Now that ARTCRAFT Music Rolls has been on the Internet for several years' time — switching over from elaborate printed Catalogues and Supplements (sent through the Post Office mails) ... to a detailed "Internet Catalogue" consisting of 102 pages, if printed up — it's obvious that The PIANOLA News can only be launched in-between major perforating projects and the regular processing of mail-orders. When it comes to "rolls" vs. this Web periodical, we defer to player roll activities.

The PIANOLA News will continue to be published, and remain on the ARTCRAFT Website along with the backissues ... but the frequency of new editions will be "irregular" due to the fact that our URL has tripled the demand for our celebrated Interpretive Arrangements. So — visit us from every so often and you'll see new editions of The PIANOLA News. Producing this newsletter will have to done during "when time permits" instead of on the steady basis originally projected. The regular work in the ARTCRAFT Studio consumes the rest of our precious hours!  (April, 1999)

Mailing List Announcement!

Have you discovered the ARTCRAFT Newsletter? We have "grown with the Internet" and started a periodic 'mailing' list series ... containing articles, similar to those in The PIANOLA News (below) ... but also which announce NEW rolls and other activities from the ARTCRAFT Studio. If you are on our mailing list, these E-Mail messages - spaced a month or two apart, on the average - will reach you immediately. However, you can always read the published Editions, which are indexed with subject matter on this page -

You'll find some interesting material, we are certain, in these issues of The PIANOLA News, but the latest information can come right to your mailbox if you CLICK HERE for a "mailto:" subscription message. (You can unsubscribe at any time, and your E-Mail information is shared with nobody else; only your address - not even your name - is necessary to join our growing group of subscribers.)

Check out the backissues at <archives.htm>, given above. If you like what you see, including the linked photographic "extra" URLs, we'd be happy to have you as a member of our community of Player-Piano and Pianola roll enthusiasts!

— L. Douglas Henderson | ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
Wiscasset, Maine 04578 USA
August 26, 2001


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

[Return to Home Page]

"THE PIANOLA NEWS" — Thursday, April 8,1999 - Vol. II, No. 8
[Updated Whenever Time Permits!]

"DEAD HEADS" on Parade!

— OR —
Photographs of long-gone Pianists are NECESSARY in order to promote rolls for the 'Reproducing' Piano

The MYTH of a deceased pianist being 'PRESERVED' ON PLAYER ROLLS continues to create an income for pseudo-researchers and the musically ignorant.

How did this "Musical Snake Oil" come about?

Read how the marketing sham of the Past shaped the pseudo-scientific claims of the present day!


You would think — this being the enlightened end of the 20th Century — that the whole ruse of promoting perforated expression rolls as REPRODUCTIONS OF ARTISTS' PERFORMANCES would have evaporated by now. In other words, the claim that mathematically-cut Pianola rolls had "something" to do with a virtuoso's keyboard performance SHOULD HAVE VANISHED long ago ... in this age of myriad audio sources and videotapes — plus today's rapid Internet communications.

The whole circle of false claims for the 'Reproducing' Piano (as semi-automatic expression players were called) rests upon two features: 1.) The VISUAL ASPECT of using PHOTOGRAPHS and Logotypes of famous artists, who 'rented out' their names to the player roll industry and 2.) The PREMISE that a 'recording' piano could somehow "capture and preserve" fleeting keyboard performances ... an impossibility if one considers that the paper travel speeds were too slow for this purpose. Also, with the pneumatic striking 'fingers' resting upon the keys at all times a good portion of the dynamic range of the piano is beyond the capability of ANY player action. [This second facet has so many corollaries that our discussion will skip, for now, the variables between the automatic sustaining pedal and that of the keyboard artist, the methods for achieving "solo" effects which are essential to fine piano playing or the 'building' of tonalities — all of which differ completely when the Pianola and the pianoforte are compared in the realm of virtuoso music performance.]

How did the whole marketing premise of "The Master's Fingers on Your Piano"(to quote the Welte-Mignon Licensee slogan) move from an impossible musical feat to a marketable product and finally into the recycled falsehood which continues — for egocentric publicity and/or monetary profit — into the present day?

Here's a resumé of the 'Reproducing' Piano ... and how it came to be:

The "Artist Myth" starts in Germany in 1904

The idea of an electrically-pumped player action with GRADUATED VACUUM for expression begins in Germany. Messrs. Karl Bockisch (who invented most of the 'reproducing' piano concept), Edwin Welte and Hugo Popper were involved in the production of the first successful instrument — offered as a "piano-player" (vorsetzer) and as a complete piano with a built-in player mechanism. This was the celebrated Welte-Mignon, and the expression system, while difficult to adjust and regulate, is capable of TERRIFIC accenting and crescendo effects ... later streamlined in the States as the Welte-Mignon Licensee by Kohler & Campbell (builders of the Autopiano and also the ubiquitous Auto Deluxe [Standard Pneumatic] player actions).

The Welte-Bockisch expression system was controlled by music roll perforations, to raise or lower the "bass" and "treble" halves of the scale. It was ingenious and, when an ARRANGER could score the Welte-Mignon rolls to simulate a pedal Pianolist (roll interpreter), the results are still astounding, even today.

Unfortunately, the Welte enterprise produced rolls made by 'recording' an artist on a special grand piano, which is NOT the way to create artistic arrangements, due to the irregularities which are inherent in ALL rolls cut from keyboard "source material." Moreover, the rolls on red paper (called T-100 or 'Red Welte') generally presented the listener with muted and lackluster expression which rarely pushed the system to its zenith ... and, worse still, they were incompatible with the 65-Note and 88-Note rolls, the latter being standardized in 1910.

One of the worst features of the T-100 Welte player was that it had no controls for the Pianolist to "override" boring expression, though the erratic rhythm of the rolls was a permanent drawback for any serious listener ... and beyond any modification by the music roll interpreter.

Up until the start of The Great War (World War I), Germany dominated the expression player industry ... primarily selling instruments to wealthy patrons, since electricity in the home (and the standardization of currents) was in its infancy then. An American subsidiary for M. Welte & Sons operated in Poughkeepsie, New York, which was sold off as Alien Property when the United States entered the European conflict. [It is this transfer of ownership which allowed the Kohler player business to begin producing a series of Welte-Mignon instruments which employed the standard 11¼" 88-Note width music roll ... adding the versatile levers for the Pianolist to use on standard or 'reproducing' rolls ... and STREAMLINING the German design so that faster-acting dynamic changes could be scored into the arrangements. The Welte-Licensee was installed in over 110 makes of pianos, from Baldwin and Sohmer to Stieff and Hardman. Unlike the German series with the T-100 rolls, the Licensee is an overlooked, underrated instrument today ... especially when playing the later ARRANGEMENTS by Howard Lutter in the 'brown box' series (under his and a variety of names). The Licensee encouraged participation with the music rolls, whereas the original Welte system was strictly a "sit and listen" proposition — a tragic use for an expression system that was hindered by the necessity to 'record' artists, yet which produced rolls that didn't sound like them at all — if one checks-out the audio recordings they made at the same time.]

The German advertising was the "icon" method: don't question anything but look at the artists' pictures and see their logotype signatures on the roll labels. The magazine reader saw photographs of Josef Hofmann, Teresa Carreño, Edvard Grieg, Ignace Paderewski and Vladimir de Pachmann as Welte-Mignon artists with this advertising text of the day:

"The Welte-Mignon Autograph Piano is the Living Soul of the Artist. So accurately does the Welte reproduce each note - each delicate shade of contrast - and the individuality of the player, that famous critics declare it impossible to believe that the artist is not actually playing."
(The famous critics are not specified but any musician, after the novelty fades [of the moving keys combined with various degrees of expression], will soon be irritated by the clumpy staccato and the irregular rhythm within the measure ... something which fatigues a music lover after a couple of rolls have been played.)

Generally speaking, the German and German-American advertising was the GROCERY LIST type of promotion: just name the artists and reiterate the Welte trademark.

The outrageous "baloney" is American-made

Never let it be said that we, in the States, can't take an idea and blow it out of proportion! (Think of the tragic accidents people are having today with SUV's, i.e. four wheel drive vehicles, trying to duplicate the cliff-hopping feats as seen on television commercials.) Exaggeration is the norm for many campaigns in this Country, but music often got "slaughtered" — along with the artists' integrity — on the American 'reproducing' instruments, of which there were many. The Aeolian Duo-Art and the Ampico were among the most popular from the late 'Teens up to the early 'Thirties.

The Duo-Art, fitted with versatile Pianola hand controls, can out-perform a pedal player, as even Aeolian wrote in a dealers' memo of 1918. The Ampico had a few manual controls, but was designed for the "sit and listen" school established by the German Welte people. Both went in for outlandish claims for 'reproduction', but Ampico left a paper trail which reveals the hokum behind this industry.

Again, the essential idea was the same as it was in Europe: electrify a standard player action ... control the dynamics not through pedal effects but through "music roll commands" which accomplished the same thing, but in a generalized way since no two pianos are the same in tonality. (This is why levers are ESSENTIAL for any electric 'reproducing' piano. One can override and fine-tune a Welte-Licensee or Duo-Art, for example, making a pedestrian old roll into an exciting musical performance; it doesn't matter if the roll were originally sold as an 88-Note release or a 'reproducing' arrangement.) The expression roll simply controls linkages that 'TUG' ON THE SAME GRADUATED HAND CONTROL LEVERS which the Pianolist already uses — and often more rapidly when old commercial rolls are concerned! As anyone who puts a little thought into this will soon realize, the "tone production" commands have to be cut into the roll by an arranger and have nothing to do with the pianist at all ... even if the performance results bear an uncanny similarity on some selections.

Photographs galore were plastered all over the original American advertisements, and it is these ... combined with some books and articles written by self-styled experts? in the contemporary player field, which have perpetuated the "bull" which clouds the POTENTIAL of all 'reproducing' instruments. The Pianola can never be a record/playback device, as often advertised in the past. Old audio recordings reveal "how" the legendary artistsreally played ... and many times these same compositions were simultaneously being assembled in roll factories by musical hacks in names of specific musicians. (Josef Hofmann received $1000.00 per roll created by W. Creary Woods at Aeolian. The results sounded good even though not authentic, and with that kind of money in the 'Twenties, why should he complain?) We, in the present time, should not allow pleasant-sounding expression rolls to be palmed-off as 'reproductions' of these famous deceased pianists. For their artistic contributions, we can listen to reissues of old 78's and cylinder records on modern audio. The Pianola — be it an electric 'reproducing' model or a standard pedal player upright — has great artistic potential ... and this is only realized when the machine is under human supervision. The alleged artist, who was paid - after all, should not be included in the discussion of historic music rolls.

The DEAD SEA SCROLLS of Ampico: The Shame of Salesmanship

The following paragraphs are direct quotes from The AMPICO Reproducing Piano: SALESMAN'S MANUAL, a rare brochure of the 1920's which was reprinted by technician and collector Ed Gaida in 1998. As Willy Loman said in that famous play: "Sell, sell, sell!!"


What Is A Reproducing Piano?

In the first place the Ampico is not a "player piano," and must under no circumstances be offered as such. It is true that the Ampico may be used as a player, but this is purely incidental to its unique distinction as a REPRODUCING PIANO. It is of the utmost importance that this distinction be kept clear in the prospect's mind. The Ampico must never be referred to as an electric piano. It is a REPRODUCING PIANO, an instrument which reproduces so faultlessly the playing of eminent concert pianists that the artist seems to play again. The reproduction is not distinguishable from the public performance of the artist himself.

When the artist makes his master roll for the Ampico, the record shows not only what notes were struck, but also exactly how long each string vibrated. Each note perforation in an Ampico roll represents the length of time that the string vibrated when the artist made the record. It is the Ampico's ability to reproduce the "singing tone" of the artists that has amazed musicians and music lovers alike.

The Ampico is simply without any limitations whatever, so far as expression is concerned. It can and does reproduce the artist's interpretation touch for touch, tone for tone and phrase for phrase, with such uncanny fidelity that all the individual characteristics of the artist's style are clearly recognizable.

Tone Color

When a pianist plays for the Ampico in our laboratories, a record is taken from the strings of the piano itself. From this the master roll is made, in which the tone-coloring is registered, and the reproduction is therefore animated and glowing with musical feeling.

No other reproducing piano give the quality of "singing tone" heard in the Ampico.

New Demands Upon the Salesman

A good Ampico salesman must know something about the better class of music — at least enough to talk intelligently with many Ampico prospects who are conversant with musical matter. The majority of prospects are probably more interested in the Ampico's reproduction of dance music, light opera classics, and "heart-songs" than they are in the more serious music. The Ampico salesman can't afford to be either a high-brow or a low-brow. He must be "all things to all men."

How to Make the Ampico Sell Itself

The salesmen in our New York retail warerooms have shown that it requires about a third as much selling energy to sell an Ampico as it does to sell a "player piano." And this is in spite of the fact that the Ampico is somewhat higher in price. The Ampico is so far ahead of any "player" instrument hitherto offered to the public that it may be said to "sell itself."

Attitude Toward the Ampico

Don't forget that the Ampico is not a "player piano" or an "electric piano," but a REPRODUCING PIANO first, last and always. A salesman who is demonstrating the Ampico day after day runs the danger of "going stale" — of forgetting that the Ampico's reproduction of a great artist's playing is nothing less than a twentieth century miracle and should be treated as such. If you ever feel yourself in this danger, we suggest that you read the newspaper clippings in the folio already supplied to you.

Stock Display

The Ampico should be displayed in a room separate and apart from other instruments, and the furnishings of this room should be carefully chosen with a view to creating an atmosphere of dignity and artistic refinement. The surroundings exert a very great influence on the customer. Great care should be exercised to display the instrument in the most effective manner. It is always best not to have two sets of customers in the same room. Salesmen should not be taking customers into a room that is already occupied by other customers.

A Model Demonstration

The customer is conducted to the Ampico room (which may be properly designated as the Ampico Studio) AND SEATED COMFORTABLY. The instrument has previously been left with the roll inserted and with the levers set ready to play. While still talking, the salesman unobtrusively throws the switch which starts the roll. In this way the customer gets an agreeable surprise and is impressed with the Ampico, whereas if the salesman begins the demonstration by dropping the keyslip, fussing with levers, setting the repeat buttons, etc., the customer may get the idea that the manipulation is bothersome.

The demonstration must be so conducted that the prospect will realize that he or she is listening, not to a piano or a piano player, but to a great artist. Just before the roll starts you might remark, "You are now going to hear —— play," giving of course the name of the artist whose record you are using.

The Reproducing Feature

When a roll is placed in the Ampico, do not throw on the switch until the tempo has been set, reverse lever set, and the front panels closed. Too much emphasis cannot be laid on this. It would be unheard of for a concert pianist to have sheet music in front of him when playing at a recital. It is even more disconcerting to the customer's mind if the eyes are focussed (sic) on the moving roll in the player.

Keep away from mechanism and machinery in your talk as far as possible. The customer is interested not in the machinery by which the Ampico achieve its effects, but in the effects themselves. Don't take off the top or bottom frame of an upright in order to show the mechanism. If the customer brings up the mechanical end, simply say that every part is made of the finest material and in a splendidly equipped factory. [ARTCRAFT Editor's note: Pot metal components are the "finest materials"? Pot metal appears in many spoolbox transmission frames, control levers, elbows and other key features of most Ampico players!]

Catalogue of Records

The catalogue contains only those selections with a proven selling value.

Read this manual not once but twice, and once again, until you become thoroughly familiar with its valuable selling helps, which are compiled from the practical experience of men who have put the Ampico into over 500 homes in less than six months.

[End of quotes from the Ampico book.]

The rolls which the Ampico booklet suggested for Demonstrations were, save Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 and Etude de Concert, all muddy, muted, dreamy, slushy arrangements ... nothing which would push the pianoforte to its dynamic limits or keep a concert audience focused. The titles included Liebestraum (the proven attention-getter for the instrument, a copy given away with most piano sales, much as Paderewski's Minuet was with the Duo-Art player) along with Melody in F, The Lark, Shades of Night, My Heart At Thy Sweet Voice plus Schumann's Traumerei and Romance.


Discovering "lost" player roll performances becomes a Modern Day Industry ... 
PHOTOGRAPHS of DEAD PIANISTS are essential to the marketing strategy!

With our era of space travel, telecommunications, inexpensive and easily-accessible audio, videotapes and television sets, you would expect us to be more sophisticated than the original customers were for these expression players — from the early Welte-Mignon to the New Ampico of '29 (in production until '36). The public was naïve before World War II and few people ever questioned advertising claims. Today, many sales would be lost if — when asked to see the interior of the player — the customers would be given the "brush-off" ... which is really what the dealer was advised to do. Today also, many people might initiate a class action suit when it turned out that some of the "finest of materials" turned out to be cheap, self-destructing pot metal (a.k.a. "white metal") lurking under the rich veneers of their Mason & Hamlin Ampico grand piano.

The 'Reproducing' Piano had been, since the demise of the player industry during the Great Depression, appreciated among pockets of collectors in the States, who enjoyed them for WHAT THEY WERE: artistic machines which added the dimension of semi-automatic play to the existing technologies for the standard pedal player — when using special music roll arrangements designed for each particular system. More often than not, the owners of these electrically-pumped expression players ran them with standard 88-Note rolls, though few ever mastered the art of Pianola lever interpretation on instruments so equipped.

After the era of High Fidelity LP records arrived, in the early 'Fifties, the 'Legacy Industry' began to emerge. Some of the long-playing albums were good, especially as those by Readers Digest and later by Klavier Records (also in the music roll duplicating business for many years). Others were ghastly travesties of the 'Reproducing' Piano, such as the Telefunken and RCA-Victor LP releases of the time. These monaural and stereo LP albums were simply recordings, for better or worse, of the pneumatic instruments "in performance". Most trotted-out recycled versions of the advertising hype from 1904-1935, that is, the 'recorded' pianists were being 'recreated' ... and this was the beginning of flashing names like "Paderewski," "Gershwin," and "Saint-Saëns" all over the album jacket covers (and misguided liner notes).

In the early 'Sixties one particular individual hit-the-road to "discover" Duo-Art performances of famous pianists which were supposedly "lost" ... when, in fact, the rolls were in many collections and already being recut in several parts of the world. This was the beginning of the idea to set up foundations (for receiving grants and gifts) and move the residentially-based 'Reproducing' piano into the realm of a "lost art."

Immediately, PHOTOS of DEAD ARTISTS began to dominate the publicity, especially since people were now entering the arena who didn't make player rolls ... didn't restore expression players ... and/or didn't understand HOW the various systems work NOR the principles of "arranging" upon which they were based. (Ernest Hutcheson wrote in 1931 that the Player-Piano became a "prostitute" when it tried to shift from an interpretive medium into 'reproducing' the artist. 'Whore' words in the music magazines were a rarity then. The CASH FLOW from piano companies had stopped, so many musicians formerly associated with 'reproducing' rolls, moved into phonograph records and radio activities by that time. Mr. Hutcheson felt free to write what he thought of the whole idea of perforated rolls 'replicating' the artist!.)

By the 'Seventies, player clubs were running full tilt, and the "ga-ga" era of legacy artists was everywhere. When the 'Eighties brought the CD and digital audio, along with the emergence of the solenoid players (first the Boesendorfer SE and later the Disklavier), there soon became an industry of "recycling" artists whose names were stamped on old music roll boxes. It didn't seem to matter that the existing audio recordings revealed that the rolls and the phonograph discs didn't agree on musical performance, or that the factory arrangers imparted a "grey sameness" to roll after roll (made within a given time frame.) One pseudo-researcher and "discoverer" of "lost" Gershwin rolls went about in the media draping roll leaders all over the place: on Yamaha grand piano pin blocks, on an old Pianola cluttered with old LP's of player rolls (why?) and even making a specialty of peering around unfurled Duo-Art rolls for publicity 'mug' shots — and such gadfly activities have been going on for 10 years in this case! In all instances these latter-day 'Musical Marco Polos' clutter-up the magazine articles, CD record jackets and television appearances with revisionist versions of the vintage advertising hoopla and the requisite PHOTOGRAPHS OF PIANISTS.

One of the recently-hyped "discoveries" concerns Sergei Rachmaninoff, now being resurrected on an an Austrian solenoid player, viz. one which with a computer uses electro-magnets to "bop" the keys instead of striking pneumatics— as on the original Ampico player instruments. Of course, wonderful Cassettes and CD's of the artist's own Victor Records are available today, but that didn't stop this experiment of "tweaking" the 'reproducing' rolls to "fit" the phonograph records via a complicated computer process, detailed in the Telarc CD notes for the recording called A Window In Time. To the credit of the computer-programmer, he doesn't pull that nauseating "The Ghost of Gershwin" routine and rests on his laurels by calling the brittle-sounding recording "...a technological breakthrough in recreating music roll performances." The obvious question is: why not record a restored Ampico player? The rolls don't sound like the Russian composer-pianist, but the solenoids' accents are somewhat spasmodic for the dynamics, when compared to the perforated arrangements for the Ampico. If one "knows" the original rolls, then this latest computer-to-you release doesn't sound like the 'reproducing' rolls, which contain arranged-in perforated commands for the player action to execute (if properly regulated).

If you want the REAL Rachmaninoff, his original records can be ordered in modern form ... and they sparkle with all the "life" one could wish, especially the Musical Heritage Society Cassette which currently sells for $9.95, featuring many of the same selections faked-in-his-name by The American Piano Company.

One piano technician wrote a critique of this solenoid-Rachmaninoff recording in 1998, published in the MMD (an Internet newsletter for player owners), closing with these lines: "It is neither Rachmaninoff nor an Ampico roll, but is a bastard at a family reunion."

Beyond parading photographs of deceased artists about, these modern promoters usually take a pot-shot at the familiar pedal Player-Piano. Here's the quote from A Window On Time: "Unlike the ubiquitous 'player pianos' that churned out the hits of the day in middle-class homes, the far costlier reproducing pianos were found only in the homes of the wealthy. These instruments were equipped with elaborate pneumatic mechanisms for recreating the colors, phrasing, and pedaling of a recorded performance."

Good grief, the 'reproducing' action was merely an added device, a "Hydra-Matic" transmission as it were ... and the expression scores were often applied to existing 88-Note rolls in the first place! The Ampico has only 5 levels of intensities for fast virtuoso playing; key depression timing (i.e., graduated perforation lengths) — not vacuum level changes — are what make for exciting Ampico rolls. Flawed raw material cannot be made into something it never really was. What an arranger cuts into the Master Roll is what causes the player action to soar — or sink!

One wonders how successful these various "discover-the-'lost'-artist" campaigns would have been with THE MUSICAL PERFORMANCE ONLY ... allowing the MUSIC TO DO THE TALKING instead of trotting out the old PHOTOGRAPHS and trying to convince us that a) the 'Reproducing' Piano arrangements are really recorded performances; b) that MIDI scanning of the questionable old rolls improves upon the original pneumatics by substituting boppity-bop solenoid action; c) that solenoid players playing "scanned rolls" make for better modern audio than by playing reissues of the old records made by the actual artists ... and whatever revisionist 'high-tech' activity comes down the line.

What a "mystique" was created for the Player-Piano by clever marketers in the past. How amazing that this same commercial ballyhoo puts one over on the public to this very day.

Interaction with the perforated rolls is where the lasting APPEAL of the Pianola exists.

MORAL: If you see those PICTURES OF DEAD PIANISTS rising ... close the door and return to your Interpretive Pianola — whatever type it might be. "Rolls" monitored by a "Pianolist" are where the action is.

— L. Douglas Henderson, ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, Maine (4-6-99)

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)
Vol. I, No. 4 (2-1-98)
Vol. I, No. 5 (2-8-98)
Vol. I, No. 6 (2-16-98)
Vol. I, No. 7 (4-2-98)
[Original announcement for 'The PIANOLA News': 12-31-97]

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

LINKS to other Internet Websites