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MMD > Archives > November 1999 > 1999.11.25 > 05Prev  Next


Rebuild the Player Piano Yourself
By Craig Brougher

Both Mickey Sadler and Andrew Barrett had some interesting comments in
regard to hobbyist rebuilding of their personal player pianos.  I have
supported this for the last three decades, and have also written a book
that takes the field one step further, if you care to go there!

However, I don't frown on somebody who believes it is really out of the
weekender's field of expertise, nor do I scorn someone who disagrees
with that statement.  For every problem, there is a solution.  But I
have also said that I have never run across a really well-done player
piano completely restored by the owner (including valves) in which he or
she didn't have to redo portions of it several times until they got it
right -- Popular Mechanics and Mechanics Illustrated notwithstanding.

I am rebuilding a customer's player right now and having some ferocious
problems with it.  I have torn the stack down and put it back together
(so far) 5 times.  I have burned up 2 weeks in the process.  And when I
get done, he will never know that it has been a nightmare.

The reason is, this stack cannot be bench-tested without going to
tremendous lengths and building a test setup that would be tantamount
to building a portion of a stack from scratch, and then, it would not
really test the stack properties, because the stack has to be assembled
in the way its shelves are fed in order to simulate the problems it
will have.  So a test setup is moot.  It has only one way to test it.
It is the worst of all possible scenarios.

It is extremely tight, usually.  But once in every couple of hours or
so, there is a valve that doesn't seat, or maybe several, and all of
a sudden stack pressure will not rise and the player plays very weakly;
a few notes later, and it bursts into life.  So I don't know what a
hobbyist would do with this one.  I have test setups that I can use to
a degree at least to help me.  If you want to fix your own player, think
first-- what would I do? Then decide that before you begin.  If you
can't take setbacks, don't start this ball rolling.

When I was a boy, building model planes and boats was the thing.
And by the time a kid my age passed 16 years, he should be doing some
beautiful work.  That wasn't something we learned easily.  It required
a lot of effort for many years, learning how to do things and studying
out everything you could get your hands on.  I'd also haunt the public
library for technical books.  I looked on school as a necessary evil,
but which didn't teach me much I could use.  To me, at that time, most
teachers were academics who hadn't the faintest conception of how
things were actually done in the real world.  If you went to them with
a practical problem, you would never get a clear, direct, practical
answer or even be placed on the path to getting it.  I decided if I
was going to learn anything of use, I would have to get it on my own.
Nobody was there that could help me.  I had to do the best I could,
alone.

I never took "shop" class because their projects were boring, and I
didn't like to have to wait to get to use the machinery (25 kids and
a total of 16 machines of all kinds).  Also, I couldn't just build
whatever I wanted.  It had to be something I didn't want.  (Even then
I wanted a player piano! )

I think that the criteria to personal player rebuilding is basically
this:

1.  A great respect for the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and materials
of the original builders.

2.  A desire to understand not just how it works but what would be the
minute differences as a result of small design changes that characterize
different kinds of players (intimacy with the philosophy).

3.  A free and hearty willingness to criticize one's own work and to do
anything over again, as often as necessary to get it right.  (Don't even
expect to do it perfect the first time because you won't.)

4.  Never do anything to a player that cannot be "undone."  Because the
chances are, it will be you who does it.

5.  Be sure before you begin a project that you have what it takes to
finish it, including the shop space, the time, the money, and the tools
to do the job.

It isn't either "wrong" or "right" to attempt to restore your player
piano and nobody is saying that.  But it's wrong to do so hastily
without the proper preparations and planning that must go into it.
90% of these projects end up scattered all over the place, lost, and
the desire to finish it is gone.  Why? Because it is a HUGE project for
most people--even engineers-- and they quit long before they even get
to the testing stage.  Partly because they are afraid of what they will
learn, and partly because they are just not used to intense projects
that require so much concentration and pre-planning all of the time.

I just want to encourage you to start only if you intend to finish and
be proud of your achievement.  But quitters amount to very little in my
book.  And until they learn to never give up and keep going until they
finally get it and do it right, all the way through, then they are just
destroying something that will never again be available-- to anybody.
But if they will teach themselves as they rebuild and test, they will
also have learned something valuable that they can respect in
themselves, and pass on to their grandkids -- with the player!

Whatever it is that you intend to rebuild next, I would suggest don't
begin until you know what you are going to do, and how you plan on
doing it, where you are going to put the pieces and related hardware
until you can reassemble it, how you are going to find the time to do
it, and how you are going to test your way through each step of the
process, as much as possible.  All it takes is just 1 valve to totally
incapacitate your entire project and all of your work.

Craig Brougher


(Message sent Thu 25 Nov 1999, 13:28:41 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Piano, Player, Rebuild, Yourself

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