Player Piano : Servicing and Rebuilding
1985 Vestal Press, Inc.
This is the first book on Player Piano repair that I have purchased. I had previously purchased the second edition of Reblitz's “Piano Tuning, Servicing, and Rebuilding,” which I found to be very well written, well edited, and comprehensive enough for a book its size with its intended audience. Because of my positive experience with his other book, I had pretty high hopes for this one.
As this is my first book review, let me just start off by saying that the content of this book is fantastic. There is so much raw information acquired from decades of experience contained within this text. However, the organization of the content is an absolute disaster.
Unlike “Piano Tuning, Servicing, and Rebuilding,” the editing in “Player Piano” is horrible. Maybe the original edition of “Piano Tuning” was this bad too and was only fixed in the second edition, but if that is the case, Vestal Press should have re-edited them both at the same time 20 years ago. Before even getting into the main text, I flip to the Table of Contents which is nothing but vague chapter titles with page numbers and large useless blocks of text beneath them. Finding information on a specific aspect of the repair process is a real pain when the only reference you have is the start of a new chapter every 30-40 pages. The index is similarly scant. Only about 50% of the time does it lead me to the information I want.
Once into the actual text, the photos are usually quite helpful, although occasionally there will be a photo that is unrelated to the text around it or a photo in which the parts indicated are indistinguishable from each other due to poor contrast. The book is also full of technical diagrams that appear to have been pulled from a different text, as they are covered in reference numbers, but the list of part names that the numbers reference is curiously absent.
The other thing about the layout of this book that makes no sense to me is the separation of Chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 gives a series of broad tasks to be completed for each repair in sequence. However, the specifics of how to perform each task is withheld until chapter 5. This leads to constant flipping back and forth between the chapters to figure out what to do from chapter 4 and how to do it somewhere in chapter 5. It seems as though the book was written for the rare person who can read straight through the whole thing, retain every bit of information, and then proceed to perform every repair they need to without ever having to look at the book again.
My final criticism is a simple one: the text is monotonous and too much information is crammed into a single page. In “Piano Tuning, Servicing, and Rebuilding,” the text is given plenty of space between lines and the monotony is broke up with bulleted lists, bolding, and clearly marked section titles. “Player Piano” has none of these things. It is just block of plain text after block of plain text with the occasional (barely noticeable) italicized technical term included.
On the bright side of things, the content, as I said before, is wonderful. There are many pages of descriptions of the differences between many types of pneumatic covering material, glues and their strengths and weaknesses, types of cleaners and solvents, and even which species of wood is best for each application. The steps that walk you through each repair are very thorough and often give multiple methods for accomplishing the same goal, as well as many little tips and tricks that only come with years of experience and can make any player piano restoration easier.
A good 90 pages of the book are dedicated to providing specific information about variations between different brands of player mechanisms. Although I don't expect to ever use most of this information, it is reassuring to know that if I ever run into some odd proprietary system, it is probably covered in this book. About 30 pages worth of those 90 pages is dedicated to different brands of reproducing piano and orchestrion actions for those who want to dive into repairing instruments even more complex than the standard player piano.
Included at the end of the text is a “Troubleshooting” section. I like the idea of having a consolidated troubleshooting section, but for some reason it misses many troubleshooting steps that are discussed earlier in the book while including some great ideas that are not mentioned in the previous corresponding chapters.
Again, the content of the book is incredibly expansive. Almost any question I have come up with is answered somewhere in this book. However, it often takes me longer to find the relevant information in the book than it takes to perform the repair.