The ordinary player-piano has only one basic function, that of striking the notes. The reproducing piano added the ability to recreate the touch of the Artist, the shadings, the nuances, of the original recording - all the expression characteristics, and making the difference between purely mechanical sounds and true artistry. The paper roll was obliged, therefore, to include extra perforations which carried the "_expression information" in coded form. These codes, which bear a resemblance to the language of modern computers, were either captured at the time of the initial recording or added later in an editing process. The reproducing piano was equipped with apparatus to "read" these _expression holes and to reconstruct the exact _expression of a piece while other holes played the notes. Today, when we hear the words "digitally enhanced," we think of a highly-sophisticated disc electronic sound system replete with elaborate and costly loudspeakers, a magnificent cabinetry tailored to fit properly into one's home and all backed up by extensive marketing and advertising by numerous manufacturers.

One wonders how anything could possibly sound finer. Yet to many, the true ultimate in "digital piano" occurred when the reproducing piano reigned supreme in its ability to re-create "live" the performances of great keyboard artists right in the home.

The American Piano Company introduced its device to the market and called it the Ampico. It was based on the designs of an eccentric mechanical genius, one Charles Fuller Stoddard. Stoddard, whose home was a maze of newfangled contraptions of his own design, spent the last few years of his life entertaining the world's greatest piano virtuosos who would record on his unique Ampico recording piano. Ampico reproducing systems were eventually installed in such fine pianos as the Mason & Hamlin, the Knabe, the Chickering, the Beale in Australia, and the Willis in Canada.

In the mid-twenties, the Ampico Corporation engaged a scientist, Dr. Clarence Hickman, to completely re-engineer the Ampico reproducing system and roll making process. His work resulted in the so-called "Model B" Ampico pianos which represented the highest possible standards of technology available at the time. Hickman developed the famous "spark chronograph" method of capturing _expression characteristics of individual pianists and today, the "Model B" Ampico pianos are in great demand by collectors, and at prices that go right through the roof, $100,000 to $200,000 in mint condition. Hickman recognized that the best way to measure _expression is in terms of the energy imparted directly to the piano strings by the piano's hammers. He devised a scheme by which the velocity, and hence the energy, of each hammer could be measured just prior to hitting the string. This information was then directed to a recording device and the coded _expression holes were adapted directly to the master production roll. Hickman was also a renowned expert on explosives, and he is responsible for the development of the tank-busting recoilless rifle, the "bazooka," which helped the United States secure victory in World War II. The bazooka is named after still another musical instrument, but that's another story.

The Ampico received the highest endorsement of artists and musical critics throughout the world and demonstrated its ability to reenact perfectly the artists playing in comparison concerts in which it demonstrated side by side with the actual playing of the living pianist, Godowsky, Rubinstein, Dobitaityi, firovitch, Ornstein, Levitzki, Moisciwitsch and many other great pianists have submitted their playing to this supreme test with triumphant results for the Ampico. In addition to playing the artists' record music rolls the Ampico may be operated with any standard 88-note music roll to which the operator imparts his own interpretation and the instrument may be played manually the same as any upright or grand. in using the artists' record music rolls the Ampico is operated with an electric motor which obviates the necessity of pumping or effort of any kind on the part of the operator. The Ampico may be had in the world-famous Chickering, Haines Bros., Marshall & Wendell, Franklin, Fischer and the celebrated Knabe pianos and for Canadian distribution also in the Willis pianos.


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