Reproducing Pianos

Many styles and forms of pianos were manufactured with various player mechanisms in them. Perhaps the most popular,but expensive, form of playing mechanism was the so called "reproducing" piano. Basically, there were three manufacturers of this type of playing mechanism. They were the Welte, the DuoArt, and the Ampico mechanisms. There were other obscure mechanisms but these three types dominated the market.

Understanding the Ampico
by David L. Saul

The reproducing system which came to be known as the Ampico was developed independently as this century's first decade was drawing to a close. By 1913 the American Piano Company had adopted the system, naming it the Stoddard-Ampico in honor of its inventor, Charles F. Stoddard. The name Ampico-Artigraphic was also used for a time, but the designation that endured after a few years was simply the Ampico.

The Ampico quickly established itself as a major competitor in its field. After its introduction in Knabe and Haines Bros. pianos the mechanism soon found its way into the American Piano Company's full line. Chickering, Marshall & Wendell, and Franklin pianos were brought into the Ampico family as were subsequently the J&C Fischer and the Ampico-Symphonique. The renowned Mason & Hamlin made its appearance after that firm's business interests were acquired in 1924. An instrument of extraordinary reputation, the Mason & Hamlin brought an extra dimension of prestige to the Ampico line. In due course yet other brands appeared; a few examples of Steck, Weber, and Steinway Ampicos are extant, dating from the years following the Aeolian-American merger in 1932.

Ampico's offering of sizes and styles was certainly no less diversified than the competition's. Models in a variety of period furniture styles were routinely listed in dealers' catalogues, and even more elaborate instruments were built to order for special customers. Selected piano cases were shipped to Italy for hand carving, a job sometimes requiring upward of two years to complete and resulting in a "one of a kind" instrument.

"The Encylopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments"
by Q. David Bowers (c) 1972 Vestal Press

These pianos, in their final form, are capable of "reproducing" the artists keyboard touch. After George Gershwin recorded the master roll of "Rhapsody In Blue" he stated that this roll represented his exact playing and tonal nuances. In other words, the playing mechanism was capable of striking each note with varied intensity and speed. If the artist played pianissimo, the instrument played pianissimo. If the next note the artist struck was sforzando, the next note the piano played would be sforzando. A "ghost" was at the piano!

Many of these instruments cost $4,000.00 to $8,000.00 in their heyday of 1905 to 1929. That more than equaled the average family income of a full year. They were the ultimate in home entertainment. Some people think they still are!

Shown below is an example of a restored Reproducing Grand Piano: