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Testing the Automatic Tracking Device

Just so there is no confusion, some of the oldest player pianos do not have an automatic tracking device. In such units, there is always some type of knob or lever that allows the user to manually reposition either the music roll or the trackerbar such that the holes in the music roll line up with the holes in the trackerbar. No attempt will be made on this web page to explain why the tracking device does not work correctly. This is only a test... ;-)

The automatic tracking device in a player piano can legitimately be compared to the steering wheel in an automobile because it's only function is to keep the music roll 'between the lines'. (As stated above, it actually keeps the holes in the roll lined up with the holes in the trackerbar.) And in much the same way as a driver uses his or her eyes to 'read the road', the automatic tracking device has 'eyes' that read the edge/s of the music roll.

These 'eyes', or sensors, come in two basic forms. The first, and most common type of sensors are small holes located at the extreme left and right edges of the trackerbar. Sometimes there are two holes at each edge. Sometimes there is only one hole at each end. And, in rare cases, there is only one hole, which is always on the left edge. The second type of sensor is called a 'finger'. There can be one or two fingers, but they both work the same way. As the roll passes over the trackerbar, the finger/s touches the edge of the paper, sensing its position. For information about Adjusting Tracking Fingers - click here.

In all cases, the movement of the paper (either to the right or to the left of 'center') 'opens' or 'closes' the sensor/s which in turn causes another part of the tracking system to react to the change. When this 'other part' reacts, it attempts to 'steer' the music roll back to the 'center of the road' (or 'on track') where it belongs. When the music roll is 'off track', the music becomes muddled, jumbled, intermittent, weak or it may stop playing altogether.

There are a couple of ways to test the tracking device. I think the easiest way is to put a piece of tape across all of the note holes first. Next, decrease the Tempo setting to '10'. Then place a roll in the spoolbox as normal but don't connect the end to the take-up spool. (If you have a player system with a lever that rests on the take-up spool, see the NOTE below before proceeding with this test.) If your unit has a four-hole tracking system, take two small pieces of tape and cover the 'inside' tracking holes on the right and left.

Now, put the Play/Reroll lever into the 'Play' position. You are now ready to begin the test. If you player is a foot-pumper, start pumping. If your unit has an electric vacuum pump, turn it 'on'. (In rare cases, the electric vacuum pump comes on when the lever is raised out of the groove in the take-up spool. See NOTE below.) Alternately, open or close the sensor on the left or right. When you do this, you should be able to see the music roll shift position. Now do the same thing with the sensor on the opposite end. Again, the roll should shift position. Next, close or open both sensors simultaneously. This should cause the roll to move to a central position. If you can see the tracking device, you can also watch it as you are performing these tests. What is most important is that the tracking device move to a central position when both sensors are either opened or closed. If it does not, there is an imbalance in the system and rolls will not track correctly. Also, if the tracker fails to respond when one or the other sensor is opened or closed, there is a problem with the tracking device. If your tracker is of the four-hole variety, continue reading. If not, this concludes the test.

If you have a four-hole tracking system and everything has worked correctly so far, you are ready to begin the final part of the test. As you did above, now remove the small pieces of tape that were covering the two 'inside' tracker holes. The tracking device should move to a central position. Then alternately cover and uncover the hole on the right and then the hole on the left. As you do this, the tracker should move in a direction opposite to the hole that is uncovered. In other words, when you open the hole on the left, the tracking device should move the roll to the right. If it fails either test, there is a problem with the device. This concludes the test.
For some additional information about Tracking Problems - click here.

NOTE: Player pianos that come factory equipped with an electric vacuum pump often have a sensor switch that gets activated when the music roll paper completes one full wind around the take-up spool. This lever most often rests in a groove on the upper side of the spool. If your unit has such a lever, raise the lever so that it is 'out' of the groove, and then tape it 'up' so that it will stay out of the groove until the test is completed. In one make of player piano, raising the lever automatically activates a switch which turns 'on' the electric vacuum pump. This is not a problem because all of the note holes have already been covered.

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This page was last revised March 5, 2013 by John A. Tuttle, who Assumes No Liability
For The Accuracy or Validity of the Statements and/or Opinions
Expressed within the Pages of the Player-Care Domain.
Cartoon Graphics by E7 Style Graphics (Eric Styles)

Since "Player-Care" is an internet business, I prefer that we correspond via E-Mail (click here to fill out the 'Request Form'). However, if I'm not in the middle of some other activity, you can reach me at 732-840-8787. But please understand that during the hours from 8AM-5PM EST (Mon-Sat), I'm generally quite busy. So, I probably won't answer the phone. If you get the answering machine, please leave a detailed message stating the reason for your call. Also, repeat your name and phone number clearly and distinctly. By necessity, I prioritize everything in my life. And, if you call and just leave your name and number, and ask me to call you back, it might be a day or two before I return your call. Why? Because I don't know why you want me to call and I might not be prepared to assist you in an effective and efficient manner. If you leave me an E-Mail address (which I prefer), spell it out phonetically. The more you do to help me, the more I can help you in return. Don't rush. You have four minutes to record your message.

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