Most of the major coin operated piano manufacturers used the rewind
system for the handling of music rolls, whereupon the music roll was, unless
there was some kind of minor catastrophe, always wound snugly on the music
roll spool and/or on the roll mechanism's take-up spool. Thus the music roll
was always in a conveniently packaged state. The big advantage of the rewind
system is that when the music roll was automatically rewound onto the music
roll spool it could be easily and quickly removed from the roll mechanism
and replaced with a new roll, i.e., new music. The disadvantage of the
rewind system was that once the music roll reached the end of the tune sheet
it had to be rewound, and during this sometimes slow rewinding process the
piano was essentially out of service. Any electrical lighting might remain
on and the interior mechanisms continued to rumble along, but no music,
although coins could still be dropped into the coin slot accumulator,
causing the next tune to play after the rewinding of the music roll was
A few manufacturers, on the other hand, such as Auto Electric Piano
Company, Auto-Manufacturing Company (Encore Banjo), Berry-Wood Piano Player
Company (later switched to rewind rolls), North Tonawanda Musical Instrument
Works (Pianolin), Peerless Piano Player Company, Automatic Musical, and
Link, elected to make use of a very different method for dealing with music
rolls, one that utilized endless music rolls where the paper formed one
large and continuous loop, which was stored and contained within a large
vertical or horizontal bin. Although cumbersome in appearance, this system
of handling did not require the complicated roll mechanism as did the
various rewind type of music roll systems. But while the roll mechanisms
were more simple and easy to maintain, changing music rolls of the endless
type was far more daunting than for the rewind type. In fact there were
advertisements by brands that used the rewind system that illustrated a
perplexed, frustrated, and bedeviled piano owner awash in tangled loops of
paper desperately trying to change an endless music roll. But despite any
perceived disadvantages the endless music roll systems worked quite well and
were easy to maintain--despite any temporary music roll changing challenges.
The early endless roll systems used an easily detachable but bulky
vertical bin to hold the endless roll. For cabinet style instruments this
vertical bin could be located inside the case, two examples being the North
Tonawanda Pianolin and the Encore Banjo, but for keyboard style pianos it
was situated externally, either behind the piano or in front of it. Neither
position was optimal for one reason or another. For installations behind the
piano it forced the piano to be out away from the wall a sufficient distance
and to change the music roll the piano had to be rolled away from the wall
in order to gain access to the roll mechanism. In the case where the music
roll device was in front of the piano is was mounted under the keybed and in
front of the piano's bottom board, making it a rather unsightly contraption
that detracted from the piano's otherwise distinctive furniture design. It
also made accessing the feeder pump and other mechanisms behind the bottom
board more difficult to access and repair.
around 1909 George R. Thayer, of the Automatic Musical Company (forerunner
of the Link Piano Company), redesigned the music roll system to one that
made effective use of a horizontal bin (or cabinet) that was housed within
the piano cabinetry (click
here for the actual patent in PDF format). This did away with the bulky,
cumbersome, and unsightly roll mechanism and attached vertical bin
disfiguring the front side of the piano. But eliminating any objectionable
esthetic issues was probably not much of an incentive for the new design.
The top edge of vertical storage bin for the Automatic Musical pianos slid
into a channel formed by two L-shaped blocks mounted underneath the keybed,
so as to hang down but barely clearing the floor. Thus any unevenness in the
floor could snag the roll bin, causing damage whenever the piano was
carelessly moved, and if the bin was still attached to the piano. But
another and apparently more annoying source of trouble occurred whenever the
floor was mopped and the storage bin got wet. Eventually after the bin had
been kicked, scuffed, and soaked enough the paper roll got wet too. The
Company went so far as to apply a special label to its music rolls warning
of the dangers of getting the music roll wet, as shown in the image at
right. Happily the new design of putting the endless roll storage cabinet
and feeder mechanism within the piano case overcame the old problems and
kept the roll mechanism safe from physical abuse and the music rolls high
The new layout was so successful that it became the standard design that
the Link Piano Company used up until production ceased in 1929. The only
major change in the design was the elimination of the chain driven finger
system to push the loops of music roll paper along the horizontal cabinet,
to a bin with a sloped bottom board that used gravity to aid in moving the
roll along its length. This change from chain and fingers to sloping bottom
board was made by 1914 or 1915. (We will be able to report the date more
closely after more pianos are reported to the database.) The horizontal
system stretched across the width of the piano, and for keyboard style
pianos it was placed at the top of the instrument in a case extension, out
of the way but still easily accessible. For cabinet style instruments the
horizontal bin was placed just above the feeder pump and below the stack,
also an ideal location for easy access and for changing of music rolls.
The Automatic Musical / Link Piano Company Registry
For more detailed information on Automatic Musical Company (forerunner to
the Link Piano Company) and the Link Piano Company and its coin pianos click here to visit the Link Registry page.
How to Change a Link Music Roll
A Pictorial Demonstration by
The Link instrument used in all but step #2 and step #28 in this
pictorial demonstration is a Link Style 2EX (Link #7835). It is a
keyboardless cabinet style piano that uses Link RX rolls (61 playing notes).
Link RX rolls could be played on all Link coin pianos that were not
picture illustrates what some might see as a hopeless looking mess
characteristic of any installed Link music roll. This picture series
demonstrates how to change the music roll without destroying it and
losing your sanity.
diagram of a Link music roll feeder, courtesy of Dana Johnson.
Various critical components that must be manipulated in the roll
changing process are labeled.
room to "unload" the music roll feeder by carefully pushing the mass
of paper loops away from the feeder mechanism. The loose folds of
paper will easily compress (within limits) before creasing or
otherwise damaging the paper.
the rectangular drag casting from on top of the guide plate.
the guide plate. Move the right end up slightly and out of its
mounting slots in the music roll feeder, then slightly to the right
to release the other end from the bracket it hangs on. Hold the
paper up off the guide plate and be careful not to snag the paper
below it with the sheet metal ears on the bottom of the guide plate.
out the top wooden roller from the bearing slots at the top of the
out the heavy metal gravity roller. Its bearing points ride in slots
on the front of the roll feeder and just above the rubberized power
view showing the positioning of the lower wooden roller and its
bearing point (picture center) in the roll feeder. The small
hourglass shaped metal link makes up the outer bearing for the lower
roller's shaft, with the bearing plate held securely to the feeder
frame by a small thumbscrew. By loosening the thumbscrew the bearing
plate can be pulled outward, thereby releasing the end of the wooden
roller so that it can be lowered and then pulled out of the feeder
through the large circular hole.
empty feeder from the music roll's `viewpoint. Note that there is a
rectangular space in the sheet metal paper guide below the brass
tracker bar and lower rubberized drive roller. In early Link
instruments this spacious opening was necessary to accommodate the
chain-driven metal finger conveyer system, which was dropped when
the slopped gravity assist music roll bin replaced the older flat
bottom design. However this opening also serves another important
function as an access window to be used when removing the bottom
wooden roller from the feeder frame.
the lower roller, by first carefully sliding your left hand under
the paper and through the gap in the paper guide, so that you can
support the lower roller. With your right hand loosen the thumb
screw that holds the lower roller's bearing link, and then pull the
link out to clear the shaft end, and then turn the link around so
it's clear of the large hole and tighten the thumbscrew so the link
stays out of the way. Lower the roller so it can fit through the
hole and slide the roller out.
the back flange from the rewinder spool and carefully slide the
wooden core with attached metal rod over the roll. The wooden core
of the rewinder should be below a single layer of paper and the
steel shaft should be above. Some Link rewinders have the steel
shaft attached to the back flange.
the back flange on the rewinder and place the rewinder in the slots
at the upper left side of the roll feeder frame.
the Instructions and always "Turn Rewind to Left!" The
direction in which you rewind the music roll is important!!! If you
do not follow this instruction one of two things will happen: (1) If
you orient a roll on the hanger bar, as shown in step 19, and it has
been rewound to the right, the music scale will be reversed, i.e.,
treble notes will play the bass part and vice-versa. (2) If you
reverse the orientation of how the roll hangs on the hanger bar,
instead of the paper coming off of the top and to the right it will
unroll from the top to the left, and then around the bottom of the
music roll and on to the roll feeder. This puts the thread of paper
that should be on the topside on the bottom side, and the music will
the roll, being careful to keep the two sheets of paper (the
rewinder will have doubled it over after the first full turn)
feeding in without becoming looped or folded. The paper should
rewind evenly into a firm roll of paper, without damaging wrinkles
or bulges. When about one-half of the roll is rewound, grip the
outside of the paper while turning the rewinder to the left and
tighten the roll until it "chirps" slightly. Do this again when the
roll is fully rewound.
the roll is completely rewound (except for the trailing end still
looped over the hanger rod), remove the hanger rod at the bass end
of the roll bin and finish rewinding the music roll.
off the back flange of the rewinder spool. Lay the roll on a flat
surface and hold it there while giving the rewinder a quick quarter
turn to the RIGHT. This action loosens the grip the rewinder has on
the freshly rewound paper. Next carefully pull the rewinder core out
of the roll. It helps to keep the wooden core of the rewinder
suitably polished and slippery with paste wax.
view of the tracker bar and rubberized drive roller (below the
tracker bar). Now is the time to clean the tracker bar. Notice that
this tracker bar has a long, narrow slot along its top side, just
above the regular note holes. A steady vacuum is applied to this
paper cleaning slot, which removes paper dust from the roll--a late
Link feature. The tracker bar should be cleaned periodically of any
accumulated dust and lint.
If the rubber coated drive roller
has a waxy build up from the dry waxed music roll paper it can be
cleaned with a fine abrasive pad, such as Scotch-Guard.
the little guide rail at the left of the picture between the tracker
bar and rubberized drive roller. This is to guide the shaft of the
lower roller into its bearing hole. You can't see this when placing
a new roll in the feeder, but by gently pushing up on the roller
when installing it you can feel this guide pin and it will guide the
roller shaft into its bearing.
the rubberized drive roller. To disengage the drive roller's spur
gear drive, so the drive roller can be turned freely for cleaning
and for feeding in a new roll, loosen the thumbscrew just to the
left of the small steel spur gear and pull the lever down. This
action disengages the small gear from the larger brass gear mounted
on the drive roller's shaft.
the new music roll on the hanger rod. Notice that the paper hangs
over the top of the roll and down its right side. Placing a properly
wound music roll as pictured insures that the treble to bass note
holes will be oriented correctly to the tracker bar note scale.
a loosely formed loop of paper over the rubberized drive roller and
down into the feeder frame. The paper loop needs to be deep enough
so that the lower wooden roller can be put back in place so as to
keep the lower paper loop intact.
the lower wooden roller. With your left hand inside the feeder,
place the lower wooden roller through its hole in the front side of
the feeder frame, and inside the loop of paper. When the shaft end
of the roller hits the inside of the feeder, carefully push it up
until the shaft hits the underside of the guide pin (see step 17
above for a detail view showing the guide pin). When the shaft has
been slid into its inside bearing loosen the thumbscrew (above the
roller) with your right hand, drop the bearing link down onto the
outside shaft, and then tighten the thumbscrew.
the lower wooden roller is properly installed it should look like
the example in the picture at right. Notice the loop of music roll
paper still hanging loosely below the wooden roller.
the top wooden roller by putting it into the deep slots at the top
far right of the feeder frame.
sure the paper is square and even on the rollers and tracker bar,
and then place the heavy metal gravity roller in its slots above the
rubberized drive roller.
in the guide plate. Make sure both of the tabs on the left end of
the guide plate are resting securely on the support bracket (jutting
out from the back of the roll storage bin), and that the paper guide
ears on the bottom of the plate are pressing lightly against the
outside edges of the metal gravity roller.
the drag casting on top of the guide plate. The drag casting offers
just enough resistance on the paper being pulled under it to keep
the paper tension over the various feeder rollers and tracker bar in
the rubberized drive roller gears disengaged, turn the large brass
gear to the left and move some paper through the feeder. If there is
a feeder crank still present (many of these have been lost over the
years) thread it into the drive roller shaft, keeping in mind that
it has a left hand thread. If the paper wrinkles or runs off to one
side re-align it by lifting the gravity roller slightly and
centering the paper. It is important that the paper feeds properly
before you start the motor and engage the spur gears to play the
music roll into the roll storage bin.
few Link cabinet pianos had a manually operated "sliding finger"--a
sort of paddle that the music roll built up against in small loops
as it fed into the bin. As the roll filled the bin the finger was
moved to the left, until the whole roll filled the bin, nicely
formed into small loops. Once the roll is completely looped up and
filling the bin the small bit of paper to paper friction actually
helps roll tracking due to a fairly steady tension on the paper. The
Link illustrated here is a Link 2B (Link #6418) cabinet style
instrument using Link A rolls.
One trick is to put two music
rolls (in their boxes) in the bin, one on top of the other and up
near the feeder. As the paper feeds in it loops and builds up
against the boxes, as it would against the finger in the picture at
right. As the roll plays move the boxes to the left and take them
out when the entire roll is in the bin. A roll will eventually build
up into small loops in an open roll bin, but it usually takes about
three full playings to do so.
If the paper refuses to track properly check the drag casting and
guide plate and see that they are properly aligned and securely in
place. A hard pull on the paper as it is drawn into the feeder can cause
mis-tracking, Also check to see that a new roll on the hanging rod is
lined up with the feeder and unwinding freely. It helps to have the
bottom board of the roll bin clean and polished with some slippery
furniture wax. The feeder itself must be true and square with little
bearing wear. If the lower wooden roller has badly worn bearings it will
bob up and down as the tension on the paper changes--a few thousands of
an inch of movement on one side of this roller is enough to send the
paper all over the place. If the metal gravity roller's shaft ends have
more wear on one side than the other it will not be perfectly lined up
with the rubberized drive roller, and will cause problems. If the rubber
coating on the drive roller has deteriorated and is not a true cylinder
anymore it can damage the music roll. The more mechanically perfect the
Link feeder is the better it will work. Please remember, the newest of
these pianos is some 83 years old and many have had hard use under