Ein Pianola - wofür eigentlich?

As was told above, the launch of the first self-playing pianos in about 1900 provoked very diverse reactions on these new wondrous "push-up devices". The range of reactions in the insider publications began with, "The thought of a mechanical piano is a true abomination for any musically sensitive person," (M. Allhin, 1902), to, in contrast, "One only has to insert these rolls, punched with all rhythmical shadings, [...] to get the illusion of listening to a great artist. Is this not wondrous and the realization of ancient fairy-tale figments that our forefathers would have smiled about?“ (P. B in Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, 1905).

The rapid rise of sales figures - several thousand push-up players were built at Aeolian's, Hupfeld's and other manufacturers as early as 1905, and yet they could not respond to all the orders - demonstrates, though, that there was a huge demand for these Pianola push-up players. Then as now, there were many arguments in favor of purchasing a pianola.

Arguments for a pianola

Extended joy of music - to enjoy pieces of piano literature that the listener could not him- or herself produce on the piano

Special joy of music - to enjoy the same pieces played by different performers or by the composer himself

More joy of music - to perform pieces of piano literature in various ways by pianola control

Esteem - to be a good host, music culture and innovation (rather an innovation in nostalgia, nowadays)

Fascination - with veritable wonders of mechanics/pneumatics that can reproduce this music

Pianola - new or used?

Used, restored or new? With a foot pedal or with an air-operated motor? With a 65, 73 or 88 note piano roll system? As a push-up player or as an installed instrument? A pedal piano, an artistic piano, a reproducing piano? Which brand, which manufacturer? Which sound pattern, singing or transparent? Which pricing category - and how is the pricing category related to the type of instrument and its quality? There are many questions on which I would like to supply some information
 to you.

Even though approx. 500,000 new acoustic and grand pianos are produced worldwide every year, only a minuscule part of them is represented by pianolas - because the demand is very low. That was different in the golden age of 1915 when more self-playing pianos than manual pianos were built for a while. Today's modern and computer-guided systems (e. g., Pianodisc, Yamaha's Diskklavier, etc.) are certainly a nifty solution for new instruments since, beside the self-playing function, they also provide the advantage of using an earphone in noise-sensitive residential buildings. They are not in my focus of interest, though. These webpages only discuss the self-playing pianos made from 1900 to 1940.

However, I can refer you to experienced colleagues who are able to install these modern systems, too.

Before you decide for a pianola, it pays to define clearly what you would prefer to use it for. This may sound odd, but it is worth to answer these important questions forehand to make a good decision:

Questions and answers pianola

Will the pianola be used mainly as a self-playing piano or as much - and at what level - as a manual piano? Will an available (grand) piano still be used, or in parallel?

Will the pianola be used mainly as a self-playing piano or as much - and at what level - as a manual piano?

Do you want to use the pianola as a pianolist, i.e. guiding all the accentuation and tempo control by the foot pedals?

Do you want to use the pianola as a fully automatic self-playing instrument?

Which style of music do you prefer (classical, opera or operetta, marches and dances, schlager, ragtime, jazz and blues, pop music)?

Do you want to listen to original recordings of the composers and pianists?

Will the pianola also be used for piano lessons?

Which features of the pianola do you consider how important? (Repertoire, looks, sound, technical condition, brand, price, follow-up costs, etc.)

Which sound pattern of a piano do you prefer?

How much can you invest?

Where will the pianola be setup?

Finding a pianola

It is very recommendable to get different pianolas shown, explained and auditioned - that will surely make clear what the differences are, what is really important for you - and which tonality you prefer. Tonality may vary a lot among pianos of different brand, design and age - but also among instruments of the same brand or even the same model. Because the condition of the instrument, the quality of the intonation and regularization are crucial for the sound pattern and the playing behavior.

Read other interesting details about the subject “Sound patterns of pianos and grand pianos” on my website www.faszinationklaviere.de