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More FAQ's about Pianos and Player Pianos

[5] Player Pianos

The general subject of player pianos is far too great to try 
and cover entirely here.  Therefore, this list is limited to 
those instruments most likely to be found at the average 
estate sale, grandma's basement, or in an old dusty corner of 
a garage.  

This section of the FAQ was contributed by Rick Pargeter.  If 
you have any questions regarding player pianos, please 
contact Rick at 70702.2016@compuserve.com.  If you have 
corrections, etc., please e-mail the FAQ maintainer at the 
end of this FAQ.


[5.1] How old are they?

Most common players were manufactured between 1915 - 1929


[5.2] What are their values today?

Generally, an unrestored, average, run-of-the-mill, complete, 
70-year-old player is perhaps worth 10% - 20% more than the 
same vintage non-player.  However, it is always best to have 
it professionally appraised.  Some players bring very high 
values.  Player pianos which are grand pianos, original 
"nickelodeons" (coin-operated commercial units), and 
reproducing players are usually considered high-value player 
pianos.


[5.3] Definitions of parts

Bellows - A component usually consisting of two like-pieces 
     of wood with a cloth hinge at one end, and covered with 
     a rubberized cloth.  One side of the bellows will have 
     an opening, so that when vacuum is applied, a mechanical 
     action occurs.  Conversely, when connected to pedals and 
     a check valve is added, they act as a pump, lowering the 
     pressure in the stack.

Stack - The upper part of the player.  This is the part that 
     plays the piano, and contains the valves, bellows, 
     spoolbox,  and wind motor.

Spool Box - This is the area where the piano roll is 
     inserted, and is usually behind a set of doors.

Tracker bar - The brass bar in the middle of the spool box 
     that has all those holes in it.  Each hole represents a 
     note on the keyboard.  They are sequential (i.e., C C# D 
     D# E F F# G G# A  A# B).  Tubes, usually made of lead, 
     are connected from the back of the tracker and to the 
     stack.  Each tube is connected to a channel in the stack 
     that controls a valve connected to the main vacuum 
     supply from the pump.

Pump - The lower part of the player.  The pumping pedals are 
     connected to the pump.  The pump usually contains the 
     wind motor regulation, and controls to divert the vacuum 
     to the stack, wind motor, and expression pneumatics.

Expression pneumatic - Since the piano's usual expression 
     pedals are covered up by the pump pedals, it looks as if 
     you cannot access them.  However, there is a way to 
     duplicate these pedals through the use of expression 
     pneumatics.  The piano controls are usually located 
     underneath the hinged key slip.  Usually, there is a 
     button which will control the equivalent pedal function 
     also.  In order to operate the loud pedal, simply push a 
     button on the control rail, and the loud expression 
     pneumatic will operate exactly like the loud pedal.  In 
     addition to the loud pedal, there are usually two soft 
     pedal expression pneumatics.


[5.4] How do they work?

Player pianos use suction, not pressure, to work.  As the 
pedals are operated, air is pulled from the pump and the 
entire stack is placed under a slight vacuum.  This vacuum 
operates a motor that turns the rolls in the spool box.  The 
piano roll has holes cut in them that when they pass over the 
tracker bar, the tracker bar's holes are uncovered.  A valve 
is operated when the holes are uncovered that applies vacuum 
to the striking pneumatic, which plays the note on the piano.


[5.5] Restoring player pianos?

As with any pianos, a key to safely restoring old instrument 
is patience and time.  It is best to have restoration done by 
a professional; however, anyone with a reasonable mechanical 
aptitude and patience can restore a player.

The materials used in restoring player pianos are very 
specialized, and are generally unavailable at your average 
local stores.  Vinyl covering (Naugahyde) will crack to 
pieces in a matter of days when used to recover pneumatics.  
Common rubber hoses (fish tank and automotive style) will 
collapse and turn brittle in a matter of months, rendering an 
irreplaceable antique musical instrument useless.  Also, 
white glue, silicone sealers, body filler, tape, etc., have 
no place in player pianos.  The tried and true methods and 
materials as used when manufactured are to be used in the 
restoration.


[5.6] Books on player restoration

The main book for player restoration is:

  PLAYER PIANO - Servicing and Rebuilding,
  by Arthur Reblitz
  Published by The Vestal Press
  Vestal, NY 13850
  ISBN 0-911572-40-6 (pbk.)

For advanced rebuilders:

  Orchestrion Builder's Manual and Pneumatics Handbook
  By Craig Brougher


[5.7] Where can I get Player piano parts?

The main source for player piano parts is:

   Player-Care.com
   407 19th Ave
   Brick, NJ, 08724
   (732) 840-8787

[5.8] Where can I get new and used music rolls?

New Piano rolls are being produced today.  Some of the 
manufacturers and suppliers are:

   Upright & Grand
   Eric D. Bernhoft
   P.O. Box 421101
   San Francisco, CA 94142

   QRS Music Rolls, Inc.
   1026 Niagara Street
   Buffalo, NY 14213-2099
   Tel: (716) 885-4600
   Fax: (716) 885-7510
   AOL Keyword: QRS

   QRS Pianomation Center
   Solenoid player piano division
   (similar to PianoDisc system)
   2011 Seward Ave
   Naples, FL 33942
   Tel: (941) 597-5888
   Fax: (941) 597-3936

   Play-Rite Music Rolls
   P.O. BOX 1025
   Turlock, CA 95381

   Bluestone Music Rolls
   485 Gatewood Lane
   Grayslake, IL  60030

   Piano Roll Center
   108 Southcreek Circle
   Folsom, CA 95630

   Collector's Classics
   163 Main St.
   Thomaston, ME 04861

   Pianola Institute
   c/o Denis A Hall
   6 Southbourne
   Hayes, Kent    England

   Bam-Bam Piano Rolls
   1750 Karg Drive
   Akron OH 44313-5504
   http://users.aol.com/BamRolls
   bjelen8875@aol.com

   http://www.playerpianos.com
   source of collectible player piano rolls


[5.9] Any player piano associations?

Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) 
Suppliers of specialty items are also advertise here.  For 
membership information contact:

   Mike Barnhart
   919 Lantern Glow Trail
   Dayton, Ohio 45431

[5.10] Mailing list?

There exists a group called Mechanical Music Digest, formerly
called Automatic Musical Instruments, which has a mailing 
list maintained by Jody Kravitz and edited by Robbie Rhodes.  
If you want to subscribe, visit their website at:

http://www.mmdigest.com
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This page was last revised July 1, 2017 by John A. Tuttle, who Assumes No Liability
For The Accuracy or Validity of the Statements and/or Opinions
Expressed within the Pages of the Player-Care Domain.
Cartoon Graphics by E7 Style Graphics (Eric Styles)


Since "Player-Care" is an internet business, I prefer that we correspond via E-Mail (click here to fill out the 'Request Form'). However, if I'm not in the middle of some other activity, you can reach me at 732-840-8787. But please understand that during the hours from 8AM-5PM EST (Mon-Sat), I'm generally quite busy. So, I probably won't answer the phone. If you get the answering machine, please leave a detailed message stating the reason for your call. Also, repeat your name and phone number clearly and distinctly. By necessity, I prioritize everything in my life. And, if you call and just leave your name and number, and ask me to call you back, it might be a day or two before I return your call. Why? Because I don't know why you want me to call and I might not be prepared to assist you in an effective and efficient manner. If you leave me an E-Mail address (which I prefer), spell it out phonetically. The more you do to help me, the more I can help you in return. Don't rush. You have four minutes to record your message.


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407 19th Ave, Brick, NJ, 08724
Phone Number 732-840-8787
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