Collected Endorsements

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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 a report.

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 MIDI player.

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.

Gerry Bay


(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, etc.

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.

Craig Brougher

Follow-up response by Craig to a message posted on the E-Roll Collectors forum:

Hi Eli,

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 say it).

Craig Brougher

 

LETTER Posted to MMD 2/24/2003 and Eroll Collectors Forum by Tim Baxter
2/24/03

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

Dear Folks,

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 ³confetti² and
- 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 not exist.
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 via e-mail.

Timothy Baxter
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 system.

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 Valve Box.

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, (dkland@ameritech.net) 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 music systems.

Sincerely, Donald Landstrom


E-Mail message from Dave Heitz

Hi Spencer,

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.

Dave Heitz

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 system.

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 options
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.

Jeff Zabarsky
San Francisco
(Message sent Tue 24 Jun 2003, 15:19:19 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

follow up letter from Tim Baxter:

From: Timothy Baxter <baxdig@mindspring.com>
To: Spencer Chase <spencer@spencerserolls.com>
Date: Sunday, July 25, 2004, 9:27:10 PM
Subject: Valve system update
Files: <none>

Dear Spencer,

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 your valve
system has worked flawlessly and without interruption for almost 18 months.
My Duo-Art gets a lot of use - an average of one hour per day, sometimes
more (it certainly gets a lot more use because I have a library of 2600
Duo-Art selections to play!). Next to the pianos themselves, it is the
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 both the
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 separate
paper rolls - at once. I can enjoy the full impact of the piece without
interruption or distraction, as the composer intended. I can also enjoy the
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 or Ampico!

Best wishes,

Timothy Baxter
Atlanta, GA



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