I recently picked up a piano from Georgia that brought back some real memories for me. As a youngster in Jr. High School I was introduced to pizza at the Dallas area Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. I remember eating my first pizza which was unlike anything I had eaten before. People did not talk about Pizza back then…no TV ads…I guess pizza was out there but I don’t remember hearing about it before.
I remember the pizza crust was so crispy it was almost like a potato chip and the toppings were meats and veggies with lots of real cheese. I first burned the roof of my mouth on pizza on that trip I believe.
But the most memorable thing at the Shakey’s pizza parlor was the player piano there. You picked a roll from the shelves of rolls and spooled it up to the takeup spool and dropped your quarter into the box hanging on the side. It played the roll, rerolled itself and shut off waiting for the next quarter. I now know from the way that one was made that it had a Baldwin Manualo player system on it which is found on about 6 different brands of piano so I don’t know what kind of piano it was.
It had all the piano hammers, backchecks, action, and player parts painted up with electric green, orange and reds and yellows. The front of the piano had been replaced with Plexiglas and there were black lights inside to brighten up the colors. I went there as often as possible just to play the player piano since I did not have one in those days.
It was not the first one I saw but it was where I could actually get to it and play it myself. I even took my little 3 inch reel to reel tape recorder with me and recorded Kitten on the Keys and other favorite rolls so I could listen at home.
I remember once there was a live pianist and ragtime band on stage next to the player piano and I really enjoyed that as well but soon I was wishing they would take a break so I could listen to the player piano.
I gave my folks no rest for several years until we purchased our first player piano which was a Simplex. It required me to rebuild it in our garage once I realized I had to pedal like crazy to be able to play it. My poor mother thought it would never play again when she saw literally thousands of parts all over the house. But it did go back together and it played far better than it had before and I could pedal it without being worn out at the end of a roll.
In the days before I rebuilt it I lost 4 inches in my waist by pedaling the player piano a couple of hours every day.
My mother discovered that on school mornings instead of calling up the stairs many times for me to wake up she could get me to get up for school by turning on the motor on the player piano and playing a roll on the piano. I knew if I did not get downstairs by the end of the song, the paper would pull off the roll core and all the notes of the piano would slam down as the end of the paper pulled off exposing the tracker bar.
Fast forward to today where I run one of the last remaining player piano restoration shops in the US. Of course the popularity of the player piano has waned over the last 100 years. But player pianos are still the life of EVERY party in a home that has one. I have customers who swear their kids turned out so great because the kids loved to bring their little friends over to sing the latest piano roll songs instead of getting into trouble at the mall or bowling alley. Some of the kids actually went on to a music career.
But let us remember that the first Karaoke Machine was the player piano with a word roll on it. The words come by as the music plays and you sing the words “up” meaning that the next word you sing is above the word you just sang. It takes some practice but you learn to sing the words of songs you never heard before easily as most rolls have more than one verse to sing.
Most rolls are songs, but some rolls are stories and some, especially classical music have the history of the song or the composer on the roll. For example the program music from the romantic era may have no words to sing but there will be a commentary printed on the roll about the music or what was happening when the music was written.
Yes piano rolls are still being made by several companies. The largest being QRS Music rolls which has been in continuous operation for over 100 years. Yes you can get many new titles. There is even a Brittany Spears roll out there.
Now you can make a MIDI file on your digital keyboard and send it to a couple of roll makers and they will cut your original roll for you.
There are now thousands of old, barely playable piano rolls that have been scanned into MIDI files (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and can be played on any computer or digital keyboard. There are also ways to play the old pneumatic player pianos with MIDI files but that takes building a pneumatic interface for your player piano.
The most amazing thing today is that all modern digital keyboards, pianos, organs, virtual pipe organs are ALL now player instruments. The MIDI language which now runs all digital instruments is easily able to record and play back those instruments.
After restoring hundreds of player pianos over decades, I still love playing rolls and that brings me back to that piano I picked up from Georgia to sell on ebay. It is a recently restored player done by a guy who used to sell those painted up player pianos to Shakey’s Pizza parlors on the east coast. He painted this one up just last year and now he wants to sell it so he can move to a smaller house. I know somebody will love it and want to take it home to their own private pizza parlor or music parlor. Check out my videos of this piano. My Youtube channel is pianoworldenterprise and here is one of the videos below:
If you really like it check to see if that piano is still available on my ebay list of items HERE
My restoration shop is here. It is called Piano World. Come by and see us sometime. we will let you pedal a few rolls on one of the player pianos.
Posted on 09/11/2016 at 06:41:00 PM