ARTCRAFT Newsletter - #3 (August 15, 2000)

    Greetings from "ARTCRAFT North" ... a 'permanent' Summer/Fall campground location for ARTCRAFT Music Rolls.  (The season runs from May 1 through October 15 ... during which we'll be dividing our time between the ARTCRAFT Studio in Wiscasset and Searsport Shores on Penboscot Bay - about 2 hours' driving up the scenic rocky coast of Maine.)

    If you have been following our Web pages and/or Internet correspondence in the past, you already know that we've descended on Searsport Shores campground before ... and in '99 the first "cliffside music roll" (in all probability) was perforated, sans a piano, on a precipice overlooking the crashing waves and soaring sea gulls. We had, in previous two-week stays here, our VW Eurovan Camper or a GTI Volkswagen sedan, often in combination with a folding Aliner (tm) trailer. You can see some pictures of the '99 location and outdoor perforating at this URL on our Website -

    Things changed this year. We decided to make the quantum leap from small campers to a large 'travel trailer' which was delivered to a seasonal location here ... and so, early in Summer of '00, a 32-foot Salem trailer was purchased and transported by a Maine dealership to a 'fixed' location in old growth pines, still facing the sea, and surrounded by forest ferns and unspoiled native growth. Windows on one side of our completely-equipped trailer reveal the beauty of the wooded grove, while the front windows and the perforating 'gazebo' - where this edition of the Newsletter is being written - face the water ... only with a bit less wind and sea spray than we experienced in past years. (My Master of AMERICAN BOLERO, for example, experienced condensation on the paper in a few places, so once back in the ARTCRAFT Studio, it was necessary to reperforate some of the bass notes, which were "wider" in a few sections by almost a 1/2 perforation. These repairs - accomplished through the 'miracle' of plastic mending tape - won't be necessary in the gazebo now, for we have the best of both worlds here: a panoramic ocean vista and the protection of a forest glen.)

    Thus, our activities will be "divided" between Wiscasset and Searsport,  but the work will continue, as before. Master Rolls are being cut in Searsport ... and also via other antique Leabarjan (tm) perforators in Wiscasset. The paperwork and roll box processing (label cutting/gluing) is being done by Lois Konvalinka at both locations ... and ... there are tentative plans to bring my '29 Story & Clark Reprotone player up here, to use for proofing, at some future time. (You can see a picture of this unique instrument, along with a description, linked to our Home Page - )

    Finally ... to conclude this prélude to Issue #3, our brand-new rolls from Play-Rite are arriving, every few days. This includes our released titles, which ran low, as well as the new arrangements from the Studio. At this writing we don't have the final prices ready yet, but suggest that if you are interested in something already in our catalogue, to order NOW ... before any increases take place. Paper costs, shipping expenses, spool flanges and other factors point to the possibility of higher retail prices. Also - Dale Lawrence "sold out" of our 1988 CLEOPATRA RAG arrangement for the Ampico, so this will be an ARTCRAFT release within the next couple of weeks - featuring our superior boxes and labels. (You can, at this time, still order the 88-Note version of CLEOPATRA RAG - with more treble notes - from him; see the QUICK LIST part of our Website - ... and this is where the "old prices" will be listed for our inventory in stock.)

    Now, having brought you up-to-date about ARTCRAFT and its dual locations (for a one-person business [with Lois helping out in many uncredited capacities]), we'll commence this edition ... and hope that it meets with your approval.

-- Douglas Henderson - ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, Maine (Aug. 9, 2000)



    In the past few decades, with the "paper trail" left by competitors Aeolian and The American Piano Co., for their Duo-Art Pianola and Ampico 'reproducing' pianos, respectively, it's easy to forget that the Kohler & Campbell organization installed a "streamlined" version of the Welte-Mignon in over 115 makes of pianos ... plus supplied kits for technicians to add the system to any number of grand pianos. (We used to have a Turn of the Century Emerson, outfitted by Baldwin in Cincinnati, Ohio for the Licensee; this required extra cabinet work, new legs and other carpentry tasks, but the finished product was a mid-'Twenties baby grand player action professionally added to an instrument built in Boston around 1906.)

    What makes the Licensee version of the Welte-Mignon so much more interesting than the German-built instruments - and earlier domestic designs based on them - is not just the incompatibility of the earlier T-100 rolls (about 12 7/8" wide) vs. the standardized 11 1/4" format for 88-Note rolls ... or the serviceability of the Auto Deluxe (Standard Pneumatic) player action ... but the spectacular expression arrangements by Howard Lutter and the responsive crescendo levers for the Pianolist, who can interpret standard rolls or influence the Welte-Licensee arrangements as well.

    As far as the basic expression system is concerned, all Welte players shared a similar concept ... and it was ingenious as well as expressive, in the hands of Mr. Lutter, especially, from 1923 to 1931, when the so-called "brown box rolls" ceased to be created. (QRS - i.e. Imperial Industrial Co. - in the Bronx, continued with the line for many years, often converting some other arrangements to the format, but primarily supplying the existing Licensee library until 1941.)

    Prior to the 'Twenties Licensee, the Welte rolls were erratic, clumpy, rarely challenging in the use of the Bockish-designed expression system and were, generally speaking, irritating for musicians to hear, due to the Master Rolls being arranged from "patched up" markings made during actual keyboard performances.

    While Wm. Heaton's Autopiano Company kept rattling off the slogan "The Master's Fingers On Your Piano", the fact is that Lutter's arrangements - in his name and many others - were based on the strict rules of graph paper layouts.  These rolls nothing had to do with 'tweaking' piano source material, and - unlike most other player roll arrangers - Howard Lutter "pushed the instrument" to accomplish interpretive feats akin to the skilled Pianolist, viz. a music roll interpreter.

    The Welte concept is simple, but it requires an imaginative arranger to achieve exciting dynamic results.

    Everything - save the later German models for Europe - used the pipe organ "on/off" system of lock-and-cancel. This wasn't good for the Sustaining Pedal shadings and/or the Soft Pedal (hammer rail lift), but through skilled perforation layouts, sostenuto could be used to "buy time" and let the slow pedal arrangement recycle for another operation.

    The terminology of the Welte mechanism, like so many other brands at the time, reflected the fact that "tinkerers" rather than literate musicians designed the equipment, so when reading a service manual, the words for 'commands' by the roll can be somewhat confusing.

    CRESCENDO on/off (for Bass and Treble divisions) designates the "direction" the vacuum system will be going. It's not really something that 'moves' the instrument in the vein of the Ampico's hole #5 + #1 system (fast crescendo), but rather a 'creeping' norm which influences the 6 generalized 'intensities' which are at the heart of the accenting system.

    SFORZANDO (SFZ) is the Welte term for the 'single hole' blips which move the player action up/down ... almost instantaneously, and these total 6 if the instrument is to travel from the softest to the loudest playing - or vice-versa. Each SFORZANDO 'command' is 'held' by the player, usually in the "direction" of the accompanying CRESCENDO) norm ... but nothing is totally stable, so this is where the Kohler expression "floating crescendo" came about, and it's an apt description for this unique feature of the system.

    (Note, while the player is running at pianissimo, 1-2 SFORZANDO perforations will make the instrument approach mezzo-forte, the standard touch. In musical scores, however, "sforzando" represents a crash or loud accent at any dynamic, so the word is rather inappropriate for the Pianola use of this quasi-intensity feature.)

    Finally, what was called MEZZO-FORTE (M.F.) was not a shift to the 'normal' keyboard touch, as the word suggests, but a "hook" or "stop pneumatic" which interrupted the crescendo pneumatic, being controlled primarily by the SFORZANDO holes (and directed up/down by the CRESCENDO part of the action).

    If the Welte were going from soft to loud, rapidly, the arranger could add the M.F. "hook", so the instrument - while told by the roll  to reach the fullest power - could "stall" at the middle range (approximately 3 SFZ holes) ... but could continue when the M.F. was removed from the crescendo pneumatic's travel.

    Again, the M.F. "hook" could be added as the crescendo moved upward, governed by prior SFZ holes, so that when the CRESCENDO off + the SFZ off holes were introduced, the instrument would recalibrate a 2nd time in the normal playing range ... and continue in its diminuendo direction once the graphite coated "hook" was pulled away from the crescendo pneumatic.

    The crescendo for the Licensee used the same kind of graduated knife valve which made the Duo-Art so delightful to use as a manually-controlled Pianola. There is no solo (Themodist) system for the Licensee, but the 2 simple levers for Bass and Treble allow for artistic possibilities for most virtuoso music situations, as they connect to the same knife valves which the M.F.+SFZ+CRESC. pneumatic features of the Welte dictate, as mentioned above.

    [We published a URL text about the wonderful arrangements by Howard Lutter on the ARTCRAFT Website. Had not he elevated the clunky Welte library (both American and foreign) to the performance possibilities of the expression system, it's doubtful that the player would have been installed in so many grand and upright pianos, here in the States. Check out this URL -  Mr. Henderson freely admits that most of his arranging ideas were "inspired by" the Lutter rolls of the 'Twenties, and this particular text explains what makes his Master Rolls superior to the overhyped and generally lackluster equivalents by Ampico and Duo-Art in the same period.]

    Now, the thing to remember here, is that the SFZ was "additive" while the player was 'creeping' upward or downward, as directed by the CRESCENDO. If you were playing at pianissimo, 6 chain link perforations for SFZ would take the instrument up to fortissimo in about 3/4" of paper space on the roll. Similarly, 6 SFZ off perforations would drop the piano down to the softest playing level. That is, the entire cycle would be approximately 1 1/2" for soft to loud to soft ... not as fast as the Duo-Art, a good pedal player or an instrument equipped with the Themodist-style control ... but ... as mentioned above, by juggling the Soft Pedal, the M.F. "hook" and breaking chords here and there, a skilled arranger like Mr. Lutter could 'fake' the speed on those places where the performance dictated crash accents amidst the texture of pianissimo playing.

    Being additive, you could have SFZ x 2 (2 holes) + 1 = M.F., approximately. The arranger might elect to have SFZ -1 (1 off hole) for M.P., something just 'under' the normal touch at the keyboard. The +/- effect of the SFZ feature is where all the rapid changes lie ... and the on/off nature of the M.F. "hook" keep the instrument hovering around the middle playing range, and ready to continue with the dynamic changes when the crescendo pneumatic is free to travel again.

    With the arrogance of the era, the Licensee people said in the service manuals, "Ah - but only 3 men in America know the secret of the Welte-Mignon." (These gurus weren't named but were probably Karl Bockish or Edwin Welte plus Richard Singer and Howard Lutter ... or if the first two Germans were absent, here, then Autopiano President Wm. Heaton would be the likely candidate for the mysterious third person!)

    [Note that "women" in the 'Twenties weren't expected to understand and therefore 'know' the Welte secret, which never was one ... if a musician can read and perforate original 'reproducing' rolls. This writer knew the alleged 'secret' by studying the player rolls and making some original Licensee Masters in the early 'Sixties, never knowing - at the time - that only 3 men were party to the knowledge of the Licensee 'brown box' arrangements, the only series really worth considering for this ingenious expression player. Note also that the Licensee group also published phony line drawings of the 'seismograph' methods used for recording rolls in the Lutter era; there's a notorious picture of Chopin's ETUDE IN F MAJOR which supposedly shows "every detail of the artist's playing", a performance which is "absolutely authentic ... and free from every vestige of guesswork" etc. etc., ad nauseam. People in those naive days never saw an oscilloscope, for if they had, it would be readily apparent that the 'wavy dyanmic lines' which mysteriously got 'recorded' and transferred to the Welte CRESC.+SFZ+M.F. on/off holes, don't match the complex patterns that one would see for the treble notes. The sham Licensee illustration has a specific point for every note, whereas on something like the old Conn Strobotuner, the higher the piano keys, the more confusing would be the patterns. It's really too bad that the Welte-Mignon Licensee, which "sold on its sound" for over 100 piano brands, resorted to the snake oil methods of the original German company, which were further exaggerated by the American competitors, especially Ampico leading the parade with pseudo-science and outrageous marketing claims. To experience a vivacious Lutter/Licensee roll, accenting and expressing all over the place, and then view that overblown Welte leader with the "Master's Fingers" slogan, is a musical oxymoron, to say the least. The Licensee rolls could have existed without the hoopla, standing on their own musical legs!]

    When working properly - and using a Lutter arrangement - the Welte is like a standard pedal player, being operated by a skilled Pianolist who "pushes" the instrument through a variety of rapid dynamic changes. The effect of the knife valve mechanism - and the pneumatics which control them - is not unlike when one witnesses a standard Player-Piano being kept "in rhythm to the music" by the human operator.

    By comparison, the jerky and twitchy old Welte-Mignon rolls just sort of "frothed" up and down the tonal spectrum, and whatever expression the rolls had was usually negated by ratty rhythm and erratic striking. The remedy for this is, of course, to replace the M. Welte & Sons rolls - or the early Deluxe/Licensee releases - with a 'brown box' Lutter arrangement. The choice is simple: does one want a logotype of a famous artist on the box label ... or a superior Pianola performance, wherein the arranger uses the instrument's unique resources and doesn't try to "copy" the keyboard pianist? Most people hearing a Licensee roll on a Welte would dismiss the earlier German-style arrangements.

    Another positive factor for the 'brown box' rolls being sought today is the dual use of the arrangements. Unlike the traditional Welte rolls, where the melody was often artificially "buried" in the arrangement to confuse would-be Pianolists (playing them on something else), the later Licensee rolls were cut to sustain and play (and be 'read') just like anything else in the 88-Note field; many are cousins of the Artempo Rolls, also by the NJ branch of the Kohler organization ... only with the Welte-Mignon expression holes added to the margins. One can enjoy Lutter's Licensee rolls on ANY piano, beyond the obvious use of the electric expression players for which they were originally released.

    The confusion of box labels, along with several different Welte-Mignon companies, as well as the fact that independent manufacturers promoted their own pianos over the player action often makes it difficult for one to identify a Licensee player, when compared to the Duo-Art or Ampico, which were 'house' brands, for the most part, and labeled to the hilt for product identification. [Note, we are including S&S for the Aeolian players here, which were usually "part" Steinway and "part" Aeolian - not often regulation instruments as one would purchase from Steinway Hall. Thus, the Steinway Pianola or Duo-Art could also be considered a 'house' product, unlike a Baldwin which could be (quote) "equipped with the Welte-Mignon" before or after the purchase of a standard retail pianoforte.]

    Few people have heard a Welte Licensee playing in perfect regulation, and - while experiencing so many of the non-Lutter (before 'brown box') rolls - have written off the system when the existing library offers so much musical potential. Double the horizons if one cuts in as a Pianolist ... or interprets 88-Note rolls as well, using the versatile crescendo levers in the keyslip.

    With musically-inclined technicians, such as Robin Pratt, reissuing the "better" rolls for the Welte-Mignon ... and more people discovering that the 'brown box' series are easy to read and interpret on any pedal player (or the Duo-Art, manually controlled), it's hoped that recuts of the final 7-8 years for American Welte will be part of the musical renaissance for the pneumatic Pianola. [Write Artists Choice Rolls (a.k.a. Robin Pratt) at "" for information on the current releases, as they become available. Here's his Web page with many superb Welte re-releases - ]

    We have always said that the problem with Player-Pianos is not the piano nor the player action design, primarily, but the pedestrian nature of the music rolls. Duo-Art and Ampico, for example, made ballads like JUNE BROUGHT THE ROSES, and O SOLE MIO or I LOVE YOU TRULY into muted "slush-fests" of mechanical performance. The late Licensee rolls 'sparkled' with such titles, because of the floating nature of the expression system and the creative use of the SFORZANDO holes in tandem with the MEZZO-FORTE hook. A keyboard pianist can play ballads in an intriguing manner, and the Licensee proved that the 'reproducing' player action could as well.

    You have many wonderful instruments to chose from, in seeking out the Welte-Licensee for your home instrument: at the top will be Baldwin, Krakauer, Stieff, Ivers & Pond, A. B. Chase, Bush & Lane, Sohmer, Kranich & Bach and Hardman; at the bottom will be Melodigrand, Poole, Milton, Gulbransen, Brambach and too many 'stencil' names to recount here. Still, when an old Licensee "gets going" with Lutter rolls ... one is so transfixed by the musical performance that the brand of the instrument is of little consequence. It remains an amazing thing to this writer that the Welte-Mignon Licensee has been so neglected by collectors and clubs over the past decades, especially during the period when Kohler chucked the whole flawed 'live performance' methods and brought back 100% arranging methods for the final years. True, there were no mercury troughs, and bearded geezers in Germany posing next to some 'recording' machine cabinet, and so forth. What the 'brown box' rolls and the Kohler-built players gave the listener was musical excitement ... not a 'reproduction' of the pianist (on the label: real/pseudonym) along with a style and performance that transcended the competition, musically. Even today, the better American Welte rolls more than hold their own in this world of audio saturation.

     Give the Licensee player and the better, later rolls a second look!

    -- L.D.H - ARTCRAFT Music Rolls (August 13, 2000)



    It has been difficult to escape the news reports that over-the-hill, off-key and noisy rock music bands are claiming that Napster - the 'music sharing' software - is    putting them out of business.  Napster allows the users to post sound files on the Internet and others can download them, causing a corporate complaint about "lost revenue" from CD sales.

    (Of course, it's this writer's hunch that many college students of today - who use Napster and burn their own CDs - don't build up a library of rock records, as was the case in the LP days. Perhaps the clutter of audio has been replaced by whitewater rafting, skiing and other sports/activity equipment, starting with mountain bikes. Perhaps the era of Big Business controlling the sales of "junk music" groups has had its day, and Napster is simply the scapegoat.)

    Some reporters, who have looked for historical precedence here cite the Aeolian case of the early 1900s. While it's another case of a large coroporation trying to eliminate the competition, the Aeolian suit is nothing like the comparisons to Internet "music sharing", in this writer's opinion.

    When the Player-Piano (and Piano-Player) industry made the transition from 58-Note to 65-Note rolls, Aeolian and its Pianola instruments were churning out "sheet music transfer" arrangements in such quantity, that the company boasted the number of titles available, on a monthly advertising basis. For example, "over 9,561 pieces of music are available fore the Pianola" followed by "over 11,783 selections have been published for the Pianola" and so on ... much like a hamburger chain tabulating their sales in recent years, isn't it?

    During this period Aeolian was equating notation sheet music to their player rolls, so signed up many popular music publishing companies to 'franchise' their scores for the Pianola on an exclusive basis.

    On the surface, this sounds logical, but ... nobody plays notation 'code' as written, which is why "sheet music transfer" rolls never really sounded like a talented pianist, when the 'sheet music = perforated rolls' premise was at its zenith.

    Aeolian sought to prevent other manufacturers from making player actions and/or music rolls by hiding behind these legal manoeuvres. They spent something like $65,000.00 for lawyer Charles Evans Hughes, later a Presidential candidate and a Supreme Court Justice, to keep the "infringers" out.

    It so happens that player rolls represent 2 arrangements here: first, the NOTATION ARRANGEMENT upon which the perforations are based, and second, a PERFORMANCE ARRANGEMENT which fixes the "shape" of the music, and that remains constant no matter whether the roll is interpreted manually or by some automatic expression system.

    This explains why 2 or 3 rolls of the same classical music never sound alike when one changes brands. Aeolian, Connorized, U.S., QRS, Ideal and others had their own stepping ratios for perforating, their preferred 'paper travel' speed norms and - most importantly - there were DECISIONS made for the formula arranging about the nature and length of the perforations themselves. What could be 8 punches per beat at Tempo 90 for one brand could be 5 punches at Tempo 65 for another, and this is before the aspects of sostenuto and other refinements are added, along with the naure of the staccato notes: single punches, overlap punches, multiple punches ... all at different roll travel speeds.

    What is spritely on U.S. or Ideal could be muddy on Connorized (due to their artificially rolling the chords to make them seem "human") while Aeolian specialized in plodding staccato which is inappropriate for most of their Mozart, Haydn and Beethovan arrangements of that period.

    Napster and its imitators, just allow somebody to post a file on the Web, as many do today for text, photographs and other purposes. (An ARTCRAFT Roll customer wrote recently that he found Al Jolson and the Andrews Sisters on Naptster files, so the software obviously covers more than the jiggling, raucous rock bands who are testifying against that software company.)

    Examined from the Aeolian viewpoint, their original lawsuit held no weight in light of the MUSICAL DECISIONS which are implicit in all perforated arrangements. Certainly, Aeolian's failed attempt to block the competition is on different grounds than the "lost income" groups who might just be finding that time has passed them by, and that their music is worth today what it costs on Napster: i.e., nothing.

    What was the historical loss due to Aeolian's monopolistic attempts? For one, it held back the development of the 88-Note player - a considerable investment to produce - for about 7 years, and this meant that some of the finest Turn of the Century instruments never received the full-scale actions which were standardized in 1910. (In a few more years, the piano began to lose out to the automobile and other pursuits, so the quality began to decline considerably, as cost-cutting replaced the artistic craftsmanship of the 65-Note days.) Also, a lot of "low grade" music never got perforated - i.e. Ragtime, Cakewalks and early Jazz music - because this was out of the realm of Aeolian's classically-oriented interest; small manufacturers didn't have the distribution setup, so most sold off-brand rolls on a limited basis ... usually perforated on cheaper paper for a limited local market. Finally, Aeolian 'duplexed' many of their popular arrangements until 1917 - sometimes even later - which meant that the purchasers of 88-Note players were really running 65-Note arrangements, a good portion of the time. Masters were being recycled from the past rather than being created for the new "full scale" Player-Pianos of the day. By the time the legal harassment ended, World War I was approaching and small manufacturers were being absorbed by holding companies, of which The American Piano Co. and Kohler & Campbell were two of the largest. Away went the possibility of variety and choice for those truly interested in the Pianola as an interpretive medium.

    Aeolian, of course, continued to dominate the player field for the next 20 years, being aligned with the finer retail stores in American cities - and abroad.

    The jury is out on Napster, but if it's closed down, the Web - being what it is - will probably launch some successful imitator.

    However, if and when you run into the "It's-Aeolian-all-over-again" articles, now being published in the media, at least you've encountered some details about this situation, which - at ARTCRAFT - has been 'old news' for decades. One recent news article had to explain what The Aeolian Co. was, concluding "player pianos are no longer with us" ... which shows how deeply that reporter delved into the subject!

    -- L. Douglas Henderson  - ARTCRAFT Music Rolls (8/13/2000)


8-15-2000: Bulletin -
THE CARIOCA (Duo-Art/.88-Note Themodist) and AMERICAN BOLERO (88-Note Themodist [with Duo-Art Soft Pedal]) just arrived!

We will be typesetting labels, having rubber stamps created for these releases and start checking the rolls for our 'logs' ... used for editing each run.

Ampico Owners - one more visit by our Kennebunk, ME technician (to tweak the expression settings and do a few minor things) and we should be starting some new rolls in that format. CLEOPATRA RAG for Ampico will be in the ARTCRAFT catalogue within the next few days' time.

ARTCRAFT customers: if you have been 'waiting' for your order, we apologize for the delay. It will take some time to "catch up", but we will. Five years' estimated inventory is arriving ... and it's necessary to catalogue/organize/pack these rolls in our heated/dehumidified storage building in Boothbay Center, Maine. This one person business is really 'overloaded' at this writing ... primarily due to the Internet -- and several decades of ARTCRAFT Rolls outperforming "Brand X" (new/old) in every performance situation. Please bear with us; all orders are handled chronologically, regardless of size.

Finally, we are foregoing the photographic URL for this edition of the Newsletter. Getting the brand new rolls "processed" and "out" is of primary concern ... after these many months of waiting.  Look for another 'linked' Website with pictures when Issue #4 is published.

ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
PO Box 295, Wiscasset, ME 04578 USA
(207) 882-7420
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ARTCRAFT Newsletters and ARTCRAFT Music Rolls are published by L. Douglas Henderson
ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, PO Box 295, Wiscasset, ME 04578 USA
Telephone: (207) 882-7420
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