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Selling Player Piano Music Rolls Worldwide Selling Player Piano Music Rolls Worldwide

The following information was written by
Robbie Rhodes (visit his site) or send him a nice Letter (e- mail)

Player Pianos, Part 1:

Introduction & Manually- powered pianos

I define a "Player Piano" as a piano powered by foot-pedals or a hand-crank, and containing an added built-in mechanism which operates the piano keys in lieu of a human pianist. Previously arranged musical data, stored as holes in punched paper or pins in a cylinder, is read by a data reader mechanism which ultimately operates the piano hammers.

"Barrel Piano" or "Roller Piano" is the name for the earliest form of player piano. It is powered by a hand-crank and controlled by a pinned cylinder which resembles a biscuit roller the size of a tree trunk! The hammer velocity is constant in a barrel piano; the only operator control is the cranking speed, which determines the music speed.

The beloved "Pianola" or "Phonola" (both names are famous brands) was produced in great quantity from about 1905 until the late 1920s. The pneumatic mechanism is built-in, with a "data reader" for a perforated paper "music roll". The data reader has a speed governor with a "Tempo" knob for operator control of the music speed. Operating power is from foot pedals which pump a large vacuum bellows; the more vigorously that the pedals are pumped, the louder is the sound.

The sound of music rolls made for playing on a foot powered piano can be greatly enhanced by the additional nuances added by a skilled operator, who varies the foot-pump pressure and manipulates small hand-levers during the song in order to add accents and crescendos, etc.

"Themodist" and "Phonolist" are brand names of player pianos which have an additional simple mechanism to make sudden accents. The special music rolls have tiny holes added at each side called "theme perforations" or "snakebites". When these special rolls are skillfully foot-pumped they can produce very realistic musical performances.

Player Pianos, Part 2:

Electrically-powered pianos

These pianos with motor-powered pumps generally have few controls for the operator, and so the music roll contains extra data holes which control special "expression" devices in the piano. An exception is the "Nickelodeon" or "Coin Piano" which has music arranged specifically for its characteristic (loud) sound.

Note that a pumper piano fitted with an electric vacuum pump is not in this category. In fact, the whole thing should be in the...........

Some units, like the Jansenn, Kohler & Campbell and Kimball, employ a combination of electrically and pneumatically operated devices and must be "plugged-in" to work. All of these units have a push-button start, automatic rewind and automatic shut-off capability.

(....More material needed.... and more-polite text! )

The "Expression Piano" is derived from the foot-pumped piano with the addition of an electric motor-powered pump and a few relatively simple devices to vary the hammer velocity. (Typically, the unit has a five step volume control which can be controlled manually or with specially coded rolls. One of the most common varieties is the Recordo mechanism)

(....More material needed....)

The "Reproducing Piano" is ...
(....More material to be written ....)

The "Solenoid Piano" is the newest system. It uses a floppy disk for data storage, big electric solenoids to push the keys, and a modern mini-computer to interpret the data and control the hammer velocity. It can also record the motion of the hammers or keys while played by a pianist, and then later reproduce the performance. The loudness and music play-back speed may be varied slightly by operator control. Since it's entirely automatic it's not as much fun as pumping the foot pedals of the "Pianola".

Mechanical Music Device (definition):

"A rank or ranks of mechanical tone generators, controlled by pre-recorded parallel binary data, which creates music."

Data Storage Media:

"book": Punched cardboard sheets, hinged and Z-folded
"roll": Punched paper roll
"disc": Punched metal disc
"cylinder": pinned cylinder of metal
"barrel": pinned cylinder of wood
"chip": semiconductor/computer
"Midi": computer disc file

Categories of Mechanical Musical Devices,
by type of tone generator:

Music Box (plucked pendant metal tine)

Cylinder Music Box (cylinder)
Disk Music Box (disc)

Player Organ (organ pipe and/or reed)

Reed Organ (roll, barrel)
Roller Organ (roll)
Drehorgel Hurdy-gurdy (barrel, roll, chip)
Fair-, Street-, Dance Hall- Organ (book, roll)
Theater Organ (roll)
Reed Organ (roll)
Calliope (roll)
Player Accordion (incl. "Tanzbar")

Player Piano (tight string, struck or plucked)

Pumper Pianola (roll)
Reproducing Piano (roll)
Coin Piano, Orchestrion (roll)
Automatic Banjo (roll)

Player Violin (bowed string)

Leierkasten Hurdy-gurdy - hand-cranked antique
Player Violin

Player Bells


Common Types of Player Piano Systems

The system name is given, followed by the owning company. Below the system name is the "brand name" using the system. Thus PianoCorder is listed under Duo-Art, even though it is a solenoid device, because its split-stack system is the same as the pneumatic Duo-Art.

Solenoid Systems, individual key control
Wurlitzer Electro Pneumatic
Disklavier (Yamaha)
Stahnke (Kimball Boesendorfer)

Reproducing Piano Systems, split stack:
Ampico (American Piano Co.)
Ampico A
Ampico B, Nov. 1927
Duo-Art (Aeolian Piano Co.)
PianoCorder (solenoid)
Welte Mignon (Firma M. Welte & Sohn, Freiburg)
Welte Licensee

Expression Piano Systems:
Telektra (punched brass roll)

Accenting Systems, split stack
Themodist, Hupfeld-Phonola (?)

Plain Ol' Pumper "Pianola"

This preceding information was compiled by Robbie Rhodes, who has given us permission to present it to you on this webpage.

Now Playing: This MIDI file is called " Saved by Gabriel " and it was created on May 17, 1998 after hearing the song on an old cassette tape. Gabriel Della Fave converted the audio cassette to Real Audio and I wrote the midi file the next day. Like many of my tunes, this one never had a title until now.

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This page was last revised on April 1 ,2006 by John A. Tuttle.

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