The following article was taken from the introduction to the book "Rebuilding The Player Piano " by Larry Givens .
Time was in the United States when no home could really be considered complete without its player piano, From the early years of the Twentieth Century to the closing days of the Roaring Twenties, the player piano reigned supreme as the outstanding medium of home entertainment. Many were the parents who scrimped and saved so that their children might know of the finer things in life by having one of these marvelous instruments at their command.
During World War I when, as in all periods of crisis, intertainment of any variety was at a premium, the player piano neatly filled this bill by providing an easy means for wafting into the air such tunes as "Roses of Picardy," "My Buddy," "Over There," and "Goodbye Broadway, Hello France." And players helped entertain the boys, too - one well known battleship had six of them on board! And when the boys came back, every player owner felt obliged to rush to his music store for the lates release of "How You Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm --(after they've seen Paree?)"
The player was of course not limited to the homes of America. Enterprising men learned early in the game that the public would part with its nickels and dimes to hear these machines located in place of public entertainment, and thus a whole new industry--the nickelodeon business--was formed. No ice cream parlor, pool room, or speakeasy was worthy of public patronage unless standing there, replete with its gaudy stained glass front and repertory of latest hits of the day, was the coin operated piano or orchestrion waiting to grab the customers' nickels.
In the homes of the wealthy, for they were the only poeple who could afford their rather astronomical price tags, were the reproducing pianos--the players capable of exact re-enactment of the performances of the great artists of the day. At a time when the phonograph was barely capable of capturing and playing back squeaks and squawks, the re-producing piano was able to bring into the home magnificent performances from an actual instrument, right there on the spot, exactly as the artist intended.
With the tremendous advances in technology in recent years, this situation has of course changed. Modern electronic equipment has permitted every home to be a veritable music hall of the highest character. But for just plain fun, coupled with the nostalgia which Americans in their leisure hours are so fond of seeking, the player piano is simply unequalled.
Some Player Piano Questions & Answers
Q - I just purchased this Milton upright player piano. Some rolls work very well and others seem to be slightly misaligned. Are there any tips for correctly aligning the rolls before playing them?
A -There are three distinct possiblities but first a
short explanation. All Milton players have an automatic
tracking mechanism whose job it is to correct for
irregularities in the rolls. Good roll care is important
and all rolls should be 'knocked' towards the slotted
end before playing but the tracker is suppose to correct
for any misalignment.
First, and common, the tracker bar holes for the tracking
mechanism have become fouled with paper dust. Pumping out
the bar with a Tracker Bar Pump would solve the problem.
Second, and also common, the tracker bellows are getting
stiff with age and are reluctant to move quickly or at all.
In either case, the bellows must be replaced.
Third, the valves that control the tracker bellows are not
functioning correctly. There can be a number of reasons for
this problem and all involve the expertise of an experienced
player technician or well read (in the art of pneumatics)
owner.Q - Does a player piano need to be tuned differently from a normal piano? And can a normal piano tuner do it?
Is there any other regular maintenance required?
John A. Tuttle
A -The answer to your first question is easy.... NO!
Underneath every player piano is a regular piano and
all pianos are tuned in the same basic manner. However,
accessing the tuning pins sometimes requires the
removal of certain player mechanisms. This depends on
the player and there is no way to generalize the
procedures for the more than 300 different player
The answer to your second question has to do with the
experiences of the tuner. However, if a tuner feels
qualified to tune your make and model, I see no reason
to feel uneasy. The problem arises when the tuner isn't
really experienced enough and things go awry. It's not
likely he will have the parts, like tubing, that may be
required to return the unit to it's former playing
condition. This is especially true of units that have
not been tuned in many years.
Lastly, there are numerous minor adjustments and points
of lubrication that should be attended to on a yearly
basis. Here again, the number and type of adjustments
and lubrication points is so varied that it would not be
in anyones best interest to generalize. There is one
exception to this statement and that is the lubrication
of the foot pedal assembly. The pedals, where metal rubs
against metal, should be kept lubricated with a light oil
Understanding Player Piano Controls
Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina Player (Picture)
Wien - Technical Museum Vienna Great pictures of mechanical music instruments.
Digest: Picture Gallery
John A. Tuttle
Where to find Player Rolls .
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