When did Player Pianos originate?

Player pianos using paper rolls first appeared in the 1860s in Europe, and by the 1890s the player as we know it was in many homes. Improvements continued until the late1920s, though sales began to drop in the mid - 1920s and were almost gone by the time of the depression. A few were sold until WW2, then none until the 1950s when cheap players made with lots of plastic appeared. These were of rather poor quality and gave players a bad name. Electric players such as Disklavier, Piano Disc and Pianomation were developed in the 1980s and continue to be sold today. These electric players use electronic computer - type files rather than paper rolls, and they can give us good or better performance than the old vacuum operated players.

Most of the old players only played the notes and operated the sustain pedal, but there were also more sophisticated ones that controlled the loudness, or expression of the notes as well. The simplest of these where called "Expression Pianos", the more complex ones were called "Reproducing Pianos". They had additional holes in the rolls that controlled the expression. Piano rolls that played just the notes are usually called "Player Piano Rolls", or sometimes "88-note Rolls", because they played only the 88 keys of a piano. Most piano rolls made were of this type. The Expression and Reproducing rolls have brand names such as AMPICO, Duo-Art, Welte, Recordo, and several others. While 88-note Rolls will usually play on Reproducing Pianos, the reverse is not true unless some of the holes in the tracker bar are covered.

Visit Player-Care and AMICA for more informaiton.

Will your piano rolls play on my piano?

Yes, our rolls will play on almost any piano. Some special types of pianos may require putting tape over some of the holes at the end of the tracker bar (the bar with holes that the paper passes over). These pianos use some end holes to control the loudness of the playing. Some names of this type of piano are AMPICO, Duo-Art, Welte.

Are all piano rolls the same?

No, there are many different types. Some will play on any player piano, others are designed to play on special types of pianos. Standard player piano rolls, such as those made by the QRS company, play all 88 of the piano notes and operate the sustain (loud) pedal. An early type of roll played only 65 notes, and will not fit on a standard player. Some types of rolls had extra holes beyond the playing notes, and often used some of the notes at the end of the normal note range to automatically control the expression ( loudness and softness) of the notes. The most common of these types are called AMPICO, Duo-Art, Welte. These will play on a standard player piano, but you must put tape over some of the end holes in the tracker bar so the expression holes won't play extra notes. If you have questions contact us.

How much is my piano roll worth?

Usually not very much. Popular piano roll music was like popular music today, and most of it is now forgotten and of no interest to most people. It's hard to even give away this sort of roll. Like popular music today, there are a few that were good enough to stand the test of time, and these may be worth something. If there were a lot of them made even the good ones aren't valuable, but rare good ones can bring high prices. The asking prices on eBay and in antique stores are not what you will usually get for your roll. Most standard piano rolls are worth less than $1.00. Really good rolls by top rate artists can bring over $100. It takes someone experienced in collecting to know how much a roll is worth.

The types of rolls that play the music with expression (AMPICO, Duo-Art, Welte, and several others) are usually worth more, if they are not common titles. Common titles have little value, but the more desirable ones may be worth a lot more. Again, it takes someone experienced in collecting to know how much a roll is worth.

If a roll is damaged it is usually worth little, unless it is a rare roll that can be repaired or copied. Old original piano rolls are now 75 to 100 years old and the paper is fragile and getting worse with time. Very fragile rolls also have less value.

Can you copy my piano roll if it has been damaged?

Usually we can, if the damage is not too severe. There may be an extra charge for repairing the damage to the point where it can be "read" by our scanner. The scanner is an electronic equivalent of the tracker bar on your piano.

How do you copy a piano roll?

First we "read" the roll in our scanner, the same as if it is playing on a piano. This creates an electronic file that is an exact image of the roll. Then we process that file into one that will operate our roll perforator. The perforator is the machine that punches the holes in the piano roll paper. After the paper is punched it is rolled onto a spool, which is the cardboard tube with ends that you put on your piano. Then the first part of the roll is trimmed and the tab is glued on. A label is then glued on and the roll is put in its box.