Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Headstick Surgery

It is time to remove Chuck's former headstick. Bill DeMar, Chuck's ventriloquist, replaced a long time ago the headstick that Frank Marshall installed when he built Chuck. The original wooden headstick was deeply slotted to accept the several levers that control the mechanics. The dowel itself is naturally weakened by this modification, and, after many years of constant use in the steady and firm grip of master ventriloquist Bill Demar, the old headstick gave way and collapsed. Stuff breaks when you use it a lot. Where before he had a headstick he now had a handful of splinters.

Bill replaced the splintered headstick with a length of metal tube that he purchased from a hardware store. It looks like a leg from a patio chair. The tube is smaller in diameter than the original dowel, so Bill filled in around the neck hole with some kind of black, tar-like substance and padded the grip with various kinds of tape. The jaw control lever had no axle. Instead, it rotates on a length of wire wrapped around the stick. The two blinker levers travel on wire axles, with holes and a slot that Bill drilled into the metal headstick tube. The levers themselves seem to be the same kind of levers Marshall made from chopsticks.

To remove the old headstick, I cut it off flush at the base of the neck with a bandsaw. Then I chiseled out the part of the headstick that was still inside the head. Here is what is left of it now that it's out of the head. The brass tubing in the picture was for the eye control rod.

The inside of the neckhole was a mess with that filler substance still in there. It didn't bond with the basswood, though, and a few taps with the chisel cleaned it out. Bill had rounded out the ball-and-socket neck with more of that black stuff, which came off readily, too. Here's Chuck's neck with his newly cleaned out tracheotomy

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