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MMD > Archives > August 2001 > 2001.08.06 > 05Prev  Next

Truths of Periodic Maintenance
By John A. Tuttle

Twenty Years is a Long Time

Hi All,  Having been in player piano restoration business on a
part-time basis since 1972, and having operated a full-time business
since 1975, I can tell you from first-hand experience that 25 years is
a long time in the life of a player piano.  And it comes as no surprise
that after 25 years, some of my first customers are coming back to me
and requesting some amount of service ( like... DUH! )

Quite frankly, I don't feel much of an obligation to the person (or his
instrument) who has failed to adequately maintain his instrument over
the previous 25 years.  And quite honestly, I'm somewhat offended by the
person who calls and says, "My player piano isn't working very well",
when I haven't seen the unit in over 20 years!  (Please tell me about
any other mechanical device that requires little-to-no maintenance in
20 years, except a music box?)

Let me get to the point.  Player pianos are machines!  And like any
machine, they must be maintained on a periodic basis if they are to
be expected to operate properly.  How clearly I remember the words of
my mentor who often said to customers, "How often do you change the oil
in your car?"

Most people have the misconception that player pianos will keep
working flawlessly for upwards of 20-30 years.  This misconception is
promulgated by rebuilders who boldly state that once the unit is
rebuilt, it won't require any attention for the next 20 to 40 years.
Quite frankly, that's hogwash.  Nothing could be further from the

In a flier produced by Baldwin, it is clearly stated that _all_ new
pianos must be serviced at least four times in the first year and two
times a year in each successive year until the unit is five years old.
Why?  Because things are constantly changing as the unit is used.  Why?
Because the materials used in the building or restoration processes
wear according to the amount of usage.  Is that too difficult to

Let's be real here!  If I drive my car 120,000 miles a year (or 400
miles a day), the vehicle is going to require much more service than if
I drive it just 12,000 miles a year (33 miles a day).  Of course!  This
isn't rocket science, it's common sense!  How can anybody realistically
believe that a player piano is any different?  If the unit is used ten
times more than normal, it's going to require ten times the
maintenance.  And that's Common Sense!

What I would like to project is that rebuilders start telling the truth
(as I have from 'Day-One')!  Stop giving people the impression that
once the unit is rebuilt it won't need any service for 10 to 40 years.
Pure and simple, that's BS (not true).  As a matter of fact, most people
who have their player piano rebuilt, will use the unit quite a bit for
the first 3 to 5 years.  After that, the "uniqueness" typically fades
and the device is normally resigned to entertaining guests who haven't
heard it previously.

Consider this: If the first time you hear a player piano, you listen to
a unit that hasn't been tuned or regulated in the past 10 years, what's
your impression going to be?  "Oh, this is really neat!", or, "Man,
this sounds really crappy!"

You see, the owners basically have control over the attitude of the
people they are entertaining.  If the unit sounds 'crappy', who in
their right mind will consider owning a similar unit?  Conversely,
if the unit is well-maintained, who can deny that such a device is

The point is, it's up to "us", the rebuilders, to promote the truth
about mechanical music.  If we attempt, for any reason, to shadow the
truth about ownership, it will come back to haunt us, and rightly so.

Here's a fact: "Everything that moves needs to be constantly adjusted."
Please quote me: John A. Tuttle.  My father was an engineer; his
father before him was an engineer.  This isn't rocket science, it's
common sense.


John A. Tuttle

(Message sent Mon 6 Aug 2001, 18:45:59 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Maintenance, Periodic, Truths

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