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MESSAGE POSTED TO MMD by Gerry Bay
Magnet Valve System by Spencer Chase & Gene Gerety
By Gerry Bay
Recently, I installed the Spencer Chase/Gene Gerety MIDI system
on my Steinway Duo-Art upright piano. Since this is a very new
system, I thought that the MMD members might be interested in
The system consists of a 16-valve block with the electronics
required to operate the valves on board. You can obtain more details
at Spencer's web site, http://www.spencerserolls.com/MidiValve.htm.
I needed six blocks to cover the entire range. A MIDI controller
drives the electronics and you can operate the MIDI controller
with Cakewalk or similar software on your laptop or by a Viscount
The installation took a full, long day. Some of this time was
due to the tedious requirement of teeing the tubing in parallel
with the tracker bar. But a fair amount of time was spent playing
with the software, etc., to get everything playing perfectly.
It should be noted that mine was the first installation of this
generation of device
so none of this was a surprise to us. I had agreed to be the guinea
pig to help them get this device going.
When we finished the installation and got everything working,
the system played like a champ. It has played solidly for the
past week with no problems whatsoever. I am thoroughly enjoying
the wonderful music on my Steinway. Spencer has scanned some really
incredible rolls. You can leave the piano on for hours and it
just plays away. It is my belief that Spencer and Gene have developed
a very reliable but time will tell.
I am one of the unfortunate people who bought a PowerRoll only
to have it fail in a few days. I returned it for service and never
saw it again. So having wanted a MIDI system for my piano for
quite a few years, I must say that I am now just ecstatic about
my new Chase/Gerety system. (Incidentally, what are you going
to call it?) If you are considering going in this direction, I
think you should give their system a serious look.
(Message sent Fri 6 Dec 2002, 13:23:00 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)
LETTER FROM CRAIG BROUGHER - posted to E-Roll Collector's forum.
Also posted on Craig's Web Site
From: Craig Brougher
Installation: Chickering Ampico B
Spencer and Gene Gerety visited us this week to install one of
the very first e-valve systems into our Ampico B Chickering. As
everyone probably knows, the Ampico B using the late model one
piece stack with it's very large cover can be pretty tight-fitting
with everything else one needs to have under that piano. We didn't
have too much trouble doing it. We just mounted the valve units
(I am avoiding using the word "valve blocks," since
that term has already been taken by Ampico owners and others)
on a long stick that reaches across the width of the piano, behind
the drop skirt. It makes a really nice installation.
I was worried at first that we were going to have a tubing nightmare.
I could just imagine this thing jamming stuff up so bad that if
I had a valve failure or needed to get back into my player someday,
I would not be able to, so I was taking a chance. As it turned
out, It does make it "busier," but not inaccessible.
Matter of fact, I resealed all the valve block elbows later and
didn't have any trouble at all doing that. Then I even removed
a valve block, as usual, and of course, it would be right behind
the large feeder hoses and in the busiest portion of the stack,
besides. I am satisfied about the cramping issue-- it is not an
issue, when done right-- and I use the heavy-wall tubing throughout.
Performance? At least as good as rolls, and of course, better
than some, because many rolls with problems, like too narrow holes,
do not play well at lowest intensities. So they play just great,
regardless what the perforator originally had done to it. You
can forget performance problems. It doesn't exist. We played it
for hours on end, all day long, day after day, and I could not
detect ANY warmth at all. Hmm. "How dey do dat?"
It has this classy pick and hold circuit developed by Gene Gerety
that initially opens each valve with high voltage and keeps it
open with low voltage. To say that's cool is exactly right, literally
and figuratively. And that's reliability, too. On the individual
control cards mounted on each e-valve unit, you see no large transistor
drivers. Just little tiny stuff that you could lose under a fingernail,
and of course the logic converters. My units, being engineering
models, do not have covers. That makes them a little more vulnerable.
I suspect that shortly, this will be remedied. But cleaning those
little valves will obviously be pretty easy, too. They are aluminum
with a magnet structure attached. You remove the card and then
just hold a screwdriver close to the e-valve poppet and out it
comes, attached to your screwdriver blade. However, I don't see
how they could ever get dirty. At least, it would be very difficult
to do so.
Not so with other past attempts at this sort of thing by previous
developers. And to try to clean other specially made magnet valves
would be a major nightmare, if not impossible for most. With this
system, you can breathe a sigh of relief. It's all easy, direct,
simple, practical. And... cool.
Once installed, that's it. You have to buy a separate midi controller
in series to send midi signals from your computer to the special
controller box mounted in the piano. Those are made by companies
like Roland, Edirol, MidiMan, etc.
So far, we don't have the software specifically designed to run
this thing yet, but it's in the pipeline. It's coming. Luckily,
it works on midi sequencer programs anyway. Cakewalk is a breeze,
and so is Windplay 95. With that one, you have this nice sorting
feature. So if you have, say, 3500 Ampico roll titles to look
through, you can sort by composer, artist, title, roll number,
Windplay still lacks some very important features, like a search
engine. If you are looking through a possible 4000 roll titles
for a particular song, played by a particular artist, how do you
do it? You can't. It can also difficult for computer neophytes
to get it all set up, I think. So it may not be for those owners
who are not comfortable yet with computers because Windplay is
fairly crude in my opinion, but this is to change pretty soon.
There will be software arriving for owners of these valve systems--
hopefully sooner, rather than later. In that system, I expect
it will have it's beta versions and subsequent refinements. It
takes time to get a project like this off the ground.
I think the thing that sold me on the system more than what I
had heard about it, was in getting to know Gene and Spencer. First
by e-mail, and a few telephone conversations, and finally, in
person. They are not "salesmen"-- that's for sure. We
got along instantly. If we lived next door to each other, we'd
never get anything done. It's like school chums, who can talk
about anything. I can trust them. They are honest, they are thorough,
and will eventually come through with everything they've expected
to do. And when I buy something like this and take a risk, knowing
that it is one of the first systems installed, it is so gratifying
to realize in the end, there was no risk after all. Something
I could not say for past attempts at e-valve interfaces. When
something works this well, you just gotta like it.
I was asked by a friend why regular Petersen magnet valves wouldn't
work, too? Well, there are lots of reasons why they do not work
well on reproducers, but in the first place, they are too large
and inefficient. They require lots of current, they are relatively
slow to react and return, they are very susceptible to the tiniest
speck of metal particles, like from steel wool, which will totally
incapacitate them, and they would require a humongous cover to
protect them from damage and interference. But mainly, they will
not lift promptly enough (or at all) at the high vacuum pressures
required for reproducers.
In a nutshell, these new e-valves and their slick electronics
control systems are the future of pneumatic player systems. To
have your entire library in front of you on a computer screen
and all you do is click and play-- well, man, that's so neat!
And then when you want to play rolls, there's nothing to turn
off. Just remove the plastic over the trackerbar and the takeup
spool cover, and play them to your heart's content. There will
be plenty of rolls that you will not have copied to your computer,
and this will not take the place of rolls. It is a vast new dimension
however to get all the good out of your piano.
If you are a musician and own an electronic keyboard, you will
also be able to hear your self play your own pneumatic reproducer,
and when you hit a few clinkers, you can edit them right out.
Right now is a very wise time in history to buy one of these,
as they are presently at the lowest price they will ever be. Buying
Wayne Stahnke's Ampico e-roll CDs and Peter Phillips Ampico e-roll
CD is going to be a good idea now, if you have an Ampico. Think
what kind of music you will have. It's like buying 3500 or more
brand new vintage Ampico rolls and all the cabinets to put them
into! And then to hire several librarians to keep track of them
all and instantly play them for you. For the low price you are
able to own all this for, you may as well consider this electronic
interface to be free. You have the best deal that was ever made
for player pianos.
Follow-up response by Craig to a message posted on the E-Roll
You asked about possible problems associated with dust and lint
getting into the E-Roll Player.
I can assure you from a technician's perspective and an owner
of one of the first engineering models of the Player, that dust
in the E-Roll Player is not going to be a problem. On the other
hand, I don't know what you'd ever do with a little piece of lint
stuck in a PowerRoll. You can't blow it out and you'd have to
disassemble it and then risk ruining a valve altogether because
they are so critical. That's the greatest terror of all with the
PowerRoll. I used my PowerRoll a lot and worried every day about
it, because of the air path inside the unit and how easy it could
clog up. I don't worry about it any longer, since I sent the valves
back to Larry in October of 2001 and haven't heard back since.
That was the third time I had to return it. Twice I got a new
version. But if it wasn't defective machinery, it would have been
something else, and lint would have been the next thing. He was
advised to put a filter on it long ago and didn't.
On the other hand, The E-Roll Player is so easy to take apart
and fix a valve it is ideal in that respect. You take the circuit
board off the plastic valve unit and by placing a screwdriver
against a valve, it sticks onto your screwdriver magnetically.
You don't even touch it to remove it because they have magnets
in them. Just peek down the hole it came out of and you'll see
lint if it's in there. But frankly, unlike the PowerRoll, these
valves are totally filtered with a fine mesh, getting their air
from the air in the piano case, and I cannot see how they will
ever accumulate lint at all. I've only had mine for a month, but
no dirt problems, and it isn't even on the radar, as far as potential
problems are concerned. Matter of fact, I can't see any potential
problems yet. (And you know me-- If I suspect something, I'll
LETTER Posted to MMD 2/24/2003 and Eroll Collectors Forum by
Responding to Spencer's recent posting about the installation
of the Gerety-Chase System in my piano, I submit the following
tome. One word, though - Spencer did not take more than 4 (FOUR!)
hours to install the whole thing. He forgets that were diagnosing
other issues in the midst of installing the system. The fact is
any competent hobbyist or half-decent player tech could get this
up and running in a snap.
Gerety & Chase MIDI Magnet Valve System
By Tim Baxter
I am a fortunate ³beta-tester² (if a system with zero
problems can be deemed in ³beta -testing) of the new Gerety-Chase
³in-line² MIDI valve system. The Gerety-Chase System
(³GCS²) is designed for use with all pneumatic player
devices; it is being used by me in my 1924 Steinway XR equipped
with Aeolian¹s Duo-Art system.
A word first about the instrument - it was fully restored in 1999
by Kirk Russell of Wakefield, RI. ³Fully-restored² here
means just that - all parts of the piano and piano action itself,
as well as a full restoration of the Duo-Art mechanism. At full
crash, a single note plays at 80 water inches of vacuum; at intensity
³0², a single note plays at about 6 inches of vacuum.
The piano has an astonishing dynamic range, as these instruments
can when properly restored.
Besides having done such an excellent restoration (Kirk is the
chief tech at Avery Piano in Providence, RI, which was formerly
Steinway¹s retail outlet in Rhode Island - back before Steinway
cut back on the number of its retail dealers), I am very fortunate
that the basic piano itself is an outstanding instrument.
I am a fanatic about ambient noise when listening to the rolls,
so the pump and motor (though as silent as I¹ve ever heard
on a reproducing piano, nickelodeon, orchestrion and the like)
are ocated remotely, in the basement.
As for the system itself, Spencer Chase came personally to Georgia
to do the installation (he¹s probably still reeling from
the culture shock). The valves are located in very small [1.4²
x 1.5² x 5²] separate blocks of 16 valves each (for
the Duo-Art 6 blocks were needed for a total of 92 valves 80 notes,
8 for the theme and accompaniment levels, 2 for bass and treble
theme, 1 for soft pedal, 1 for sustain pedal - 4 valves not presently
in use. The valves sit in front of the bleed rail, and connect
to the stack by use of small ³Y² connectors. The entire
valve system is then made invisible to the eye by Spencer¹s
ingenious use of a black, spongy fabric which is lined with foam
and which he sewed so that the pedal lyre fits in the middle of
it, and it is secured by Velcro to the bottom of the stack and
to the small wooden strip that it underneath the key bed (and
which Aeolian used to hide the various control levers). In some
ways, the new cloth is a visual improvement over the original
design, as one no longer sees or notices the brass control levers
with which one can manually control rolls played on the Duo-Art.
The GCS performs beyond my wildest expectations. A previous manufacturer
of midi valve systems for pneumatic pianos (using a tracker bar
interface) was unable to ever supply me with a model that could
open against the high vacuum levels of the Duo-Art. The GCS has
no difficulty whatsoever in playing each and every note, no matter
how high the vacuum is, nor how quick the repetition. With the
spongy clothy and padding covering the valves, there is really
[no] noise from the valve system (of course, with the system this
silent, one begins to notice other things - the somewhat raucous
sustain and soft pedals, for example).
As many of you know, I am a roll manufacturer (Meliora Music Rolls),
so have no desire to see a demise in the music roll industry.
More important, though, is do avoid a demise of these instruments
altogether. I think rebuilders need to seriously consider offering
this system to their
customers when doing rebuilds. I love the ³romance²
and period authenticity of playing rolls, and always will. However,
I take enormous pleasure from the fact that I can now:
- choose from approximately 2500 Duo-Art titles instantly;
- listen without worry about damaging fragile rolls;
- listen to entire Sonatas, or Symphonies, or Song Cycles, without
the distraction of changing rolls;
- not be concerned about whether certain companies¹ recuts
are authentically reproduced, or stuffing my tracker bar with
- Stop lugging rolls up and down from the basement!
I think the GCS can give these classic pneumatic instruments the
digital ³edge² they need to compete with the Disklaviers
and PianoDiscs. The sad fact is that few customers will care that
the older instruments are capable of more realistic and musical
performances. If even given an opportunity to think about a comparison,
they will quickly apprehend that the solenoid pianos more easily
³play themselves² by virtue of the digital interface.
The GCS can overcome this formidable barrier. I may also be wrong
about this, but if a customer can afford to spend $14,000 for
a Yamaha Disklvier upright and upwards of $22,000 for a Disklavier
Grand, they can get a GOOD piano (Steinway, Weber, Mason &
Hamlin, Knabe, Chickering - fully restored - both player and piano)
for a lot less, even including the GCS (which I understand will
retail between ($2,500 and $3,500; probably less for dealers).
I have not priced what the cheaper sorts of solenoid pianos retail
for, but surely someone could get a better quality reproducing
piano, fully restored, with one of these systems for less AND
get a much better piano. Heck, even the ³lower tier²
of Aeolian and American Piano products (i.e., J.C. Fischer, Haynes
Bros., Steck, Stroud) HAVE to be better than a lot of these cheaper,
new models (I also have a ³Original-Built² Welte piano
manufactured by Estey - at which many folks on the MMD would turn
down their noses - but as it was built in the ³golden era,²
it¹s a pretty good instrument).
I think the foregoing is especially true if one cares more about
classical performances, where there will be a large library of
Classical performances available from the Duo-Art, Ampico (and
eventually) Welte libraries. Obviously, nobody¹s putting
excerpts from ³The Lion King² on a Duo-Art, Ampico or
Welte roll.* If, though, someone follows through and determines
a way to ³translate² modern MIDI performances into coding
for the older reproducing piano systems, even this hurdle will
One more issue for present owners, and/or new owners, of reproducing
pianos. The cost of the system pays for itself in the size of
the library you can acquire. For example, you purchase the entire
Spencer Chase catalog of rolls for approximately $800, which includes
about 2000 titles. Assume the system costs $3000, and you have
to spend $800 for the entire library ($3800). You¹ve just
acquired 2000 rolls for $1.90 each. If you¹re used to paying
b/w $12 and $20 each for reproducing piano rolls, this is actually
a bargain. I haven¹t even addressed the issue of FINDING
the rolls; one is subjected to the whims of eccentric manufacturers
like those people at Meliora Music Rolls in having to purchase
only what THEY choose to offer to sale the roll-hungry public.
Who wants to deal with that? ;-)
Finally, we all know the original rolls are crumbling into dust
(ESPECIALLY the Duo-Art rolls!). Assuming proper quality control
on the roll scanning process, the sale of these systems furthers
the goal of roll preservation - the rolls must perforce be scanned
for use with these systems, and are thus preserved in the process.
I would be pleased to answer any questions about this product
Meliora Music Rolls
*I should mention that another thrill of owning this system is
to make my coding of new Duo-Art performances easier. I use Richard
Brandle¹s excellent ³Wind² computer program to
create Duo-Art rolls from MIDI performances. I can now instantly
check the coding as I go along using the
GCS. I also play the GCS using ³WindPlay,² specifically
designed by Mr. Brandle for playing rolls on a MIDI valve system.
LETTER POSTED TO MMD by Donald Landstrom (8/5/2003)
Installing Gerety & Chase MIDI Magnet Valve System
By Donald Landstrom
I recently obtained on of Spencer Chase's e-roll systems for
self installation. This report is simply to relate how easily
the installation proceeded went, and the very good results that
were obtained with it.
Background: The piano is a Steinway 1925 (I think) walnut grand
of about 6' length. It was completely restored about 12 years
ago(including new strings, hammers, felts, etc.) and has been
playing mostly re-cut rolls (and a few original rolls) ever since,
with very good results.
After hearing about the e-roll system, I was immediately attracted
to the ability to play multiple rolls without having to change
the rolls. Another attraction is the availability of several thousand
rolls that have been transcribed for the Duo-Art, and Spencer
has done a great job of preserving and transcribing the rolls.
The idea of computer control also was a factor in ordering the
Although the installation instructions are not complete at this
time, they are quite adequate for the basic setup. As I have not
even looked under the piano since it was returned reconditioned,
I was unfamiliar with the basic layout of all the Duo-Art parts
and pieces but have read about the system and am generally familiar
with how the system operates. I am a retired physicist and one
of my hobbies is clock repair, so I do have some mechanical ability,
but I must say that anyone with even a modest mechanical ability
should be able to install this system without many problems. Spencer
was quite helpful with the few questions I had, and only two phone
calls were necessary to complete the installation. One of these
questions concerned the location and connections to the Dynamic
This was cleared up easily and all of the connections via tubing
were quite easy on the Duo=Art. (You will need about 150-200 feet
of suitable rubber tubing for the connections). Spencer was able
to arrange getting this tubing from a piano supply company that
would not sell to me because "I was not in the trade".
One note of caution when installing the tubing: when routing
the tubing around the pedal lyre, you must be very careful to
allow routing around the various control parts and the pedal lyre
itself as it is very crowded in this area. I found out, after
replacing the lyre, that one tube was pinched and as a consequence,
one note was missing from the scale (D4). Running the test file
that Spencer supplies, quickly located this problem and I had
to remove the lyre and add a small length of tubing--this was
the only problem I had with the physical installation.
As for the playing ability--It is remarkable!! The system will
reproduce even the fastest trills and the expression is just great.
I have had more fun and listening experience in the past two
weeks than years of prior roll playing.
I would be happy to answer any questions you might have, (email@example.com)
but I think this system is a great advance in technology and Spencer
Chase and Gene Gerety must be congratulated on not only a labor
of love, but a significant contribution to the history of mechanical
Sincerely, Donald Landstrom
E-Mail message from Dave Heitz
Sorry that I never got around to writing that letter for you.
Just wanted you to know that I am completely satisfied, in fact
delighted, with your system and the personal attention I got from
both you and Gene.
Your system works flawlessly on my early 1913 Duo-Art grand and
the reproduction is even better than with paper rolls. We were
able to regulate the piano so as to play VERY softly during soft
passages with the e-roll system, something that we could not do
before (due to larger port openings with your system?).
If a potential customer would like to contact me please feel free
to give them my email address or my phone number, 215-862-5717.
Good luck at the MBSI meeting.
LETTER TO MMD - Posted by Jeff Zabarsky 6/24/2003
Playing a Player Piano via Electronic Media
By Jeff Zabarsky
With the current discussion on the topic of playing rolls vs.
MIDI, I figured I'd wade into the MMD waters with my first posting.
I've been reading MMD for the last year or so and am grateful
for the wealth of information available in the archives. I took
delivery of a Steinway XR Duo-Art earlier this year, and early
in May I had Spencer Chase install the Chase-Gerety Valve Block
I enjoy the charm of playing music from paper rolls and still
have a number of rolls that aren't available in e-roll form. The
beauty of the Chase-Gerety system is that it doesn't interfere
with normal roll play. Switching from MIDI play to roll play involves
removing a vinyl strap that covers the re-roll hole on the take
up spool and removing a clear piece of plastic that covers the
tracker bar holes. It's a quick
process to put them back to resume MIDI play.
The MIDI blocks themselves sit below the bleed rail and tee into
the tracker tubing via 'Y' connectors. The valves are then covered
with a belly cloth to hide it from sight and to dampen the slight
valve noise. The controller module mounts behind the stack. Of
course this arrangement is particular to my piano, but the installation
seem flexible enough to accommodate most any installation requirements.
From reading messages in the MMD archives, I'm aware that some
people may be skeptical of the claims of this new system. From
everything I've seen, there's no cause for fear. When you look
at the design and packaging, it's immediately clear that a lot
of thought and effort has been invested in this system. Engage
Spencer in a conversation and you'll be convinced that he knows
his stuff and has a handle on all
the little details that go into a reliable product.
I've now had the system for over a month and a half and it has
performed flawlessly. Having bought Spencer's complete Duo-Art
e-roll collection, I now own an amazingly huge library of music.
I'm still working my way through the thousands of e-rolls picking
out favorites. The MIDI emulation files provided with the collection
are tremendously convenient because they allow rapid auditioning
of rolls on a computer.
If your considering buying the Chase-Gerety MIDI valve system,
I can highly recommend it.
(Message sent Tue 24 Jun 2003, 15:19:19 GMT, from time zone GMT.)
follow up letter from Tim Baxter:
From: Timothy Baxter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Spencer Chase <email@example.com>
Date: Sunday, July 25, 2004, 9:27:10 PM
Subject: Valve system update
I wanted to update you on the status of the Gerety-Chase system
in use on my
Steinway XR Duo-Art, which was installed in February of 2003.
There is really nothing, though, to update you about because
system has worked flawlessly and without interruption for almost
My Duo-Art gets a lot of use - an average of one hour per day,
more (it certainly gets a lot more use because I have a library
Duo-Art selections to play!). Next to the pianos themselves, it
smartest thing I have purchased in connection with the hobby.
I am especially happy that the system can be installed without
any visual or
mechanical impact on the original Duo-Art system and piano, and
that I can
still play paper rolls anytime I like without difficulty. I enjoy
paper rolls and the valve system, but it is wonderful to listen
to an entire
Sonata - all of three or four movements that would have been on
paper rolls - at once. I can enjoy the full impact of the piece
interruption or distraction, as the composer intended. I can also
music without the worry of damaging fragile rolls.
Thanks again for making such a "die-hard" product.
I would be happy to
answer questions for anyone who may be considering a purchase.
If I can
scrape together the money, I may get a second system for my Welte
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