Player Pianos are complicated mechanical devices with many moving parts, designed to automatically replicate the sound of a live person playing a piano.
When a pianist plays a piano, he must strike each note with a different force depending on the sound he intends to produce. Therefore, player pianos must have a means of varying the amount of force applied to different keys at different times in order to produce a realistic reproduction of a live performance.
Early developers of the player piano overcame this technical challenge in various ways, including through the use of pneumatic devices, rotating barrels, paper rolls, and even electromagnets.
As you can imagine, this has led to a wide variety of antique player pianos. These pianos can be repaired, but it requires a high degree of knowledge and skill combined with the proper tools to do so.
Most of the so-called “roll player pianos” (more properly called pneumatic player pianos) still in use today were produced around the beginning of the 20th century, up until the late 1920s. In fact, at the peak of their popularity, more than half of all pianos made in America contained some type of player unit.
With most of those pianos approaching 100 years old, the cloth, leather, cork, and other materials that make up the player units are starting to dry up with age.
While these player units can sometimes be repaired, the process is often quite extensive and is more like a full rebuild than a repair.
The good news is that the pianos can be repaired separately from the player units. If you have an older player piano that you just want to use as a regular piano, it is possible to restore or repair just the piano without repairing the player unit.
Modern electronic player pianos use electric motors and computers to control the keys instead of pneumatic devices. The player units on these pianos can be repaired as long as the parts are still available.
In some cases, the manufacturers have gone out of business and there are no longer any replacement parts available, in which case the units can’t be repaired.
Pneumatic or “roll-type” player pianos, just like regular pianos, must be tuned on a regular basis. There is no real difference in the process of tuning a player piano vs a regular piano, but in some cases the player unit must be removed in order to do so, which adds some time and complexity to the tuning process.
Whether or not a player piano can be repaired depends on what type of piano it is, what condition it’s in, and whether replacement parts are still available for it.
Older “roll-type” or pneumatic player pianos that use cloth, leather, and cork in the player units often can’t be repaired because the parts are so dried out due to their age.
Newer electronic player pianos can usually be repaired as long as the manufacturer is still in business and replacement parts are available.
If you have a player piano in need of repair, contact us and we’ll be able to tell you if repairs are even possible and how much they might cost.
Below are some answers to questions people frequently ask us about player pianos.
Usually, if someone is giving away a player piano for free, the player unit will not work. While the piano may still function as a regular piano, the player unit will just get in the way and might be too expensive or impossible to repair.
There are several reasons a player piano might not be repairable, including parts not being available or the player unit being too deteriorated due to age.
It depends on the extent of the repairs, but in many cases pneumatic player pianos will be more expensive to repair if they are even able to be repaired. Sometimes, it simply isn’t possible to repair a pneumatic player piano.