Johan Liljencrants' MMD article about economical recording gives
many good pointers about equipment that can be used to record pianos
domestically [ http://mmd.foxtail.com/Tech/blockhead.html ].
I've been playing with his suggested setup for a few weeks and have
been pleasantly surprised at how good the results are, given the
cheapness of the equipment and the limited time spent setting things up.
Early results manage to capture most (but not all) of the character of
the pianos. Anyone with access to a good piano you can probably make
a decent recording of it with a little care and experimentation. Of
course, it won't be today's mandatory Steinway sound, but it's good to
remind listeners that there are many other good makes!
Professional piano samples are likely to give better piano sound than
domestic recordings (and Warren Trachtman's free downloadable piano
sound font is superb, so I expect the more expensive ones to be even
better). The problem with using these to make recordings of 88-note
piano rolls is that you don't get any dynamics. Doing this in a
recording project is no way to show respect for the roll artist, or
to impress a musical but non-player-piano public!
88-note rolls were always meant to be played with at least a little
thought about what they sounded like, and if a bit more care is taken,
they can sound very good indeed. If recording rolls for publication,
try to locate a decent player piano in good condition (or a push-up),
and practice first! Too many projects seem to use whatever's at hand
and just accept the results uncritically.
I've been involved in a couple of CDs which were recorded on a new
Seiler grand piano using an 88-note Pianola pushup. All the pianolists
involved tried to make the best of the material, and the results give
a fair idea of what can be achieved. (Shameless plug: see
http://www.shellwood.co.uk/ and look for J. Lawrence Cook and Jelly Roll