Mechanical Music

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Player Pianos - Everyone Needs One!

Posted on April 7, 2018 at 12:35 AM

The financially cautious mechanical music enthusaist will often want instruments far out of their price range, but certainly you know you can get a working player piano for free? Right?

The average 88 note player piano is undoubtedly the most underrated mechanical instrument in existence.

While there are certainly pianos that are either poorly built to begin with or to a point where a restoration isn't worth the money, dozens of worthy - even restored player pianos are thrown out each year due to people moving, running out of room, or even having too many pianos. A simple search through an online marketplace such as Ebay or Craigslist will reveal a number of player pianos for absolutely free that you can own. There's even a handful of free reproducing pianos that even come up each year.

What to look for:

Many people argue over what the best sounding and attractive player piano is, but on a budget - you don't necessarily need those. The most important aspect of a player is reliability and I firmly believe that a 'Standard' player piano action is the way to go. This isn't only because they last, but once a restoration is needed, the repair work is much more streamlined than in others.

The 'Standard' Player Action seal can generally be found above the tracker bar on a player piano.

Over 50% of antique player pianos made used the standard action. There's still several other types of pneumatic actions which certainly can last decades, but again, in terms of a restoration, you'll probabably want one of these.

On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to find a budget or even free reproducing piano in good shape - get one of those!

What to avoid:

Many pianos in the later 20's used pot metal in parts in the player actions. There's really no other way to put it: be wary of anything with pot metal. 'Pot metal' after several decades will crack to the point where getting new metal parts will be inevitable, and that can get costly very quick.

There was a haitus in player piano interest spanning from the 30's through the early 50's, coming back after several notable references in pop culture (Ever heard of 'The Old Piano Roll Blues'?) and revivals of vintage music. With this newly restored interest in player pianos, new ones were built... And they generally weren't as good as the old ones.

A 30-40 year old 'Universal' player piano. The system itself is a fairly nice design with the stained glass panels adding a nice visual touch to the piano. Unfortunately, issues with plastic pouches arose just a few years after these were made. This one has been updated to use reliable zephyr skin pouches which are what were used in the early antique pianos.

The new players are easily identifiable, almost all of them being compact spinet to studio sized pianos. Their issues range from poorly made plastic unit blocks to pneumatic pouches that last about 10 years before giving out. That's not to say that they can't be good pianos, but you'll almost definitely have to update the materials to higher quality at some point.

So why delay? Do a bit of research and get a player piano of your own!

There are hundreds of thousands of music rolls to collect and listen to... also for next to nothing. One song from the 1910's or 20's could have over a dozen versions made, and music is still being produced to this day! There's no doubt that a player piano can be one of the most fun - yet 'easy on the wallet' acquisitions you can make in mechanical music.

Categories: Player Pianos