Compatibility of instruments and rolls

All of the rolls offered for sale on this site are cut for either the 88-note standard player piano or the Duo-Art system. This page describes the differences so you know which ones are suitable to buy for your player piano.

Choose the right type of roll for your player piano

The 88-note standard was used by all instruments made after 1910. 88-note rolls are truly standard, so rolls from any maker worldwide will work on any instrument.

This system uses paper of 11¼ inches width, with the holes spaced across the roll at 9 to the inch. The spool ends have recesses to connect with the chucks in the instrument's spoolbox.

Earlier players commonly used the '65-note' standard that has 6 holes per inch, or one-off designs such as Hupfeld's 73-note system. Almost all of these types have projecting pins in the roll ends. The rolls for sale here will not physically match up with the roll-supports in these instruments, and the holes perforated in the rolls will not align with the tracker bars.

Many of the 88-note rolls offered here contain accenting perforations.

Some 88-note players have additional mechanisms that make use of accenting perforations: they can be identified by a double-width hole in the tracker bar at either end of the playing notes. Most Pianola, Angelus and Hupfeld players have them (known respectively as the Themodist, Melodant and Solodant systems), and occasionally they are seen on other instruments. The purpose of these systems is to allow certain notes to play more loudly than the surrounding notes, which greatly improves the musical effect.

Any 88-note player without an accenting device will simply ignore these perforations, so all 88-note rolls can be used on any 88-note instrument.

Rolls for the Duo-Art system are specially designed to play Duo-Art instruments.

Duo-Art instruments require rolls with special perforations to control the Duo-Art system. The rolls are based on the accented 88-note design, but use the top and bottom four playing notes to operate the Duo-Art expression mechanism. These rolls are always labelled "Duo-Art".

The Duo-Art system remained almost unchanged throughout its production, so all Duo-Art rolls are suitable for any Duo-Art instrument. The vast majority of Duo-Art rolls were recorded in America, and issued worldwide. A fairly small number were recorded and issued only in the UK. As might be expected, minor variations do exist in Duo-Art coding over the years and between the USA and UK, but these are issues for specialists and are generally ignored.

Compatibility of 88-note and Duo-Art rolls.

All Duo-Art instruments can play 88-note rolls, because the spool design and layout of perforations is the same as the 88-note system. However, when operated electrically, 88-note rolls do not operate the Duo-Art dynamic-control system, so the music plays with no expression and is not particularly satisfactory. Some electric Duo-Art machines have additional controls to give operators the ability to adjust dynamics manually when playing 88-note rolls, although very few owners bother using them. Some Duo-Art instruments are fitted with foot pedals to play 88-note rolls properly.

Likewise, 88-note instruments can play Duo-Art rolls. However, the Duo-Art accenting perforations will cause the top and bottom four notes to play constantly. This can be stopped by taping over these holes on the tracker bar. This is only eally sensible if there is a very special reason for doing so - it is not recommended for everyday use.

Compatibility of Duo-Art rolls with other types of reproducing piano.

There were several competitors to the Duo-Art system for electrically-powered instruments that played automatically. Most common are the Ampico, Welte-Mignon, Artrio-Angelus and Recordo systems, although there were many others. Each manufacturer used entirely different types of dynamic-control mechanism, and each type of roll therefore has quite different sets of perforations (although many of them used the basic 88-note roll format). It is not possible to use Duo-Art rolls on other makes of electrically-powered piano.

Things to watch out for …

A couple of things to note from feedback received:

Spool size. Rolls are supplied using three spool sizes. The small (2" / 5cm) and medium (2.5" / 6.4cm) spools fit all instruments, but large spools are 2.825" / 7.2cm diameter and do not fit some Duo-Art grand pianos, which were designed for 2.625" / 6.7cm spools and built with minimum additional clearance. This can be worked round by removing the wooden base-board from the spoolbox, or (as often seen already done to instruments) cutting grooves in the board to give the spools a little more clearance. Alternatively, you can re-spool the rolls onto an original large spool, or cut the supplied spool down to size. Spools of the correct original size are sadly not available. The price list identifies all rolls supplied in this form, and please ask before buying if you are concerned.

Paper. The paper used to make these rolls is slightly thicker and stiffer than original rolls: most particularly, it is much stronger than many original rolls that have become brittle because of acid decay. The vast majority of instruments will play the new rolls with no problems. However, a small number of instruments are known to have had difficulty with tracking them: for reasons not yet identified this seems to be limited to those models with tracking ears that stick out through the tracker bar. It appears to arise on instruments adjusted with very weak spool brakes in response to the exceedingly weak state of original Aeolian paper. In all cases it has proven possible to adjust the tracking system so it works with all rolls old and new, but it is acknowleged that not all owners wish to adjust their instruments this way. The search for the ideal fully-compatible paper goes on... just as it did throughout the entire original life of the player piano.