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W Bell bellows rebuild - newbie seeking advice

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  • W Bell bellows rebuild - newbie seeking advice

    Hi all,

    Thanks for being here. Very glad to find this forum!

    I have 2 reed organs, and the one in question is a new acquisition rescued from a garage next to a sheep farm outside of Montreal - a late 19th Century W. Bell and Co. (I've been told it's the Regal model) with 16 stops - all still labeled
    - Viola 4 ft;
    - Diapason 8 ft;
    - Dolce 4 ft;
    - Violetta 2ft;
    - Sub Bass 16 ft;
    - Octave Coupler;
    - Vox humana;
    - Forte;
    - Hautboy 8 ft;
    - Aeolian 8 ft;
    - Cremona 16 ft;
    - Euphone 16 ft;
    - Echo 8 ft;
    - Celeste 8 ft;
    - Melodia 8 ft;
    - Flute 4 ft

    It has Scribner's tubes, presumably for the sub-bass.

    Very dirty interior (and initial smell of sheep ordure, now carefully washed away / light vinegar solution used on the case to kill mildew and bacteria) but seemingly no rot. Back panels coming unglued a bit but the wood still in good condition. An incredible number of spider carcasses and one very large living specimen.

    2 ciphers and some reeds not sounding. The bellows was over-covered in the 70s or 80s with vinyl and / but was barely holding air at all.

    Looking at the state of repair of the bellows I decided to start by rebuilding them - reusing what i can. At least 100 upholstery tacks - about 20% of them seemingly original - and a substantial amount of duct tape removed, i have the bellows down to bare boards. The rear of the table / bellows board split in disassembly and will either be repaired or rebuilt on Thursday. I haven't yet touched anything above the table / bellows board (I think this is 2 ways of describing the same piece of wood - learning terminology fast here).

    I'm about to start buying bellows cloth, hide glue, leather etc etc etc - I've been reading and watching videos but now i need actual advice. If anyone might be available to help me make some good choices here I would be very grateful.


  • #2
    Welcome to the Forum! I look forward to your contributions here.

    Pictures are always quite helpful, but for further reading, might I suggest the following threads:I hope that reading gets you started while others weigh in. Again, welcome to the Forum!

    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
    • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos


    • #3
      Hello Joel and welcome to the facinating world of pumpers! I have a Bell and love it. Has beautiful deep sound and mine has 17 stops. I would recommend you check out this Forum for the correct bellows cloth description - search for "bellows cloth" and you will find some good advice on what to get. I cannot readily find a specific thread but please do a search. You might do well to get the right material and redo the entire bellows and feeders. Then you will have a good organ that will last another lifetime. I have attached some pictures of my one.

      Attached Files
      "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...


      • #4
        Thanks Michael and Nico,
        Michael i had read the Beethoven thread but not the others. Thank you for that!

        Nico, great to meet another Bell enthusiast. Yes I'm going to reach out to a specialty shop in the US (I won't give the name nor the link here so I don't run afoul of the rules) to make sure I get the right cloth, leather etc. I think i also need to replace the springs, as mins are rusty, and the original 2 larger springs are mismatched. In disassembling the bellows i saw that they seem to have had a factory mishap - big gouges in the interior wood, the 2 springs finally used don't match - one is much stronger than the other - and the internal felt pads used to prevent the springs from bumping up against wood were obviously ripped out of 1st position while the glue was still fresh, and re-glued under the new spring placements. I hope some apprentice at the W Bell factory didn't lose life or limb building this bellows in the 1st place.

        Photo below of the mismatched springs.12" LP case for size reference.

        I have the missing front panel, but it had already been removed.

        Click image for larger version

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        And here's a someone else's photo of a version with pipe top that seems to live somewhere in Italy:

        image widget


        • myorgan
          myorgan commented
          Editing a comment
          Four of your photos haven't uploaded or been linked properly, as they are showing a broken link. You should be able to edit your post to correct the broken links.


      • #5
        Hmm strange, the photos are visible on my screen. I used the blog's built-in photo upload feature with small size photos.

        Thank you for letting me know though.

        I'll include them as attachments.
        Attached Files


        • myorgan
          myorgan commented
          Editing a comment
          Thank you. Those worked.


      • #6
        Lovely organ! And certainly worth spending some $ and TLC on it. I got the bellows cloth I used from the Netherlands. In our country there is likely not any supplier so I had to import - at a premium cost!
        For interest: I purchased a couple of reed organs from someone who did not seem to have sufficient interest in restoring them. Among the pieces was a set of parts to almost assemble a complete organ. The bellows were covered with home made material from heavy linen impregnated with some kind of rubbery sealing liquid used in the building industry. I assembled the parts and used the cabinet of a tired electronic organ as a house for it. It has been working now for about three years and those bellows are still holding vacuum....
        "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...


        • #7
          Hi Joel,
          Congratulations on the exciting organ restoration project that you've undertaken! I too am new to reed organ restoration. I was fortunate that my 1890 Doherty reed organ needed very little work to get it to reasonable playing condition, so I can't speak much from first-hand experience. However, over the past few months I've been documenting information for future restoration work, as I've also acquired another organ that needs quite a bit of work.

          Some questions:
          1. Have you learned about fish glue as an alternative to hide glue for some applications? I've read it can be easier to work with.
          2. What do the gouges in the wood look like? Could they have been caused by mice chewing the wood to make shavings for nests?

          I recommend Rodney Jantzi's website for many photo logs of restorations, from which I've learned much:

          I also found it helped to get a visual learning experience from Macon Campbell's Youtube series. This was his first restoration, but he had guidance from others with restoration experience:

          If you are curious, here is a bit of info about my reed organ acquisition and tinkering experience:

          Harmony Chord Briscoe (fan powered reed organ)
          ca. 1890 Doherty Chapel Organ


          • #8
            Thanks Dan !

            I'm making my way through Rodney's website and have watched Macon's series end to end. I will check out your blog this evening

            Re your questions:
            - Yes I've read a bit about fish glue - question: does it adhere as well as hide glue? May all powers in the universe please prevent me from ever again having to tear this bellows apart to recover it or correct the seal once I'm done. oyyyyy
            - The gouges look much more violent than they look chewey. I regret not taking clearer photos of them. The woodshop I'm using is about 45 minutes across town or I'd take fresh ones, though I've sanded them down a bit now. I'll attach the 1 unclear photo i have. You can make out one of the gouges in a swinging arc near the close spring.
            Attached Files