Player Piano Roll Reproductions

By Kim Bunker

In the late 1800's, early devices called "push-ups" or Vorsettzer were invented which, when rolled into place in front of most any piano, would "play" the piano by means of a row of felt-covered fingers hanging out its back side. The device was vacuum operated and depended upon rolls of paper punched with holes to provide the music.

In the early 1900's, the vacuum operated mechanism was sufficiently miniaturized to be shoehorned into the case of upright pianos with deepened cases. These early version for the most part, with full 88 note scale for human playing, "played" only 65 of the 88 notes. About 1912, the full scale 88 note player mechanism emerged as a general industry standard.

In the mid 1910, a few player pianos emerged, most in grand form, capable of reproducing the expression and intent of the original recording artist. Many of the legend masters of the piano recorded for this instrument. At the time, it was simply a normal business transaction. However, these early recording have had the effect of preserving for all time the artistry of these unique people.

In all cases, these pianos depended upon the presence of paper music rolls punched with holes. These rolls were the records of the day, later replaced by disks, later replaced by wire recordings, later replaced by disks in variety of evolutionary formats, later replaced by tape recordings in a variety of evolutionary formats, and eventually replaced by CD's and DVD's in today's market.

Only the paper music rolls make it possible today to hear a real piano played by the legendary masters. All other subsequent recordings were fundamentally simulations of the real performance. Unfortunately, the real player piano is still dependent upon the original paper music rolls. While the piano itself can be repeatedly restored into perpetuity, the original rolls cannot be restored. Time is their fatal enemy. All of the original paper music rolls will eventually become un-useable as they deteriorate over time as the picture examples (see the example in the picture).

One format that is at least going to survive for as long as we can predict is the midi-format. Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, is an industry-standard electronic communications protocol that defines each musical note or event in an electronic musical instrument or show device such as a synthesizer, precisely and concisely, allowing electronic musical instruments, computers and other show equipment to exchange data in real time. MIDI does not transmit audio—it simply transmits real time digital data providing information such as the type and intensity of the musical notes and technical cues played during a performance.

Not only makes this technique it possible to reproduce the piano roll recordings by the old masters, it also makes it possible to listen the old masters with perfect sound quality!


Player Piano Restoration

Here are some of the items and definitions to consider in a piano restoration in order of the process. (by Kim Bunker)

1) Teardown - The piano is completely disassembled including Strings, plate, block, pins, action are removed.

2) Case Stripping - After the moisture content is brought down, the piano and all its case parts are thoroughly stripped and prepared to accept primer and the final finish coat.

3) Light Wood Sanding - Pianos that have slight indentations, cracks, worn edges / corners and other imperfections need to have fill ins and repairs to correct these flaws, making for a flat surface ready for primer and finish.

4) Plate Stripping - Cracks and verification of structural stability needs to be considered. Usually the plate is completely stripped and prepared for primer and painting.

5) Case Primer - Like many surfaces, there needs to be a rough layer on the case, in order to accept the multiple coats of lacquer and finish applied to the piano. Usually all case parts are coated with a special primer designed to accept the finish properly.

6) Case Refinished - The best quality finishing materials are lacquer, polyurethane and polyester. Usually you can pick the final finish color based on the veneer’s grain and style.

7) Plate Primed - This step is important for continutity in the restoration process. The plate must be primed in order to accept the final color and lacquer finish.

8) New Pin Block and Pins - Each piano should get a new pinblock cut specifically for the piano that meets original factory specifications.

9) Bridges / Bridge Repair - The bridge is one of the most essential elements of good piano tone. Each bridge should be inspected and either repaired or replaced to original factory specifications (if not already in excellent shape)

10) Soundboard Repair - Each soundboard should be inspected for crown and condition wear, such as any visible seams or cracks.

11) Strings - The piano should get a whole new set of strings including treble and bass strings.

12) Action Parts - Action part replacement is based on a case-by-case basis.

13) Hammers, Shanks and Flanges : The piano should receive a new set that meet original factory specifications.

14) New Key tops - Depending on the condition of the key tops, you might want to consider replacement to avoid chipping.

15) Bushings - You need to consider replacing key and action bushings,unless they are deemed in excellent shape.

16) New or Refinished Hardware - Be careful to decide ahead of time to match the authentic style, or to just replace. Usually hardware can be finished to the look fo the piano.

17) Logo or Label Replacement - Usually a final touch to the rebuild is applying the soundboard and fallboard logos and serial numbers to the action and plate.

18) Tuning, Tone and Voicing - Tuning should be done several times during the process. In addition to a basic chip tuning when the strings are installed, each piano will be tuned at least 4 times and thoroughly voiced.


Taking Care of your Piano by Alex

Alex tell us (from here )

Mind where to place it

A popular place to nest a piano (especially an upright piano) is somewhere against an outside wall or a window. However, mind you that your piano’s innards are made of steel which can corrode when exposed to dampness. Steer it clear from vases and plants. Liquid can also ruin the finish.

Keep it out of the weather

Aside from keeping it dry, be careful not to place it anywhere where it’s exposed to changes in temperature. Wood may also get warped in the cooling and heating process. Warping can greatly affect the sound quality of an instrument, especially a wooden one.

Humidity can also affect the piano. Exposure to constant humidity changes can cause the wood to crack and joints to come loose.

Have a piano technician do the repairs

If ever your piano gets minor damages or is simply out of tune, get i touch with a piano technician. During a routine visit, the piano technician doesn’t only tune the piano, he also checks the overall condition. Sometimes corrosion may have gotten the best of your pianos innards. The technician will definitely suggest appropriate repairs to get your piano back to pristine condition.