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MMD > Archives > January 2004 > 2004.01.31 > 06Prev  Next

"Easy-to-Pump" Player Pianos
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  This thread stimulates me to write because I have had a web
page at Player-Care since 1996 in which I say:

One statement I hear quite often is, "It's very hard to pump". If I
were a wise-guy I'd reply, "So why'd ya call me?".... Let me explain.
First off, I'm not a wise-guy. Secondly, when a player piano is in
excellent condition, the resistance one encounters when pumping too
fast means that the reservoir/s that store the vacuum is/are empty,
and no more air can be sucked out. Unfortunately, when a person tells me
that a unit is hard to pump or getting harder to pump, what they usually
mean to say is, "I have to keep pumping faster and faster to make it
play." My response in kind is, "Pumping a good player piano should be
like taking a gentle walk on Sunday. It should not be an aerobic

(Side note: I have also heard the same initial comment from owners
of new Universal, Classic, modern Aeolian, and Story & Clark players.
Obvious, in those cases I just tell the owner to pedal more slowly,
or to pump using shorter strokes.)

What I've often wondered is why there was so little written by
manufacturers on the subject of "Correct Pumping (or Pedal) Technique".
Recently, I bought the remaining copies of the booklets that were
produced by AMR Publishing in 1982. In the Instruction Booklet No. 1
"The 'Pianola' Piano, which was originally produced by Aeolian back in
the 20's, the subject of pumping is addressed on Page 1. This is what
it says:

"As the variation of tone production depends almost entirely upon the
pedal action of the 'Pianola', it is important to obtain a correct
method of using the foot pressure. The heel should be placed upon the
pedal sufficiently far forward to bring the toe slightly above the top
edge; it is in this position both feet are used alternately, using
strong strokes in fairly rapid succession if loud effects are
desired, or pedal softly and more slowly for delicate playing. Accents
are gained by sudden pressure of either foot at the moment the
particular note or chord is being played."

Frankly, being somewhat of a stickler for details, I have to disagree
with portions of the above explanation. I think that those who have
spent years pumping a player piano will agree that the heel should be
placed very near to the base of the pedal. This makes it much easier to
use the angles instead of the legs to provide the motive power needed
to move the pedals. Furthermore, the explanation leaves me with the
feeling that a fairly significant amount of aggressive pumping was
required to produce loud music. And, if that was indeed the case, one
has to wonder how air-tight the system was when it was new. Also, an
experienced pianolist knows that pedal accents have to occur just a
split second before a note or chord is played to produce the desired
change in expression.

I guess what bothers me is that nowhere in the pamphlet does it ever
say anything about "over-pumping" or "pumping too hard". I could
understand why such a statement was not included if there was a bleeder
valve in the system to prevent 'over-pumping', like there is in a reed
organ, but foot pumped player pianos don't have such a valve. So how
would the user ever know if they were abusing their player piano or if
it was working normally?


John A. Tuttle
Brick, NJ, USA

(Message sent Sat 31 Jan 2004, 20:29:27 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Easy-to-Pump, Pianos, Player

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