spill valve

Regulator valve which spills air (or admits air to a suction chamber) when the pre-set limit is exceeded.


Having a low volume of sound. Opposite of loud. * Italian: piano.

sleigh bells

Tuned sleigh bells, usually with one to six bells per note, mounted on a strap or board which is shaken. Found in certain European fairground organs and in many theatre organs. * French: grelotphone.

snare drum brush

Several dozen wires bound together with a handle; used for soft drumming on the snare drum. A popular feature in Decap and Arburo dance organs. * German: Borste.

single stroke

Type of pneumatic or mechanical action which causes a beater or hammer to strike just once when a note is sustained in a music arrangement. Compare to reiterating (also listed in this Glossary).

speed regulator

Found on some musical movements to allow for the governing of the speed of the movement.

street organ

Specially constructed loudly-voiced organ designed for use on a hand cart. Used mainly in Holland. * Synonyms: Dutch street organ, pierement.


A place where alcoholic drinks were sold illegally in the United States during the Prohibition era. Many speakeasies featured musical entertainment, including "Roaring Twenties" jazz bands (larger night clubs) or small electric pianos and orchestrions (smaller establishments).

soundboard, sounding board

A thin wooden board, to which the vibrations of pianos strings, music box combs, or other sound-producing devices are transmitted, usually by means of a wooden bridge. The soundboard, usually found at the back of a vertical musical instrument or the bottom of a horizontal one, amplifies the sound and contributes to the desired tone quality. In almost all pianos, the soundboard is made of quarter-sawn (or vertical grain) spruce, because spruce is the strongest, stiffest wood in proportion to its weight. In music boxes and other mechanical instruments, it is sometimes made of a softer variety of wood.

soft pedal

In an upright piano a pedal which brings the piano hammers closer to the strings, thus causing them to strike more softly. In a grand piano the pedal shifts the keyboard laterally to cause a piano hammer to strike just 2 strings instead of 3 on a 3-string note, etc. In this book, the soft pedal is designated as the hammer rail in upright instruments.

snail (cam)

The helical gear which laterally shifts the cylinder (from tune to tune) in a musical box or other cylinder or barrel-operated instruments.

spring barrel hook

The device inside the spring barrel that holds the outer end of the mainspring in place. The inner end is attached to the arbor hook, the outer to the barrel hook.


A note having very short duration.


1. In a music box or other spring-wound instrument, a mechanical device (such as the Geneva Stop) which locks the winding shaft after a certain number of turns, preventing overwinding. 2. In an organ or other instrument with pipes, a register for controlling one or more ranks of pipes. In a pipe organ or reed organ manually-operated stops are located above or beside the keyboard and are called draw-stops, draw-knobs, or stop tabs.

spring barrel

The drum-shaped metal housing which contains the mainspring in a clockwork-powered mechanism. In cylinder musical boxes it is usually of brass, while in disc-playing musical boxes it is frequently of stamped steel or cast iron.

string instruments

(or: stringed instruments.) Family of musical instruments including the violin, viola, cello, string bass, and other instruments (as opposed to the woodwind, brass, and percussion families).

stop tail

The small metal finger below the airbrake that stops the movement when it connects with the stop lever.

street piano

Hand-cranked, loudly-voiced barrel piano, usually mounted on a cart, used to play music in city streets, especially during the 19th century.

skating rink organ

Band organ, often with visible brass pipes, used to provide music in a skating rink. * Synonyms: military band organ, trumpet organ (if cylinder-operated).

ride cymbal

Medium-sized cymbal struck with a hard beater, frequently played on every beat, adding a driving rhythm or pulse to the music. Widely used in dance bands and certain Decap dance organs.

rigid notation

The horizontal engraved lines found on some early musical box cylinders. The lines were said to be used to aid in timing the music in the absence of a rotary dividing engine. Mostly used by Francois Nicole.

roll frame

Music roll mechanism comprising the tracker bar, takeup spool, mechanisms for shifting from play to rewind, pinch rollers or hold-down roller, tracking mechanism, etc.


1. Perforated paper roll as used on a player piano, orchestrion, organ, etc. Can be of the endless or rewind type. 2. Sustained or reiterating striking action, particular on a drum (as in snare drum roll).

roller organ

Tabletop organette using a small pinned wooden cylinder. Also called a cob or "Gem"


The catastrophic occurrence when the spring power in a musical box is discharged very rapidly, as when the governor fails. In cylinder boxes this causes the cylinder to spin at great speed and can result in damage to pins, gears, teeth and tips. In disc boxes it can fracture the spring barrel and strip the gears and destroy the teeth.

safety check

A device invented by C.H. Jacot, which prevents damage to the comb in a cylinder music box by locking the mechanism if it suddenly speeds up or "runs," a condition which causes immediate severe damage to the comb and cylinder.

saxophone pipe

1. In an orchestrion or fairground organ a reed pipe similar to a clarinet, but larger. 2. In an orchestrion, a reed pipe with a 4-sided inverted pyramidal wooden resonator, open at the large end. A popular addition to jazzband-type orchestrions of the 1920s. 3. In a dance organ a visible but non-musical saxophone is sometimes mounted on the front. Behind the saxophone and concealed from view is a rank of saxophone pipes. When a saxophone pipe is played, a corresponding key on the display instrument is opened by means of a wire connected to a pneumatic. 4. Name given to the bass part of a clarinet rank in an orchestrion.

scale stick

Long narrow strip of cardboard, wood, or other material marked with the scale of a tracker bar or key frame. Used by roll and book arrangers as a guide for the correct placement of marks on a master roll.


1. Musical range of an instrument. Description or number of notes from the lowest playing bass note to the highest playing treble note. (This may differ from the actual number of piano notes; for instance, a 65-note piano roll uses only 65 notes of an 88-note piano). 2. The number of playing notes plus the number of holes necessary to perform register changes and other functions. Thus an instrument may be described, for example, as having a 30-note* Synonym: key (also listed in this Glossary, definition 4). 3. Layout or diagram of the function of each hole in a tracker bar, key in a key frame, etc. 4. Dimensions of a pipe relative to its length. A smaller scale pipe has a smaller cross section for a given note than a larger scale pipe has. For example, the violin pipes in a Wurlitzer orchestrion are of smaller scale than the stopped flutes. Generally, smaller scale contributes to more prominent upper harmonics and consequently brighter tone.


German term for the untuned percussion section of an automatic musical instrument, especially of an orchestrion or organ.

second wheel

The gear in a governor which is engaged with the endless screw and is mounted on a shaft which has a pinion that engages the first wheel, which in turn is mounted on a shaft that has a pinion that engages the great wheel. This is the wheel that transfers speed regulation from the endless to the cylinder. Synonym: escape gear or worm wheel.

sectional comb

A comb in a cylinder musical box which is made from separate sections of teeth, typically from one to five rather than as one piece of steel. Late 18th, early 19th century.


A cylinder musical box in which the cylinder rotates in a normal fashion and is laterally shifted at one position during its rotation. To enable longer-than-normal pieces of music to be played, arrangements are made for the musical pinning to be continued during the time when the cylinder is making its lateral shift in what is known as the "dead space." There is also a secondary mechanism which prevents the mechanism from stopping in the normal way after one cylinder revolution.


A musical box case that typically has a double curved plan form (double "S").

set pins

The metal pins found under the musical comb to allow for proper alignment of the comb to the cylinder pins. Synonym: Dowels.

sforzando (forzando)

1. The sharp accenting of single notes or groups of notes. 2. In an organ or photoplayer the pedal which, when depressed, will bring into play one-by-one all (or nearly all) ranks of the instrument. * Synonyms: crescendo pedal, full-organ pedal.


1. In an organ pipe with a beating reed, the slotted metal tube against which the reed vibrates to produce a tone when air pressure is directed into the pipe (or less commonly, a wood tube, as in certain band organ trombone pipes). The slot is slightly narrower and shorter than the reed, so the edges of the reed beat against it. The bottom end of the tube is capped to make it airtight, and the top end fits into the block that acoustically connects it to the resonator. The shape of the(cylindrical, conical, end perpendicular or angled, etc.), the shape of the reed, and the shape of the resonator all contribute to the tone quality of the pipe and determine whether it sounds like a trumpet, clarinet, oboe, baritone, etc. 2. In an organ pipe with a free reed, a similar tube but with a slot slightly wider and longer than the reed, so the reed vibrates through the slot. Beating reed pipes are commonly found in European and American fairground and band organs, while free reed pipes are more common in European orchestrions.


1. The musical note played by a piano string, organ pipe, xylophone bar or other tuned instrument or voice; e.g., C, C#, D, etc. 2. The tuning standard or reference used for tuning an instrument; e.g., if an instrument is tuned to A=435 hz, the note A above middle C plays at 435 vibrations per second. 3. The octave at which a rank of pipes is connected to a manual in a pipe organ. Middle C on the keyboard plays middle C on a rank of pipes at 8′ pitch; the same key plays C one octave below on a rank at 16′ pitch, or one octave above at 4’4. The octave at which a rank of pipes is tuned in an organ or orchestrion. In an orchestrion, pipes tuned to 8′ pitch speak the same notes as the piano notes to which they are connected. Pipes at 4′ pitch speak an octave higher, at 16′ pitch, an octave lower, etc. In a fairground organ, for example, the melody division violin pipes play at 8′ pitch, and the melody unda maris pipes at 16′ pitch (an octave lower). The countermelody cello, baritone, or saxophone speak at 8′ pitch, and the vox celeste pipes at 4′ pitch (an octave higher). Most Weber Otero and Seeburg G orchestrions include a rank of 4′ harmonic flutes or piccolos, adding a bright, cheerful sound to the music.


Wood strip pinned with a music arrangement, used to play the DeBain mechanical piano.

platform movement

A small musical movement used in some 18th and 19th century watches and other small items. The pins are arranged in sequence on the surface of a disc or platform. Separate steel teeth are arranged around the periphery and are plucked by the projections on the disc. Synonym: Sur plateau.


To operate; to commence producing music. Sometimes seen in notations as replay, marche avant, or the confusing term reverse. In a rewind music roll system the term play refers to the function which returns the roll to the playing direction when rewind is completed.

player organ

Player pipe or reed organ. An organ which is played automatically by a paper roll or other system.

player piano

1. Foot-pumped (usually) upright or grand piano with the pneumatic mechanisms built into the case (in contrast to the push-up piano player, a device which contains the player mechanisms in a separate cabinet which is placed in front of the keyboard). Made for home use. Uses 65-note (early models) rolls or 73-note (early European models) or 88-note (universally used after 1908) rolls. Hundreds of different makes were produced during the early 20th century. * Synonym: inner-player (early usage). 2. Any type piano which uses a paper roll. Collectors designate roll-operated instruments by specific terms, including player piano (foot-pumped type), coin piano, orchestrion, etc.

plerodiénique box

Cylinder music box with the cylinder made in two parts, each of which shifts laterally outward from the center at a different time to provide continuous music during the normal tune-changing process.

pneumatic action

The suction- or air-operated series of pouches, valves, and other devices used to sense the paper roll (or music book, paper strip, etc.) and cause an instrument to play automatically. Definition sometimes used to include auxiliary systems as well: pump, blower, reservoir, etc.

pneumatic stack

A series of air-actuated pouches, valves, and bellows, especially in a piano or orchestrion, built as a coordinated unit and used to play a piano action automatically.

pneumatic system

Complete system, including tracker bar (or key frame or other sensing mechanism), pump, reservoir, pneumatic stack, wind chest, etc. of an automatic musical instrument which utilizes wind pressure or suction (or a combination of both) to operate the player mechanisms.


1. Adjective describing a musical instrument which is operated automatically by the action of wind pressure or suction (as opposed to mechanical). 2. Small bellows, especially one used in a pneumatic stack.

polytype box

A cylinder musical box with multiple arrangements pinned onto the cylinder. One type was a revolver movement that had a separate comb and bedplate for each cylinder and was like several complete music boxes in a single case. The other was a more conventional box with the airs arranged in different styles, e.g., sublime harmony, tremolo zither, etc.


The classical term used to describe a portable, hand-cranked barrel organ or similar instruments.


A person who sets the comb to the cylinder. Also known as a setter.


The lower adjustable bearing for the endless screw in the governor. The potence holds the lower pivot of the endless screw and, by means of the regulating screw, allows the proper depthing of the endless screw to the second wheel.


A unit of length approximately 1.066 inches used to measure the length of cylinders on a music box.


In a pneumatic action, a flexible diaphragm (made of thin leather or other material) which, when one face is acted upon by air pressure or suction, causes a valve or key to operate. * Synonym: puff (mainly European usage).

pressure bar

In a disc music box, the bar which by means of hold-down wheels holds the disc against the star wheels when in the playing position. See hold-down arm.

prestant pipe

Short diapason-like pipe in band organs and pipe organs, sometimes mounted on the front of the facade. Plays with a bright string-like tone.


The scoring of the cylinder for a musical box which precedes the drilling of the cylinder for the pinning of the musical program. Synonym: piquage.

production master roll

Finished master roll, ready to use on a roll-duplicating perforator, as opposed to an incomplete master roll which is used in the preparation of a production master. An incomplete master sometimes has only the introduction, one verse, one chorus, and the ending. From this, a production master having repeated choruses is made.

program card

Card with list of tunes giving the program of a music box, coin piano, orchestrion, etc. * Synonym: tune card.


Term used to describe the protruding studs on the underside of a music box disc. Made by forming metal displaced by partially perforating the disc surface.


(mainly European usage.) Facade or front, esp. of a fairground organ or dance organ.


1. Bellows-operated device used to provide suction or wind pressure to operate an automatic musical instrument. 2. Tracker barUsually a hand-held device which produces suction by means of a piston in a cylinder. Used to clean lint and dirt from the tracker bar, tubing, and bleeds.

push-up piano player

A cabinet-style device which contains pneumatic mechanisms and which is pushed up to the piano keyboard in order to play the piano automatically via paper rolls. Usually foot-pumped. * Synonym: cabinet player. * German: Vorsetzer.


Cylinder music box in which the music is arranged with four distinct musical parts. Many quatuor boxes have four separate combs.

quintadenta pipe

A stopped metal flute pipe which produces a third harmonic which is nearly as loud as the fundamental. Widely used in mortuary organs, photoplayers, pipe organs, and very large European orchestrions.

rank of pipes

Single row of pipes, arranged in musical order and of the same type or tonal character. Sections of a single rank may be given individual names. For example, a single rank of violin pipes may be called violin, viola, and violoncello, violin pertaining to the treble part, viola to the middle range, and violoncello to the bass. In orchestrion and organ nomenclature a listing of such terms usually does not correspond to the actual number of ranks of pipes in the instrument. Note: do not confuse with register. A register is a device for controlling one or more ranks of pipes or even a portion of a single rank.


A stepping mechanism consisting of a gear and a spring-loaded lever (pawl) that allows movement in only one direction. A necessary part of a spring-wound mechanism.


The scoring of pins too close together which keeps the damper from operating properly when the cylinder pins strike the dampers in succession.


1a. Pipe rank found in the melody division of many Mortier and Decap dance organs, with tapered wooden resonators and beating reeds. Some examples have an opening in the front and a wooden cap over the top. The term is an abbreviation of “Cornet à piston,” another name for the cornet used in modern bands. The piston rank has a less brilliant tone than that of the curved brass trumpet rank found in many Wurlitzer band organs, just as the hand-played cornet is mellower than the trumpet used in bands and orchestras. 1b. Large reed pipes with brass resonators found in the countermelody division of 98-key Gavioli organs. 2. One of several buttons in rows between the manuals of a pipe organ console, or toe studs near the pedals, which actuate combinations of ranks that may be preset by the organist. These facilitate rapid changing of several or many stops at once, saving the organist from flipping numerous stop tabs when a change of registration is desired.

pit organ

See photoplayer. So-called due to its placement in the orchestra pit of a theatre.


1. Vibrating metal tongue which produces sound in a harmonium or reed organ. 2. Type of organ pipe: 2a. Free reed: a metal tongue which moves in and out of its aperture (called a shallot) freely as it vibrates. Used in reed organs and harmoniums, organettes, and in certain types of organ pipes, especially those of soft or medium voicing. 2b. Beating reed: a carefully curved (according to principles of voicing) tongue covers the shallot opening (but is too large to enter it) and then springs back again as it vibrates. Mainly used for loudly-voiced pipes.


Control for turning one or more ranks of pipes, piano, percussion instruments such as xylophones and bells, or other effects on and off in an organ or automatic instrument. * Synonyms: stop, organ stop.

registration stud pin

The threaded pin that protrudes from the end cap of a musical box cylinder and rests against the snail cam. Turning the pin allows for fine adjustment of the cylinder position in order to align the registration marks with the tips of the comb teeth.


The selection of stops to be used while playing a pipe organ.

reproducing piano

Automatically-played piano which, by means of special rolls, re-enacts a recording artist’s performance, including different levels of intensity (independently controlled for bass and treble sections of the keyboard) in addition to the musical notes and the pedal action. Distinguished from an expression (or semi-reproducing) piano by having multiple intensity levels. Rolls, called reproducing piano rolls or artists’ rolls, are made from master rolls produced on a special recording piano which, with the help of a talented music editor, captures the nuances, idiosyncrasies of techniques, and the attack of the performing pianist The result is a very realistic performance when a reproducing piano is properly restored and regulated. Reproducing pianos were made in upright, grand, spinet, and cabinet (keyboardless) styles. Leading types produced c. 1905-1930 were Ampico, Duo-Art, and Welte-Mignon. Certain large orchestrions (e.g., the Hupfeld Pan Orchestra) incorporated reproducing type mechanisms. * Synonyms (used years ago, not by collectors today): artistic piano, re-enacting piano, master-playing piano, recording piano, reperforming piano. Note: In original advertising such terms as "artistic" and "uses artists’ rolls" were often used to describe regular (non-reproducing) types of automatic pianos.

reproducing pipe organ

Pipe organ which uses rolls recorded by organists and incorporating expression effects. The Aeolian Duo-Art Organ and the Welte Philharmonic Organ are examples.


Spring-loaded bellows for storing or for storing and regulating the wind supply from a pressure pump or the suction supply from a vacuum pump.

residence organ

Pipe organ made for residential use, often softly voiced.


The wooden or brass body of an organ pipe. Misnomer for tuning weights in musical boxes.


1. Rewind (also listed in this Glossary). 2. In twin-tracker instruments (such as the Nelson-Wiggen Selector Duplex Organ and the Empress Twin Tracker Solo Expression Piano) in which a double-wide roll has half the tunes perforated in one direction and the other half in the opposite direction, reverse actuates the mechanism which reverses the direction of the roll after the tunes on one side are finished, and switches over to the other half of the tracker bar.

revolver box

Cylinder music box with three or more cylinders affixed to end plates which are mounted on a common shaft, in a "Ferris wheel" arrangement. The cylinders, each of which has several tunes on it, can be changed by rotating the entire assembly so that another cylinder is brought into playing position.

rewind roll

Standard and most-used type of paper roll for pianos, organs, and orchestrions. Wound on a spool. The end tab of the roll is attached to a take-up spool, which pulls the roll over a tracker bar as it plays. When the performance ends, the roll is rewound on the original spool. When rewinding is completed, the same performance can be heard again, or the roll can be exchanged with another. See endless roll.


When a rewind roll reaches the end of the playing notes, a special rewind (or reroll) perforation causes the roll frame to shift to the rewind position. The pneumatic mechanisms which actuate the playing notes are disengaged so that no notes will be played while the roll is rewinding. Rewinding is done at high speed. When the leader of the roll reaches the tracker bar, a rewind-to-play hole in the tracker bar (or, in some instruments, a mechanical device fitted to the take-up spool) actuates a mechanism which shifts the roll frame from rewind to forward. The roll is then ready to play another performance or to be taken from the instrument. * Synonym: reverse. * Dutch: terugspoelen. * French: retour. * German: Rückrollen, zurück, zurückrollen.