The Anatomy of a Piano Roll

A piano roll consists of a number of parts…

The perforated paper itself, 11 inches wide and as long as the music calls for, typically 25 feet for a dance roll and up to 90 feet for the longest rolls.

The paper used is Blumberg 70 gsm 'diagram paper', a high-quality paper made for demanding uses such as medical chart recorders where strength and dimensional stability is vital. This is virtually identical to original roll paper in terms of stiffness and thickness, but should easily outperform it in terms of strength and lifetime, and is without doubt the best available paper for the job. It is imported specially from Germany, where it has been used for many years with great success by Tom Jansen for his rolls. It is a plain white paper, not waxed: its properties arise from special 'wet strength' resins incorporated during manufacture..

The roll tab, used to mount the roll hook and strengthen the end of the roll.

This is a bespoke self-adhesive vinyl shape, mounted directly onto the trimmed end of the perforated paper. The gummed cloth tape that was traditionally used seems not be be available any longer.

The roll hook, used to attach the roll to the take-up spool.

This is a standard D-ring, made of vat-nickeled steel, sourced from the shoe and clothing trimmings trade. D-rings are the traditional European style of attaching the roll to the take-up spool in the player piano, rather than the punched-out eyelet used in some American brands.

The core, around which the paper is wound.

In this case the core is made from inch inside-diameter plastic overflow pipe cut to length. Traditionally cardboard was used for cores, but overflow pipe is available over the counter in small volumes and in some ways is a better choice. It is more rigid and also ought not to rot the paper in the way that some brown card cores have been seen to do.

Spool ends, to form the roll spool.

These are bespoke items, offered in sizes of 2, 2.5 and 2.8 inches diameter, taking 40, 70 and 90 foot rolls respectively. These are glued into the core. The right-hand end is used to drive the roll in rewind, so is glued rigidly in position. The left-hand end is mounted flexibly to permit adjustment to the paper width, but firmly enough to stay in its set position while in use.

The roll box, to protect the rolls while they are not being played.

These are top-quality traditional two-piece box-and-lid combinations, complete with thumb-notch, made from robust 1.2mm cardboard (not to be mistaken for flimsier offerings). Two sizes are used, matching the roll spools. They are covered with traditional embossed cover papers. Standard 88-note rolls are supplied in a dark maroon ‘Levant’ pattern that is almost exactly the same as used by Aeolian up to 1914. Duo-Art rolls are supplied in a dark red ‘Adder’ pattern: nothing remotely close to the original UK Duo-Art beige canvas-patterned paper is available, and the widely-used black seems too boring for such a fine product, as well as being a colour never used in UK roll production.


The label, to identify the music.

Where possible, a laser-printed scan of the original roll label is used, on both the roll leader and the box. When the original is missing or too damaged to reproduce a replica is supplied, made to look as close to the original as is practical. In the case of Duo-Art rolls these are based on original blank Aeolian labels.

When all of these are brought together you have a piano roll ready to bring musical pleasure for the next 100 years or so!

If you are not sure whether these rolls will work on your player piano, please see the compatibility page.