Condition of a pianola

Many instruments were damaged or no longer properly operational after the heyday of the pianola, and especially during the wars. Most self-playing mechanisms were removed from the pianolas. The first step should therefore be to make sure whether the complete self-playing mechanism is still present. It often happened that only the top installation was removed on the fly - or only the bottom installation.

Pianola with missing components

Upper installation is absent Lower installation is absent

Pianolas without player mechanisms

Finding replacement parts is almost impossible, while a reproduction will entail very high costs, therefore buying such a pianola is not recommendable.

Mercury in ancient pianolas

A safety note here: there is mercury in ancient artistic and reproducing instruments. At that time, electrical switches were made applying little mercury tubs and a retractable metal handle or a mandrel. The danger of mercury vapors, that may occur in significant quantities even at room temperature, was not yet known then. In any case, check whether the pianola has open mercury switches (there may also be closed mercury dip-switches) and whether they are still containing any mercury. This mercury needs to be removed - or the container should be tightly secured. Do this especially before transporting the instrument or tilting it (or placing it on its side, in the case of a grand piano). This work should only be accomplished by a professional hand.

Photos of mercury swithes of a pianola

Assessing the condition of a pianola

When assessing the overall condition of the pianola, it is a good idea to check the entire instrument first from the outside and from the inside. Marks of too high humidity in the setup history of the instrument,

Pianola that had too much humidity

visible rust on the tuning pins, the strings or other metal parts

mold spots in the instrument and/or its outside

water stains in the area of the tuning pins, the action etc.

Player mechanism had too much humidity

are easy to recognize - and indicate that this humidity can also have entered the self-playing mechanism, so that a full and laborious restoration will be necessary.

Pianola photos with humidity damages

Pests that are dangerous for a pianola

Pests that are dangerous for a pianola (moth, woodworm, rodents) are of course also dangerous for a pianola. The damage to the action, air ducts etc. will generally be extensive and to be amended only for a considerable investment.

Pests that are dangerous for a pianola woodworms

Pests that are dangerous for a pianola

A closer examination will reveal whether the hoses and bellows already display any defects

Condition of the bellows of a pianola

Condition of hoses and rubber of a pianola

Significant weak spots may be present even if no cracks or holes are found in the bellows nor any defects in the tubing, because only a few areas of the self-playing mechanism are observable. Check the condition of the bellows and hoses carefully with your fingers - if the hoses are hard and brittle, the rubber cloth is dry and thin, the leather is dry and inelastic, you can safely assume that all these visible and not visible parts have to be exchanged.

Electrical components of a pianola

In the case of player and reproducing pianos with ancient motors, the entire electrical system must be replaced for safe operation. Visual inspection will already tell you that the fabric-covered cords, the plug and some connectors will no longer be safe. Please, never plug the connector of a pianola that was not refurbished. Besides the risk of short circuit or cable fire, note that 250 V were sometimes applied to open switches then, any intervention into the open instrument will therefore bear mortal danger!

Electric motor and resistance of a pianola

Visual inspection of a pianola

A visual inspection will often not require a subsequent function test at all. If the treading pianola is well preserved, just insert a roll and try to control the self-playing mechanism with the pedals. This will not succeed in most cases, though. If the air-powered motor is moving, then at least this part will still work. An easy test of the tightness of a pedal-driven pianola can be carried out like this: Close all holes at the tracker bar of the pianola with crepe tape and tread the pedals. If the system is closed, a powerful resistance should apply to the pedals. If the pedals can still be easily pushed and a hissing sound is heard, then the pneumatics or/and the lower installation are proven as leaking. The bellows in the upper installation are usually leaking as well. Only a professional may check that.

Long life and significant dirt or excessive moisture at the site of the pianola will usually have the valves and diaphragm in the wind chests rendered inoperative or defective as well. They need to be cleaned or replaced.

Valves and pouches of a pianola