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Solving Calcutta Harmonium Issues

Getting Inside a Calcutta Harmonium

Remove the two screws shown in the picture along with the decorative cover.

Depending on the design, you may have to remove a block on each side of the keyboard. 

Your harmonium should then look like the picture below.

Note the two white angled handles at the back. These hold the keyboard in place. Turn then inward then you should be able to pull the keyboard up and back towards you to access the interior of the unit. 

Scale Changer Harmonium Disassembly

When you open the top, you will see the stops (the white squares) for the two reed banks, and in this case, five drone stops. 

The manifold channeling air from the rear bellows to the lower bellows is the curved wood piece to the right of center in the back.

(Note that the keyboard has been removed from this unit.)  

Scale Changer Harmonium Stops and Drones

Calcutta Keyboards

Calcutta Harmonium
Scale Changer Harmonium Keyboard Components

Calcutta harmoniums have a unique set of  maintenance issues. The keyboard mechanism is more complicated on scale-changer keyboards. The keys pivot on small pins with the far end underneath a separate 'lifter' that, when a key is pressed, allows air to flow over the associated reeds for that note. The left picture above show the keys and lifters in the proper position while the picture on the right shows the keys above the lifters, which is not the correct position for playing.


Keyboard Adjustments

Calcutta harmoniums have small screws on the end of each key and lifter lever. The key screws adjusts the key arm so that each key caps is at the same level. If this screw is tightened too much, it can cause the lifter to rise up and that the reeds will sound even when the key is not pressed. This is when the screw at the end of the lifter needs to be adjusted. 

We need to adjust the tension between each lever to minimize key bounce while also insuring the lifter fully seals the reed holes when the key is not pressed. 

Tightening the small screw on the end of the key arm lifts the far end of the key and will decrease the gap between the key end and the lifter. This raises the playing portion (key cap) of the key. Loosening this screw will lower the key cap and increase the gap between the key end and the lifter. 

Once all the keys are level, then check for any leaky keys. Open the stops and place a weight (a 9 volt battery on its side works nicely) on the highest key so it is pressed down then start pumping the bellows. You should only hear the notes from the depressed key.

If all is good, then move the weight to the next lowest key and make sure the highest key is not leaky. If the note is sounding when the key is not pressed, turn the lifter screw counter-clockwise to apply more force to the lifter and stop any leaking. Don't turn it too far or the screw might come out. Turning the adjustment screw on the lifter clockwise raises the end under the key up and reduces the key bounce.

Key Bounce

Press each key down while pumping the bellows and let the key release. Don’t “slap” the key, just press and gently release. The note should stop fairly quickly and the key shouldn’t bounce. If it bounces a lot, then the spring on that key needs to be adjusted. Some bounce is normal. This is not an easy task so you may want to leave it to me or another repair person.  

The picture below shows the locations of the pivot pin slots and also the keys and lifters. The horizontal pins are not visible.

Scale Changer Harmonium Keyboard

Calcutta Style Keyboard Action

Scale Changer Harmonium Key

A single key showing the pivot pin

Each key is mounted by pressing the key into a cutout, aligning the pivot pin with a narrow slot and gently pressing down.

Scale Changer Lifter Springs

The picture on the right shows the lifter from the side. There wasn't much room to put my phone in for the picture so it's out of focus. Sorry. The wire spring is secured behind the board in the left of the picture. The other end of the spring rests in a groove on the underside of the lifter which holds the spring in place (usually). This keeps the lifter pressed down when the associated key is not being played. The bottom of the lifter has felt pads on the bottom side which seal the reed holes.

Scale Changer Harmonium Reed Lifter

The two pictures below show the front end of the spring resting in the slot of the lifter. This is a very stiff spring, and it if falls out of the slot, it is tricky to get back in. I have found tweezers help along with a small hook made from a large paperclip. 

Scale Changer Harmonium Reed Lifter Spring
Scale Changer Harmonium Reed Lifter Spring

The picture on the right shows the lifters from the top and the back end of the springs, which are secured by a screw with a cup washer. This part of the harmonium is usually covered with a decorative piece of wood that has to be removed. Tightening the screw can also apply more force to the lifter to keep it from sounding when a key is not pressed.

Be careful not to loosen the screw too much or it may come out, and is very tricky to put in again.  If you have to remove a spring, you remove the screw, then pull the spring out from the back.

If there is a gap between the keyboard tray and the back of the case, I suggest you cover that gap to prevent any parts from dropping inside the harmonium.

Calcutta Coupler Mechanisims
The coupler mechanism on Calcutta style harmoniums is in some ways even worse than on the Delhi style units. Many things can go wrong.
Click here to see the page on Calcutta couplers.

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