Reading an old article some time ago, one of the roll arrangers was
explaining, for the general public I suppose, how he thought of the
sustain pedal. He said that after the tune was basically "cut," he would
go back through it and wherever the melody line required, would elongate
that perforation sometimes to keep it singing through the embellishment
or change of chord. He would also elongate holes to act as sustain
pedal, as this tended to "warm up the music."
Then finally, in some places where he had already sustained the notes on
the keybed, he would add sustain holes in addition. Not necessarily
because a player owner required it, but because they wanted them there,
and expected to see them on finished rolls. Tonally, he said, it made
I have found that many old player pianos, including even Ampico model
A's, tend to have slow sustain pedals, and while they may actuate a
little faster than they return, they color the music overly. (I do
have an "invisible" fix for the early Ampicos which speeds up the pedal
greatly, to where they are able to play late model B recordings -- fully
pedaled, without a noticeable problem, and the adjustment _doesn't_
require an extra valve. But it's close and careful stuff and takes a
little extra time to accomplish.)
Until the Ampico model B came along, there was only a few American-made
pianos that put much effort into the sustain pedal mechanism timing
because it wasn't heavily required (Duo-Art was certainly an exception).
Everything was done on the roll with extended note perforations.
It is these extensions, more than any other thing, that gives the player
piano its characteristically warm, rich sound. When you are able to
sustain any note at any time, you are embarking into alternative art-form
which is more powerful than even accenting the note, at times. But as
George Bogatko also mentioned, the dampers are not lifting off the other
bass and tenor notes, so while you are able to easily play legato
throughout staccato, the total piano color is not quite exploited all the
time. And in a big piano, that's considerable.
Pedaling is the single most-important aspect of reproducing player
pianos, for instance. That is not to diminish the dynamics of course,
but if you are to really "nail" down a performance and say, "That's so
realistic it's spooky," usually the difference was a roll pedaled exactly
like the artist pedaled it.
I guess you could say that of all the rolls they "pedaled," only a few
were perfectly pedaled -- and that was on purpose! It was the only
business I know of which peddled more product by pedaling less, not more!
Well, I can take a hint: I guess I'll go peddle my papers now.