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MMD > Archives > September 2008 > 2008.09.24 > 04Prev  Next

New Solenoid Player System in Old Piano
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  No doubt the opinions on this topic will run the gamut from
complete horror to shear delight.  I can only offer opinions and echo
the sentiments of my upper class customers who have been in similar
situations.  In as few words as possible, everyone of then have been
delighted to hear their formerly silent piano play beautiful music
again.  But, in every case, the piano itself had been very
professionally restored to its fullest glory before the system was

Let me start by saying that the new Pianomation solenoid bank is so
thin that you cannot see it unless you get down on your knees and look
under the piano.  The only visible component is the CD drive, which
can be mounted slightly back of the leading edge of the front of the
instrument.  Normally, it's mounted flush with the leading edge, so
it's easily accessed.  But, with the latest technology, even that is
no longer a necessity because the system can be operated remotely via
a computer and a small receiver that can be mounted out of sight.

The point of all of this is that cosmetically or aesthetically speaking
the newest high-tech systems would not detract from the appearance of
the instrument.  In fact, unless you knew it was there, you wouldn't
even see it unless you were crawling around on the floor -or perhaps
sitting on a sofa directly in front of the piano.  But, here I should
also point out that the normal color of the case that houses the
solenoid bank is black.  That's not to say that it has to be black.
In fact, it could be finished to look like the piano.

Regarding the age of the instrument, if everything is still in its
original condition it's extremely doubtful that it sounds all that
good as compared to when it was new.  There are so many variables that
affect the quality of even the best instruments that addressing this
issue with any accuracy would require an evaluation.  But, under normal
circumstances, the bass register of the piano would surely be lacking
due to the age of the strings.  Also, all of the felt and buckskin in
the action of the piano is 88 years old, so, putting those components
back into 'full time' service would undoubtedly wear them out in
relatively short order.

Another question that's important with relation to today's high
end digital systems revolves around the tuning of the instrument.
The better quality 'orchestrated' and 'performance' CDs have audio
accompaniment, and they -- being analog performances -- are played
"at pitch", or A=440 Hz.  So, if the piano cannot be tuned to pitch,
or cannot hold its pitch well, then there will be a problem with the
overall quality of the music.

(I may be behind the curve on this topic because it's my understanding
that with the advent of MP3 technology, varying the pitch of the analog
signal would no longer be an issue, since MP3 is digital, and its speed
and pitch can be varied.  I think they are calling it "Sync technology".
But I have yet to see it work, and having played with MP3 for a couple
of years, I know from experience that the trained ear can hear when the
original file has been compressed or stretched to obtain a lower or
higher pitch.  But that's my opinion.)

If money were not an object, it would seem very prudent to have the
insides of the piano completely restored prior to, or in conjunction
with the installation of a digital player system.  That way you end
up with a beautiful sounding piano that can play the finest music

Regarding the volume of the music.  In a well regulated instrument
and an equally well regulated digital system, the volume can be turned
down so low that the hammers barely touch the strings.  Naturally,
doing this detracts from the expression of the music.  But nonetheless
it can be done.  And, with the top of the piano closed, the instrument
becomes merely background music that will not interfere with normal
conversations going on in the same room.  (I'll leave my personal
feelings about that out of this posting because they are a matter of
my tastes in musical performance.)

Value is perhaps the most difficult aspect of this whole conversation.
While an 88-year old Bösendorfer has all of the 'built in' qualities
of an extremely fine instrument, it's value is diminished greatly by
its age.  Looking at one reference book that was published in 1986
(the "Official Price Guide to Musical Collectibles"), a $40,000 custom
made Steinway Art Grand made in the late 19th century is valued at only
$65,000.  A Bösendorfer, Ludwig, Art Grand made in the second quarter
of the 19th century is worth $33,000.

My point here is that unless there is something unique about the
instrument, it's value generally declines as it ages (in terms of real
dollars).  And, since all we know is that it's an 88-year old Bösendorfer
that apparently has never been restored, it's my opinion that the cost
of installing the digital player system would exceed the current fair
market value of the instrument.

John A Tuttle 
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Wed 24 Sep 2008, 12:55:56 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  New, Old, Piano, Player, Solenoid, System

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