Sources

Where does one get information and materials about an arcane subject like player piano restoration?

Here are some of the sources I have found, so far, which have helped in my understanding in undertaking this task:

Books:

Piano Player Servicing and Rebuilding by Art Reblitz. This is generally referred to as the “Bible” of player piano information. While not the only book about the subject, it is the most prevalent and complete single volume thereupon, to my knowledge. It is still in print and fairly widely available, here and at the usual online giant booksellers, for a modest price.  Heck, if you’re curious, you can probably even borrow a copy from your local public library! The book is a great resource for those (like me) who are starting to get their hands dirty for the first time (where players are concerned). My only criticism of the book is that the photography is somewhat dated and sometimes lacking in detail. This is greatly exacerbated in the more recent editions, which are produced “on demand” by online retailers, from inferior source material. According to Arthur Reblitz, somewhere along the line the original plates for the book were lost and Vestal Press made the decision to allow continued publishing with lesser quality, to keep costs down. While I do see the importance of keeping the book in print (and at a modest price), it is nonetheless an unfortunate tradeoff to sacrifice the visual quality of the book. Therefore I would recommend finding a good used copy with an edition dating from the mid 1990s or earlier. I am unsure exactly in which edition the quality diminished, however by examining the photo plates it should be obvious; if the pictures have the “photocopied” look, then it is an inferior edition. The better edition should have “Vestal Press” written below the author’s name, as pictured here:

Difference in edition wording on cover of Reblitz player piano book

Obviously my point of reference is now the Internet, where there the quantity and size of photographs are not an issue in the way they are in a physical book. It’s part of the reason for my creation of this docu-blog. Having said that, having the “better” edition does make a difference, and to be clear this book is an invaluable resource for new and experienced rebuilders alike. Get yourself a copy!

Piano Servicing, Tuning and Rebuilding, by Reblitz as well. This is a companion book which deals with the piano itself (not the player mechanism). If you are trying to discover and figure out the piano, as well as the player, then this is a good book to have as well. In 2019 the 3rd edition was released.

Online:

player-care.com A site purveyed by John Tuttle, who seems to be a one-man industry unto himself. His site is jam-packed with info and tips, although obviously one still has to pay for specific manuals and information on certain pianos, quite understandably. John also sells supplies and sundries for player pianos, which is handy for the hobbyist, as most supply firms will only sell to professionals (a policy with which I happen to agree). In addition to his website, he also has a Youtube channel with many good videos on a range of player topics. Thank goodness for people like him!

AMICA is an organization dedicated to all collectors of “Automatic Music”; in addition to organizing meetings and publishing a journal, they have a website which includes documents that I have found valuable, such as the Billings Rollography, and some technical papers as well. You need to be a full member (e.g. paid membership) to access this section of the website; I recommend joining. Many of the documents have been collected and codified by Terry Smythe; here is an example I gleaned from his personal page, before he migrated the content to the AMICA site.

The following is a publication from Standard Pneumatic Player Action Co; it is part marketing literature, part technical primer and part parts catalogue. It has some nice line drawings (page 13 is a great cross-sectional scale drawing of the entire piano) and explanations of how the mechanism works, so even salesmen can understand 😀

(This is a PDF format with a size of about 4 megs, persons with slow connections may be frustrated)

Standard_Player_Action

Mechanical Music Digest: another group for the purpose of dissemination and discussion of all topics related mechanical music. Although sometimes a bit generalized (when you are after player piano information specifically), there are many knowledgeable people who will take time to answer questions. The feature of the group I find useful is the daily email list, which covers a range of topics, including relevant information on player pianos. Membership and subscription to the list are currently free, although they gratefully accept donations!

Facebook: if you are on social media (and who isn’t these days?), there is a group for AMICA and another titled “player piano talk”. Interesting photographs, videos and commentary can be seen here periodically.

I am probably omitting some other obvious ones, but that should get you started!

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