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Quality and value
of player pianos,

Hi Dave,

If you're asking me if all player pianos with lead trackerbar tubing are good quality player pianos, the answer is an emphatic "NO". There are dozens of poor quality players with lead trackerbar tubing.

Now, to be fair, we have to qualify the answer. There have been more than 90 player system manufacturers and over 950 brands of player pianos. See: https://www.player-care.com/makers.html

Generally speaking, when someone asks, 'Is this a good quality player?', the first consideration is; 'Is it a good piano?' While much has been written about the 'quality' of various makes of pianos, getting people to come to a general agreement to the point where there is a list we can refer to that categorically states that 'X' is better than 'Y' and 'Y' is better than 'Z' has historically been impossible. The best reference I know of is the 'Piano & Player Piano Buyer's Guide of 1926' which is also known as the 'Presto Buyer's Guide' and 'The Blue Book of American Musical Instruments'. In Section 1, it lists 'Instruments of Established Name and Character'. I have found this reference reasonably reliable. However, although I've never actually counted, there are about 300 listings in Section 1. Also, I was told by my mentor (93-year old piano builder) that the 'length of the treatise and the number of awards received is indicative of the quality of the company'. Companies that were serious about being recognized for their quality brought their instruments to expositions where they were judged by 'experts', i.e., famous musicians, composers, royalty, etc., and they were given 'awards'.

(Personally speaking, I judge pianos by how well they've withstood the 'test of time'. And it's not too surprising that the well-known names are always at the top of the list. Very seldom is an obscure brand found to be in excellent condition for its age, but it does happen occasionally.)

All that said, we have to remember that they were judging "New" pianos. We are dealing here with 80-100 year old instruments, and there's no way of actually knowing what any particular instrument has been exposed to during its lifetime. I've seen plenty of 'junk' Steinway pianos that really weren't worth the cost of restoring. Can they be restored to their original quality? That all depends on the quality of the materials and the quality of the craftsmanship that go into the instrument. BUT, as a general rule, and because of the many improvements that have been made to various internal components, restorers are 'able' to produce a finished product that rivals the original instrument in tonal character and longevity.

Furthermore, the same basic statement can be made concerning the player mechanism. If the highest quality materials and supplies go into restoring the system, you end up with a system that's actually better and longer lasting than the original system.

The bottom line is that given enough money, a competent restorer can turn almost any old player into a fine instrument. Scale designs can be modified, high quality hammers and dampers can be installed, action parts can be totally replaced as opposed to 'refurbishing' them, pin blocks, bridges, and even soundboards can be replaced, etc., etc. In the player, old metal parts can be replaced or re-plated, pouches can be completely sealed, internal vacuum channels can be sealed with products that don't dry out, etc., etc.

On the other side of the coin, if you're asking me if a specific brand of player piano will be a quality instrument when you get done rebuilding it, my only possible answer is, it depends on your abilities and how much the customer is willing to spend. There have been many times in my career when I could have supplied a quality instrument to a customer for far less than it cost to restore their existing instrument. But, their instrument had sentimental value to them, and money wasn't an object.

Hope this helps.


John A Tuttle

P.S. Portions of this email may be used in a web page concerning the quality and value of player pianos.


On 8/5/2014 11:20 AM, David Whitehead wrote:

Good morning John. I hope you're enjoying the summer. Would you say that all or most players with lead tubing are of good quality? Also, can you convert a good portion of the lead to rubber? I may be getting a player from Canada shipped here for a complete rebuilding job in the fall. He's going to get me the model & serial # when he flies (via helicopter) next week. Thanx in advance.


David Whitehead
Whitehead Piano Services, LLC
E-Mail: toonerpiano@roadrunner.com
Website: whiteheadpianoservices.com

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This page was last revised May 14, 2017 by John A. Tuttle, who Assumes No Liability
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