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1 What is my piano
2 What kind of Piano do I have?
3 How are Instruments Graded?
4 Glossary of Terms
5 Serial Numbers
6 How do they work?
7 Restoring Player Pianos
8 Books on Restoring Player Pianos
9 Where can I get Player-Piano Parts?
10 Where can I get Music Rolls?
11 Are there any Mailing Lists / Web Resource I can join?
12 Other Mechanical Music Societies?
13 Who can Fix my Player-Piano?
14 Who can Move my Piano?
15 Where can I get information on my piano's brand?
16 How can I Test my Player-Piano?
17 Where can I find free Technical articles?
18 How do I Sell or Donate my Piano / Roll-Collection?
19 WHAT IF NONE OF THE ABOVE ANSWERED MY QUESTION?
The Average Value of a regular, unrestored Upright Player
Piano varies from about $200-$2000, depending on the type/quality of the cabinet
and the reputation of the manufacture. Non-name brand units with all straight
lines are the most common and the least valuable. The more exotic the wood
and/or the more ornate the cabinet style, the more the basic value increases.
Prices for 'functioning' to 'completely restored' units average from
It is the condition of a unit which establishes its basic value just like with any other consumer good. There are, of coarse, classes of instruments ranging from "unknown original" to "immaculate". The fact is, there have been more than 12,000 different piano makers in just the past 150 years. (And you thought there were a lot of car makers.)
It is actually much easier to approach the topic of value from an entirely different perspective. First, let's talk availability. Today, on the Internet, there are people who are selling 'complete' circa 1920 upright player pianos in unrestored condition for $250.00 to $450.00 each, and they have dozens to choose from. As far as prices at auctions, upright players hardly ever command more than $1000.00 in working or semi-working condition. Reproducing players can go for as high as $14000.00 to $16,000, and higher, but only when the piano is in the highest class and in perfect working order. Again, we come back to condition, for it is the condition of a unit which determines its basic value.
Let's say you have a working player that looks pretty nice and is regularly maintained by a qualified player piano technician. I can almost guarantee that the technician has a good idea of the units value and would be happy to tell you. If the unit looks nice and is not well maintained, you will most likely have to hire a professional to evaluate the units condition and he will give you an idea of its approximate value. Let's say the unit looks pretty rough, has chipped ivories, a few corners crushed in, ding marks here and there and the player doesn't work but it's intact. Well, it's considered unrestored and it's worth less than $500.00. I get offered numerous player pianos for the cost of removing them from a home and it costs me about $185.00 to have a unit moved locally, with no stairs involved.
What about restoring the unit. Surely they must become more valuable if they have been professionally restored. WRONG! At the present moment, it costs more to restore a player piano than it's worth. Remember those units that I was offered for the cost of moving? I usually decline the offer because even at cost, it's almost impossible to sell a restored unit for what I've put into it in time and materials. Then you might wonder, "Why have it restored?" Answer... because you love it. That's the only reasonable answer. Player pianos are not an investment!!! Unlike a fine violin, player pianos get WORSE with AGE and every single one will have to be restored, at a healthy fee, at least every forty years (much sooner on certain types). Ouch!
So, what's it worth? If you haven't figured it out by now, you need the
services of a profession technician who will charge about $60.00 to $80.00 an
hour for his talents. Frankly, that's a lot less expensive than just two of the
main reference books that any qualified technician has in his office and most
good technicians have dozens of books. Have we got the time to do all the
research for free? Frankly, No! ...It's best if you hire a professional
rebuilder and have him perform a complete evaluation. If you have the Name of
the Manufacturer, the Serial Number and the unit's
General Condition, i.e., working or non-working player mechanism, appearance, etc.,
then visit the Blue Book of Pianos
website and write to Bob Furst. He has collected quite a bit of information
about numerous piano companies. The MMD
Archives has a number of articles from various members about the prices paid
by individuals in private sales and at various auctions. Do a Key Word Search
Read this article by noted author Art Reblitz: Values of Automatic Pianos and Organs. Read this article by Craig Brougher of "Brougher Restorations" The Value of a Pneumatic player Piano.
What kind of
Piano do I have?
Most basically speaking, there are two (2) types of pianos and three (3) groups of player pianos. The two types of Pianos are: Grand and Upright. In Grand Pianos, the plate (or harp) lies in a horizontal plane to the earth. In an Upright Piano, the plate lies in a plane vertical to the earth. Grands Pianos are sub-divided into numerous groups such as, 'Baby', 'Parlor', 'Living Room' and 'Concert', with 'Baby' being the smallest (5'2" or under) and 'Concert' (8' or greater) being the largest. Uprights are divided into four basic groups, being: 'Full Size' (46" or taller), 'Professional Upright' (42"-46"), 'Console' (36"-42") and 'Spinet' (36" or less). (Also, there is no such thing as a "Grand Upright", although those words do appear on some makers' plates. It was, in fact, a clever advertising ploy similar to the 'third' or 'working' middle pedal found on many upright player pianos, which basically does nothing but mimic one of the other two working pedals. Typically, the Sustain Pedal.)
The three groups of Player Pianos are: Regular, Expression and Reproducing. Of these, the Reproducing group is sub-divided into three other groups, namely: Duo-Art, AMPICO and Welte-Mignon. Perhaps the easiest way to determine the type of Player Mechanism in any given unit is to look at the Fallboard (or key cover) with the keys exposed. Next, look at the rolls (or roll boxes) that are usually played on the unit. Almost all roll makers labeled their boxes for easy identification. If no specific name other than the name of the company, song title and number of the roll are visible, it's a good bet that the player piano is of the Regular variety. Most, if not all, Reproducing rolls were clearly marked with the type of player mechanism they were cut to be used on.
If there are no rolls to look at, the next best thing to look at is the Tracker Bar. If there is just one set of holes, all the same size in one neat row, it is a Regular Player with manual or mechanical tracking. (Many makers employed little 'finger/s', to keep the roll aligned with the holes in the 'bar', which 'feel' the edge/s.) If there are from 80-88 holes in a row with one or two holes on both sides of the long row, the unit is a Regular player with Automatic tracking. If the 'bar' has two or more sets of holes with two of the sets containing a minimum of four holes each, it is an Expression or Reproducing mechanism. If all else fails, call in a Professional. The vast majority of people who own Expression and/or Reproducing Player Pianos know the make and model or their unit very well and pass that information along to subsequent owners. Point being, if no one knows, it's probably a Regular player piano.
are Instruments Graded?
Acccording to the Presto Buyer's Guide of 1926, pianos are graded into five categories. They are the High Grade Piano, the Medium Grade or Popular Piano, the Commercial Piano, the Trade-Mark Piano and the Special Name Pianos. (click here more detailed information on piano grades.). All grands are measured from the back of the bow to the leading edge of the keyboard. In other words, the total length of the piano (the length). All uprights are measured from the floor to the top-most part of the piano (the height). There is much disagreement about the various names given to the various lengths of grand pianos. Some of the terms include; parlor grand, living room grand, full-size grand, baby grand, petit grand, mini grand, concert grand, conservatory grand, practice grand. Basically speaking, Parlor and Living room grands are about six feet in length. Source: www.player-care.com
The Tracker bar is the piece of wood or metal across which the paper music roll passes when the unit is in operation. It is most commonly made of brass and is, on average, 13-1/2" x 1" in size. The holes can have a spacing of either 9 holes or 6 holes to the inch, with '9' being the more common variety. Most tracker bars have a minimum of 88 holes/w '9' to the inch or 65 holes/w '6' to the inch. Each hole represents a note on the keyboard. They are sequential (i.e., C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B). Tubes, usually made of lead, are connected from the back of the tracker and to the stack. Each tube is connected to a channel in the stack that controls a valve connected to the main vacuum supply from the pump.
Bellows - A component usually consisting of two like-pieces of wood with a cloth hinge at one end, and covered with a rubberized cloth. One side of the bellows will have an opening, so that when vacuum is applied, a mechanical action occurs. Conversely, when connected to pedals and a check valve is added, they act as a pump, lowering the pressure in the stack.
Stack - The upper part of the player. This is the part that plays the piano, and contains the valves, bellows, spoolbox, and wind motor.
Spool Box - This is the area where the piano roll is inserted, and is usually behind a set of doors.
Pump - The lower part of the player. The pumping pedals are connected to the pump. The pump usually contains the wind motor regulation, and controls to divert the vacuum to the stack, wind motor, and expression pneumatics.
Expression pneumatic - Since the piano's usual expression pedals are covered up by the pump pedals, it looks as if you cannot access them. However, there is a way to duplicate these pedals through the use of expression pneumatics. The piano controls are usually located underneath the hinged key slip. Usually, there is a button which will control the equivalent pedal function also. In order to operate the loud pedal, simply push a button on the control rail, and the loud expression pneumatic will operate exactly like the loud pedal. In addition to the loud pedal, there are usually two soft pedal expression pneumatics.
Occasionally, the Serial Number is stenciled on the plate. And at least one maker placed the number on a fancy ivory tag which was affixed inside, near the top of the left side. The point is, it can be located in any number of places. It will usually be a five or six digit number and will not contain any letters or spaces. Very few makers stamped the number on the soundboard of upright pianos but I have seen three in my career. In each case, the number was made visible by removing the bottom board of the unit. The bottom board is easily removed by depressing the one or two spring clips that hold it in place, under the key bed. On rare occasions, there are two screws holding the bottom board in place.
Bob Furst, the owner of The Blue Book Of Piano domain and author of the book "The Blue Book of Pianos", recently put up a new set of webpages that contain a listing of Serial Numbers that were used by hundreds of piano makers.
Although a little technical in nature, Bill Kibby has written an interesting article about Serial Numbers and how they relate to the actual date of manufacture. Check out this fine article.
do they work?
Player pianos use suction, not pressure, to work. As the pedals are operated, air is pulled from the pump and the entire stack is placed under a slight vacuum. This vacuum operates a motor that turns the rolls in the spool box. The piano roll has holes cut in them that when they pass over the tracker bar, the tracker bar's holes are uncovered. A valve is operated when the holes are uncovered that applies vacuum to the striking pneumatic, which plays the note on the piano. Source: www.faqs.org/faqs/music/piano
on Restoring Player Pianos
Visit the Selected Books page of the Mechanical Music Digest webpage.
can I get Player-Piano Parts?
Visit the Restoration Supplies link at the Mechanical Music Digest webpage.
can I get New/Used Music Rolls?
New roll suppliers are found at the Roll Sales link at the Mechanical Music Digest webpage. Ebay is an excellent source for used rolls. Go to www.ebay.com and follow the category (on the left side of their screen) chain as follows:
"Musical Instruments > Keyboard, Piano > Piano Rolls"
there any Mailing Lists/Web Resources I can join?
Visit the Discussion Groups link at the Mechanical Music Digest webpage.
Mechanical Music Societies?
Visit the Societies link at the Mechanical Music Digest webpage.
Can Fix My Player-Piano?
There are literally hundreds of individuals and/or companies that are currently repairing, restoring, buying and/or selling all types of Player, Expression and/or Reproducing Pianos. Here's some that one reputable website has found worthy of posting:;
All Listings. You can also do a Keyword Search in the "Mechanical Music Digest" Archives; use the Keywords: Dealers, Rebuild, Values, Buying, Selling, Technician or Restore. Source: www.player-care.com
can Move my Piano?
NOTE: It is HIGHLY suggested that you DON'T let buyers themselves move your piano off your property. If they're hurt in the process, you and your insurance company are liable. Insist that an insured mover do the job.
Visit the Piano MoversLink, or The Mechanical Music Digest Archives contains perhaps the most complete listing of articles pertaining to the moving of valuable instruments. Do a Key Word Search using the word: Moving, Movers, Shipping, or Mover. Source: www.player-care.com
can I get Information on My Piano's Brand?
1000+ Player Piano Makes & Makers Source: www.player-care.com
can I Test my Player-Piano?
Testing the Player Piano Source: www.player-care.com
can I find Free technical Articles?
Free Technical Articles Source: www.player-care.com
can I Sell or Donate my Piano/Roll-Collection?
The usual ad in the Sunday paper is good, but to reach a wider audience:
1. Here's a site that specializes in selling Mechanical musical Instruments: Player Piano & Mechanical Music Exchange
2. Ebay is an Excellent forum. Go to www.ebay.com and search on "player-piano", or go to the category, "Antiques > Musical Instruments > keyboard" (on the left side of the screen)
3. Hunt for some ideas here: Mechanical Music Digest Archive - keyword: "Sell", or, Mechanical Music Digest Archive - keyword: "Selling"
4. Contact a technician who repairs players, as many will buy/accept or at least advise how you should sell yoru instrument.
5. Submit a For-Sale / For-Free email to the Mechanical Music Digest editor for submission in their next-day's digest. Here are exampls others have posted, other For-Sale articles.
Given the above - please proceed to our Contacts page and follow the suggested sequence to getting your question answered.
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