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MMD > Archives > July 2001 > 2001.07.21 > 03Prev  Next

Piano Tuners' Opinions of Player Pianos
By Craig Brougher

Here, in the Kansas City area, I have noticed that the tuners all
seem to have a respect for players.  It's just that many of them (the
majority, actually) refuse to tune them.  I think the reason is partly
their ignorance in that many know they are not good enough mechanics to
maintain them or fix simple problems that they might cause and are
afraid to start on them, or they don't want to have to go fishing after
a dropped wedge (which tying them off on a string would take care of).

They tell me that they don't want to have to replace a broken string.
But all they have to do is make it clear before they start that they
don't want to be liable for the player and will tune around any broken
string.  Usually though, if the player is like new and playing, the
strings have all been pulled up to pitch several times, and the
likelihood of broken strings in that piano is less by far, than pianos
that are seldom used and never rebuilt.

For instance, the problem most often found after a tuning is either
the air motor hose is loose, or the drive chain is flipped off, or
flips off during the first play, due either to the fact that they
removed the air motor to tune it and didn't replace any spacers found
under the motor feet, or they got the idler on the wrong side of the
chain (old Themodists for instance have tall motors that can't be tuned
around, so they have to remove them).

Another problem is that the air motor now makes a noise, because the
tuner replaced the chain backwards.  A few have been obliged to remove
the action (when it wasn't necessary), and after doing that have caused
themselves a great deal of grief, and swore they would never tune a
player piano again, and then advise their friends never to do so with
embellished horror stories that they have had practice telling..

Granted, to be fair, there were a very few players like the oldest
Kimballs, that could not be tuned without first lifting out the entire
player action, and it was heavy.  But those are practically extinct,
and my sympathies go out to any tuner who walks in on one of those

Other problems caused by tuners will be found to include problems
with mechanical trackers.  They get their sleeves or something caught
on the "fishing pole", and bend them, or they break loose the little
mounting block the swivel is mounted to.

I can't categorize individuals with their group and make a strong
case, so why try?  But I have to say that, truthfully, the PTG doesn't
stress the simple ins and outs of tuning players to their members
today.  In the individual's defense, I will tell you that there are
members who tune player pianos regularly and aren't afraid of them at
all (as we here already know).  To them I would just say, "Good for
you."  It isn't all that big a deal, unless you are afraid of them.

Each PTG meeting usually involves a "technical session" that one or
more members thinks pertinent.  Not once have I ever been contacted by
the local chapter to show them how to get around inside a player and
things to watch for, as well as things not to do.  So I can confidently
tell everyone that this happens to be a "hole" in their training in
this area of the country.

It used to be that, to become a journeyman, a tuner had to apprentice
for about 5-7 years to learn all aspects of his art.  Today, as soon
as a young person learns how to tune, he is off making a living, and
is more or less on his own as far as proper mechanical repairs and
regulation is concerned.  Yes, there are "tests" he must take today,
but that doesn't catch the old timers who joined before that was
instituted.  And I wonder about those who take the tests from those old
timers who decide what is acceptable.  I have run into the most
horrendous example of piano action fixes you can imagine, in my career.
I think, "No legitimate tuner would have ever done this," yet I knew
who did it in some cases.  In one case, it was a (then) president of
the local chapter.

The more you understand about something, the more appreciation and
easiness you will have about it.  The PTG really ought to do something
about the hole in their understanding of tuning old pneumatic players
and in getting the fear of them behind their membership, because they
are going to be around for a long time to come.  They are going to
outlast their electronic counterparts and every present tuner in the
PTG by another generation at least, because they will always be
"supported" by basic goods and materials, and those who love their

We should not forget that player roll arrangements are an art form
separate and apart from every other kind of music, and will never lose
its charm.

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Sat 21 Jul 2001, 15:45:31 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Opinions, Piano, Pianos, Player, Tuners

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