Information for Player and 'Reproducing' Piano enthusiasts
The ARTCRAFT Studio in Maine

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"THE PIANOLA NEWS" — Sunday: February 1, 1998 - Vol. I, No. 4
[Updated Weekly]

Aeolian's mystery expression control

One of the first visual features which greet the Aeolian owner is the odd-looking "Temponamic" disc — often misnamed a "knob" by collectors today — featured among the array of Pianola levers on Steinway, Weber, George Steck and other fine pianos. The "Temponamic" is next to the Play-Rewind control, on the right in the keyslip, and looks nothing like the two graduating levers it replaces: Tempo and Accompaniment. This device has a 'radio dial' appearance, dominating the other standard levers in the Pianola and Duo-Art installations.

There have been cases where contemporary Player-Piano enthusiasts have paid MORE to acquire an instrument — or 88-Note external Pianola ('pushup' player) — with the "Temponamic" … as if a special SLIDING-and-ROTATING Disc would add "more" to the musical performance. This was originally the intent of The Aeolian Company, and the sales appeal remains strong even in our time — in spite of space travel, transistor radios and computers in the home. There is something of a "mystique" nature to this Aeolian feature, and the company reserved its use for only the costlier instruments in the 88-Note pedal player and the electrically-pumped 'reproducing' player lines. If one had an earlier Pianola Piano, before the "Temponamic" appeared … or a Wheelock, Stroud, Stuyvesant, Aeolian — and certain Steck models …there was an implication that the roll interpreter would have less expression. Aeolian reinforced the concept in their owner's manuals, which segregated and elevated the "Temponamic" from the instructions provided for the standard lever graduation controls.

The "Temponamic" appeared around 1913 and remained in the top-of-the-line players until about 1923, when the domestic Duo-Art installations began to feature separate Tempo and Accompaniment graduation levers, identical in function to those of the Stroud (etc.) lines of instruments. By contrast, the "Temponamic" appeared in many European and British players by Aeolian until the end of the era — but then the market overseas was often a bit more sophisticated, since Sustaining Pedal "Off" switches were included on foreign Duo-Art Pianolas, whereas the American models rarely contained this necessary artistic feature by the late 'Teens.

How does the "Temponamic" work … and what does it do?

The answers differ when this question is posed for the pedal-operated Pianola Piano (or external Pianola) when compared to the Duo-Art version with an electric vacuum pump.

The "Temponamic" slides for both Aeolian designs, duplicating the Tempo Lever function of the standard player — with "pause" or "stop" when the disc is moved rapidly to the far left. However, when the disc is turned, or rotated, the "dynamics" change … but the results are not the same in the transition from the standard pedal player action to the 'reproducing' one. Moreover, some of the pedal models have a duplicate use for the rotating feature! A Pianolist never really knows what to expect when being provided with a "Temponamic" player, and only after a few minutes of practice can he or she really take full command of the instrument.

When used with pedal player actions, the "Temponamic" graduates the Accompaniment (or 'regulated' keyboard touch) DOWNWARD with sliding chokes — which often serve as Soft Pedals on many pneumatic player designs. This is a form of suppression (or "choking") the instrument, yet allowing the Theme notes to bypass the Accompaniment. The Theme is 'unregulated' when the accent levers or the music roll perforations activate that part of the player action's system. Whatever is established by direct pedaling, the instrument plays (when the Theme mechanism operates for selected bass and/or treble notes).

When used with electric Duo-Art installations, the "Temponamic" acts as a CRESCENDO, by driving the keyboard attack UPWARD in volume … and, since the instrument has FULL POWER at all times, the effect is more apparent than it would be with the pedal player equivalent. For one thing, the Theme is under a separate graduation control for the Duo-Art, giving the Pianolist two independent dynamic levels at all times, much as an organist would have with a two-manual console over a single keyboard design. Both Theme and Accompaniment are fully 'regulated' on the Duo-Art, whether it be by use of the Pianola levers, the special music rolls which "tug" on them — or the intelligent Pianolist who elects to override the often bland expression scores on the original Aeolian arrangements.

Again, the pedal "Temponamic" instrument has only 1 avenue of 'regulated' vacuum for dynamics, and the Duo-Art has 2 — under the control of the rotating disc for Accompaniment and the Theme graduation lever for the solo notes.

When accenting with a Pianola Pianola equipped with the "Temponamic" more advance planning and finger manipulation is required over the conventional levers-only designs. The Pianolist must turn the control to the RIGHT to suppress the sound for keyboard Accompaniment, and then use the small accent levers with the left hand to introduce the Theme in the form of a musical bypass, for bass or treble. (The Themodist accents on most original Aeolian 88-Note rolls are abysmal, so there is little need to accept what's been provided in the 'automatic' department here. Aeolian rarely pulled out the triplet beats, often had no accented bass octaves through the entire arrangement and typically turned "off" the solo feature just when the music required it. Try a handful of classical Themodist-Metrostyle rolls of complex music, and this fact will be verified!) Now ... when one considers that a sliding Tempo Lever is PART of the ACCENTING SYSTEM for a pedal player, you can see that the "Temponamic" might not appeal to every Pianolist. Trying to slide the disc right-and-left for accenting while twisting it for suppressing the Accompaniment — and then using the left hand's fingers for tapping the accent controls for solo — can be a difficult physical manoeuvre to master [if not totally impossible for some people, due to the muscular dexterity required].

Moreover, the real TRICK of the pedal player is to return the Tempo Lever to a "home" position, repeatedly … a simple task with an ordinary lever control. The "Temponamic" which is being slid and twisted simultaneously presents a real problem in getting a 'norm' setting several times within a musical measure, since one's pedalling is synchronized with the swaying tempo lever operation.

The secondary feature of many "Temponamic" controls for the 88-Note player is a graduated Soft Pedal in the form of a Hammer Rail lift. This is achieved on players so-equipped with a LEFT turn of the disc, as opposed to a RIGHT turn for the action choke graduation. Unfortunately, the pneumatic-mechanical soft pedal has no "feel", so it's rather difficult to achieve an effective use of the feature ... and one gives up the versatile action chokes (for solo) in order to operate it. (Why Aeolian didn't combine the soft pedal with the chokes in a 2-stage RIGHT turn is a mystery.) Many Pianolas — including foreign Duo-Art installations — took the more intelligent route of adding a lever for the Soft Pedal (hammer rail lift), corresponding to an adjacent one for the Sustaining Pedal operation. Since once is so involved with RIGHT turns for "soft" combined with sliding for roll speeds, there's little time (if ever) to use the weirdo Soft Pedal graduation with the additional LEFT turn of the disc. As installed on most domestic Aeolian players, the dual-function "Temponamic" was a sales-gimmick in the eyes of many accomplished Pianolists today.

"Home" position for the 88-Note player is Accompaniment "off" — all the keyboard is 'unregulated' and the solo effect isn't possible until the "Temponamic" disc is turned to the RIGHT. (Turned to the LEFT the Soft Pedal will operate, as explained above, and the power will be 'unregulated'.)

"Home" position for the electric Duo-Art player means that the instrument is playing at the "softest level". The Accompaiment is 'regulated' at all times. The Theme is also, but by means of a lever for the left hand instead of the disc. Movement to the RIGHT increases the levels for both Theme and Accompaniment. Mastery of these two features allows a Pianolist to graduate either function of the instrument, activating the accents with the two hand levers next to the Theme control.

While developed for the pedal instrument, it's obvious that the "Temponamic" is not for everyone. The primary problem, beyond involving 2 hands (instead of 1) for accenting, is the difficulty in keeping a steady tempo … since, there's a relationship between pedals and Tempo Lever on all pneumatic player instruments.

With the Duo-Art, the "Temponamic" is an ideal control, allowing for fast accents on an instinctive basis. However, there's a problem of "lost motion" on the grand piano installations, where some of the tempo rods have up to EIGHT junctions, an impossibility to regulate beyond a certain point. Also, the Accompaniment graduation can suffer with the "Temponamic" grand pianos due to wear on the universal joint where the disc begins its complex commands for the dual sliding of metal rods under the instrument. Clearly, the "Temponamic" works more favourably with the upright Duo-Art installations, since the elements of "lost motion" are greatly reduced in the player action design.

It should be mentioned that the "Temponamic" disc telescopes outward from its basic position in the keyslip. This allows one to grasp it and exert the muscular power for twisting …an effort requiring greater force than the tempo setting motions. Here, additional "lost motion" is often to be found, since the Pianolist is grasping an extended ½-rod for the Accompaniment graduation.

Having said the above things about the two variants of the unusual "Temponamic" control, we suggest that you compare your physical abilities with the types of music you expect to be playing. The Duo-Art benefits more from the device, since the tempo doesn't need to be manipulated during the course of accenting, and the disc allows for a rapid up/down "floating" motion of the 'regulated' Accompaniment. Of course, so does the independent Accompaniment lever which is found on alternative installations, and the Pianolist doesn't need to keep his/her hand on the separate tempo lever, except for occasional roll recalibration settings every half-minute or so.

As we said at the outset, Aeolian used the "Temponamic" for product identification more than anything else. You can see Duo-Art ads with Walter Damrosch sitting next to a 'reproducing' roll playing, with the Metrostyle pointer [another Aeolian 'signature'!] and the" Temponamic" disc extended, and for what purpose since the player is unattended? As with the famous Coca-Cola™ bottle by Raymond Loewy, Schaeffer Pen's 'White Dot' and other product designs, Aeolian's (roll-ripping) Metrostyle Pointer and (tendonitis-inducing) "Temponamic" features are instantly recognizable. Beyond that, one must make a personal decision as to whether these are assets for the purchase of an existing Aeolian player instrument.

We vote "yes" with reservations for the Duo-Art Pianola and "no" for the pedal-operated Pianola Piano, when given a choice in the matter.

"One Size Fits All" —
The late 'Twenties pedal player action designs

When the 'reproducing' era began (excluding the early versions of German 'Red Welte' [T-100] which started the whole "sit and listen" artist-replication myth) the emphasis was on the electrically-powered expression player being two instruments in one. First, the electric player was advertised as being an expression instrument, and most of the early claims avoided the 'reproducing' term, stressing how the ART of a specific artist was being conveyed by the music rolls or that — to quote Aeolian in 1915 — "the Pianola is guided by fingers of air". The second promotional tier was that once having learned the elements of artistic playing THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF EXPRESSION ROLLS, the piano's owner could "take over" and introduce his own musical taste into the performance.

Aeolian, in the days of the Metro-Art rolls, stamped "The Value of the Metro-Art" on every leader. (These were a deluxe line of 88-Note rolls that were sold as "hand-played" but were furnished with a suggested Metrostyle line for additional tempo modifications, beyond the phrasing already cut into the arrangement). The gist of these short texts, usually printed in red ink, was that the listener gets tired of music repeated exactly the same each time … and that one's personal ideas for expression can enhance the ultimate performance. ( This was before the days of the B-Ampico and the late 'reproducing' players which went into background music as radio began to dominate the home. Duo-Art rolls by Armbruster and Milne, of course, also fit the same dull expression and performance norms of the later days.) During the 'Teens there was a concerted effort to get the owner/listener involved with the musical performance. The trade papers even featured display ads by Wm. Knabe (of Baltimore, MD) that described an early Ampico 'reproducing' piano which featured controls for the musician …allowing for the complete mastery over the expression system: " MANUALLY". Whether a Knabe-Ampico was built in the 'Teens that offered something along the lines of the highly-effective Welte-Mignon Licensee™ crescendo levers ... or controls even more sophisticated ... isn't known today. However, this early advertising indicates that even the American Piano Co. (which, like German Welte promoted the 'playback only' approach) began with the early desire for a "teaching" instrument that could cultivate and train a budding Pianolist.

When Duo-Art catalogues appeared in 1916, the "guided by fingers of air" phrase was frequently used, and as late as 1918 the dealers and salesman were told to stress the fact that repeated playings of the same interpretation bored musicians (true). This in-house Aeolian announcement also told the retailers TO SHOW THE CUSTOMERS 'HOW' to operate the Duo-Art as a Pianola and to demonstrate that it could equal or surpass their own expression rolls. Personal interpretation was the ultimate goal at this time.

During the halcyon days of the Player-Piano, dealers were encouraged to carry 2 lines of rolls: 88-Note and 'reproducing'. Thus, a customer of a Stoddard-Ampico roll could be sold a Rythmodik release of the same title, or vice-versa … and a Duo-Art owner could buy any number of Universal/Mel-O-Dee or Aeolian 88-Note tandem releases.

All went well until the radio, the automobile and other activities changed the mid-'Twenties lifestyle. By this time, the smaller retailer couldn't afford to stock double lines of player rolls, one for each style of instrument. It was in this atmosphere that upright players were made by the Standard Pneumatic Action Co. (Kohler), Gulbransen, Story & Clark and others — featuring names such as "Artist-Record", "Registering Piano" and "Reprotone", respectively, for these three brands. Most had only 80 playing keys, this being the era before plastic mending tape [which is ideal in our time for covering tracker bar holes on a temporary basis]. Some, like the "Reprotone" by Story & Clark, had 80 keys for 'reproducing' rolls — transposing them into 3 keys — plus a full scale of 88 'playing' notes for standard rolls — and offering a range of 5 keys … giving the owner the ability to play Welte, Ampico, Artecho, Duo-Art and anything else in the 11¼" wide/9-to-the-inch roll format.

Had not the piano industry collapsed in 1929, it seems likely that the "plays everything" type of upright pedal player would have been a popular offering. Today, there are many "Registering" pianos and "Artist-Record" instruments giving their owners endless pleasure. (Simplex, Amphion and other companies building these combination player uprights never really got into full-scale production.)

The existence of the "plays everything" instrument negates the entire assumed "legacy" of artists being recorded and 'reproduced' on electrically-pumped players, of course. 'Reproducing' rolls had previously been offered as something exotic and special, a product apart — and above — the 88-Note versions (made from the same Masters).

During the final days of the pneumatic player industry, stores could carry any style of rolls and sell them TITLE, not brand. Mr. Henderson relates a case involving one of his mother's aunts in Yolo County CA, who purchased a Gulbransen "Registering Piano" in the late 'Twenties, along with a matching roll cabinet and about 50 QRS Rolls. In the early 'Fifties, when he was just starting to perforate new arrangements, he played her Gulbransen and asked about the 'Recordo', 'Apollo' (Art Echo) and 'Deluxe' (Welte-Licensee) rolls in amongst the standard QRS 88-Note titles. "Extra holes on the rolls?" she said, "I never noticed those before, until you pointed them out."

Clearly, the "plays everything" pedal upright was the right instrument for the time, and it's a pity that more of them weren't built. These combination players offered variety, which the electric players of their day did not. Today, they are definitely worth restoring.

Back issues of "The PIANOLA News"
Vol. I, No. 1 (1-10-98)
Vol I, No. 2 (1-17-98)
Vol. I, No. 3 (1-25-98)
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[Original announcement for 'The PIANOLA News': 12-31-97]

- L. Douglas Henderson, dba ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, P.O. Box 295, Wiscasset, Maine 04578 (USA)
(207) 882-7420 - E-Mail:

A second ARTCRAFT Website? Not really, but a "toe in the water" featuring some basic information has been on the Internet for close to a year. There's a short bio on the business which might be of interest to 'hard-core' ARTCRAFT fans. Check out this URL: (Make sure that "www" isn't in this URL!)

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