Four Pianola Versions

Basically, four different versions are found:


Push-up player

Pianola piano

Pianola grand piano

Cabinet player

Cabinets are those pianola systems called that merge the self-playing system with an acoustic piano in one case but lack a keyboard. In these systems, the self-playing system accesses the action of the piano directly. It is a reproduction system that replays the music automatically and accentuated. These systems were most suitable for music lovers who wanted to listen to music from piano rolls without playing the instrument themselves. Cabinets were produced by M. Welte & Soehne (Freiburg) on a large scale using Feurich and Steinway pianos inside. These cabinets have become rare today. The one -and to our knowledge only- DUCA cabinet by Philipps is in our collection as well.


Push-up player

The push-up players were the first systems made in great number. Pianola by the Aeolian Company and Phonola by Hupfeld AG are very well known examples. A push-up player is pushed in front of a manual (grand) piano. The self-playing system is integrated into the push-up player. The push-up player has 65-88 fingers that touch down on the keys and thus play the music, read from the piano roll, on the keyboard. Push-up players are interesting if you like to enjoy the sound of an already available (grand) piano - or would like to use the push-up player at different instruments. Push-up players are available as pedal Pianola to perform the accentuation and expression by the Pianolist as well as reproducing systems (i.e. Welte-Mignon) to play fully automatically.


Pianola Piano

The manufacturers of self-playing mechanisms soon realized that more and more customers found the setup of push-up players cumbersome, because they did not only need to be pushed at the instrument but also had to be properly adjusted to height, pedal position and accentuation. Moreover, people less and less wanted to have this additional piece of furniture in their living rooms. Attractive additional income opened up for the manufacturers of self-playing mechanisms when they sold combined instruments. So it was not long until manufacturers like Aeolian or Hupfeld cooperated with many well-known (grand) piano manufacturers - or took them over later - and offered mainly pianola pianos.


Pianola grand piano

Pianola systems became increasingly inserted into (grand) pianos after 1908. When the pianola system was integrated into the instrument, the latter could be used both as a manual instrument and as a pianola. As for pianola grands, it turned out fast that many customers found the receptacles of the foot pedals were looking too clumsy and operation of the often shortened conventional soft pedals was less than ideal. The later electrically driven pianola grands did not require these components anymore because the suction was fed by the motor.


Combined instruments

The suppliers were very inventive in marketing these combined instruments. Since many households already owned conventional manual (grand) pianos, the customers had to be persuaded to switch. Repurchase actions and free rolls were offered, among other things.

Besides these main versions, there was a huge number of other creative self-playing solutions that did not prevail. Thus there were low-mount devices for grands, keyboard attachment devices for pianos etc.


Basic construction of a pianola

The basic system of all pianolas is the same: see an exemplary representation in the cross section to the right. Concisely said: Foot pedals or electrically driven suction fans help to generate low pressure in the isolated self-playing mechanism. An unwinding and a take-up reel unwind the punched paper of a piano roll across the tracker bar, so that the holes release each desired tone in the tracker bar. There is one bellow for each tone, to generate it in the mechanism (by the key, for push-up players), this bellow is sucked empty by the control and folds up. Once the hole in the tracker bar is again covered by paper, the bellows open again. There are different solutions for how the bellows are controlled. Instruments with, for example, automatic accentuation, pedal, automatic shutdown and rewind apply holes in the tracker bar for all these functions, realizing each of them by suitable pneumatic arrangements. Alternatively, operating levers at the pianola may serve according to the information on the piano roll or the taste of the pianolist. Almost all pianolas that were built later than 1902 had their wind chests divided near the center of the keyboard into bass and descant to control them individually.


Principles of the Hupfeld Phonola Push-up Player

An excellent explanation is enclosed in the "Phonola Spiel- und Regulier-Anleitung mit Konstruktionszeichnung" pamphlet that the buyers of the Phonola received after 1902. The following description and the adjacent sketch are quoted here from an original source. Below the sketch is a side view of a contemporary push-up player.


Hupfeld Phonola description

If a sheet of music is laid over the scale bar [= tracker bar] and the pedal mechanism is set in motion, the feeders a empty the reservoirs b in which the springs c are located. At the same time, the wind tunnel d and the channels 1, 2, 3, 4 are sucked vacuous; the latter four channels contain the pouches and the valves which are in rest until an opening in the sheet of music permits the ambient air to enter by an opening of the scale block. The brass pipes e serve to conduct the air from the scale block to the pouches. Now the small pouch f is lifted by the entering air, as is the small valve g which locks below but admits above a second entry of ambient air via the opening generated there into a ventilation shaft h that leads to the pouch i. The latter is lifted and rests the valve k at the top to prevent outside air from entering. At this moment, the ventilation shaft l and the bellows m are subject to the suction, causing the bellows to be spontaneously pulled to press the finger n down onto the piano keys. As soon as the opening in the scale block is closed again, all parts return into their original position, while the pouch f vents the ambient air by the small bleed o.” p and q are mentioned in the regulation instructions as addressing the pedal." p und q sind in der Regulierungsanleitung erwähnt, da diese das Pedal bedienen.