Brief Player Piano History

The first player pianos were pneumatic systems that caused a note to play when a hole in a paper roll passed over a vacuum suction point allowing air to rush in thus causing the hammer to strike the string.  This was a technological wonder in the early part of the 20th century; however, this approach had 3 major defects:

  • First, it could only play at one volume level: LOUD.  Later reproducing pianos introduced some dynamics, but due to the prohibitively high cost and limited availability of supporting music titles, they never really caught on.
  • Second, because the pneumatic system was always drawing air into the works, a lot of maintenance was required and the systems didn’t hold up over time.  
  • Lastly, due to the pumps, bellows, and moving air, there was a lot of operating noise which was a major distraction to the listening enjoyment. 

These limitations aside, millions of happy consumers crowded around their player pianos and sang along as the words to the song rolled by on the paper rolls.  The introduction of the radio, the Great Depression, and the fact that nearly every home had a piano caused the demise of this once great industry in the 1930’s.  After World War II new smaller players were introduced, but never really recaptured the thrill and excitement of the early player pianos.

In the mid 1970’s, Marantz introduced a player system that used a viable electromagnetic solenoid to move the keys.  This system worked great and was very reliable.  It used standard cassette tapes to store the song data and a computer to control the signals going to the solenoids. Unfortunately, Marantz had other business problems and in the ’80s sold their technology to Yamaha who incorporated it into their similar system called Disklavier. The Disklavier used a 3 1/2 inch floppy disk instead of a cassette, and had much more sophisticated computerized features.

Modern Computer Based Player Technology

The Disklavier was very successful.  Its main drawback was its cost and that it required a control box the size of a small refrigerator to be placed next to a grand piano.  Soon after the introduction of the Disklavier, a California based company introduced a competing system called PianoDisc that reduced the size of the control box to about the size of a phonebook.  The advantage of the PianoDisc system was that it was retrofittable to most pianos, however early models suffered from long-term reliability issues.

By the mid 1980’s, a company known as “Quality Reproducing Systems, or otherwise known as “QRS”, the company that had produced thousands of paper player rolls over the last 8 decades, introduced the Pianomation Player System.  Superior technology enabled the Pianomation system to operate without any ‘black box’ attached to the piano.  

QRS pioneered better solenoid technology which enabled quieter, softer operation with significantly reduced heat insuring long-term reliability.  It was operated remotely by any CD player, VCR, PC, or floppy drive.  Removing the ‘black box’ saves thousands of dollars, and does not lock the piano into a specific data technology that is bound to become obsolete.  Any piano with a 3 1/2″ floppy drive black box attached to it is already obsolete as CD’s and internet song files are now readily available.

 Today’s “State-of-the-Art”

QRS PNOmation II’s state-of-the-art technology makes your piano the heart of your home entertainment system.  It can now be easily controlled by universal remote, smartphone, tablet or personal computer.

Instead of streaming music from the internet or a computer (although that is also possible if you prefer), PNOmation II stores the entire library of music – everything from Frank Sinatra to Diana Krall, Bach to Billy Joel, Chopin to Coldplay – right in its own virtual cloud.

Instead of shuffling and ripping CDs, you  just sit back and enjoy the music!

In addition to being the quietest and easiest player piano system to use, PNOmation II includes its entire library – thousands of titles and artists spanning all genres – for free for the first ninety days. QRS then gives you hundreds and hundreds of the most popular selections to start your collection. You can easily sample and add additional albums to your library at any time.

Contact Hall Piano Company directly for more information regarding making any piano a Cloud Player Piano.