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When it comes to music roll arrangements, it is all a matter of personal
taste. Like many other people, I may have several different
arrangements of a particular song by choice because of the arrangement.
Every roll company, including Ampico, Duo Art, and Welte, had some
wonderful arrangements and they also had some "dogs." I do not think
that it is fair to condemn a particular company. Remember, what you do
not like may be what someone else prefers. It is all a matter of
personal choice and preference.
I am often very leery about buying new songs. Arrangers tend to have
their own sounds. Many of the new 88-note song rolls, in my opinion,
are pretty bad. The arrangers of the twenties, thirties, and forties
knew how to compensate for what the player piano could not do. I have
heard many newer songs that sound as if they are played note by note
from a piece of relatively elementary-level sheet music.
As for the comments directed specifically to the Ampico [in the 05.06.04
MMD], they produced what their customers at the time wanted. Ampico's
target market was not the buyer of rags, marches, and two steps. These
instruments were not marketed to the average working person. Many of us
who currently own these instruments could not have afforded them when
new. These were built at a time when musical tastes and styles were
very different than they are today. Imagine some of the stuff that your
kids and grandkids like! How can it even be put onto a piece of sheet
music, let alone a piano roll?
The Ampico has a wonderful classical library and many of the 1930's
arrangements are timeless classics and timeless in terms of playing
style. If you personally could play as well as a '30's Ampico roll
plays on a well-functioning piano, you could easily make a nice living
playing in public. It is too bad that the recording equipment was
destroyed and that Aeolian discontinued the roll business in the early
40's. This is true for the Duo-Art and Welte also. Some of these new,
very flat 88-note arrangements might be pretty decent if properly coded
with expression for a reproducing piano.
In terms of roll values, piano rolls do not get better with age. As
many collectors, I would rather have a quality recut as opposed to an
original roll, because the old ones can be extremely brittle. I know
that I have many favorites that are on borrowed time. Probably the very
nicest recuts that I own are from Precision Music Rolls. I have bought
recuts from another supplier that were not up to that standard. They
did not have rewind holes punched, they forgot to put labels on the
rolls, and they even sent two with the paper too narrow to properly
track on the piano. Precision's rolls are absolutely first class all
the way. I wish that they would do the same for Duo-Art. The other
company could have a real corner on the Ampico and Duo-Art roll market,
if they would broaden their catalogs and if they would put better
quality control into what they are doing.
As for the comments about electronic scanning and conversion: remember,
this saves all these arrangements for the future. In due time, all of
these original rolls will be too fragile to play. Many of the original
master rolls were destroyed long ago and, if it were not for surviving
copies, performances would be lost. The bright spot is that if someone
has accurate scans and a good perforator, it will be possible to obtain
accurate replacements. It is too bad that nobody has figured a way to
take a new live digital piano performance and get a computer to produce
a coded master for Ampico, Duo-Art, and Welte. I think that the future
of any large music roll supplier is going to have to include not only
paper rolls but CD recordings and systems.