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MMD > Archives > January 2004 > 2004.01.14 > 05Prev  Next

Player Piano Keys That Stay Down
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  Below is an email I received about a problem with a player
piano.  Since I had never really addressed the problem at Player-Care,
I decided use the information to create a new web page.  The new page
is located at

Here's Gaylan's letter and my reply:

 - - - -

At 09:59 PM 1/11/04, you wrote:

John,  thank you in advance for taking a moment to acknowledge my

I have a Lakeside upright player piano that our tuner told us was built
in approximately 1918.  Twelve of the eighty-eight keys draw down as
soon as we begin to operate the foot bellows.  I enjoy doing many types
of repairs myself.  I have removed the player from the piano as to be
able to work on it.  Upon visual inspection, I do not see any difference
in the small bellows that draw down from those that remain in their
positions ready to react when they are supposed to.

I will appreciate if you could give a brief explanation of what might
be the cause and how the repair would be done.  I live in Aberdeen,
South Dakota and will be happy to purchase repair parts from you.
My email is [delete ".geentroep
to reply]

Thanks again, Gaylan Lang

 - - -

Hi Gaylan,  Actually, the notes that are "draw down" are 'reacting'
to a signal, or coming 'ON'.  The reason they are coming 'ON' is
because the associated Note Valve is being activated by something
other than a hole in a music roll.  Finding and fixing the problem
might be difficult.

In all cases, when notes activate by themselves you can be certain
there are either air leaks in the system or something is shrinking.
In your case, the problem is most likely associated with 'shrinking',
which I will explain more fully in a moment.  However, before you can
truly understand why the notes are activating by themselves, you need
to learn how they are suppose to operate under normal circumstances.
To help people learn how the valves work in a player piano, please

During the Winter, the pouches in most player pianos shrink a small
amount.  Also, it's not unusual for the wood to shrink a small amount.

If the pouches shrink enough, they act as though they are being
triggered by perforations on the music roll in that they push up (or
out) on their associated note valve/s and cause the note/s to 'play'.
(A temporary repair for this problem is mentioned near the end.)

If the wood shrinks enough, air will leak into the system somewhere
between the note tubing and the pouches.  If this happens, the pouches
inflate as though they are being activated by perforations in the music
roll, and the notes will 'play'.  This type of leak can usually be
detected with a 'listening tube' (a 3 ft piece of rubber or neoprene
tubing) or a stethoscope (with the normal end removed).

Most commonly, air will leak into the line leading to a pouch where
there is a gasket.  Sometimes, simply tightening the wood screws on the
stack wherever two pieces of wood come together will solve the problem
temporarily.  However, if the gasket that is sandwiched between the two
pieces of wood is sufficiently dried out, damaged, or deteriorating,
the only permanent solution is to replace it with a new one.

Another common type of air leak involves the tubing which leads from
the trackerbar to the stack.  In many player pianos, the bulk of the
tubing is pure lead.  As lead ages, it corrodes, or oxidizes from the
inside out.  For more information about the signs of lead
deterioration, read:

Also, the lead tubing might be coming loose at the point where it
is cemented into the stack.  To test for tightness, simply wiggle the
tubing slightly very near the seal.  If it appears to move at all,
apply a very thin water-based sealer like Phenoseal or regular shellac
and let it dry thoroughly before testing again.

If the player is equipped with a "transposing trackerbar", it's very
likely that the small 3" pieces of tubing that lead from the brass
trackerbar to the lead tubing have developed cracks.  To see if this
is the case, simply remove the board that covers the tubing and examine
it with a strong light while moving the 'bar' left and right.  (In some
units, the tubing can be seen from underneath the trackerbar.  However,
at best you can only see the bottom row of tubes.) If any of the pieces
of tubing have even the slightest crack, replace all of the tubing.
Information about retubing a transposing-type trackerbar is located at

Lastly, we come to the pouches.  In relatively rare cases, the
pouches in a player piano will shrink sufficiently during the dry
winter months that they prevent the valve from closing 100% (or turning
'off').  In some instances, this problem can be temporarily solved by
using a trackerbar pump.  Using the trackerbar pump vigorously will
'suck' the pouches deeper into the pouch well, allowing the valves to
seat properly.  However, if 'pumping the bar' does solve the problem,
I would recommend changing the pouches at a later date.

By the way, if by chance you have a double-valve player system,
it is possible that the problem involves the Primary Valves.  In a
double-valve system, the "Intake Valve Facings" are exposed to the
outside air all of the time.  This causes them to deteriorate much
faster than the "Exhaust Valve Facings".  If the intake facings are
sufficiently deteriorated, they will allow air to leak into the air
passage that leads to the "Secondary Valve Pouch".  This will cause
the note to activate, or stay "ON" all of the time.  Replacing the
intake valve facings on the primary valves is not an easy task, and
it is best left to a professional.  The only "Quick Fix" I know of is
to 'squirt' Baby Powder at the facings in the hope that it will create
a seal that is good enough to shut off the secondary valve.  However,
it is an extremely short-lived 'fix' which is normally only used to
troubleshoot a problem.

In closing, I hope you find this information helpful.  It will be
used in the making of a new web page called "Notes That Won't 'Turn
OFF'", Or, "Notes That Stay 'ON'"


John A. Tuttle
Brick, NJ, USA

(Message sent Wed 14 Jan 2004, 12:37:26 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Down, Keys, Piano, Player, Stay, That

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