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MMD > Archives > November 1997 > 1997.11.03 > 13Prev  Next

Comparing Reproducing Piano Systems
By Craig Brougher

I think Tim Baxter asks a reasonable question, and as long as we keep
the answers along technical lines, and out of the realm of subjective
opinions, everyone will profit.  So I don't intend to get into "which
reproducer is better."  Nor does Tim want those kinds of replies.  He
will make up his own mind, I suspect.

But I will say that I have never been totally sold on one reproducer
system over another.  They all can reproduce so very well that the
differences seems to be the roll you are playing at the time.  So I
just say this:  Each mutually excels then other.

Tim asks these questions:

1.  For which of the 2 systems are more rolls available?

I would say there are about an equal number of Duo-Art and Ampico rolls
available, but Welte is a "dark horse."  That's not because it is a
lesser system, but because there were far fewer built!

2.  Does either system have an advantage as to repairs and reliability
(assume each to be perfectly 100% restored)?

Not really.  One can site a hundred advantages, but the bottom line is
this:  Which player has proven itself more reliable over a 50 year span
of time?  What's the answer?  Nobody can actually say that pneumatics are
the most reliable mechanical system that has ever been built.

The lifetime of a pneumatics system (less dirt and obstructions) is
limited by how long it takes for its soft working materials to self-
destruct.  Keep the trackerbars clean, the room climate-controlled, and
you have an instrument you can will to your kids and they will in turn
give it to their kids.

3.  Which provides the superior musical performance, and is one system
stronger in some areas, e.g. snappier sustain, better dynamic range, etc.?

While each have their stronger points, the coding techniques used by the
editors compensated for the inherent limitations.  For example, a Duo-Art
is much much slower in the expression intensity department, but could be
set up ahead of time, and launched in a spilt second.  The only problem an
arranger might have is when many different intensities must be changed

The Ampico has a slow pedal but fast expressions.  So the editors extended
the note perforations in the roll to compensate.

The Welte rolls also used extended note perforations for a pedal
compensator, and although they had a slower expression system than the
Ampico, could compensate for it.  There was just no piece of music either
piano could not play satisfactorily-- to my knowledge.

While we may "theorize" the abilities of each,  in practice, their
capabilities far exceed the demand.  In fact-- the real limitation of a
player piano is its roll speed, not its mechanism.  Editors fake triplets
and stuff all the time to be able to put the music into less space!

4.  Does either system permit "Pianolistic" interpretation, by which I
mean, can you play 88 notes rolls as a pianolist might on a pumper?  I
once heard an apocryphal story that the "Duo" in Duo-Art meant that it
could be used both for Duo-Art reproducing rolls, and to render musically
pleasant performances of 88 notes using expression levers, etc.).

That's probably true about the Duo-Art.  The Ampico didn't really put
much stock into the idea of 88 note roll expression, and their hand
expression system was likewise, abysmal.  Give me a Standard action,
any day! But the Themodist rolls were very much better, of course.

Keep in mind, though, that Aeolian systems began with the Themodist
system developed by ( I guess) Votey.  The beginnings of that piano
called a Duo-Art started with the idea of allowing the user (called a
pianolist, vs. a pianist) to dub in his own expression and feelings.

I am not a historian on this subject, so I may be not quite correct,
here.  But the basis of the thought is right.  The Duo-Art followed
through with the idea of the automatic Themodist.  Think of a "Recordo
with separate bass/treble accents."

5.  Is it easier to make new rolls in either one system or the other?
Is one system fundamentally easier than the other?

Yes.  Both Welte and Ampico should be easier to code than the Duo-Art.
The Duo-Art has two strikes against it, there.

First, its roll requires a special punch for the theme perforations.
That punch must be smaller in diameter so that 1/2 of it's diameter,
times two punches-- side by side-- equals a full hole.

The idea is this: The theme perforation must be very precision to actuate
as though it were a slot passing by the trackerbar hole.  instead of
gradually uncorking a TB hole like a single, full-sized hole would do,
it uses two half-size holes aligned together, so that by the time you
have passed a step on the punch machine, you are actuating the theme
valve in time to acknowledge the expression you have set up prior to the
theme perf.

Second, The dynamics of a Duo-Art have everything to do with how many
notes must be played at one time at a particular intensity, and then--
how fast and with what intensity will the next expression change require
the piano to modulate?  And-- it is not very linear or predictable.  You
have to hear it on the piano to decide if that is what you really want.

Then there are lots of little adjustments to make to the change-up of
expression.  You can bump the loud pedal while not using it, you can give
the accordion pneumatics less time than they need to fully settle in, you
can use the soft pedal with particular intensities, you can drop (or
raise) the stack pressure momentarily, then raise (or drop) it again as
you are playing the notes-- there are dozens of "tricks to try."

I haven't tried to explain all that is possible to do to put you in the
safe zone, so that the majority of the Duo-Arts will sound approximately
the same.  In all venues, the soft pedal is the best ally of the arranger
in marginal situations.

Regarding the Ampico B, it has been said that Ampico A rolls sound poorly
on the B system.  That SHOULD NOT be the case, but often IS the case.
However, it is not the fault of the basic system.  Trust me -- an Ampico
B restoration requires a lot of "detail" that is not generally

So when these details are not followed and taken care of and tested
for properly, then the piano requires the B format amplifier and sub-
intensity to sound halfway decent on a B roll.  In other words, given all
the extras you have in a B, it may be able to sound almost as good as the
model A can sound if you put a B roll on the piano.

The lack of knowledge of the Ampico B is really extreme, and is
maintained as proof that this instrument is inferior to all others.
That is not the case at all.  It is awesome -- both on A and B rolls.  But
it takes some doin'.

Craig Brougher

 [ Thanks for launching this discussion, Craig.  I'll learn from you how
 [ to make my "B" Ampico sound like a perfect "A"!  ;)  -- Robbie

(Message sent Mon 3 Nov 1997, 23:42:39 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  Comparing, Piano, Reproducing, Systems

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