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Mills Violin Virtuoso

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Mills Violin Virtuoso
with the Mills Midi Unit

The best one I have ever seen, museum quality. This superior machine sounds as good as it looks. Look at the photos & video.

The The Violano Virtuoso is a self playing violin and automatic piano. The Violano is entirely automatic run by "electric lighting current," that's what electricity was called in those days. It operated on a nickel.

Unlike other automatic music machines, the Violano was not operated pneumatically via a paper roll, but was electromagnetically operated with electric motors and solenoids. As each violin string has a separate bow, two or more stings are played at the same time, thus giving the effect of a three or four piece stringed orchestra.

Mills bragged "so superior is the Violano to all other musical instruments that the U.S. government designated it as "One of the Eight Greatest Inventions of the Decade" and exhibited it at government expense at four of the greatest exposito9ns between 1910 and 1930."

Mills further advertised that the Violano did not have the brazen, brassy sound so commonly heard in all other mechanically operated instruments. "A conversation may be carried on at a table placed next to it and each word can be heard distinctly while the instrument is in operation. The music is so clear and pure that it will carry to all parts of the room and still will not annoy or interrupt those placed nearest to it."

This Violano has been enhanced because it has the Mills Novelty Company "midi unit" (later laptop version) along with the complete library of their music. Every song, over 5,000 of them!

The midi unit cost, custom installation of it, and the complete library of their music is worth at least 20,000 above and beyond the cost of the machine and restoration.

The Midi system is a laptop based Digital Player System for Violanos. It allows you from your laptop computer to:
•Select any of your songs and create a play list
•Organize the selections in any order of play
•Adjust the tempo to your liking
•Create, save and recall play lists
•No need to play several songs on the music roll, just to get to the one you wanted to hear
•Control your music machine remotely - no need to get up to change disks
•Automate shut off signals generated for instruments that require them
•General "cancel" signals generated for pipe organs and other instruments that require them
•Ability to start/stop the main blower and vac sources from your computer
•Ability to turn on and off the facade lights of the instrument from your computer
•Ability to download MIDI files directly from the internet

If you ever wanted an Oak Violano with a Midi unit, this is the one.

See more photos and a youtube video below. Also scroll down for a History of the Mill Violin Virtuoso.

Firm Price: SOLD

See video of Mills Violin Virtuoso

Click the > to play





More Photos






History of the Mills Violin Virtuoso

excerpted from Wikipedia

The main inventor of the Mills Violano-Virtuoso was Henry Konrad Sandell, a contemporary of Thomas Edison, who was born in about 1878. Henry Sandell arrived in the United States from Sweden at the age of about 10 in about 1888. He was granted his first United States patent on the mechanism at the age of 21, in about 1899 and put his proposals and patents before the Mills Novelty Company in about 1903.

Henry K. Sandell's patented 1905 contribution to self-playing violins. On 27 March 1905 Henry Sandell filed an application for a United States patent for an electric self playing violin. The patent was granted, as number 807,871, on 19 December 1905 and assigned to Mills Novelty Company.[30] This forerunner of the Violano-Virtuoso was known as the Automatic Virtuosa. It was marketed in 1905. At the time player pianos and mechanical coin-operated devices were extremely popular.[31]

Subsequently a piano mechanism was added to the violin mechanism, and the combination came to known as the Violano-Virtuoso.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office had a display of several significant inventions at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, Washington in 1909, including an early Violano-Virtuoso.[31] The company used this event to promote the Violano-Virtuoso as "Designated by the U.S. Government as one of the eight greatest inventions of the decade" on all subsequent machines.

The Violano-Virtuoso was not available to the public until 1911.[31] Technology used in the instrument was patented on 4 June 1912, under United States patents 1,028,495[32] and 1,028,496.[33] Early Violan-Virtuoso's have a glass divider between the violin mechanism and the piano mechanism. Machines with two violins are known as the De Luxe Model Violano-Virtuoso or the Double Mills.

In 1914 an instrument was made especially for the Smithsonian Institution.

Production seems to have finished in 1930.[31] Henry Sandell died in 1948, aged 70. By his death he had been granted over 300 patents, many for the technology used in the Violano-Virtuoso.

The exact number of machines produced is not known. Estimates are between 4,000 and 5,000.[31] Today, some sources estimate that only about 750 of the single machines and fewer than 100 of the Double Mills still exist, while other sources estimate that several thousand machines survive. However, the Violano-Virtuoso have the highest survival rate of any type of player piano; they required little maintenance when they were first produced and that is still the case for those that survive.

A common player piano operates pneumatically. The Violano-Virtuoso was all electric and all the moving parts were set in motion by electric motors or electromagnets. A company catalogue states that they ran on "any electric lighting current" and used "no more than one 16-candle power light." They were designed to operate on 110 volts direct current. In locations that had 110 volts alternating current (or other types of power supply) the instruments were used with a unique converter unit.

The violin had four strings, with an octave available on each string, and could reproduce 64 notes. All four strings could be played simultaneously. This allowed the possibility of four-part independent counterpoint. A vibrato could be produced.

The strings were played by small electric powered rollers, which were self-rosinating, and a chromatic set of metal 'fingers'. The violin had no finger board. A small metal "finger", activated by an electromagnet, rose from under the string lifting it in a "V" shaped slot thus stopping off the string. The strings were bowed by four small wheels made of discs of celluloid clamped together in a dish-shaped form. These applied just the right pressure to the strings and were driven by a variable-speed controlled motor. This and a mute allowed the volume of sound produced to be varied. The violin produced a full tone and was able to sound 1/2 note double stops at ragtime tempi. The staccato coil allowed the bows to leave the string a fraction of a second before the 'fingers'. The violin stayed in tune by a sophisticated array of tuning arms and weights. The vibrato was produced by using an electromagnet to shake the tail-piece of the violin.

The piano had 44 notes, half the number of keys found on a normal piano keyboard. It was played by regular hammers using a standard player piano action. The hammers were activated by electromagnets. The piano frame was made of iron, shaped like a shield, and symmetrically strung. The bass strings were at the centre of the frame and the treble strings radiated out to the edges from the centre. This arrangement distributed the string pressure more evenly across the frame and helped keep the piano in tune.[31]

The Violano-Virtuoso was coin-operated and its mechanism was capable of holding up to 15 coins. Some models were made for domestic use and did not have the coin mechanism.

The instrument used rolls of perforated paper. Most of the rolls had five tunes on them, the popular tunes of the day. Individual tunes could not be selected. Over time, the Mills Novelty Company produced approximately 3,121 different rolls. Each arrangement of a song was identified by a unique number. Some songs appear on more than one rolls. Attempts have been made to produce a complete "rollography" for the Violano-Virtuoso. A list has been produced that covers more than half of the different rolls that were ever produced. Rolls 1 to about 1000 and 1800 to 2500 are well documented. Information between rolls 1000 and 1800 is very sparse and it may be that these roll numbers were never used.

The Violano-Virtuoso was a heavy object. The first page of the Violano Virtuoso manual stated that to lift the instrument from the delivery wagon would need "3 good men".

The Violano Virtuoso was designed for public places, and can be considered to be a beautiful work of craftsmanship. The wooden cabinet in which the mechanism was housed could be oak or mahogany.


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Ken Durham
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