I have been reading the postings describing how old, unwanted player
pianos have been impaled, dismembered, and cremated. As someone who
grew up with player pianos, I hate to see these instruments cast off as
useless junk. The commonly held view is that if we could only get more
people interested in player pianos, then we could find homes for these
Over the past week, I've been pondering the notion that perhaps the
reason there are so many homeless and unwanted pianos is because they
were over-produced in the initial decades of this century. To examine
this theory, I needed some hard facts, which I located through my local
library and Internet searches. These data pertain to pianos in general
and not player pianos specifically, but there is a correlation.
In 1910, the population of the United States was approximately
92,000,000. (I'm rounding off the figures for easier calculation.)
That same year, 350,000 pianos were produced, or, one piano for every
263 persons. In 1995, the U.S. population was 263,000,000, but only
94,000 pianos were sold. That is one piano for every 2,798 persons.
Judging from these statistics, pianos would appear to be in short
But, let's insert another statistic into the equation: there are more
than "10,000,000 pianos in American homes, businesses and
institutions." Using the 1995 population figure, that calculates to
slightly more than one piano for every 26 persons. These additional
data seem to indicate that we have an excess of pianos. Therefore, it
should come as no surprise that pianos are regarded as disposable and
non-essential. What factors led to this indifference regarding
(player) pianos? I will put forth several ideas; feel free to add your
Is it possible that the overabundance of unwanted (player) pianos which
we are dealing with is actually the result of so many of them being
produced years ago? Are we confronting a problem created by previous
In the early part of this century, a piano in one's home meant that the
family had achieved a certain amount of status and wealth. A piano
meant that one was cultured, and that the owner(s) had sufficient means
to purchase it. The piano became a status symbol. It meant that the
owner had "arrived."
With the rise of radio and the phonograph, the interest in (player)
pianos declined. Radios and phonographs were cheaper and offered more
diversity in music choices. And, they were more lightweight making
them easier to move around than pianos. About the same time that
radios and phonographs were increasing in numbers, that (player) piano
in the parlor was now ten, twenty, or thirty years old. It needed
tuning, maybe a few keys didn't work, and it needed other repairs too.
The novelty had worn off this once-cherished instrument and it had
become a liability instead of an asset. Perhaps the owner didn't want
to sell it, nonetheless, s/he didn't want this useless object taking up
space in the house. So, it was removed from the house and into the
shed, garage, barn, or some other place where it wouldn't be in the
While many of these banished player pianos have been rejuvenated,
others are awaiting resurrection. Compared with other musical
instruments and antiques, pianos, especially player pianos, are
high-maintenance machines with many moving parts. How many people are
willing to take on the challenge of these machines? Unfortunately, not
as many as we would like.
Another problem of old (player) pianos is their weight and size.
Pianos take up a lot of space and the owner must be willing to provide
this space. Also, the weight of the piano prevents it from being moved
from location to location on a whim. Despite a strong desire to own a
piano, a potential buyer can be thwarted by such deterrents.
A few years ago, we held an estate sale and offered a pool table for
sale. Like a player piano, a pool table is heavy, difficult to move,
and takes up a lot of space. We had a number of prospective buyers,
especially college students, who dreamed of having their own pool
table. But, when they started analyzing the practical aspects, their
enthusiasm waned. The pool table never sold and it is still sitting in
The purpose of this treatise is not to discourage, instead, I hope that
it assuages some of the guilt and frustration we feel every time an old
player is destroyed. I too, feel dismayed whenever one of these
wonderful machines is eradicated. However, we did not create the
circumstances that led to the surplus piano problem. This dilemma has
been dropped in our laps and we are being forced to deal with it.
Despite our best efforts, it is impossible to save every piano. But
the ones we do save are well worth the effort.
Player Piano and Mechanical Music Exchange