Whatís in the big box???

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As many of you know Iíve long thought about and planned construction of a large replica Gavioli fairground organ. This spring the opportunity to own a ďrealĒ antique Gavi came along and provided the chance to not only have the real deal, but to have it years sooner than would have been possible with new construction. (As Iíve noted to some, Iíve recently made the shocking discovery that Iím actually getting older at a rate approximating one year per year!)

Iím extraordinarily pleased to announce the acquisition and restoration of the ex-Screetonís 89 key VB Gavioli, henceforth to be known as The Diamond Jubilee Organ. The organ was purchased following a notice of its availability on iMOD and has been expertly restored by Andrew Whitehead with the very able assistance of Brian Wells and Dave Heritage.

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The organ has not played since the late 1960ís or early 1970ís, and has been in parts since then, with a partially completed organ rebuild, a largely repainted faÁade by James Tiller, and the case apparently left out in the weather. When it was offered for sale Andrew and I inspected it and determined that it was substantially complete and, case notwithstanding, in very good condition.

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Sadly the main bellows must have gone with the original case, so it will play using the centrifugal blower that came with it. Once the deal was complete Andrew and Brian transported the organ to Brianís shop in Banbury and the restoration was underway.

It was decided that although the leather was unused since installation 40 years ago it was probably not to be trusted, and so a complete overhaul was undertaken. The side cases were a total loss (with the picture completed when someone sawed them in half!)

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except for use as templates, and the main case had been replaced by a plywood box. Brian and Dave built a replica case based on Brianís Gavi, complete with French Walnut veneer.

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The conversion from 87 to 89 key was probably done in a rush in the field, and indeed was not complete. The saxophones were not controlled by register key and the rank of flue pipes in the baritone was missing. The baritones had been pasted on the front, using the large front picture to make a sort-of box to hold the pipes. All of this was corrected during the rebuilding.

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In order to be able to restore the glock that had possibly once been on the organ we determined to relocate the baritone pipes to the drum cases and make a new shelf extension for the front, similar to many other Gavioliís. (Whether or not this instrument has ever previously had a glock is open to question. A reliable historian says no, but appropriate mounting holes were found to be present on the shelf.

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Although the drum hardware was there, the drums were gone, so Andrew arranged to have new replica brass drums made. These are just a work of art!
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The original keyframe had been mounted in the center of the back of the organ, the keyframe now with the organ is probably not original to the organ, though from the number of different mounting holes perforating it like Swiss cheese

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it undoubtedly has its own storied history. For the moment the organ will play exclusively from the keyframe with a new library of music provided by Andrew and Joan Whitehead, though, as my intention is to play the organ commercially at fairs and events across the country most often as a one-man operation, I will likely construct a non-disruptive MIDI interface for it.

There is work yet to be done before taking it out onto the road. The organ spent the parts of its first working life that we know about in the centers of rides, and so came to me with a very compact design. My uses require a somewhat more flamboyant display, the organ will be a stand-alone attraction at fairs and festivals, so I am building an additional set of flanking side chests that will be purely decorative, and we will be adding a proscenium to the top of the organ to increase itís total height to ~11 ft.

The figures were no longer with the organ, and we are working on replacements. The new side cases will create spots appropriate for a couple of bell ringers, There is a new glock that is being made for it, that will be installed at a later date. Discussions are under way for building a suitable display trailer that will include a hydraulic lifting roof and amenities ranging from air suspension, a generator, and GPS locator security system to my espresso machine. (Donít worry, my wife will insist on a tea kettle as well Ė itís the least I can do for such a wonderful, understanding person!)

I plan on writing up pretty much everything that I can gather about this organ for the COAA Journal, if any of you know its history prior to the 1940ís or have any pictures of it ďat workĒ, I would be most appreciative. Iíve gotten a great narrative of itís history from Philip Upchurch, including recordings he made in the Ď60ís, and have a couple of pictures of it in the Chiappa shop from the 1950ís. Any additions will get my profuse thanks and all appropriate acknowledgment of the contribution.

It is indeed a privilege and honor to be the custodian of this piece of history for a while. I think we have done well by it in the restoration process so far. Iím about bursting with excitement waiting for it to arrive here and to hear it sing live for the first time. Listening over the phone, as it played its first book in 40 years (the day before the packers arrived!) was amazing, I canít wait to hear it live. Sound clips will be coming just as soon as I can manage it.

A huge thanks to the restoration team:
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                                     Andrew Whitehead   ---   Dave Heritage   ---   Brian Wells