• 1.  Player piano quality

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-09-2023 14:05

    I've been curious about this for a while, so I thought I'd ask. The old player pianos, while impressive mechanical devices, never sound like a real person playing and they can never seem to get a well voiced/shaped phrase. Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems players pianos were never really designed for the professional musician (this may seem obvious since professional musicians wouldn't need a machine to reproduce what they can do on their own). My question: did companies sacrifice the overall quality of components in player pianos? For example, was a Steinway, Chickering or Knabe player piano built to the same standards as their non-player counterparts?  

    Tim Foster
    New Oxford PA
    (470) 231-6074

  • 2.  RE: Player piano quality

    Posted 05-09-2023 14:10
    Steinway Duo-Art instruments reproduced 16 levels of dynamics and I've always heard it said that only the best instruments were used for players. I have a superb Steck upright, a Broadwood baby which was converted from being a player https://youtu.be/OBOdhthgsxs?t=1034 and maintain a Steinway A which had been a player and serves now as the concert instrument at a prestigious school.

    Best wishes

    David P

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    David Pinnegar, B.Sc., A.R.C.S.
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    +44 1342 850594

  • 3.  RE: Player piano quality

    Posted 05-09-2023 17:37

    Tim, you would be interested in reading up on the difference between player pianos and reproducing pianos.  Perhaps a place to start is the Player Piano Group.  https://playerpianogroup.org.uk/article/the-reproducing-piano/  I have a couple Steinway Model OR's that I service (without the reproducing mechanism) and they are excellent instruments, normal Steinway quality.  Regards, Norman.

    Norman Brickman
    Potomac Piano Service
    Potomac, Maryland
    (301) 983.9321

  • 4.  RE: Player piano quality

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-09-2023 20:23

    The 16 levels of dynamics in the old player pianos certainly can't come close to the 256 steps in, say, a Yamaha Disklavier reproducing piano. But when the piano and player system are in good maintenance they can still be very amazing. There's an old Mason & Hamlin Duo-Art piano at the Nethercutt Museum, in Sunland, CA. that sits on the landing between the 2nd and 3rd floors that plays Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue during tours, both parts performed by Gershwin, and it's quite a treat. Kyle Erwin, who maintains all the musical instruments at the Nethercutt keeps, it in extraordinary condition. 

    Also, not that you would necessarily want to follow this path, the advantage of a pneumatic player system is that there are almost no parts that cannot still be found or duplicated. They could conceivably be kept alive for the life of the piano. In modern digital reproducing pianos, once the electronics die you're left with a non-reproducing piano. 

    Geoff Sykes, RPT
    Los Angeles CA

  • 5.  RE: Player piano quality

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-09-2023 21:51

    A well rebuilt and maintained M & H BB  ampico B is hard to beat!

    Parker Leigh
    Winchester VA
    (540) 722-3865

  • 6.  RE: Player piano quality

    Posted 05-10-2023 08:27
    The only thing I know of is that Duo Art reproducers and some Welte’s where the spool box (where the roll goes) is above the keyboard, rather than in a drawer under the keyboard. The spool box extends the piano cabinet, and subsequently the keys by 5 inches. I have a Weber Duo Art WR that is a 5’ 3” piano in a 5’ 8” cabinet.

    Thank you.

    Best Regards,
    Keith Gramlich

  • 7.  RE: Player piano quality

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-09-2023 22:49

    "My question: did companies sacrifice the overall quality of components in player pianos"

    If you’re asking about the piano part of the player pianos, my observation has been no, they did not. To me, it seems the vast majority of the old player pianos were about the same quality of the same company's non-player pianos. Maybe there are exceptions but it's hard to tell, considering the samples we have are a century old.

    If you’re talking about the player components as opposed to the piano components, I don’t think so either. My belief is that they probably used the best materials and techniques they had available at the time, at least in the majority of cases. The players would have been sold at a premium, so it wouldn’t make sense to cut corners. Again, with everything being a century old, it’s hard to tell for certain.

    Benjamin Sanchez, RPT
    Piano Technician / Artisan
    (256) 947-9999

  • 8.  RE: Player piano quality

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-10-2023 04:53

    Expression players at the turn of the century represented a pinnacle of technology and went into the best of pianos. The Spiro is continuing that tradition, Disklavier as well.
     Though sometimes compromises were made to physically accommodate the mechanisms. I've seen key sticks over 2 feet long.
    A lot of the old players don't sound good because they are simply worn out. Not requiring musicians to be played, they often have much more milage put on them than a typical piano. They were played and they were played hard.
    In contrast, the players built in the 70's and 80's, were often put in poorly made instruments with low quality parts and workmanship such as Aeolian and the early electronic players such as Marantz.

    Steven Rosenthal RPT
    Honolulu HI
    (808) 521-7129