Mechanical Music Restoration

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Mechanical Music

Player Piano (Pianola, Piano Player)


Cylinder Musical Box

Disc Musical Box

This page will describe various instruments and will hopefully include some pictures, and perhaps even some sounds once I can master the techniques of digital recording and adding sound to the site!

It is aimed at newcomers to Mechanical Music, to give them a better understanding of the range of instruments available, and perhaps encourage them to take the plunge, or widen their horizons.

If you have details, pictures, sounds of unusual instruments you would like to add, e-mail me on

WHAT IS ...........................

Player Piano
A Player Piano is a normal piano (upright or grand) fitted with a Player Action. The Player Action is a mechanism which, by means of a perforated paper roll, plays the piano. The original Player Pianos consisted of a series of valves and bellows operated by suction, the suction being provided either by foot operated bellows, or by a motor driven pump. Later instruments were solenoid operated.

The very first instruments generally available were actually Piano Players, stand alone mechanisms with normally 65 wooden fingers, which were pushed up to a conventional piano. The paper roll was run through the Piano Player (colloquially known as a Push-up), and the fingers played the piano. Their popularity inevitably led quickly to pianos with player actions built in (Player Pianos).

The most prolific company producing Player Pianos was Aeolian, who used the brand name Pianola for their push-ups and later player pianos. This name became the generic name for Player Pianos (a bit like Hoover did for vacuum cleaners). Like the push-ups, the early Player Pianos only played 65 notes (although the pianos had the usual 88 notes), but later that was increased to 88 notes. Some intermediate Players can still be found with dual tracker bars which will play both 65 and 88 note rolls.

As the Player mechanisms were improved, Aeolian, and its competitor Ampico, developed Reproducing pianos. These were sophisticated Players with additional functionality capable of reproducing original performances. Individual notes can be given differing degrees of emphasis as a human player would. This was achieved with additional holes in the tracker bar, and specially punched rolls. The original performances were recorded on special recording pianos which recorded the exact timing and force applied to each note by the performer. Many well known performers of the period recorded this way and their preformances can still be replicated on Aeolian Duo-Art, and Ampico Player Pianos. Reproducers are thus quite sought after by collectors and demand higher prices than simple players.