FAQs



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Encyclopedia of Disc Music Boxes 1881 - 1920
       A History,
          Catalog Raisonné,
             and Appreciation.
                  By Q. David Bowers
An AMICA-International Publication


We're often-times able to present information you ask for by referring you to a third-party website. This avoids the need to maintain redundant information, and exposes you to those that offer products and services. AMICA International presents these third-party websites in the interest of information exchange, and in no way promotes or endorses any given service. AMICA does not guarantee the informational accuracy of third-party sites. Please see the legal disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

  1. What is my piano worth?

  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. Why do the picture on your site take so long to download/paint?
  20. WHAT IF NONE OF THE ABOVE ANSWERED MY QUESTION?

What is my piano worth?

The only person who can accurately answer this question is the Qualified Tuner/Technician, Dealer or Collector who repairs, restores, buys and/or sells player and/or reproducing instruments. And before any realistic determination can be made, a complete and thorough evaluation is necessary.

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 $600-$16,000.

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 for: Price, Auction or Sell

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

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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.

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How are Instruments Graded?

According 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. (Follow any of the underlined words for more detailed information.)

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.

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Glossary of Terms

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.

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Serial Numbers

The Serial Number is typically located in the vicinity of the Tuning Pins and more specifically between the bass and tenor tuning pins. Most commonly, there is a small oval shaped hole (or cut-out) in the cast iron plate (painted gold color) and the Serial Number is stamped into the wood beneath the plate. This is true for upright units and most grand pianos. Some grand piano makers stamped the number on the Soundboard but this is the exception rather than the rule. On upright units made after 1960, some manufacturers stamped the serial number on the back of the piano. This is especially true of units made by the Aeolian Corporation and Asian built units.

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.

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How 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.

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Restoring Player Pianos

As with any pianos, a key to safely restoring old instrument is patience and time.  It is best to have restoration done by a professional; however, anyone with a reasonable mechanical aptitude and patience can restore a player.

The materials used in restoring player pianos are very specialized, and are generally unavailable at your average local stores.  Vinyl covering (naugehide) will crack to pieces in a matter of days when used to recover pneumatics.  Common rubber hoses (fish tank and automotive style) will collapse and turn brittle in a matter of months, rendering an irreplaceable antique musical instrument useless.  Also, white glue, silicone sealers, body filler, tape, etc., have no place in player pianos.  The tried and true methods and materials as used when manufactured are to be used in the restoration.

Click on Who can Fix my Player-Piano?

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Books on Restoring Player Pianos

Please visit the Selected Books pager of the Mechanical Music Digest webpage.

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Where can I get Player-Piano Parts?

Visit the Restoration Supplies link at the Mechanical Music Digest webpage.

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Where 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"

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Are there any Mailing Lists / Web Resources I can join?

Visit the Discussion Groups link at the Mechanical Music Digest webpage.

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Other Mechanical Music Societies?

Visit the Societies link at the Mechanical Music Digest webpage.

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Who 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, or specifically: 

Western U.S.
Eastern U.S.
Southern U.S.
Central U.S.

Canada
Australia

You can also do a Keyword Search in the "Mechanical Music Digest" Archives. Use the Keyword/s: Dealers, Rebuild, Values, Buying, Selling, Technician or Restore and then scan through the list of articles for pertinent information. Also note the author's name and his/her email or website address.

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Who 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 Movers Link

... and ...
The Mechanical Music Digest Archives contains perhaps the most complete listing of articles pertaining to the moving of valuable instruments. Here again, as above, do a Key Word Search using the word/s: Moving, Movers, Shipping, or Mover. Then scan through the articles and note the names and addresses.

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Where can I get Information on My Piano's Brand?

870+ Player Piano Makes & Makers

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How can I Test my Player-Piano?

Testing the Player Piano

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Where can I find Free technical Articles?

Free Technical Articles

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How 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 do either of the following:
a. In the Search field type in "player-piano".
b. Go to the category (on the left side of the screen)
"Antiques > Musical Instruments > keyboard"

3. Hunt for some ideas here:
Mechanical Music Digest Archive - keyword: "Sell" 
Mechanical Music Digest Archive - keyword: "Selling"

4. Don't disregard those that fix players - many will buy/accept or at least advise how you should sell in the "Who can Fix my Player-Piano" section of this FAQ.

      5. To reach an audience of over 1000 player-piano enthusiasts, you can submit a well-worded For-Sale / For-Free email to the Mechanical Music Digest editor for submission in their next-day's digest. First, please visit and read other For-Sale articles at the MMD that have been posted in the past to get a flavor of the scope required for such a posting, then write your own and send it to the MMD Editor. It will appear in a day or 2 in the MMD archives which you may go view at their site.  Note: This is a seasoned group - vague details or high-balled prices will most likely not receive any serious response.

Once you find a buyer, be sure to check out "Who can Move my Player-Piano?

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Why do the picture on your site take so long to download/paint?

The website designers are faced with balancing the need/demand for photos - with that of making the download time tolerable for Dial-up visitors. 

Visiting this site for the very first time, you will experience delays as the photos and graphics are sent to your computer for the first time. Every time you visit the page thereafter, your browser will check your PC's browser cache to see if the photo is there from your last visit, and use it in a rapid manner. The only time your browser will require another reload is if you clear your local browser disk cache, or the Website Manager has downloaded a newer version of the picture/file.

If you thereafter experience excessive page loading problems (thereafter the first time you visit) your browser's cache size is not large enough to hold our pages and all the pages/pictures of the other sites you frequent. Please go to your browser's help page and learn how to increase the cache size so these pages et al. will all fit, making your browsing experience more enjoyable!

For Microsoft Internet Explorer: Go to menu "Tools" -> "Internet options". Then under "Temporary Internet Files" select "Settings". Try doubling the size of the internet folder.

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None of the Above Answered my Question

We're a volunteer organization, devoted to this pastime on a hobby basis.  But like any hobby group, we don't have a paid staff monitoring email. However, we'll attempt to the best ability of our collective resources to find an answer to questions that weren't addressed in the FAQ. 

Questions with no starting information (e.g. "I need to sell my grandmother's piano - how much is it worth?" [BTW: this is answered on the FAQ]) are too ambiguous for anyone to answer ... questions need to be stated with as much information as one would normally need to begin to research (specific model name, serial#, etc.).  Asking a question with an answer completely addressed in our FAQ page will probably not get a direct response.

We receive many email inquiries a week and do the best we can with the resources we have to answer them in an intelligent and timely manner by finding the correct people in the organization who could best give you an accurate answer.  

Given the above - please proceed to our EMAIL page and follow the suggest sequence to getting your question answered.

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Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors' Association,
a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.


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