Player Piano Use and Care

We’ve created this page for our customers whose player pianos we have restored, as a guide to the proper use, care, and maintenance of their valuable instruments.

Where to obtain piano rolls:

New rolls may be obtained from QRS Music. Used rolls may sometimes be obtained, but care should be taken not to use rolls with torn, ragged, wavy, or otherwise damaged edges. Using rolls that are not in good condition will result in poor performance from your player mechanism, and may actually cause problems which may result in the need for a service call. Think of it like putting a badly scratched CD in your CD player – it isn’t going to play very well.

How to handle your player piano rolls: The following is from instructions printed on the inside of a Play-Rite Music Roll box:

IMPORTANT To ensure tracking of music roll: First, see that music roll is wound loosely on spool, then, holding roll ligtly in one hand with the SLOTTED end down, tap roll two or three times against the palm of other hand. This will throw the perforated sheet against the SLOTTED spool end. Roll is now ready for use. Note: Roll held too tightly in hand will not allow paper to shift into position. DO NOT TIGHTEN ROLL.

How to insert the player piano roll: The following instructions apply especially to those pianos that have been equipped with a full automation kit.

Remember, if your player mechanism has a re-roll pneumatic that sends the roll into re-roll automatically at the end of the roll, then if you don’t pull the paper roll down far enough to cover all the holes in the tracker bar before starting the motor, the mechanism will go into re-roll instead of going forward. This is because the holes at the extreme ends of the tracker bar are not covered. The same can happen if using player rolls with torn, jagged, or curled edges. It exposes those end holes in the tracker bar to the atmosphere, which tells the player mechanism it is time to re-roll!

The best thing you can do for your player piano is to use it regularly! When it’s left idle for any length of time, the material covering the bellows can become stiff and will not want to move. Use your player mechanism often – weekly, if possible – for best performance. This is true even of newly restored player pianos. You want to keep the material used on the bellows supple, and the best way of doing that is frequently use. Frequent use will also discourage “critters” from taking up residence inside the piano. Mice, moths and other creatures like the felts and the cloth used in player piano mechanisms, and will sometimes chew them up to make their nests inside the piano. This can cause damage that would be very costly to repair. But don’t use pesticides on the inside of the piano!

Keep your piano in good tune – we recommend twice yearly tunings for the best health of the instrument. This also gives your technician a good opportunity to monitor any adjustments that might be needed on the action or the player mechanism. These adjustments are normal during the period following a major restoration. If you are a local customer and we are taking care of your regular maintenance tunings, we can also check your player mechanism for proper performance and make any needed adjustments. If you are not a local customer, and the piano tuner you have come to tune your piano tells you he needs to “take the player stack out” in order to tune the piano – tell him no and call another tuner!

A few other precautions:

  • Keep the outside of the piano dusted.
  • Don’t use spray polishes (like Pledge) on your refinished piano. The silicone in these products can damage the hand-rubbed tung oil finish we use when refinishing instruments. Instead, use a good lemon oil (like Old English or Formby) on a very slightly dampened rag to polish the finish, then buff with a soft, dry cloth.
  • Never clean keytops with anything other than a soft, damp cloth that has had most of the moisture wrung out of it. Stubborn dirt may be removed by adding a little dish liquid to the water used to dampen the cloth before thoroughly wringing it out.
  • Keep the doors on the front of the piano closed when the mechanism is not in use.
  • Don’t ever oil or try to make adjustments of any kind on your player mechanism.
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