Solenoid Sarcasm... Personal Thoughts

by John A. Tuttle

Hi Interested Visitor,

      I read an interesting article recently that explained, in no uncertain terms, that the current electronic player mechanisms made by two leading manufacturers have the same basic problem. After stating that the current mechanisms do have a problem playing at low volume settings, the author went on to list five reasons why he thought it was a good system despite the deficiency. However, there's only one slight problem; his list of positive attributes was too short. According to my former Commanding Officer in Japan (1968), it takes TEN 'that-a-boys' to make up for ONE 'awe-shucks'.

      Another author made statements which only served to amplify the shortcoming of the existing system by introducing yet another complex electronic device; the calibration box, which allows for the individual adjusting of every single note on the piano. And still another goes on to blame the manufacturers of the floppy disks for their misunderstanding of the market they are serving.

      I think what I find most comical about the whole electronic player story is the fact that tens of thousands of hours are being spent in an effort to equal the performance of a machine (the reproducing player mechanism) that continues to work almost flawlessly (when properly rebuilt), and it was created more than 70 years ago.

      If someone was really smart, what they'd do is integrate the best of both worlds. Why not use MIDI signals to trigger a pneumatic air valve and, in turn, the finger pneumatics? Ultimately, I believe that's where the electronic player will end up. But there's still one very nagging problem. What happens to any electric device when the power goes out? It's DEAD in the water. Well then.....

      If I were a wealthy man with time on my hands, I'd manufacture a player mechanism that is foot pumped AND MIDI driven. If you remove the need for large amounts of current (by eliminating the solenoids and power supply), creating an electric generating system capable of producing five and twelve volts (for the MIDI portion of the system), that utilizes the pumping action needed to operate the pneumatics, would be relatively simple. But there's one very nagging problem. You can't read the words to the song on a floppy disk.

      An interesting parallel to the pneumatic player and the solenoid player is the automobile. Has anyone else noticed that young men (and women) are reaching back to the sixties for vehicles to rebuild? And has anyone else noticed how well these vehicles operate? Well, I have and I've asked them why. The answer won't surprise anyone. It's because they are rebuildable and you don't need all sorts of fancy electronic controlling mechanisms (that are virtually impossible to find for vehicles made during the eighties and nineties) to make them work well. Is anybody else getting the picture???

      It's my contention that the electronic players are going to go the direction of the nineties automobiles.... into the junk yard. And they'll do so in relatively short order. Oh, no doubt there will be other systems to replace them, but guess what.... the antique 1920's style player will still be around and will still work just like it did way back then. Face reality, the average person is not college educated nor does he/she have a degree in electronic engineering. And the average player piano technician is not that much smarter than the average auto mechanic. Will this situation likely change in the next twenty to thirty years? I don't think so. I seriously doubt that we (the public) are ever going to see the day when college graduates are going to be under the hood of an automobile changing electronic injectors.

      So where does this leave us? The things that man makes that survive for extended periods of time are those devices that can be rebuilt to last for.... extended periods of time. Hello!!... this isn't rocket science. And it should be pretty obvious by now that increasing the complexity of a device only serves to shorten it's usable lifespan. So why is anybody spending any time perfecting that which will not be around in the future??? I'm left scratching my head. I don't see the logic and yet, I would expect that a highly educated person would employ sound logic as a premise to becoming involved in any activity... I guess I'm wrong!!! Color me happily under-educated and realistically simple but my old pumper beats the pants off ANY AND ALL electronic players and it will still work after I'm dead.

      I think that the demand for player pianos and player piano music will survive as long as there are plenty of the 1920's style players around for people to see, hear and enjoy. Conversely, I think that the continued sale of electronic players will ultimately self-destruct as the sophisticated electronic circuitry fails and becomes so expensive to repair that people will just leave the unit broken.

      Finally, if it weren't for the fact that the owners of the 15 to 20 year old units are already electing NOT to repair their players due to high repair costs and the unavailability of parts, perhaps my feelings against them wouldn't be so strong. As I see it right now, the cost of restoring a Standard Player mechanism is about the same as the cost of having an electronic player mechanism installed in any regular piano. However, a properly restored player mechanism will likely last for 25 to 30 years without any major failures. To the best of my knowledge, NO electronic player has ever lasted that long.

      In closing, I welcome opposing viewpoints and will gladly post new pages as information is discovered or sent to me which proves me wrong.

Need Service or Parts?

As for service, the Player Technicians Listing is the best I can offer. If a technician says he/she works on ALL types of players, it's a good bet they will work on the Pianocorder system. However, I don't know of any technicians (myself included) who actually repair the individual circuit boards.

As for parts, the gentleman who does the actual repairs and/or supplies replacement boards and/or components is:

Bob Baker
Electric Orchestras, Inc.
29962 N. Terre Drive
Libertyville, Il.
(847) 367-7996

Musically stuck on Foot-Pumpers,
John A. Tuttle (John A Tuttle)

P.S. If you think I dislike MIDI, you're totally wrong. I LOVE IT!! But it just shouldn't be used to play good piano music on a real piano. And it's extremely complex, electronically speaking.

This page was last revised on March 2, 2004 by John A. Tuttle.

Comments to: John A. Tuttle (Player Piano Technician/Site Owner)

Now Playing: Midi File called Midnight , which was composed back in September of 96. I finally got around to recording the first version in March this year. These tracks are presented in their unedited form exactly as I recorded them on 3/24/97. They need some work for sure but I doubt I'll have the time to do it. If someone wants to do it for me, I'll give them a Special Link at the top of this page for their effort.
Back...Back To Top
End of Page
Google Adsense Ad