Sometime in the early 1980s I attended the Australian launch of
the Pianocorder at the Sydney Opera House. While impressive to an
electronics engineer such as myself, it did not move me enough to want
one, as my Ampico seemed so much more sensitive and expressive. In
1988, as a technical journalist, I reviewed the first Disklavier to
reach Australian shores. Again I was singularly unimpressed, but
made the assumption that the instrument (an upright) needed further
adjustment. I therefore spoke well of the device, but secretly felt
it had little future.
In 1995 my friend and colleague Denis Condon bought a C7 Disklavier.
I was highly skeptical, and asked Denis to play a Frank Milne roll on
the instrument, which he had recorded through his Ampico Vorsetzer.
On hearing it, I was gobsmacked. Yes, it sounded just like the Ampico
roll, only smoother and better on such a big new piano. Perhaps this
was the future...
Within six months I had fitted a PianoDisc system to my Yamaha G5,
starting out with the "blue board" system, later replacing it with the
SilentDrive system developed when Yamaha patents lapsed on pulse width
modulation drive for solenoids. Finally, a few months ago I purchased
the aforementioned Disklavier, with my PianoDisc now up for sale.
In my view, solenoid pianos are not just better than vacuum powered
instruments, they are the future. True, there might be instruments
out there in dire need of adjustment, but I would think the same
applied when vacuum powered instruments reigned supreme.
My point is, with appropriate adjustment and attention, a Disklavier
or a PianoDisc can sound truly wonderful, certainly every bit as good
as the best Ampico, Duo-Art or Welte, etc. The Disklavier Pro takes
the technology even further.
I have a situation where I can play my Ampico e-rolls on an original
Ampico (1923 5'4" Knabe) and then play the same e-roll on the
Disklavier. The Ampico does it well, but the Disklavier does it
better. Yes, the larger piano (7'8") gives a more majestic sound,
but it's the sensitivity and smoothness that captivates me. Tricky
repeats are no longer a problem, nor are Stoddard's 20-note chords
that confuse onlookers.
When the time comes to bid farewell to the last pneumatic instrument
(they can't last forever), we will be left in the arms of solenoid
pianos. But through people like Wayne Stahnke, Spencer Chase and
myself, rolls made in the 1920s will be available as MIDI files for
all to enjoy. The music will live on, and all because companies like
Yamaha, QRS and PianoDisc had enough faith in a product that still
gets a bagging from those who, I assume, have never heard a properly
adjusted solenoid piano.
New South Wales, Australia