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Roll Tracking Problems

Occasionally, I receive letters like the one just below:

"I have an Aeolian 'Sting' player piano purchased new in 1973, and half of the rolls I play sound fine but many of them sound terrible. Those that sound bad have many notes that do not play and some notes that sound very weak. The holes do not match up with the holes in the bar. Do rolls wear out? And if so, I would like to replace some of mine with new ones. Some of mine are more than 25 years old. They look ok but do not sound ok."

Here's how I responded to the above concern:

If rolls are well cared for, they typically last for at least 50 years. Some of the rolls in my collection are over 80 years old.

On the surface, it sounds like you might have a tracking problem. There is a device in the player piano that is designed to automatically adjust the position of the roll so that the holes in the roll stay in alignment with the holes in the trackerbar. The device relies on the edges of the roll being flat and straight. If the edges of the rolls are curled or damaged in any way, they will mislead the automatic tracking device.

Another problem could be that the small holes which "read" the edges of the roll have become clogged with paper dust. To solve that problem, you will need to vacuum out the tracker holes with a powerful vacuum cleaner or a hand-held trackerbar pump. That pump sells for $58.50 plus $8.95 S/H.

Further, you must insure that the music roll paper is touching the right hand flange. To do this, hold the roll in a straight-up position and allow it to drop onto a hard surface. This is called 'tapping the roll'. Instructions for doing this operation are usually written inside the top of the music roll box.

Another problem could be that the rolls are not correctly "seated" in the spoolbox. Awhile back, QRS had a rash of spool flanges that were a tiny bit smaller than normal. As a result, the flange did not marry-up properly with the roll spindle. The only way to fix the problem is to file down the right hand spindle about 0.005". With a fine file, it should take about five minutes to file it down.

Lastly, your Aeolian 'Sting' is equipped with a "Transposing Trackerbar". Though it was designed to allow you to change the key of the music being played, it can also be used to compensate for minor errors in roll position. The pictures below show the knurl knob (ttb1.jpg) and the position indicator (ttb2.jpg). The relative position of the trackerbar can be moved either right or left with the knurl knob to compensate for slight irregularities in the position of the roll or minor tracking problems. And, while I'm not suggesting that the transposing device be used as a permanent 'cure-all', it can be used temporarily to enjoy the music until the tracking problem is identified and corrected.


John A. Tuttle

Position Indicator Transposing Trackerbar Knurl Knob

For more information about roll tracking problems and solutions, see:

Tracking Problems - Click Here
Testing the Player Piano - Click Here
Adjusting Pneumatic Finger Trackers - Click Here
How To Operate a Player Piano - Click Here

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John A Tuttle

Now Playing: See'n You Rumba written by John Tuttle. It's not a Rumba, I just love watchin' her move!....

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