ARTCRAFT Music Rolls

A short explanation about the similarities
the 'standard' pedal players and the electrically-pumped 'expression' models

Definition of a "REPRODUCING" PIANO

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    There's nothing mysterious or that different between a Pianola (Player-Piano) — using standard 88-Note rolls and operated by foot pedals — and the famous electrically-pumped "Reproducing" players, which used special rolls featuring additional perforations that controlled the dynamics of the instrument.

    True, the original advertising ... and the rehash/revisionist statements of today (mostly uttered by musical poseurs or people who don't arrange Master Rolls) ... presented the electric player as something "different" and "above" the regular foot-impelled instrument.

    Essentially, a pedal player action required one to use the treadles and the hand controls — which were levers or buttons — to INTERPRET the perforated rolls. The accomplished intepreter was called a "Player-Pianist", "Playerist" and most frequently a "Pianolist".

    A "Pianolist" can modify and otherwise influence the tempo and pedal shadings of a perforated arrangement, but he/she is working within limits established by the music roll Arranger, who defines the striking by the control of the perforation lengths ... and who also establishes the paper travel speed limits for the performance.

    A "Reproducing" piano merely uses marginal perforations to imitate in a generalized manner the SAME DYNAMICS which a human interpreter would add to the Player-Piano's performance. It's not unlike the automatic transmission of an automobile, such as Hydra-Matic™, which "does the shifting of gears" as one operates the accelerator pedal.

    Since pianos vary, the "Reproducing" variety requires that the instrument be 'fitted' to the spectrum of the expression player action, and the industry did this when they were new. As with the automatic transmission (which has multiple DRIVE RANGES), most expression players have hand controls which allowed the Pianolist to override or command the rolls totally, when the arrangement didn't suit one's personal taste ... or the particular instrument upon which a certain roll was being played.

    In order to sell complicated players which were electrically-powered, the MYSTIQUE of an "artist" was added to the advertising for these semi-automatic pianos, which — like the regular pedal player — require the listener to recalibrate the tempo after 2 minutes of playing, since the rolls tend to "speed up" or "slow down", depending upon the model which is operating in an unattended fashion.

    Rolls for the "Reproducing" Pianos, such as the Duo-Art, Welte-Mignon, Ampico and other brands, were marketed as 'recorded performances' ... when, in fact, they were often standard 88-Note rolls retrofitted with additional holes for the automatic expression controls.

    The Aeolian Duo-Art, for example, merely TUGGED ON THE SAME EXPRESSION VALVES which the manual interpreter could use ... and often more effectively. (It stands to reason that a live Pianolist, using the electric Duo-Art, controlled the instrument with more refinement than most of the old commercial rolls, which were generalized in their perforated expression scores.) Artists, when they weren't pseudonyms used by the factories, were merely PAID for their names and received PUBLICITY, since the piano companies had tremendous wealth at their disposal, until the end of the 'Twenties. [If you are interested in the whole saga of how the public was sold a 'bill of goods' about the abilities of the "Reproducing" Piano, check out our text on the subject, called Dead Heads on Parade! (This article even quotes from the Ampico Salesman's Guide, telling him what to say to a potential customer!)]

    The old companies often sold 88-Note rolls and "reproducing" rolls, made from the same arrangements! A Rythmodik 88-Note selection could become an Ampico roll ... a Mel-O-Dee title was released in tandem as a Duo-Art 'recording' ... and the Welte-Mignon Licensee people juggled a host of 88-Note brands, such as Artempo, Republic and other labels, being part of the Kohler & Campbell piano conglomerate.

    We advocate that "Reproducing" Piano owners 'monitor' the rolls, and interpret with the hand controls, whenever they wish. A "Reproducing" Piano is just a standard player, fitted with an electric pump and the expression unit which 'reads' the marginal perforations on special rolls designed for the systems. Most of these instruments "double" as 88-Note players anyway, via an OFF control for the semi-automatic expression mechanism.

    You can play "Reproducing" Piano rolls on any standard 88-Note player, merely by taping over the top/bottom 4 holes on the tracker bar, using 3-M's Magic Plus tape in the blue plaid box. This is removable, so it won't interfere with your instrument. Similarly, you can play incompatible expression rolls on a different kind of "reproducing" action, which also involves a little creative taping. In the ARTCRAFT Studio we play Welte and Ampico on the electric Duo-Art grand ... and any brand of expression roll on the 88-Note pedal player grand. The miracle of removable plastic tape has opened many doors for the Pianola enthusiast, in our time.

    We hope this explanation is easily understood by the typical reader. True, a "Reproducing" Piano has much more tubing and complicated pneumatic mechanisms, in order to simulate the human fingers running same expression via the interpretive buttons/levers. The end result is the same in both cases, whether the piano is powered by one's pedal effects or controlled by a complex expression mechanism.

    If you have any questions about your "Reproducing" Piano and its design, old/new rolls for the standard player vs. the expression type, or whatever ... feel free to write us at this address: ARTCRAFT Music Rolls. We have been creating and performing QUALITY rolls for almost 50 years, and would be happy to answer any questions about pneumatic player instruments.

    When all is said and done, the MUSIC ROLL'S PERFORATED "NOTE-SCORE" is of paramount importance. No Player-Piano performance can transcend this major part of the roll which "activates the piano keys". In fact, some of the worst rolls ever made were of the "reproducing" variety, in the so-called Golden Age of Player-Pianos! Fortunately, most vintage instruments have that ever-present OFF control, which allows the human interpreter to operate the player action manually.

L. Douglas Henderson - ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
Wiscasset, ME 04578 USA
October 28, 2000
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