I read Ed Chaban's and Don Teach's letters with great interest,
especially in regard to the economics of roll making. It really makes
me all that much more appreciative of our dedicated experts who do cut
rolls and who do such a fine job.
You know, I often point to my guests and prospective roll buyers what
to look for in a good roll, and why this or that roll is such a fine
product. I educate them a little bit as to why this or that supplier
is particularly good.
Keystone Rolls is of course one of the very best of all! They have
wonderful boxes, tabs, spool ends and cores that are strong and thick
for good support. And individuals who cut rolls are very particular
about their quality, and expect it to reflect on them, personally.
We have been very lucky to have these people. I hope they won't get
discouraged. It's a labor of love, of course, but I won't go so far as
to say that most of them have to sell 100 rolls of any particular title
before they break even. That definitely would not be "a fairy oasis
where the skies are not cloudy all day." That would be a nightmare!
I certainly feel for Don Teach's personal trial in that regard.
Luckily, few other roll cutters or arrangers have those logistics.
There is more to it than paying for all your paper and supplies and
the perforator with a major run of subscription rolls. When you invest
in capital equipment, most companies and ventures plan on several ways
to make it pay for itself. I for one have often wondered why these
individuals don't offer a series collector issue, in which, say, a
dozen collector rolls are offered -- perhaps the best of Pete Wendling
or any one of a thousand schemes? And these rolls all have special
labels and the words included, and then don't issue them again. These
would be collectors' editions, offered once. That's how things become
One of these days, my book, The Orchestrion Builder's Manual and
Pneumatics Handbook, will be permanently out of print, and it's value
then will rise to over $100 immediately. Already one went for about
that on eBay. I have about 50 left, and that's the end of them,
forever. You will see their value rise. But player pianos' values
will fall without rolls. That's really ironic.
We are now approaching the day when few high school students have
ever seen a pneumatic player piano! Only a 30-40 year-old's great
grandfather could have purchased one, new. They have never even heard
the music. They don't realize how powerful and musical they were.
They could totally wipe out the little pneumatic spinets of the 1950's.
They have never sat down and pumped one and played rolls, and sang the
words. They never knew the old-fashioned fun of popcorn, apples, cider,
and a cheese plate with a player piano and a bunch of cut-ups -- all in
the same room together! None of them can say, "Been there, done that."
Do we realize just what an epochal corner we're starting to turn,
here in the 21st century? This is what collectors have been planning
on and dreaming about now, for almost 70 years. It's almost here.
These instruments are going to be getting valuable, fast. That is,
once their valves and flaps are correctly restored and their works
are properly rebuilt with an eye on longevity and reliability.
There is one person who can make that happen -- the roll cutters and
arrangers. It hinges on their support and dedication. It's a labor
of love as well as income over the long haul, but what do you have
ultimately, if you don't have a labor of love, somewhere in your
lifetime? If you equate success to making lots of money fast, don't
cut rolls. If you enjoy a hobby that is challenging and fun -- the
most crucial product of all to provide player pianos with, which all
others rely on you for -- then consider it, because you're going to be
a very important person to them, when you learn how to offer the right
product and how to market it successfully.
It's true, you can go bust or at least become very unpopular if you
aren't accessible, if you don't have a phone number, you don't answer
any questions, and if it's like six months before your customers
receive anything from you.