Haven, MI.  In the earlier 1900’s, reed organ production ceased.  In 1900 Melville Clark left the company to found his own, Melville Clark Piano Co.  Story & Clark owned these piano names:  Irvington, Storygrand, Tennyson, Story-Tone.  In 1961 the company was sold to the Chicago Musical Instrument Co.  In 1963 again resold to Norlin Industries.  By 1965 some stock was still owned by the Story family.  In the mid 1970’s Yamaha built some models of the Story & Clark grands and were of good quality.  In 1984, the Bergsman Furniture Co bought them and moved them to Grand Rapids, MI and ceased production and Lowery Industries produced vertical pianos for them, a prominent electronic organ manufacturer In 1991 the firm became the property of the Classic Piano Co. of Seneca, NY.  QRS Music then purchased it in 1993.  The Samick Piano Co then began building the pianos for them and continues to present.  A Story & Clark upright piano was the first piano I worked on in apprenticeship training at Piano Service Associates. in June of 1962 and when completed, sold for $175.

The Vose & Sons Piano Company

The Vose Piano Company

By James Grebe           James Whiting Vose was born in 1818and learned the cabinet makers trade in Boston, one of the earliest centers for craftsman of many enterprises.  After learning that trade, he worked for various piano companies there.  In 1851,  he built his own first piano and educated his 3 sons in all branches of the piano business, admitted them into partnership and changed the company name to Vose & Sons.  IN 1889 the company was incorporated with the entire family members owning all the stock.  After the depression the company went under the control of Aeolian- American and in beginning in the  1950’s,  Production ceased in 1985.  The Vose name was used on low cost vertical pianos made in Memphis.  Many Vose  pianos before 1940 are grand pianos and are quite decent instruments. Please take a moment to vist the other portions of my website. Copyright,2008, Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Weber Piano Company

     The Weber Piano Company began in 1852 by Albert Weber in Manhatten New York.  In 1903 Weber became part of the Aeolian Corporation in East Rochester, New York.  During the early part of that century Weber built many art-case type pianos as well as reproducing pianos.  In the early 1930's Aeolian merged with the American Piano Company.  In 1986 the brand was sold to Young-Chang, a Korean piano company and in 1988 they sold the name to Samsung, another Korean conglomerate though Young-Chang continued to build the Weber piano.. 

The first Weber piano started with serial number 1900 and continued up from there.

Please visit the other portions of my site to see the hand crafted items I make iin my shop n Arnold, MO.

Copyright,2008/ Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The William Knabe Piano Company

The William Knabe Piano Company

By James Grebe


Wilhelm Knabe was born  in Kreuzburg, Germany.  He received training in cabinet making and piano making.  Knabe emigrated to the United States in 1833 and took a job with Henry Hartje, a fellow emigrant, in Baltimore.  At that time he changed his first name to William.  After a few years he founded his own business of buying, selling, and repairing pianos. In the year 1837, Knabe partnered with a another Greman, named Henry Gaehle to form the Knabe and Gaehle Piano Company.  In 1854 the pair split up into their own respective companies and his company continued under William Knabe & Co.  In 1860, he built a large factory on the corner of Eutaw and West Streets in Baltimore.  The factory occupied 2 city blocks and employed 300 workers.  Throughout the years, Knabe gained recognition for excellent sound and beauty in cabinetry. And won numerous awards.  A milestone happened when Carnegie Hall opened with a concert by Tehaikovski  featuring a Knabe piano.  Rutherford Hayes slectied a Knabe piano for the White House official residence.  Also a nabe was the first piano purchased in Japan for classroom use. 

                    William died in 1860 and his sons, William and Earnest, took over the business success began by their father and continued the company.  In 1908, Knabe became part of the American Piano Company   In 1932, Aeolian merged with American and became Aeolian-American Piano Company.  Production was then moved to a new factory in East Rochester, NY.     Many top-notch musicians endorsed the Knabe Piano, including President Rutherford Hayes, President of the country.  This popularity catapulted Knabe Pianos to be featured in the opening of Carnegie Hall in New York. The guest of honor, entirely financed by Knabe, was Petrer Tchaikovsky the worlds greatest composer of that time.  After decades of success Knabe became the official piano of the Metropolitan Opera in 1930.  In 1994 after Aeolian-American filed bankruptsy Knabe became part of Mason & Hamlin along with Sohmer and Falcone and George Steck.  In 1996 Young-Chang began production of Knabe Pianos for Mason & Hamlin.  Today, Knabe is part of the Samick Piano Company of Korea.  Samick has taken the original scale design of a number of Baltimore built pianos and have used them in conjunction with new improvements.  New is the introduction of 2 new Art Cased Pianos in limited numbers. The current Knabe lineup consists of grands of 5'3", 5'8",6'4", 7'6"as well as vertical pianos of 46&7/8"47&7/8", 51&3/8".

Please visit the other parts of my site to see the hand crafted items I produce from my shop in Arnold,. MO 


Copyright,2008/ Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The WurliTzer Piano Company

The WurliTzer Piano Company

By James Grebe

            The Wurlitzer name is one of the most recognizable names in the music industry.  Today, though just a name on Baldwin produced pianos, but yesterday, a name to be reckoned with as far as sheer number of instrument sold.  Although the Wurlitzer family had very few original designs, they were unbeatable as far as recognizing future trends in the music trade.  Let us go back to the beginning, to the glory days of the magic of WurliTzer.          The Wurlitzer family of musical instrument makers began with Hans Adam Wurlitzer, a violin maker from Markneukirchen, Saxony between 1732 and 1795.  Since that beginning year every Wurlitzer son has been a musical instrument seller through Farny Wurlitzer of this century.  The history of the company in this country starts with Rudolph Wurlitzer landing in America at Cincinnati in 1854.  Rudolph established himself as a musical instrument importer in 1856.  From Alsace, a French family by the name of Farny also settled in the same city.  Their daughter, Leonie and Rudolph were married in 1868 and had 3 sons and 2 daughters.  In 1890, Howard, the oldest son, was admitted to the company as vice-president. In due time, the other 2 Wurlitzer son, Farny and Rudolph began working there also.          In 1903 it was decided to begin producing American made instruments rather than importing the same.  The Melville Clark Piano Company was bought after Clark had split with Story & Clark in the previous year.  The same year saw Wurlitzer pianos in production with Clark’s expertise in America.  The following year, player pianos started in production.  In 1906 the elder Rudolph retired with Farny taking over many important parts of the company.          Just a couple of years later, to try to copy the success they had with bringing Clark into the company they attempted to do the same thing with Robert Hope- Jones, whose unit orchestras were revolutionizing the pipe organ business.  Hope-Jones would not be stifled, even though owned and controlled by a company and was finally barred form his own factory and finally committed suicide being so depressed.  However, the unit orchestras, (Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organs became the standard of the industry before being subdued by the “talkies”.  They had previously absorbed the North Tonawonda Musical Instrument Company and also was in the band and orchestrion business.  The name Wurlitzer became a household word with, “Gee Dad, It’s a Wurlitzer” trademark. About 3000 Wurlitzer pipe organs were produced before production ceased in 1940.  Wurlitzer theatre pipe organs were installed in a number of St. Louis theatres like the Missouri, the Kings, the Woodland, Loews’s State, the Ambassador, and of course the Fox.  They also had Wurlitzer church pipe organs in Holy Name, Holy Rosary, and Bethany Lutheran. During the 1930’s Wurlitzer came out with the “Butterfly” grand piano, which was a small grand with the top, hinged in the middle and opened both ways like a butterfly’s wings. In the St. Louis area there was a 9’ Wurlitzer grand and a number of us piano tuners have tuned it and may well be one of only a couple actually built.  Wurlitzer had several exclusive features like the “calibrated element” which was an extension of the lower end of the treble bridge to have as many notes as possible towards the center of the soundboard.  Another feature was the “hexagonal soundboard” which extended the soundboard up further into the bass area of the smaller pin block in that area.  It was claimed to have added 11% surface area to the soundboard.  Wurlitzer went on and produced a wide area of products form radios, refrigerators and even home stereos and of cou9rse electronic organs and keyboard instruments.  During the late 1970’s they had moved their headquarters to a place that was a former school and at that time put together, ”The Mightiest Wurlitzer” which was built from a collection of their pipe organs into 1 large organ.  Shortly later things started to turn around and bad times followed.  They had come out with laminated soundboards in their lower priced pianos and with the collapse of the home organ market sales tumbled and the end was near.  They at one time had several piano factories and 1 piano action factory..          Things grew progressively worse and during the late 1980’s Baldwin bought them out and unheard of success and downfall story.  For a while, Baldwin kept things as they were but Baldwin had their own money problems.  A few short years later it was decided to close the Wurlitzer factories and move production to the Baldwin factory in Arkansas.  Now every once in a while Baldwin will introduce a model with the Wurlitzer name on it but for all practical purpose Wurlitzer is gone.

Please visit the other portions of my site to see the hand crated items I produce from my shop in Arnold, MO

As of 2008 Baldwin has ceased all production of Wurlitzer branded pianos.

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

The Yamaha Piano Company

The Yamaha Piano Company

By James Grebe

     On April 20,1851 Torakuso Yamaha, the third son of a prominent Samurai, was born. His father was a surveyor by trade and an astronomer by avocation. In his early years his family tutored him with in mathematics, engineering, and the scientific method. Because of the agrarian society around him, this certainly set him apart form his peers. It was in 1854 that Admiral Perry sailed in Tokyo harbor to open up the country to trade with the rest of the world. Torakuso was an enthusiastic member of the Nenjji (enlightened) restoration with its opportunities for technological growth. In 1871n he traveled to Nagasaki to study watch making with a British engineer. After several years he began making his own watches, but his business soon failed.

Yamaha then apprenticed himself to a medical school building and maintaining medical equipment. In just 2 years he became proficient and joined a medical supplier in Osaka and occasionally traveled to Hamamatsu where he repaired medical equipment for the hospital. One day in 1887 at the hospital where he was working the Mson & Hamlin Reed Organ malfunctioned. This organ was the priced and joy because of the world wide fame of Mason & Hamlin. It was suggested that Torakuso be called in to see if he could repair it because of his reputation for his great mechanical aptitude. He was at once fascinated with the instrument and afterwards successfully repaired it. After repairing it he made detailed drawings of it ‘s works. He was intrigued not by the music it produced but by it's commercial potential in a fast growing westernized culture. Western style music caught on fast in Japan and in 1879 the government gave official sponsorship to western music. At the time the Toyo Music Academy was begun and equipped with 6 Mason & Hamlin Reed Organs and 5 Steinway upright pianos as well as a full compliment of stringed instruments. Attempting to serve the burgeoning music market Yamaha settled in Hamamatsu to build Japans first reed organs. In 1888 he employed 7 people full time building these organs. He envisioned a systematic division of labor and organized the building into 7 basic groups assembling the organs. By 1890 he employed 100 workmen and was producing 250 organs a year. In 1891 he entered into a agreement with Kyouki Trading Company and with the Niki Musical Instrument Company who aggressively promoted the reed organs for use in the schools. Later the same year, the factory burned down caused by a fierce internal struggle. Not everyone liked the western ideas of musical instruments. In 1899 he bought out his other investors and had total control of his company. By 1895 he was producing over 2,000 organs a year and was the market leaders. Things were about to change with the introduction of the upright piano began. The upright could be built cheaper than the squasre grand and its style was preferred for the home so in 1897 he laid the groundwork for pianos. He sold more stock to raise capital and changed the name of the company to Nippon Gakki Co. He built a larger plant and developed tooling got his piano making. He traveled to America and visited the Chickering factory as well as Mason & Hamlin.. Shortly after his return he got orders to build his first pianos. A young man named K. Kawai was in charge of building his first pianos and the first year had built 2. In 1903 he was up to 23 pianos and in 1908 he built his first grand piano. He even sent one of his pianos to the St. Louis Worlds Fair in 1904 in Forest Park where he received an honorary prize. By 192 he was up to 1000 employees and 10,000 reed organs and 1,200 pianos a year. In 1914 he began producing the "Butterfly" brand of harmonicas and Yamaha began to diversify. It had begun to give Japan its first major export. Because of the Hohner harmonica was made in Germany his harmonicas got a windfall of sales in WW. In 1916 Torakuso died suddenly leaving a void that became filled with the same enterprising spirit as Torakuso. In 1930, the company brought in engineers form Bechstein to assist in research and development. They were paid lavish salaries and paved the way for better-designed instruments. WW just about destroyed everything but with the help of the Occupational Forces, they began production of harmonicas, followed by reed organs and on April 1,1947 the first pre-war piano. In 1955 the first Yamaha motorcycles were built and in 1961 the first pianos were imported into America. Success continues.

Yamaha has become a leader in technology with their Disklavier player pianos and are among the leaders in mating computers with acoustic instruments

Please visit the other portions of my site to see the hand crafted itmes I produce from my shop in Arnold, MO

Copyright,2008/Yesterday Once More PUblications,James Grebe

To Sell Your Piano

By James Grebe

So, you have decided to sell the piano.
Remember what is was that first attracted you to it in the first place? Was it the sound of its’ voice? Was it the feel of it to your touch? Was it the presence of its’ magnificent design? Was it the exquisite look of it?
Remember that what attracted you to it, will most likely attract the next person to own it. Do your best to do justice to get it as close as possible to her in its’ original condition as it was in the beginning.
In order for your piano to be shown in the best possible light it should be very well tuned to the pitch of A-440 Hz and should have a copy of her maintenance record, who provided the service on the top of her pin block or in a prominent place when you open her lid. If she hasn’t had regular service, now is the time to begin with the most recent tuning date. This gives the potential buyer and idea of how well you have maintained ‘their’ potential property. If it has minor problems, have them taken care of before you show her. You do not want to have to explain why there are sticking keys or a note that does not work.
Your piano should be as clean as the day she came to live with you. Get out the vacuum and clean as much inside as you can get to, including the back and bottom area. After that get a damp rag and wipe off those same places. Damp does not hurt anything except steel strings and felt. Clean the keys. If the piano has brass hardware polish it. From the store, if the piano is a vertical, you can get some lemon solid air freshener. Break it up and lay it in the bottom of the piano so that when the lid is opened you get a nice fresh lemon scent, rather than a tired musty odor. If there are any scratches, you can get some touch up markers from a refinishing store to blend them out. When all this is done you can give the piano a sparingly polishing with pure lemon oil polish. These same things apply to the bench and while you are at it tighten up the nuts holding on the bench legs.
The best person to sell your piano to is someone you already know. If you know a piano teacher, let them know that you have a piano for sale and that there would be a small reward for helping you sell it. You want to exhaust all the possible people you already know before you offer it to strangers. Price the piano at a reasonable level so you have negotiating room, but not so high that you scare people off before you begin. You may consult with me for a possible price.
If you decide to sell to a dealer or tuner, remember the price you are offered is a wholesale price, not retail. Whoever buys the piano should have it removed by a bonded and insured piano mover, not a group of friends. You do not want someone to be injured in your home moving it because of legal ramifications or damaging your property.
The way most people sell a piano is through advertising and that is the part that has changed most in recent years. It used to be the best place to advertise was in the weekend newspaper. Most other places turn out to be a waste of time. A good start for the ad is brand name, finish, piano type, matching bench, just tuned. It does no good to negotiate price on the phone, they need to be present. The simpler, the wording, the better. If someone calls you can go into further info. Only when they seem interested do you give your address and they should only come during daylight hours and again, do not be alone. If the price they offer is not up to your expectations, take their name and number so you can re-contact them if you change your mind. It may be there could be a stream of people who will walk away. You will have the choice to call them back to take their offer. It is up to you whether to take an offer or wait for other propects. In recent years, people use E-Bay or Craig’s List on the Internet. Using these methods invites more caution. There are many “crazies” trolling around out there. Never speak or write using the words I or me but always us or we. Never be alone when someone comes over to look at it. Never let the piano be moved without full payment in cash with no deals of partial payment or anything that involves you giving change back.
Following these guidelines will allow you to sell your piano at a price you can live with and not put you at risk.

Tuned Percussions

Tuned and UnTuned Percussions for the Theatre Pipe Organ

by James Grebe updated 10/24/14

We often think of tuned percussions in TPO's as almost an afterthought. The first use of multiple tuned percussions in a single organ was not even in a TPO, but a church organ in the Baptist Temple in Philadelphia in 1911 by Robert Hope-Jones before he joined WurliTzer and before Opus #1.

A little history about JC Deagan, most famous of the percussion makers.
John C Deagan was born in Hector New York in 1853.
While in the navy in the 1870's he studied music at the University of London. In a series of lectures given by Hermann von Helmholtz, he became interested in the science of sound. After his service, he began experiments and his first product was an improvement on the crude glockenspiel. He succeeded transforming the rough pieces of metal into a set of perfectly tuned bells and they soon became standard equipment for orchestra after 1880.
Later he developed many other instruments such as Xylophones, organ chimes, aluminum chimes, aluminum harp, Swiss hand bells, and orchestra bells.
He developed the marimba from a crude novelty item from the jungle into an accepted musical instrument. You may ask the differences of these instruments: A xylophone uses wood bars that has some resonator tubes under it. The marimba also uses wooden bars but a more complete set of metal resonators. The vibraphone uses metal bars with a full set of metal resonators and feature a disk that is inset in the resonators that are rotated by a small motor giving a vibrato sensation to the sound and operated by a pedal. He then developed from that original marimbaphone into the metal bar vibraharp, the drawn tubular cathedral chimes for use in orchestra and organs and then the steel bar Celeste and wood bar harp for pipe organ use.

He made radical improvements on Carillons for churches and public buildings with dampers to eliminate tone intermingling and controlled electrically and playable manually or by use of perforated rolls under the control of a clock.
Beginning in 1898, he gave his full time to the manufacture of his invented instruments with his St. Louis connection. He began his company here in St. Louis as a 1 man operation. He then moved to San Francisco and finally to Chicago. In 1913 he incorporated in 1913 as J.C. Deagan Musical Bells, Inc. In 3 years he dropped the Musical Bells from the company name. He was the company president from then til his death. In 1914 he supplied the US Government with a set of tuning forks for radio and other research. Most of the percussions in organs in the Chicago area featured Deagan percussions due to the closeness of the factory.

A year later he developed the Deagan-o-meter for not only hearing but demonstrating musical pitch. J.C. died on April 287, 1934 and the company was bought by one of his employees, Gilberto Serna who worked for Deagan for 15 years and was trained by it's very own master tuners. Serna went on to establish the Century Mallet Instrument Service and now today is owned by Andreas Bautista. Andreas Bautista tells me that Yamaha has most of what is left of the actual records that were from the original company but that many were just pitched when Deagan died, a sad thing that happened with many old companies.

A few thoughts on the tuning of percussions. At the factory, Deagan percussions are tuned at A-440 pitch at a temperature of 70 degrees F and in equal temperament. The instruments being tuned are placed in the room at least 24 hours before tuning to acclimate them stable. Below A-5 (880 Hz) there is no stretching but above A-5 each higher note is tuned ½ Hz progressively up the scale, so at A-6 it is 6 Hz sharp compared to A-5 and going up to A-7 it is 12 Hz sharp in tune. As in tuning pianos , “stretching the octaves”, is also true in percussions.
One of the facts I have not been able to find out is if WurliTzer or any other TPO manufacturers used Deagan percussions solely or alternated between Deagan and other companies or even made their own tuned percussions

Sources: Henry J. Schulter, 1947, James Grebe Archives, J.C. Deagan Co, National Cyclopdia of American Biography, Andres Bautista

Wicks Pipe Organs in St. Louis

Wicks Pipe Organs for St. Louis by James Grebe In St. Louis, the Wicks Organ Company had only 2 examples during the heyday of theatre organs.  In 1919, Kilgen had installed their Opus 3014, a 2m/10r organ, at the Grand Opera House in downtown St. Louis.  It served until 1928 when Wicks was contacted to erect their opus 779.  When the existing organ was replaced, save the pipework, for the sum of $3,000.00 that was the only in theatre organ Wicks did here.  The organ was enlarged for  a  2 manual to a new 3 manual console. In files at the factory it mentions something about the organ came from Chicago but is very vague in the details. Not anything is known of the further disposition of that organ.    In March of 1936, the organ from the Grand (Opus 779) was purchased by Walter Brummer of Granite City (Midwest Organ Service) and installed in St. Paul United Church of Christ in Belleville, IL.  The organ was bought for $700 and was adopted to the new sanctuary and installed by Brummer.  The installation cost was $1800.00.  The organ was paid for by a Memorial gift from Rose and Martha Keil and was named the Sophia M Keil Organ.    By the May 1, 1951 the organ was needing to be rebuilt again and this time for $7,500.00, a new 3 manual console was built by Moller and enlarged from 10 ranks to 14 ranks spread over 43 speaking stops, 14 couplers, and 25 combination pistons. It was dedicated on March 9, 1952.  PAUL Godt was the organist for that dedication.  Paul was the orginal artist that played the Majestic Theatre in East St. Louis where there was a Wurlitzer 2m/8r which is now the core organ that graces the Fox Theatre Lobby.  In the year 1958 another contract was signed with Walter Brummer to remove, rebuild, and enlarge and re-install the organ in the new sanctuary just built for $8,900. On October 11, 1959 the new organ was again dedicated.  In the year 1986, a new organ fund was begun to purchase a new organ within 5 years and the new organ was installed on October 11, 1959 and the long beleaguered organ that was comprised of the original Grand Opera House Kilgen, then Wicks, then Moller was disposed of to a fellow from a Baptist Church in the flower district of St. Louis.  Thus , this is one fo the few theatre installations that we have as history of from start to finish.More information can be had for the other Wicks installation at Radio Station WIL.  In 1929, WIL signed a contract for $5,500.00 to construct a 2m/7r organ.  The organ was to have reveille tubes and a sostenuto pedal.  I can only assume the notes for reveille were chime tubes with the notes needed to play that sequence of notes.  Just to show you that deceit is not only a modern thing the following is interesting.

 As part of the purchase price of $5,500.00 it was going to be reduced by $2,000.00 in free advertising for Wicks Pipe Organs for the period of 1 year.  The contract was signed on April 16, 1929 and already by May 4, 1929 the organ had been installed, WOW, what speed.  The reason it could be installed that quickly was that Wicks had a sales studio at 3680 Lindell to broadcast organ recitals.    This was on WIL and Wicks paid for the wire charge (the cost to send the signal to the radio station for re-broadcast).  Wicks was asked to participate in the opening of their new studio.  In a letter about the reeds of the organ, Wicks wrote that all heavy reeds and chimes are not made by the Wicks factory but purchased in the east and since almost every one is different in some way or another, they carry none in stock.  In notes from WIL  informed Wicks that their station was picked up from as far as Oxnard, CA and Marietta, GA, Johnstown , PA, and UTICA, NY.  The organ was to be placed on the Melbourne Hotel roof and was signed by the Missouri Broadcasting Co. No mention of what ranks were unified, but keeping with Wick’s practices it would have been unified to the extreme.

In November 1933, WIL organist, Jerre Cammack, corresponded with Wicks that there was a leak (leaking roof) in the organ chamber.  There was a disagreement whether Wicks would repair the organ damage. In the repair estimate from Wicks was the sum of $75 to re-voice and repair the trumpet and it’s chest. Later, the verbal agreement between the radio station and Wicks was not honored by WIL.  A subsequent letter from the radio station wanted the repair price reduced.  Wicks related that  earlier bills for tuning related it and many, many repairs had not been paid in the past.  The final letter states that they would pay the amount with further free advertising and playing the organ, at least 3 times a year.  By November 22,1944 WIL wrote to Wicks that they were no longer using the organ and were going to place it up for sale and signed by David Pasternack, Program Director.  On August 30, 1971 Martin Wick wrote a letter to WIL inquiring about the status of the organ and WIL responded that they no longer had that piece of equipment.  There is no indication on what happened to the organ as the story ends there.Such is the story of another financial fiasco.  How much money Wicks really got for the organ is unknown but it is a sure thing that there was NO profit in the sale.Sources:Chris Soer, Norbert Krausz


William Fox's Liberty Theatre

Fox’s Liberty Theatre

By James Grebe

           This article is a response to an inquiring letter about theatre organist Agnes Griffin who played the organ at Fox’s Liberty Theatre in 1924.  A little background;     The Fox’s Liberty at 3627 Grandel Square  opened its doors in 1913 as the Victoria Theatre, and was built for the German Theatre Society.  It has 2 floors, the upper had a lecture hall and the lower had the theatre proper and seated 1500.  By 1917, there was so much distrust of anything German that it closed.  It next became the Libertyland and then William Fox leased the theatre and it became Fox’s Liberty and in 1918 he installed a Moller pipe organ ,(opus 2573).  It was a 3 manual. 17 rank organ under 5” wind pressure with a 2 HP blower motor. 

     The Liberty was one of many theatres not built specifically for movies but stage plays and vaudeville such as Loew’s Orpheum, which also had a Kimball pipe organ.  Louis Flint was the first organist to play the Moller in the Liberty and he went on to be one of the organists to be on the organist staff at the Missouri in 1921.  It was sometime after the organ installation when Agnes Griffin was the organist at the Liberty before leaving before July of 1925 to go to Shreveport , LA to open the Strand Theatre there.  Not sure if Agnes was a native St. Louisan, but she did study at the prestigious Kroeger Conservatory of Music here so probably this was early in her career.. 

     This Moller was probably the first of a number of Mollers that William Fox had built for future installation into his theatres.  Some of them do not even appear in Mollers Opus list.   In 1918, when the Moller was put in the Liberty it cost $5,500.00.  By the time the next one came along to install the price had jumped to $7,000.00.  One of the next ones was installed in the Los Angeles Hippodrome Theatre.  One of the differences in cost may have been that it took more money to ship to California than to St. Louis from Maryland. 

     William Fox also had other connections to St. Louis before the Fabulous Fox.  In the years between 1921 and 1922 William Fox also controlled the Grand-Arsenal and the Pershing Theatres, both with Kilgen 3m/13r organs and the Royal, later Rivoli and Towne.  In 1924 William Fox gave up the Liberty, the Moller was removed (wherabouts unknown) and as it was advertised, a $40.000.00 “Goldaphone-The Organ with the Human Voice, was installed.  I know the name seems garish but the makers were trying to compete with Wurlitzer “Unit Orchestras”, “Golden Voiced” Bartons, and Kilgen “Wonder Organs”. 

     A little about the firm who built the “Goldaphone.The maker who built the “Goldaphone” was the Gratian Organ Company from Quincy, IL.  Joseph Gratian arrived from England in 1857 and located himself in Alton, IL where he built a fair number of tracker pipe organs and died in 1897.  At that time, his son, John W. took over the business and unfortunately he had no business or technical skill and could not come up with a successful design of an electro-pneumatic action.  He wound up buying many components and sometimes even complete organs from Wicks to sell under his name.  It would have been during this time that the “Goldaphone” was produced and sold to the Liberty..  Things got so bad in the firm, after John’s son, Warren, joined the firm that they had terrible disagreements around the Depression and Warren burned most of the company’s business records.  Things were tough in that family.  After bankruptcy Warren went to work for Austin, Estey, and Midmer-Losch and finally established himself in the town of Bunker Hill, re-established a service business and retired in 1979.  There are no known records of what the “Goldaphone’s” size or pipe compliment.  Most likely, it was a small organ price, over inflated, re-badged Wicks and nothing is recorded as to its wherabouts or even when, or if,  it was removed from the Liberty.

     The Liberty Music Hall continued for a while and then the building became known under various names as the World Burlesque, the Sun and finally the Lyn, as its marquee bears today.  It has remained empty for at least 30 years and in the 1970’s I remember going in through an unsecured door on the east side of the building and stored were racks and racks of bowling balls and bowling alley fixtures.  As far as I know, the building is owned by the Koplars and there was even talk back then of them converting it into a broadcasting facility.  Maybe someone else knows the whereabouts of the infamous “Goldaphone” 

Sources: Charles Von Bibber, Gerald Alexander, Dave Junchen, Grebe archives

Copyright, 2008 Yesterday Once More Publications/James Grebe