Player system installations... nope

Posted by: David, Las Vegas

Player system installations... nope - 03/28/13 01:01 AM

I have been installing player systems for 15+ years. After the whole mortgage debacle and economic collapse my installs has stopped almost completely. I used to do 2 to 4 a month and now I'm doing 2 to 4 a year if I'm lucky. I know the cost scares a lot of people but never used to before 2005. I'm wondering if the addition of a player system has lost it's appeal. The installs were nice clean shop work that is sorely missed now. I do all aspects of piano service and repair but really would like to see player systems make a come back. PianoDisc and Live Performance LX are the most popular brands with the LX being the best playback I've experienced. Anyone else experiencing this trend? I hope this doesn't last because the player piano has entertained folks for over 100 years.
Posted by: R_B

Re: Player system installations... nope - 03/28/13 01:35 PM

I think the trend has passed.
Generations, nostalgia, alternatives in entertainment/pastimes/lifestyle, etc.
What grandparents did & had is about the limit of "within living memory" and I think the boomers are the last generation to have experienced player pianos in their youth - and have any nostalgic desire to recapture them...
BICBW, and often I am.
Posted by: Mark Fontana

Re: Player system installations... nope - 04/18/13 05:31 PM

The declining popularity of personal music-making and the de-funding of music education will probably keep the long-term outlook for player systems (and pianos in general) pretty bleak among the bottom 90% of the income spectrum.

But luxury spending is still quite healthy at the top. Some new approaches to marketing player systems are needed. Maybe placing LX-equipped pianos in audiophile/home theater boutiques would help introduce potential buyers to this technology. A live performance in your home could be the next tier in sound quality after buying $20K speakers and tube amps. Instruments could also be demonstrated at luxury home shows etc. where they would be seen by large numbers of people.

Very few of my tech-savvy co-workers have heard of solenoid-driven player pianos, so clearly we need to get the word out that these systems even exist.
Posted by: wouter79

Re: Player system installations... nope - 06/14/13 08:40 AM

I can think of a few more reasons
* current artists don't record anymore on roll (or do they?)
* hifi is much better than in the past and you can hear recordings of current artists there
* modern music uses less and less piano
* many people are satisfied with hifi for piano music. Consider the rising number of people that like DPs.
Posted by: SBP

Re: Player system installations... nope - 07/06/13 11:35 AM

Well, rolls have been dead since the '70s/'80s as far as manufacturing goes (there's still an active trade for recuts and good old rolls on the used market amongst collectors). However, I think the Pianodisc and PNOmation and other systems are just mis-marketed. Nobody wants a piano that plinks along to Michael Bublé or Adele. That's boring and stupid. However, a piano that can have other sounds playing along could be great for composers, classical music lovers, etc. Heck, I'd love to hear how my Legend of Zelda/Starfox/Metroid MIDIs would sound on one of these. A record feature is just brilliant and I've toyed around with putting one in my piano.

The other point is the price. $10K for a full player system is just ridiculous. The base model player pianos (entry level baby grands from Chinese manufacturers) are ~$15K. $15K could get you a very nice "straight" piano that is far superior in terms of touch and tone. If these installations were only about $1K-$5K, you would see far more people buying and/or installing these units.
Posted by: David, Las Vegas

Re: Player system installations... nope - 07/13/13 02:33 AM

Originally Posted By: SBP
Well, rolls have been dead since the '70s/'80s as far as manufacturing goes (there's still an active trade for recuts and good old rolls on the used market amongst collectors). However, I think the Pianodisc and PNOmation and other systems are just mis-marketed. Nobody wants a piano that plinks along to Michael Bublé or Adele. That's boring and stupid. However, a piano that can have other sounds playing along could be great for composers, classical music lovers, etc. Heck, I'd love to hear how my Legend of Zelda/Starfox/Metroid MIDIs would sound on one of these. A record feature is just brilliant and I've toyed around with putting one in my piano.

The other point is the price. $10K for a full player system is just ridiculous. The base model player pianos (entry level baby grands from Chinese manufacturers) are ~$15K. $15K could get you a very nice "straight" piano that is far superior in terms of touch and tone. If these installations were only about $1K-$5K, you would see far more people buying and/or installing these units.


I agree with your points. The music being peddled to the new owners has nothing to do with a quality piano performance. Yes, a lot of people want the Buble/Adele Ahhh music to impose a relaxed environment but the shine of the new toy is lost very fast for lack of expression harmonies in classical or other forms. The first song my son ever played with 2 hands was the theme from his Mario Nintendo game. Your absolutely right about mis marketed products. Also, the player technology hasn't changed in its basic mechanical form and has not lowered in cost compared to other technologies such as older cell phones or iPads that are still marketed as new but drop significantly in price. I have actually agreed to start installing PNOmation systems because those are the only ones selling out here now. I have avoided them in the past as I thought they were toys in comparison to systems like LX and Disklavier but they have somehow attracted buyers with their high tech products and the volumes of music included. I need the installations as they are quick and clean shop work and supplant shop services of rebuilding and repairing that have also diminished.
Posted by: SBP

Re: Player system installations... nope - 07/13/13 10:46 PM

Yeah, I agree. If I paid as much for my smartphone ($300) or Blu-ray player ($200) as my dad did for his cell phone or Betamax recorder in 1985 ($3300 & $800 in 1985 dollars respectively), those industries would be dead because nobody would want to pay thousands for a new smart phone or TiVo unit. That being said, the basic technologies of cell phones and video-players is constantly improving at an alarming rate, not to mention they're hot-commodities. For a player piano, the situation is different. While the medium has changed every few years, the basic technology to make the keys go up and down hasn't changed since the 1950s (Wurlitzer player pianos began using solenoids in the '50s), and the basic recording info (MIDI) hasn't changed since the 1980s. Using a MIDI-USB cable, I can plug my 2009 iMac into a 1985 Disklavier and still get more-or-less the same performance as I would on a modern Disklavier (assuming both are in perfect condition). That, and a piano is not a throw-away item like a cellphone. 99.9% of the people who own cellphones aren't using the same cell phone they were 5, let alone 10 years ago. 75% of the people who own/inherit pianos are probably still using the same piano they purchased 10, maybe 30 years ago.

A player piano is not nearly as big as it was in the '20s, or even the '60s. They aren't really marketed except the occasional ad in a trade magazine (not read by the average layman) or showcased in a dealership or restaurant. They have a connotation of being A) cheesy and kitschy, B) boring and stuffy, or C) useless & expensive. They don't have a following among piano owners/pianists, collectors, or anyone. Those who own player pianos tend to use them for a week or two and then neglect them for years, piano roll collectors regard them as "inferior" to the '20s reproducing pianos, and most other people just don't know they exist. Perhaps they'd get more sales at electronics stores like Best Buy (where they'd attract attention from home theater owners, the average modern musician, and/or other people who stroll on through) than at piano stores.
Posted by: StevenG

Re: Player system installations... nope - 08/05/13 07:44 PM

I am sure a lot of people would agree with you, but I still enjoy mine some every week. I know the playback is far from perfect, but still it is very enjoyable and in the end, isn't that what it should all be about for those of us that are not gifted enough to play it themselves?
Posted by: Colin Dunn

Re: Player system installations... nope - 10/09/13 03:51 PM


I'd actually like to get a modern solenoid player system. But at current prices, I'll probably find a used baby grand with a system already installed for about the same price as purchasing a retrofit system. That has to be hurting sales of new units.

I visited a player piano collectors' group. I don't think anyone there thinks the old roll-based systems are superior, but rather they are more nostalgic / collectible antiques. One member of this group has an LX-equipped grand piano, and everyone was impressed.

I think it does boil down to cost ($5K-$10K is a lot of money) and marketing. The companies that make player systems need to ramp up production volume and bring unit costs down. That would get them into more people's hands. They also need to appeal to a new generation. At 42, I was by far youngest person among those player piano enthusiasts. Judging from the age of people at this group (most were over 60), there won't even be anyone who can work on the roll players in 20-30 years. (Not to mention that restoring a roll player system can also cost $5K. That price will go up as fewer and fewer people are around to work on them.)

A lot of the people who buy digital pianos can run their MIDI files through that. When faced with the prospect of spending $2K-$5K for a digital vs. >$10K for an acoustic baby grand with player, I see why people will take the lower-cost option. But it's still not the same as a REAL piano playing itself.