The Virtual Roll Player Interface
By Craig Brougher

       I promised I would write a product opinion piece about the Virtual Roll Player if I liked it and if I thought it was a suitable replacement for the E-roll Player (which always worked fine for me, but is unfortunately now extinct).

       As I recall, I installed 18 E-Roll Players. I had to remove one from a Steinway D/A (local instrument) that was having problems because a few of the valves in the E-Roll Player stopped sealing. I am not sure exactly why, except to say that while the first models were all done with silicone rubber valve facings and totally trouble-free, the late models were done with something else. I suppose it seemed like good stuff at the time, but didn't work out. The main problem with that interface was its incompatibility with different operating systems, and the problems I had with its programmable rom becoming random, again. It seemed to require very fast circuitry and hi-tech stuff. Player pianos in my view shouldn't require that.

       It is so very important for all developers of new electronic interfaces to understand one thing, and that is, reliability! If it isn't totally reliable, it'll kill 'ya! As tiny, individual developers, we have absolutely no ability to specify materials. A big company like Sears can do that. We can't. So the answer to the problem of control over quality is not to compromise, and to buy the very best of everything, because if we don't, we're gonna eat it! Saving $5/sheet on valve facings amounts to less than cent apiece! Not to say that was the reason for the valve leakage of course, because there are so many variables to consider, including suppliers themselves. We've all made mistakes in specifying supplies, but tolerances are some of the most difficult variables you will ever run into in the manufacturing business.

       Now I don't know how many other customers have run into the same problem as this local customer of mine, because I haven't received any more calls of disappointment, but unless I stay honest and admit to problems, then nobody is going to trust what I say. I am just grateful that I let the customer deal directly with the interface's inventor themselves, and I offered to merely install it and make it work. I hope that no one else has had a bad experience.

       It was then that I discovered Bob Hunt. Bob is an electrical engineer/player rebuilder, like myself. He's wonderfully easy to work with and appreciates the many possible problems with a newly designed product that might develop because he's dealt with it many times in his career. The difference between building a few dazzlingly successful prototypes versus hundreds or thousands of equally successful end products is like east versus west. Unless you've tried it, you have no conception, and overenthusiastic reactions to initial successes ultimately mean nothing. As long as you are still directly concerned with quality control, then you know exactly what I'm talking about when I say you're like a fireman-always on call, and continually putting out fires. Luckily, Bob and I speak the same language, and appreciate the importance of even the remotest warning, including little green men from Mars. There's no such thing that a product that has now "stabilized," and so all the problems have now been taken care of and we've fixed them all! Even if you are just making Cheerios and did it for 80 years, it takes a bunch of diligent engineers to keep everything tested and within tolerances. You'd be surprised how complex a task even that can be at times. If anything can possibly get screwed up, it will. Murphy's law is alive and well in the manufacturing business.

       Bob and I have doped out a few minor problems together already, and I suspect we'll keep doing it, but we kinda talk the same language. Still, from the very first unit that I ever received to this last one, his attention to detail has been gratifying. It's the kind of invention I would have loved to have figured out myself, but didn't. Simple, reliable, and maintainable is the most difficult thing to come up with.

       For instance, his power source is a tiny box that measures roughly 5" x 2" x 2". Very low amperage, and no fancy "4x on" circuit." That's it! And it's so overrated for the job that no player will ever even slightly tax it. The valves are covered with NASA developed space-age silicone material that will last forever and the power they require is so minimal regardless of the vacuum the piano is under that no heat is generated that one can notice at least, even after hours of constant playing. Another feature I like is the fact that the valve boards are not "daisy-chained-together" with multiple-conductor flat cable, because they are stacked as a unit. Each stack of boards are boxed up and a common cable then runs from each stack to the processor board (roughly speaking). Electrically they are paralleled, but you don't need to make it so physically. If you have never installed a system like this, you'll find it to be easier and neater than the need to hang each valve board on the same flat cable, regardless where each might be located. Electronically, it is also faster because of much wider timing latitude in clocking requirements, hence far fewer and much simpler solid-state devices.

       Bob also tells me that he has a wireless system now, however at this writing, it cannot be promised because of difficulty in getting components. I suspect that this is a procurement problem only, and hopefully just a matter of time, but we'll see.

       Regardless, I am very enthusiastic in the Virtual Roll Player. It is so easily worth the money, especially when considering the fact that the old rolls are ("virtually") gone, today. They are not available, nor will they ever be in any quantity, again. The old rolls are also tearing up at a prodigious rate. I used to have a huge roll collection, and have discovered that if I seldom play them again, I should have that same large collection forever. However, as soon as I start using them, regardless of the number I keep repairing (that is a constant exercise, too) I will soon have nothing left but the newest recuts because paper only lasts so long (in our part of the country) despite how good a shape they were in when I bought the collection. Those rolls can track perfectly and reroll perfectly, and yet still fray slightly each time I play them, until I cannot repair them anymore because the paper is very brittle.

       If a new owner is getting their player restored and yet has only an old roll collection to rely on, they are really wasting their money if they don't install the Virtual Roll Player at the same time. It is the quintessential Cadillac of electronic interfaces so far, and I am not exaggerating about that. I don't see how it could get much better than this system. I love its reliability, simplicity, and trouble-free ease of use, as well as the fact that Bob will preprogram the system for you before it arrives. I think you will like that, too. And any reproducer that can play rolls well can also benefit greatly with the combination of a Virtual Roll Player and Gene Gerety's gratis PC player software. Works great with Windows 7.

Craig Brougher

Fischer Ampico Upright

Early Ampico, 5'4"

Early Ampico, 5'8"

Steinway Duo-Art

I Don't..

This page was last revised on March 11, 2014

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