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MMD > Archives > November 2007 > 2007.11.09 > 09Prev  Next

Pneumatic Reproducing Piano vs. Solenoid Player
By D. L. Bullock

I have restored players for more than thirty years.  I won't say
how many more...  I have installed electronic player systems of all
kinds since the first class Pianocorder had back in 1978.  I have lost
count at around 400 of the various Pianocorder, PianoDisc, Pianomation
installations.  I played the prototype of the Bösendorfer SE back in
1978 as well.

My one disappointment in the electronic systems has been not their
ability to play the notes -- they do a good job of that.  However,
I listen to the Duo-Art rolls and Ampico Rolls on my pneumatic systems
and listen to the same notes on the computerized systems and there is
a marked difference.

Yes, there is no motor or pump noise.  There is no set of valves going
"chip, chip chip" when valves activate, but there are other annoying
noises.  From day one the Pianocorder was seldom installed so it could
play softly.  I was able to get the soft on a Pianocorder as soft as an
Ampico by the way I installed them.  All the other systems also have
this problem.  The installers are seldom fussy enough to regulate the
system to play as softly as the human finger can play.  Often the
system or piano action is unable to respond all that softly anyway.

However, when playing softly there was the distinct noise that sounded
like bees in a bottle as the solenoids play making a zoop, zoop, zoop
type buzz that can be louder than the note or of equal volume it seemed.
This is the nature of the beast and I have heard it in every variety of
system I have installed or heard play.

Then there was the other end of the spectrum.  I have only seen one
system could even play as loudly as the pneumatic system can.  That was
the Stahnke prototype SE system.  The Boesendorfer SE was capable of
the full spectrum of volume that a pneumatic system can play, but the
for the price of that you could have bought a room full of Duo-Arts all
restored meticulously.   But there were only about 50-60 of those ever

I am terribly disappointed in the Artis Wodehouse recordings that
moved Duo-Art rolls of George Gershwin to MIDI and then to Disklavier
and then to CD.  The volume is a problem as their conversion to MIDI
intensities sucked: all the snap in Gershwin's playing is gone from the
Disklavier CD.  I think the timing was off as well.

Perhaps the reason for this is just like the difference between Duo-Art
and Ampico.  You notice Duo-Art rolls have a short staccato note played
with one strike of the punch.  Ampico never used anything shorter than
three strikes.  Ampico was unable to sufficiently strike the note with
such a short hole.  Solenoids are also unable to strike on very short
activations as well.

While I like the solenoid systems, unless I could find and afford a
Bösendorfer SE or install an E-roll system on my pneumatic reproducers,
the piano rolls still satisfy the musician in me better.  For a party,
having the words on the roll and everybody singing 1920's karaoke from
the paper roll is way more fun than just watching keys go up and down
with no idea that these songs were _sung_ -- and everybody loves to sing.

I believe I am more picky than most people who enjoy these players --
solenoid or electric -- and the solenoid version will satisfy almost
everyone out there, hence the large number of sales they have experienced.
Few people even know there is something better and fewer still could
tell there was a difference.   I know this group has those questions.
I hope I have answered some of them.

D.L. Bullock

(Message sent Fri 9 Nov 2007, 14:54:29 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Piano, Player, Pneumatic, Reproducing, Solenoid, vs

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