Questions and Answers

When a Question comes up that requires an Answer which may benefit many people, it will be posted on this page. At present there are only two Technicians who will provide the Answers. They are Craig Brougher and John A. Tuttle. The Questions may be directed to Craig or me by Clicking on our names. The Answers will appear here within two days if we not answered them directly.
As the site grows, I hope that this page will not be necessary, since all the information will be somewhere at the site.

Question:
We have just acquired a Milton Player piano. How can we find out more about it ? Is there a proper way to care for and maintain the piano, to play the piano, etc.? Also how can we find out what all of the various things do, example, the small lver just to the lower left of the tracker bar or the pull out knob under the keyboard and to the left of the lever that opens the pedal doors ? Are there any other not so obvious things we need to know ? The piano came with about 85 rolls Q.R.S and Aeolian make up the majority of the rolls. There is a number stamped in the wood part of the player works ..... 269602, what does it mean ?

Any help you can give us will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Bob & Janet Boice
Charlotte, NC

Answer:

Hi Bob and Janet,

Operating a player piano is pretty straight forward.

First, locate the 'Play/ReRoll' lever and place it in the ReRoll position. The lever is usually located in front of the piano keys under the control cover. It is normally the lever that is furthest to the right of center.

The roll is placed into the upper half of the spoolbox with the tab facing forward. The left spindle is spring-loaded and the left edge of the roll is placed on that spindle, depressed in slightly allowing the right edge to be seated onto the right spindle. There is a slot of the right edge of the roll end which must mate with the protrusion on the right spindle.

Once the roll is in place, the tab is pulled over the tracker bar (the brass bar with all the tiny holes) and connected to the catch in the center of the take-up-spool in the bottom half of the spoolbox. Wind the roll around by hand, using the edges of the take-up-spool, until you see a number on the the roll which indicates the correct Tempo setting.

The Tempo lever is typically just to the left of the Play/ReRoll lever. Moving that lever right or left usually moves a little pointer in the spoolbox and is used to set the correct Tempo for any particular roll. Do not attempt to change the Tempo setting by using the little pointer. The pointer is likened to the needle on a speedometer and will bend fairly easily.

Once the Tempo setting has been made, place the Play/ReRoll lever in the 'Play' position and start pumping.

When the song has ended, place the Play/ReRoll lever in the ReRoll position and start pumping again and keep pumping until the roll finishes rewinding. Push the roll to the left, disengaging it from the right spindle and remove the roll from the piano.

The little lever in the lower left corner of the spoolbox is most likely the 'On/Off' switch for the Automatic Sustain Pedal. The Auto Sustain Pedal is triggered by the holes in the roll located in the #3 position (on the left edge of the roll). The sensor on the trackerbar is the enlarged square looking hole on the left. The Auto Sustain device is located in the bottom of the piano in the lower left corner or it is mounted to the left side (in the bottom). There could also be a push-button or another lever under the player control cover which is usually marked 'LOUD' or 'SUSTAIN'.

There may also be two other levers or button close to the Sustain/Loud lever (or button) and they are the Bass and Treble Soft controls. Activating each lever (or button) will reduce the volume of the piano respectively.

The lever under the key bed with the knob is most likely the 'Key Lock'. In the 'out' position, it locks the piano keys so that they will not move up and down as the player is working. It was designed to reduce unnecessary wear in the keys since the keys do not need to move (in this model) in order for the player to work. However, most people leave the knob pushed in since they like to watch 'the magic keys' play the piano. The keys actually only move up and down as a result of gravity and are not actually connected to the player mechanism.

The number stamped on the player mechanism is the serial number of the mechanism and not the serial number of the piano. The serial number of the piano is the one used to determine the age of the unit. To the best of my knowledge, no one ever created a listing of mechanism serial numbers so they can not be used for any effective research at this point in time.

According to the Player Piano Co., parts catalog, the Milton company used one of three different player mechanisms. They are the Standard, the Simplex or the Autopiano. Providing the information necessary to identify which mechanism you have would require too much of my time and I can not afford to give it away for free.

Musically,
John A. Tuttle


Question:

John, you told me some about my player piano. Question is what is the availability if spare parts are needed? I have a potential buyer and that is what he asked me. I'm the one with the Francis Bacon player. I don't know if you kept the information I gave you a few weeks ago, but if you need it all again I will send it to you. Thanks John.


Answer:

Hi, 

Basically speaking, major components of any player mechanism are 
not easy to find. The parts and materials needed to restore any 
complete player piano are readily available.

As with virtually all pianos and player pianos, the parts needed 
to repair or rebuild an existing unit can be purchased in their 
ready-to-use state or fashioned down from stock. One of my sayings 
is, 'if man made it, man can rebuild it'. The question then is, 
how much will it cost.

There have been cases where is was easier and more cost effective 
to modify a unit than it was to return it to it's original 
configuration but when originality is desired regardless of cost, 
missing or severely broken parts can usually be found.

Such things like bellows cloth, valve material and tubing are 
available to the public. All of the parts of the 'piano' part 
of any player piano are readily available to any piano technician. 

I hope this clears things up for your perspective buyer. The parts 
of a player piano very rarely break but certain parts do wear out.

Musically, 
John A. Tuttle
-----------------------------
For those interested in Nickelodeon rolls, contact Don Rand, Telephone 207-354-8033 in Thomaston, Maine.
I heard about a moving company that serves the East Coast at reasonable prices. Their name is Cormier North East Express. That's all I know.
From J. Tuttle
I HAVE A CORNISH COMPANY , OF WASHINGTON NEW JERSEY , BELLOW ORGAN BELIEVED TO BE AT LEASE 175 YEARS OLD STILL IN WORKING ORDER AND IN GREAT SHAPE HAVE THE OIL LAMP HOLDERS FROM THAT ERA. IF THERE IS ANYONE OUT THERE CAN GIVE SOME HISTORY ON THIS ORGAN PLEASE REPLY to: sweetyd@gte.net
Carl Davidson
6516 43rd Ave. NE
Seattle, WA
98115
USA
Phone=206-255-8333 work
E-mail=davcarl@aol.com

Carl Asks:

I'm working, 'trying', on a Story and Clark Player. Is there a layout somewhere that shows where the tubing connects with the tracker bar? The tubing was broken many years ago and its hard to tell which key gets which tracker tube.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

OK Carl,

Have you been to my 'Re-tubing the Tracker' Page?

As far as the notes go, they are tubed one right after another. The only trick, if you want to call it that, is figuring out the pattern that will make the job go smoothly. But before I can really help you, and I don't mind helping, I need to know a few things.

1. Are there 2 or 3 distinct rolls of nipples on the back-side of the tracker bar?

2. How many tiers of pneumatics are there and what is the total number of pneumatics?

3. How many tubes are on the Tracking Mechanism?

4. Is there a Push-Button 'Loud' or Sustain? And is there a small lever on the left-hand-side of the spool box marked 'On/Off' or Loud or Sustain?

5. Are they any other Push-Buttons?

Get back to me,
John

Hi, my name's Polly, I'm thirteen, and I'm a musician (piano, viola, sax, guitar a little, and singing). I also really like to learn and understand things. . .I've been searching the www for some info in this equal temperamental tuning thing as far as pianos are concerned and not having too much luck. . .You seem to know what you're talking about, and I was wondering if you've got any idea as to where to look, b/c I'd really like to know how this thing works. . . Thanks in advance!!

Love,


Polly

Hi Polly,

I was eleven when I tuned my first piano so I can appreciate your thirst for knowledge. Quite honestly however, I was 25 before I really began to truly understand the rudiments of the equal temperament tuning methodology. Basically speaking, tuning a piano is accomplished by dividing one octave (typically F below middle C to F above middle C) into twelve equal parts and then that 'tempered' or 'temperament' octave is used as a reference for all the other notes. The very first note (or fundamental) is tuned to the same pitch as a tuning fork, then the tuner listens to the 'beat rates' of all the different intervals between the notes in the octave and then adjusts them using a very complex set of rules. I will try to explain beats and beat rates a little later in order to give you a basic understanding of what it is that piano tuners listen to while tuning a piano but learning the hundreds of rules requires years of training and experience. I think that most people find it very interesting to discover that a piano tuner does not actually listen to the note that he is tuning. He is actually listening to and adjusting the beat rates of the various intervals in an octave.

You are probably pretty familiar with some of the more common intervals in an octave like thirds, fourths, fifths and sevenths but the fact is any two notes played at the same time create an interval and each has a very specific beat rate. Let me explain further.

It was discover long ago that when you play any two strings at the same time a strange thing happens. Not only do you hear the two basic notes (or pitches), you also hear a third sound (and even a fourth in some cases) known as the inter-modulation frequency (or beats). Don't let that word scare you, it's just a fancy term for another 'sound'. Explaining why that 'new' sound happens does require some understanding of algebra and physics but I'll try to give you an example of how/why it happens. If I stretch one string so that it oscillates at exactly 1000 cycles per second (Hz or Hertz) and stretch another string so that it oscillates at 1008 Hz and pluck the two at exactly the same moment, I will hear three sounds. The first two sounds are obviously the 1000 Hz and the 1008 Hz. The third sound I will hear is the algebraic difference between the two strings or 8 Hz. That 8 Hz is not easily hear and is the basic reason that piano tuners ask for a quiet surrounding when tuning. Since 8 Hz is below the range of human hearing (which stops around 30 Hz in most people), the sound is not hear as a note but rather as a vibration or tremolo sound. It is this very subtle sound that a piano tuner must learn to recognize and then use to tune an equal temperament.

There is another phenomenon about a vibrating (or oscillating) string that you must also understand before I can go further and it is known as the 'harmonics' of the string.

It was also discovered many years ago that when you pluck or strike a string, it produces a fundamental waveform AND numerous harmonic waveforms (at least 9 other waveforms). Each of these harmonic waveforms has a frequency (or pitch) that is exactly twice as fast (or slow) as the fundamental pitch. Here's an example. If the string has a frequency of 1000 Hz then the 1st harmonic will have a frequency of 2000 Hz. The 2nd harmonic will have a frequency of 4000 Hz, and so on and so forth. Here's where it gets interesting and a little more difficult. Just like with the other intervals in the octave, an octave is also an interval. And when correctly tuned, the octave has NO beat rate because the fundamental (tuned to 1000 Hz) has a harmonic of exactly 2000 Hz which is the exact same frequency and the first octave above the fundamental note. If the octave is out of tune by three beats per second (or 1997 Hz) it will have a beat rate of three. It's the tuners job to tune the octave so that the beat rate is reduced to zero.

To recap, 'equal temperament tuning' is nothing more than a set of rules which make it possible to divide an octave into 12 equal parts without the aid of machines. The phenomenon that makes it all possible is known as the 'inter-modulation frequency' or beats between various intervals within the octave.

By the way, if you already know how to tune your guitar without the aid of a pitch pipe or other tuning aid (in other words you use the frets), then you have heard beats. If not, then try plucking the notes 'C' (on the A string) and 'E' (on the D string) at the same moment. Now pluck each string separately. Now pluck both at the same time again. Notice that when you pluck each one separately, you hear only one sound. When you pluck both strings at the same time, you hear both notes AND a third sound like a wobbling sound or tremolo. That third sound is the beat rate of the third 'C to E'.

As for reference books which explain in great detail all the fundamentals of tuning and equal temperament, check out:

"Let's Tune Up", by John W. Travis
"Piano Tuning and Allied Arts", by William Braid White
"Piano Tuning-A simple and Accurate Method for Amateurs", by J. Cree Fischer

Musically,
John A. Tuttle (www.player-care.com)

The information presented in this page was provided by the individual technicians listed herein and they are solely responsible for it's accuracy.
ALL Comments and Suggestions for this page are welcome.
This page was last revised on March 2, 2004 by John A. Tuttle

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Now Playing: This MIDI file is called "John Funk" and I recorded it in Dec 96 or maybe Jan 97.


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