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The first players were invented in the early 1890’s. They were contraptions with 65 fingers which were rolled up to a piano. Fingers were adjusted to align  to the piano’s keys, and pumped with foot pedals to create vacuum. When a hole in a paper roll was encountered it tripped a pneumatic valve that actuated the finger which then struck the piano key. These devices weighed about as much as a piano and were cumbersome to maneuver and adjust, consequently they were incorporated into the piano’s manufacture. The result was a piano that rivaled the weight of a compact car. Around 1910 electric motors replaced foot pumps opening up a new market - the Nickelodeon.

The Nickelodeon was popularized by saloons and speakeasies, and is regarded as the forefather of the juke box. The paper roll was replaced with a paper drum which could play up to 10 songs without rewinding. Drop in a nickel and hear a song. Put in a  quarter and hear 3 songs. (The reason you paid more and got less was that the bartender would hit a hidden cancel button when he walked past it. Patrons were usually too busy drinking to notice). The keyboard was eliminated to save floor space, other  accompaniments, xylophone, tambourine, castanets, triangle, etc, were added and Voila`! The Orchestrion was born.


Meanwhile, back on the home front, players became more sophisticated. By 1908 the number pneumatics
increased  from sixty-five to eighty-eight, and they too, got electrified. Extra holes were added to the
tracker bar which could interpret sixteen volume levels of expression. and the reproducer was born.
Competing companies would sign up famous musicians
and if you wanted to hear that particular artist you
needed that a specific reproducer. (Kind of like “Beta
vs VHS”). Two that survived were “Duo-Art” and “Ampico” with rolls for these units still in production.

Like any piano, Players received wear and tear every time they were played. Unlike a piano, they were played for hours on end. In addition, player rolls were often multi tracked, playing up to twenty notes at a time. How-
ever, time was the biggest enemy. Tubes were made of
butyl mixed with clay which crumbled to dust as it aged.
The valves were made of fetal calves’ hide which dete-
riorated rapidly. Eventually, most of the players were gutted, leaving an ordinary piano in their wake (a little worse for wear). People complain about the huge  waste of trashing all those player units, but if they hadn't been discarded, the survivors would not be as valuable, and worthy of restoration.
 

 

Now there’s a new “Kid on the block” - the electronic player. These players use micro processors and are capable of one hundred and twenty-seven levels of expressions. Some models can even record what is played on the keyboard. This time it’s a battle among “Diskclavier”, “Pianodisc”, “Concertmaster”, and “Pianomation”, and so the “Cola Wars” continue. Just like the former players, they will be cheaper to replace than to repair, but unlike the paper players, The cabinets are made of flimsy fiberboard with no evidence of craftsmanship, a compact disc has no nostalgic appeal, and it's doubtful they will ever become "Collector's Items" or even hold together through the test of time.

 
 


 (Steinway Duo-Art)

 

 

 

 
   

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Servicing the Kansas City, Gladstone, Overland Park
metropolitan area
with
moving • tuning • repairing • rebuilding • concert rentals

     
Jones Piano House

5742 N. Lenox Ave 
          Kansas City,  MO  64151

 816.587.1544

© 2012 - Stephan Cantu.  All rights reserved