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The player piano was born in the late 1890's, it died in the 1920's, and is now being reborn again.

It all started in the late 1890's in Nebraska, when a "Piano Player" was invented which could be rolled up to lay on the front of a piano. You then sat behind this piano player and pumped the pedals which caused the "fingers" on the piano player to hit the keys. The fingers were regulated by the air going through a perforated paper role. Each hole depressed a different key. The piano player called the PIANOLA was an instant success.

Rolling a piano player up to the keys was good, but not good enough. It was not long before all the pneumatic mechanism was put into the piano itself and the term "player piano" replaced "piano player". The player piano was so popular that in less than 20 years, more player pianos were sold in the United States than regular pianos...and everyone had a piano.

But a player piano didn't sound like a real piano. So, in 1904, Freiburg M. Welte invented a player piano that not only hit the keys, but also registered the duration of the notes and the pressing of the foot pedals. This "reproducing" player piano, as they were called, mimicked the live performance of the great pianists of the day. The Welte-Mignon in Europe and Aeolian Duo art in America became the big sellers.

Still not good enough... The player piano was electrified so that you didn't have to pump it. Then a coin mechanism was added so that it could be put in taverns. When every tavern had a player piano, someone added a xylophone, drums, tambourines, and even a violin to outdo their competitors. To further attract attention, the cabinets became ornate, stain glass was added, blinking and rotating lights, animated screens and more.

All good things, however, come to an end. When radios became commonplace, in the late 1920's, player piano sales dropped. In 1932, no player pianos were manufactured. An era came to an end.

In the 1960's and '70's, the player piano became popular as people tried to recapture their past. Antiques were taken out of basements and carefully restored. But, the real rebirth of the player piano is the result of the latest electronic innovation.

The Yamaha Corporation, which produces concert pianos and electronic synthezirers, combined the two into one product called a "Disklavia". The Disklavia, not only imitates how long a key is pressed, but also how softly or hard. All this is converted to electrical impulses and stored on a computer disk. The computer disk can be played back any time you want.

The computer is in a box placed next to the piano (sounds familiar doesn't it. Maybe the Disklavier should be called a "player piano player"). The box is outfitted with a speaker so that other electronically recorded instruments can be played back along with the piano.

You can buy a Disklavier for your home. Just sell your 1015 or 950. An upright Disklavier costs $7000. A concert grand Disklavier costs $16,000. Maybe some day they'll add a coin mechanism and call them "Diskeleons".


For a list of music machines for sale, go to Music Machine Sales Lists

For information on jukeboxes, go to the Jukebox Resource Center


Copyright: 2009 Ken Durham, GameRoomAntiques





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Ken Durham
3000 Galloway Ridge, C-306
Pittsboro NC 27312
For Orders Only: 202-213-1585 (10am - 9pm East Coast Time)
All others, please email: durham@GameRoomAntiques.com