Tony Decap posed the question, "Is Automated Music a Dinosaur?"
As a preface to the following comments, the term 'dinosaur' alludes to
something that has been dead for eons. This is hardly the case with
regards to player pianos, which are still being made by the thousands
each year. That aside, I offer the following opinion:
Considering that there are only about 1200 members in the MMD and about
3.5 billion people on the planet, I'd say the answer is pretty clear:
the owners of player pianos are somewhat of a rare breed.
I'll go to say that those of us who make our living in this field
probably number less than 1000 worldwide. So there are probably more
nuclear scientists than there are player piano rebuilders. (This may
indeed be a part of the reason why digital players are continuing to be
manufactured by the thousands.)
I've said for years that player pianos are really nothing more than
grown people's toys. And, although they are capable of producing
extremely high quality music, the same can be said of a $10,000 audio
system. The only difference is that one produces live music and the
other does not. Is that a significant difference? I think so.
One of the most common comments I hear from player piano owners is that
they love listening to a real piano play but that they have no musical
ability. That is not likely not change as time passes. If anything,
fewer people are learning how to play the piano these days, so the need
(or desire) for automated musical instruments may actually increase.
Although I don't have exact sales figures, I've been led to believe
that there is a growing interest in player pianos in China and Korea.
As other third-world countries reach the point where white-collar
workers can afford luxury items, a certain percentage will buy player
pianos for their own enjoyment and to impress their friends. And since
there are a finite number of 1920's players, they may indeed become
more valuable as collectibles and antiques because those in other
countries will seek them out.
Wrapping this all up, it's my opinion that automated musical instruments
are here to stay for a variety of reasons. But the single biggest
reason is that there is simply no comparison between live music and
music that comes out of a loudspeaker. Live music will always sound
And that's what draws most people to own an automated musical
instrument in the first place. People love live entertainment! Can
you blame them? It's just more exciting, and more stimulating. And
if you doubt that that is a reality, explain to me why people go to any
sporting event when they can watch it on TV in the comfort of their own
(How many people say, "I love my TV", or "I love my stereo system".
On the other hand, how many people say, "I love my player piano"?)
John A. Tuttle
P.S. No research was done prior to writing this article. The comments
above are simply my opinions based on information I've heard from my
customers and those people I know in the manufacturing end of the
trade. Hopefully, others will address some of the other aspects of