Created for the Mechanical Music Digest by John A. Tuttle, www.player-care.com
Player Piano Service Manuals & Reprints - Click Here!
Frequently Asked Questions: Player Pianos
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[What's it Worth?] . [What do I Have?] . [How are Pianos Graded?] . [More FAQ's]
[Who Works on Players?] . [What about Moving?] . [Common Terms]

How To Buy An Instrument

Follow the above link to read what the pros have to say.

What is it worth?

The only person who can accurately answer this question is the Qualified Tuner/Technician, Dealer or Collector who repairs, restores, buys and/or sells player and/or reproducing instruments. And before any realistic determination can be made, a complete and thorough evaluation is necessary.

The Average Value of a regular, unrestored Upright Player Piano varies from about $200-$2000, depending on the type/quality of the cabinet and the reputation of the manufacture. Unfamiliar brand-name units with all straight lines are the most common and the least valuable. The more exotic the wood and/or the more ornate the cabinet style, the more the basic value increases. Prices for 'functioning' to 'completely restored' units average from $600-$16,000.


The MMD Archives has a number of articles from various members about the prices paid by individuals in private sales and at various auctions. Do a Key Word Search for: Price, Auction or Sell. Back to Top

How do I determine what I have?

Most basically speaking, there are two (2) types of pianos and three (3) groups of player pianos. The two types of Pianos are: Grand and Upright. In Grand Pianos, the plate (or harp) lies in a horizontal plane to the earth. In an Upright Piano, the plate lies in a plane vertical to the earth. Grands Pianos are sub-divided into numerous groups such as, 'Baby', 'Parlor', 'Living Room' and 'Concert', with 'Baby' being the smallest (5'2" or under) and 'Concert' (8' or greater) being the largest (see note below for more information). Uprights are divided into four basic groups, being: 'Full Size' (46" or taller), 'Professional Upright' (42"-46"), 'Console' (36"-42") and 'Spinet' (36" or less). (Also, there is no such thing as a "Grand Upright", although those words do appear on some makers' plates. It was, in fact, a clever advertising ploy similar to the 'third' or 'working' middle pedal found on many upright player pianos, which basically does nothing but mimic one of the other two working pedals. Typically, the Sustain Pedal.)
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The three groups of Player Pianos are: Regular, Expression and Reproducing. Of these, the Reproducing group is sub-divided into three other groups, namely: Duo-Art, AMPICO and Welte-Mignon. Perhaps the easiest way to determine the type of Player Mechanism in any given unit is to look at the fallboard (or key cover) with the keys exposed. Next, look at the rolls (or roll boxes) that are usually played on the unit. Almost all roll makers labeled their boxes for easy identification. If no specific name other than the name of the company, song title and number of the roll are visible, it's a good bet that the player piano is of the Regular variety. Most, if not all, Reproducing rolls were clearly marked with the type of player mechanism they were cut to be used on.
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If there are no rolls to look at, the next best thing to look at is the Tracker Bar. If there is just one set of holes, all the same size in one neat row, it is a Regular Player with manual or mechanical tracking. (Many makers employed little 'finger/s', to keep the roll aligned with the holes in the 'bar', which 'feel' the edge/s.) If there are from 80-88 holes in a row with one or two holes on both sides of the long row, the unit is a Regular player with Automatic tracking. If the 'bar' has two or more sets of holes with two of the sets containing a minimum of four holes each, it is an Expression or Reproducing mechanism. If all else fails, call in a Professional. The vast majority of people who own Expression and/or Reproducing Player Pianos know the make and model or their unit very well and pass that information along to subsequent owners. Point being, if no one knows, it's probably a Regular player piano.
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How are Instruments Graded?
According to the Presto Buyer's Guide of 1926, pianos are graded into five categories. They are the High Grade Piano, the Medium Grade or Popular Piano, the Commercial Piano, the Trade-Mark Piano and the Special Name Pianos. (Follow any of the underlined words for more detailed information.)
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Who works on them?
There are literally hundreds of individuals and/or companies that are currently repairing, restoring, buying and/or selling all types of Player, Expression and/or Reproducing Pianos. To locate a well-known and established individual, the Player-Care Domain offers a free listing of about 100 names, divided in an alphabetical order by state. You can also do a Key word Search in the MMD Archives. Use the Key word/s: Dealers, Rebuild, Values, Buying, Selling, Technician or Restore and then scan through the list of articles for pertinent information. Also note the author's name and his/her e-mail or web site address.
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What about Moving the Instrument?
The Mechanical Music Digest Archives contains perhaps the most complete listing of articles pertaining to the moving of valuable instruments. Here again, as above, do a Key word Search using the word/s: Moving, Movers, Shipping, or Mover. Then scan through the articles and note the names and addresses.
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Nomenclature

The Tracker bar is the piece of wood or metal across which the paper music roll passes when the unit is in operation. It is most commonly made of brass and is, on average, 13-1/2" x 1" in size. The holes can have a spacing of either 9 holes or 6 holes to the inch, with '9' being the more common variety. Most tracker bars have a minimum of 88 holes/w '9' to the inch or 65 holes/w '6' to the inch.
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Tracking is the term utilized to explain the action of keeping the holes in the roll properly aligned with the holes in the tracker bar.

To view the Dictionary/Glossary of Terms - click here.
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Special Note:
In response to a recent inquiry, here's what I wrote about the sizes of grand pianos:

All grands are measured from the back of the bow to the leading edge of the keyboard. 
In other words, the total length of the piano (the length). 

All uprights are measured from the floor to the top-most part of the piano (the height).

There is much disagreement about the various names given to the various lengths of 
grand pianos. Some of the terms include; parlor grand, living room grand, full-size 
grand, baby grand, petit grand, mini grand, concert grand, conservatory grand, 
practice grand.

Basically speaking, Parlor and Living room grands are about six feet in length.

This page and all accompanying pages were written by John A. Tuttle/Player-care.com especially for the Mechanical Music Digest. All rights and/or limitations provided all materials at the MMD are hereby applied to these pages. These pages may be modified/edited by the editors of the MMD.


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