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Player-Care Technical Series
Notes That Won't 'Turn OFF'
Or, Notes That Stay "ON"
Below is an email from Gaylan Lang about a fairly common problem in older player pianos. In an effort to help other people solve this annoying problem by themselves, I created this web page. The information below is primarily related to player systems with one set of note valves. However, I have included a short paragraph at the end about a similar problem in a double-valve system.... Signed: John A.Tuttle


At 09:59 PM 1/11/04, you wrote:
John,  thank you in advance for taking a moment to acknowledge my inquiry.
I have a Lakeside upright player piano that our tuner told us was built in 
approximately 1918.  Twelve of the eighty-eight keys draw down as soon as 
we begin to operate the foot bellows.  I enjoy doing many types of repairs 
myself.  I have removed the player from the piano as to be able to work on 
it.  Upon visual inspection, I do not see any difference in the small bellows 
that draw down from those that remain in their positions ready to react when 
they are supposed to.
I will appreciate if you could give a brief explanation of what might be 
the cause and how the repair would be done.
I live in Aberdeen, South Dakota and will be happy to purchase repair parts 
from you.
My email is
Thanks again,
Gaylan Lang


Hi Gaylan, (Actually, the notes that are "draw down" are 'reacting' to a signal, or coming 'ON'. The reason they are coming 'ON' is because the associated Note Valve is being activated by something other than a hole in a music roll. Finding and fixing the source of the problem might be difficult.) In all cases, when notes activate by themselves you can be certain there are either air leaks in the system or something is shrinking. In your case, the problem is most likely associated with 'shrinking', which I will explain more fully in a moment. However, before you can truly understand why the notes are activating by themselves, you need to learn how they are suppose to operate under normal circumstances. To help people learn how the valves work in a player piano, please read: During the Winter, the pouches in most player pianos shrink a small amount. Also, it's not unusual for the wood to shrink a small amount. If the pouches shrink enough, they act as though they are being triggered by perforations on the music roll in that they push up (or out) on their associated note valve/s and cause the note/s to 'play'. (A temporary repair for this problem is mentioned near the end.) If the wood shrinks enough, air will leak into the system somewhere between the note tubing and the pouches. If this happens, the pouches inflate as though they are being activated by perforations in the music roll, and the notes will 'play'. This type of leak can usually be detected with a 'listening tube' (a 3 ft piece of rubber or neoprene tubing) or a stethoscope (with the normal end removed). Most commonly, air will leak into the line leading to a pouch where there is a gasket. Sometimes, simply tightening the wood screws on the stack wherever two pieces of wood come together will solve the problem temporarily. However, if the gasket that is sandwiched between the two pieces of wood is sufficiently dried out, damaged, or deteriorating, the only permanent solution is to replace it with a new one. Another common type of air leak involves the tubing which leads from the trackerbar to the stack. In many player pianos, the bulk of the tubing is pure lead. As lead ages, it corrodes, or oxidizes from the inside out. For more information about the signs of lead deterioration, read: Also, the lead tubing might be coming loose at the point where it is cemented into the stack. To test for tightness, simply wiggle the tubing slightly very near the seal. If it appears to move at all, apply a very thin water-based sealer like Phenoseal or regular shellac and let it dry thoroughly before testing again. If the player is equipped with a "transposing trackerbar", it's very likely that the small 3" pieces of tubing that lead from the brass trackerbar to the lead tubing have developed cracks. To see if this is the case, simply remove the board that covers the tubing and examine it with a strong light while moving the 'bar' left and right. (In some units, the tubing can be seen from underneath the trackerbar. However, at best you can only see the bottom row of tubes.) If any of the pieces of tubing have even the slightest crack, replace all of the tubing. Information about retubing a transposing-type trackerbar is located at: Lastly, we come to the pouches. In relatively rare cases, the pouches in a player piano will shrink sufficiently during the dry Winter months that they prevent the valve from closing 100% (or turning 'off'). In some instances, this problem can be temporarily solved by using a trackerbar pump. Using the trackerbar pump vigorously will 'suck' the pouches deeper into the pouch well, allowing the valves to seat properly. However, if 'pumping the bar' does solve the problem, I would recommend changing the pouches at a later date. BTW, if by chance you have a double-valve player system, it is possible that the problem involves the Primary Valves. In a double-valve system, the "Intake Valve Facings" are exposed to the outside air all of the time. This causes them to deteriorate much faster than the "Exhaust Valve Facings". If the intake facings are sufficiently deteriorated, they will allow air to leak into the air passage that leads to the "Secondary Valve Pouch". This will cause the note to activate, or stay "ON" all of the time. Replacing the intake valve facings on the primary valves is not an easy task, and it is best left to a professional. The only "Quick Fix" I know of is to 'squirt' Baby Powder at the facings in the hope that it will create a seal that is good enough to shut off the secondary valve. However, it is an extremely short-lived 'fix' which is normally only used to troubleshoot a problem. In closing, I hope you find this information helpful. It will be used in the making of a new web page called "Notes That Won't 'Turn OFF'", Or, "Notes That Stay 'ON'". Musically, John A. Tuttle Brick, NJ, USA =============================================================

Another response to a customer:

Notes that stay 'On' have one (or more) of five problems.

1. A piece of debris is stuck between the intake valve 
facing and the intake valve seat. It cannot be removed 
by using a trackerbar pump. But, sometimes it can be 
dislodged by collapsing the bellow when there is no 
vacuum applied to the stack. Also, it can sometimes 
be dislodged by turning the valve around manually with 
a needle (if you can access the exhaust port). The 
problem here is that the valve cannot seat properly, 
and vacuum leaks around the bad seat, activating the 
bellow (or sucking the air out -and causing it to 

2. There is a leak somewhere in the line (or tube) between 
the trackerbar and the pouch. Since I smoke, I generally 
find such leaks by blowing smoke in the hole on the trackerbar 
for that particular note and have someone else watch to see 
if the smoke comes out somewhere. Other than that method, 
you have to dismantle the stack and check each segment of 
the line between the trackerbar and the pouch. Any leak in the 
line is seen by the pouch as a signal to activate the pouch 
and open the valve -and in turn activate (or collapse) the 

3. There is insufficient clearance between the pouch and the 
valve button, making it impossible for the valve to seat. 
Here again, as in Problem 1, the vacuum leaks around the 
intake valve facing and sucks the bellow closed.

4. The intake valve facing is defective, and vacuum is leaking 
around the seal between the facing and the valve stem. Fixing 
that problem requires the replacement of the valve facing.

5. There is a crack in the windchest which is allowing vacuum 
to suck the air out of the bellow. Finding that problem can 
be quite daunting, and it always requires dismantling the chest.
Continuing the discussion---
thanks for this information John, I am actually working on this 
problem now. I am using a automotive light duty vacuum clean which 
pulls around 10" wc and have put a hose on the intake side of the 
stack and covered all of the tracker bar holes and as soon as I hook 
it up I see the problem bellow compress. If I uncover the hole in 
the tracker bar that represents the bellow that is compressed I see 
a slight amount of movement in thatg bellow. If I pull the front 
cover off of the front of the stack (which exposes the valves on 
my model) how do I know which valve cooresponds to the right bellow? 
Should I unscrew the two screws which hold the valve in place? and 
attempt to clear the debris this way? below is my style of valves. 
Also, all of the pouches look good, there is no obvious signs of a 
valve problem so I suspect that either the valve is not seating 
properly or there is debris behind it. 

You have to count the note holes from the right and left and 
compare the number with the number of note valves in the chest. 
I usually do it by physical examination -comparing the location 
of the first note valve to the location of the first note hole 
on the trackerbar. 

It can also be done by the location of the bellow itself. i.e., 
top tier, middle tier, bottom tier. Then position of the bellow 
from the breaks in the piano action, i.e. tenor break, and treble 
break (or tenor, treble, and high treble -if there are four sections 
in the piano action).

Removing the valve plate and examining the valve itself is a good 
idea. You might even remove the one next to the bad one to compare 
the two, and see why one is good and one is bad.

However, based on what you said about the way the bellow acted when 
you physically uncovered the note hole in the trackerbar, I'm more 
inclined to think that there's a leak in the line from the trackerbar 
to the pouch....
Hi John, I think I just found my problem - I pulled off the cover to 
the valves. the problem bellow was on the top row. I counted the number 
of bellows on the top row until I got the the problem bellow. I then 
went to the opposite side and counted in the same direction the number 
of valves. I pulled off the valve and found that the leather valve face 
was loose on hte valve stem. Because I was not certain if it was supposed 
to float on the stem I check two more by pulling them off and found that 
the valve face was snug on the valve stem. So I think my next step is to 
glue the valve face (leather looking washer) back on the valve stem.


Naturally, the right thing to do is to replace the valve facing with
a new valve facing. But, a temporary fix is to use clear silicon
caulking and draw a very thin bead around the brass collar, and then
press the valve facing up against the collar, then let it dry in
an upside down position, supporting the valve facing on a type of
fork, so the weight of the valve holds the facing to the collar.
(see simple diagram) 

good morning John, I just reassembled the action and reinstalled it, 
and guess what? It works now! No more activated key...

I should add this to my list of items to purchase. I think I saw that 
you had these for sale on your website, I will verify.

Thanks again for you help! 

Actually, I sell Phenoseal at the site, and it can be used 
in the same fashion.. but more easily. The industry 'blackballs' 
me for giving such advice, but when it makes such a huge difference 
in performance and doesn't cost more than a few bucks, I leave 
it to the customer to decide if it's worthwhile. The cost of a 
complete valve job is generally over $2000....

Below is a picture of the squeeze bottle as compared to a standard lighter.

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John A Tuttle

This page was created on January 13, 2004 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.
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