C. H. Lang

Carl H. Lang (1866-1944), owner and founder of C. H. Lang Co., Chicago, was an inventor as well as a business owner, but he is mostly remembered as the first Harley Davidson motorcycle dealer, c. 1905, and he also held motorcycle patents. This company made a full line of piano tools.

Lang is posing with the work crew in in his shop. The poster in the foreground was drawn by Lang and shows many of his tools. This poster, reduced and included in the 1905 catalog, reveals that most all of Lang’s piano tools had reached their mature and final form by the end of the 1890s. Manually powered equipment predominates in this 1899 photo, although an electric motor is driving one machine, just to the left of the poster.

Thanks to David Abdalian, RPT, for generously lending me the 1905 Lang catalog, the 1917 and 1926 Lyon and Healy catalogs, and excerpts from the 1934 Tonk Bros. catalog. Now I can begin to fill in some missing information regarding Lang, and Lyon and Healy, who bought out Lang in 1914.

Lang trade advertisement (1906).

Lang tuning hammer no. 2, with C. H. Lang engraved twice, and detailing on the steel ferrule. The handle is made of ebonite (vulcanite), which is a natural rubber hardened by a process with sulfur.

The $10.75 Lang hammer no. 1, also ebonite; adjustable shaft is friction-fit within the internal tube, shown in the left photo. There is no set screw as in the first example.

USING LANG HAMMERS

Hammers made by Lang show attention to detail in both form and function. The few heads that I have used fit pins up to 2.0, although I’m fairly confident that there were larger special-ordered sockets made that would handle larger tuning pins. The hard rubber handles work well, if a bit clammy; they resist marring and do not require the care in handling necessary for a bored-out tropical hardwood handle. The Lang no. 2 hammer, with set screw, actually works better than the Lang no. 1 hammer shown above; the extension rod is held securely and does not rotate, like some extension hammers with only one set screw.

On Lang no. 1, the clutch works by drawing the internal tube towards the rear of the handle; the exposed rear portion of the brass internal tube is finely threaded, as is the internal part of the handle endpiece. When the handle endpiece is turned clockwise, it draws the the tube back, pulling the split collet along with it. This is the sharply beveled frontmost piece of the ferrule; it is actually a separate part placed right against the ferrule. On the rear, or hidden side, of this collet is a similarly shaped bevel which is mated to a sharply tapered hole in the front of the ferrule, compressing and closing the split collet, and securing the corrugated shaft from slipping. Placing fine threads inside the ‘hard’ rubber handle was the weak link to this design arrangement; pulling all this hardware aft was too much stress given the chosen material. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that replacement parts for this hammer were sold by Tonk Bros. (see bottom of this page) in 1934. But it also demonstrated that the Lang no. 1 was still sufficiently popular enough for further investment 20 years after Lang left pianos for motorcycles.

Despite the shortcomings of the Lang no. 1, on my example, the fluted extension rod is held fairly well, friction-fit within the split collet. It is still possible to tune a piano with the Lang no. 1 in its present condition, and I have done so, but I would not want to use it for an entire day. It is true that the tool is over 100 years old, but it’s also true that the hammer is not beat up or excessively worn out, as the pictures above show.

Lang tuning hammers were the most expensive product in the market, at $10.75 in 1905. Was it worth it? A rosewood Erlandsen or Mueller extension hammer including star tipped head cost no more than $7.00 at the time. Hale hammers were offered around $5.00 with a long head and star tip. $10.00 could buy a Hale tuning hammer set with three heads and six tips including the tip wrench. Perhaps the original price explains why the Lang nos. 1 and 2 hammers are not exactly rare, but uncommonly found in the wild. There are two reasons, I believe, why the Lang no 1 did not survive long-term, competing with the Hale hammer: in sum, the high price, and the inherent design issue described above.

“Ferrules of perfectly seamless steel.” This was a reference to Julius Erlandsen’s practice of rolling and seaming flat stock of German Silver to make his ferrules. His father, Napoleon, did not seam his; nevertheless, the seaming was of impeccable quality, and the German Silver, beautiful.

Heads could be custom-made, if needed.

The following offer was part of a ready-made toolkit. There is some general variation between the sizes of tuning pin sockets made during this period. It must have been standard practice in the trade to custom-machine tuning heads for the varying requirements of the tuners at the time.

C. H. Lang Chicago inscribed regulating tools with their original attached handles: fore/aft wire bender; upright spoon bender, key spacer; let-off adjuster.

C. H. Lang regulating and repair tools, for combination handle, with the exception of the key spacer at the top, which has the traditional tang for fitting into a handle:

Lang combination handles, hard rubber.

Handle shown in catalog.

Lang capstan wrench (pointed end) and key pin turning tool. Today, turning front rail pins is frowned upon.

L&H voicing tools, identical to Lang’s because the tooling was not changed. Hale adopted this style of voicing tool, enlarged it slightly, and added set screws for each of the four needles. This style was continued by Hale until the 1990s and variations of this design are still produced today.

1905 catalog.

Lang patent for a hammer extractor (by no means the genesis of this concept):

A selection of hammer extracting tools:

  • Top left: unmarked, probably Erlandsen. For grands.
  • Top right: Lang grand extractor
  • Lang, for uprights
  • Tuner’s Supply (Hale), upright
  • Hammershank clamp, upright
  • Hammacher Schlemmer, upright
  • Boston Tuner’s Outfit Co., upright

Lang’s description.

Lang also held patents for a key ivory clamp and a screwdriver holder, but there were precedents for those ideas as well.

C. H. Lang action wire bending pliers. A version of these has been copied and is still sold by Schaff Piano Supply in Chicago.

The example in this photo has curved handles instead of straight.

Lang tuning pin setter, used to drive tuning pins further into the pinblock.

Lang tuning pin setter, used to drive tuning pins further into the pinblock.

Lang hammershank knurling machine, mounted on block for placement in a bench vise, as found in the pianomaker Hornung estate sale in 1990.

The construction is heavily cast.

Lang pliers. Lang key easing pliers featured a swivel plate that moves in two axes.

Lang key easing pliers showing patent.

L&H easing pliers, similar to Lang’s, but larger and nickel plated.

This is the earliest that I’ve seen the combination of a coil lifter with string spacer, c. 1905.

Lang spring adjusters, with a tool to squeeze in between flanges and push centerpins that have walked out back in their respective flanges. No one ever does that, right?

Lang spring adjusters, with a tool to squeeze in between flanges and push centerpins that have walked out back in their respective flanges. No one ever does that, right?

L&H spring adjuster.

Music Trades Review, April, 1914.

Even in 1904, Lang had his sights set on a future with Harley Davidson. With no explanation, he put this early Harley on the back exterior cover of his 1905 piano supply catalog.

Early Harley Davidson catalog with Lang as representative working out of 35 E. Adams St.

In the 1920 US census, Carl H. Lang declared his profession as a motorcycle dealer.

Lyon and Healy’s motto was “everything in music.” They either sold or retailed just about any Western musical instrument in popular use during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They even made pipe organs. Lyon and Healy was also a major music publisher. As the years progressed, L&H began selling off its acquisitions and concentrated on what they did best, which was making one of the best harps in the world. Their style 23 harp introduced in 1890 is still being made today by a much smaller company.

Probably because Lyon and Healy had such a well recognized name, Lyon and Healy concealed the source of their piano tools; Lang’s name was removed from the tools as well as from their piano supply catalog. In 1928, after 14 years of owning the former Lang machine shop, L&H sold their piano supply division to Tonk Brothers Co. in Chicago. During the 1920s, L&H also sold their brass instrument division.

The Lyon and Healy piano factory in pastoral setting (?). Artistic license, I presume. The piano factory was on Fullerton Ave in Chicago after 1908. Before that, they branded other maker’s pianos.

L&H made a few minor changes to their line of tools. Most notably, their combination handles changed twice.

1917.

Lyon & Healy combination tool set. This first version was the only handle that bore any resemblance to the former Lang product.

Lyon & Healy combination tool set. This first version was the only handle that bore any resemblance to the former Lang product.

1926. This was the configuration that had become an industry standard by then.

Otherwise, 97% of Lang’s designs remained unchanged save for the signature.

Rocker capstan offset screwdriver.

Pin extractor.

Pin extractor.

Replacement parts were offered for repair and refurbishment of older, worn hammers.

The Tonk Brothers Company bought out Lyon and Healy’s piano supply division in 1928. Tonk Bros. Co., located at 623 South Wabash Ave. in Chicago, was a large musical instrument dealer and wholesaler, well established since the late 19th century. Tonk Bros. rehabilitated the Lang name, attributing credit to the original designer and maker. This was 20 years after Lang sold out to Lyon and Healy, and around 40 years after the tool was originally conceived. Here is the Lang No. 1 tuning hammer, as sold by Tonk Bros. in 1934

Tonk owned the business until 1947, when Continental Music took over. Schaff bought the business from Continental in 1955. A constant in all of this was Joe Kulicek, who was a manager at Lyon and Healy from the 1920s, through Tonk and Continental, and into the early days at Schaff with Bob Johnson, Jr. Joe Kulicek also manufactured a few piano tools of his own, including tuning hammers and hammer extractors. But it’s a mystery to me why his employers allowed him to do this. Thanks to David Abdalian for this timeline.

Joe Kulicek adjustable tuning hammer, with floating collet and one piece head, c. 1950. It appears to be the same tool as the early Schaff hammers.

Joe Kulicek adjustable tuning hammer, with floating collet and one piece head, c. 1950. It appears to be the same tool as the early Schaff hammers.

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