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Tips and Tricks

"Simplex Won't Play"

Curtis writes:
I visited your very informational web site and was wondering if you could possibly guide me as to how to proceed with fixing my player piano.
My player is a S.J. Williams piano probably 80 some years old. It was completely rebuilt about 20 years ago and the player had worked until I left for college (some 10 years ago). I now have it in my house and when I first tried to play a role, only about a 1/3 of the keys actually worked. My mom told me to vacuum out the track bar and so I took my shop vac and ran it across the track bar. Now it seems non of them work...interesting. When I pump the petals, that seems fine and I can hear air moving through the track bar; the motor seems to work fine just doesn't play any keys when a role is put on it. Over all everything works as I remember, but it doesn't press keys down when a role is put on. I had it tuned just the other day and the guy told me he has never seen such an old player in such good condition and he said it looks like it should play fine.
I know you probably need much more info, but I was hoping you could maybe give me some insight as to what to do, since I have seemed to make it worse by vacuuming the track bar. I hope I just didn't break all the valves for the keys, which I'm thinking you're going to tell me, then I'm sure I'll be looking at some big bucks.
Anyway, any insight is greatly appreciated. You have a great web sight.

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Thanks Curtis:
Unfortunately, there are probably a combination of problems with your Simplex player mechanism. If the block valves were never complete restored (just recovered) it's possible that using a shop vac to clean out the paper dust from the trackerbar and signal tubes actually sucked holes in the pouches (the thin membranes that sense the perforations on a music roll). If that is the case, you are looking at a minimum $3,500 repair job. Determining whether or not the pouches are 'popped' is not easy unless you have years of experience, and know what to listen for at the trackerbar - with a listening tube. In a properly operating player piano, even though there is vacuum present at every hole in the trackerbar, you cannot hear the vacuum unless the listening tube is placed directly on a hole. If the pouch is popped, all you have to do is get close to the hole and you can hear the hissing. This is because when the pouch is good, the only vacuum that reaches the trackerbar comes through a small bleed cup that is six times smaller than the hole in the trackerbar. When the pouch is popped, full vacuum is present at the bar via the hole in the pouch - which is most likely as big or bigger than the hole in the trackerbar.

The next test, is to listen for the action of the valve itself. With the trackerbar covered with tape, and while pumping the pedals, poke a hole in the tape to allow one note to 'play'. Even if the note does not play, if the pouch is good, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the valve change state as you cover and uncover the hole. Typically, if you can hear the valve change state, then the pouch is at least operating - even if it has a small rip or hole. The only problem is, a pouch that is not 100% air-tight usually doesn't have enough force (when activated) to lift the valve all the way to the "on" position. And, that being the case, lots of vacuum will leak out (or more accurately - the atmosphere will leak in) through the half-opened valve - creating a serious vacuum leak. It only takes a few poorly operating valves to reduce the efficiency of a player system to below 50% - at which point it basically stops working, regardless of how fast you pump the pedals.

To help people determine the basic condition of the Stack - which houses the valves and striker pneumatics (or in your case the block valve/pneumatics), go to the Testing the Player page at:

Also check out the page called "Simplex Problems" at:

Hope this helps.....

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Curtis write again:
Thank you John. From what trouble shooting I did, I'm sure I ripped the pouches. I called a guy that I found on your site that is in MN and he said it would be about $3000, but of course he would need to come look at you were right on the money with that one. Don't know what I'm going to do, cuz I'm not sure it's worth it for me at this time. It's more important for me that I can play it myself and it sound good...and that may have to be good enough for now.
Again, thank you for your time in responding so quickly to my question. Again, you're web site was an excellent resource for me and I thank you for putting it together.
If you ever find yourself in MN and are really bored, look me up and I treat you to a beer and a little piano. ;-)
Take care and thanks again.

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Thanks again Curtis:
Another thing you can do is visually inspect a few of the pouches.

Remove the wooden pieces of the piano that cover the player mechanism. (front board, music desk, fallboard) Once the player stack is 'exposed', you'll see the upper section (see simplex3.jpg) It's held in place by four large screws (two on each side) which are located at the base of the action mounts (see simplex1.jpg). Also, disconnect the two control rods (at the right end of the action) and the air motor hose. Also disconnect the spoolbox bracket between the spoolbox and the plate. Lastly, disconnect the large vacuum supply hose leading to the stack (left hand side - accessed from the lower half of the piano). Then lift the action out of the piano.

Valve Cover Perimeter Screws
Location of Mounting Screws

Now remove all 26 perimeter screws. Remove the valve cover. Now you can see the 176 screws that hold valve blocks to the stack. They are in pairs. Remove a set at the extreme left or right of the stack to loosen a block. Be sure to loosen the rod that goes between the block and the flange finger, and move it out of the way. Now you should be able to remove the block. Once it's in hand, get to a very bright light and look inside of the rectangular hole where the block mounts to the stack. Inside of that hole you should be able to see the pouch. By blowing air into the third larger of the three holes (still looking at the mounting surface) you should see the pouch inflate, and you may be able to see if it has any holes or rips. By putting a tight-fitting hoses over the pouch hole and blowing in, you should be able to hear any air that is escaping from the pouch/pouch well. Mind you, it should be air-tight.

Whether or not you use this information, I will use this email and the previous email to create another web page at Player-Care..... (This is how new pages get created....)


John A. Tuttle
Brick, NJ, USA

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