Teenage 'pianola man' Lloyd Baker 'brings joy' with hobby restoring vintage self-playing pianos

Asia's Tech News Daily

© Provided by ABC NEWS Lloyd became interested in restoring historic player-pianos when his music teacher showed him one.  (ABC Wimmera: Andrew Kelso )

Lloyd Baker is the “pianola man”.

The Year 11 student from Murtoa in Western Victoria took up the hobby of restoring self-playing pianos after buying one from his music teacher.

“I was getting music lessons and I asked my music teacher, had she ever seen one of the pianos that play by themselves. She said, ‘We’ve actually got one sitting down the back,'” Lloyd said.

“[She] put a roll in it and I was just amazed.”

Pianolas and player pianos, popular in the early 20th century, are devices that allow pianos to play by themselves, through a series of valves controlled by a pedal.

The valves are guided by a paper roll, which acts like a record or CD, using air blown through a series of holes set to the pace of the tune.

The pianola Lloyd bought from his music teacher needed a bit of work – which is where John Parkinson from Warracknabeal came in.

“He used to rebuild these wonderful instruments years ago and he helped me out with the materials, what books to have a look for,” Lloyd said.

“I read the Player Piano Servicing and Rebuilding book by Arthur Reblitz, and it has a detailed guide of how to restore them, so off I went,” Lloyd said.

“It’s a lot of skills to learn but anyone could really do it if they put their mind to it … you’ve got to learn the principles of how it works, vacuum, atmosphere, pressures, how it all comes to be, and the valves that are all in it that make each note play.”

Lloyd acquired another pianola off the local plumber, which he restored to working order.

He said he was able to balance school life with working on the pianolas.

“I’ve just done this when I’ve got free time after school, on weekends.

“You pull it to bits and start rebuilding it and then you come back and, another couple of days, keep doing it a bit more, a bit more … it’s not too bad because I just do it at my leisure,” he said.

Scott Joplin to ABBA

Aside from the pianolas themselves, Lloyd also has a collection of “thousands” of paper rolls – some of which are 100 years old.

“When I bought the pianola off my piano teacher I reckon I started with four rolls, and then you just see them pop up on Buy, Swap, Sell, and deceased estates.

“Then I’ve got other people who used to have a pianola and they’ve got the boxes of rolls in the shed and they say, ‘Do you want them?'” Lloyd said.

“I’ve got new QRS rolls with ABBA on them, Queen … you just pick them up as you go and they keep piling up.”

Music from the 1920s in the 2020s

The pianolas haven’t just sat in Lloyd’s workshop.

“I actually did take my other one down to the local pub a couple of years ago for a curry night … we had it playing as the background music,” he said.

“Now the local pub in Murtoa has just got a pianola. They have their own rolls and a cabinet to put them in so anyone can get on them when they’re in the lounge and have a bit of music if they want it.”

He also attends old-time dances in Horsham.

“Every second Friday of each month and you go there with whoever and you just learn all the old dances.

“Everyone would come up and look at the rolls and basically like a karaoke, you used to sing to the piano, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Lloyd has become known locally for his work restoring pianolas, and says that while he wouldn’t do it as a full-time job, he enjoys the process for fun.

“There’s a lot of time and effort and hours that go into it, which is why they’re very pricey to rebuild.

“Getting materials is getting hard too, so you’ve just got to factor in everything and see [if] is it really worth doing it, but when they’re done, they last for another 30, 40 years.

“[I’d] definitely do it as a hobby on the side, on weekends, when [I have] spare time. I just do them for people and bring them joy … it’s good.”

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