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A piano at Schaeffer's Piano Company is prepped to have a player piano device installed.

Featured Article

Keys to Happiness

Schaeffer Piano Company Can Fill Your Home with Piano Music Even if You Don’t Play

Article by Lauri Gross

Photography by Provided

Originally published in Potomac Lifestyle

Any conversation regarding Schaeffer Piano Company in Rockville will likely include some talk about the history of the organization. After all, we’re talking about 121 years of history. Rick Schaeffer is the third-generation owner of the company that his grandfather founded in 1901.

Like the pre-owned Steinway grand pianos and new models from other manufacturers available for sale at Schaeffer’s, some things in the piano business, it turns out, have staying power. Take, for instance, the player piano. Not to be confused with a piano player, a player piano (also known as a pianola) is a self-playing piano.

Once upon a time, player pianos contained a mechanism that operated the piano via music recorded on perforated paper. Today’s versions are more likely to use a computerized digital interface. Back in the day, 16-year-old Rick worked by his dad’s side restoring pianos across the DMV and installing player pianos.

“We did all the Shakey’s Pizza places in the area in the 1960s,” Rick recalls. “Then, when the Sting movie came out, we sold more player pianos that year than ever,” he adds, referring to the 1973 film. The movie and its ragtime soundtrack were hugely popular and for people who wanted to recreate that sound in their homes, a player piano did the trick.

Since that time the Schaeffer Piano Company has thrived and grown as they rebuilt, restored and repaired – as well as sold – pianos but, Rick says, “Between the 1970s and today, we only installed a few player pianos each year.”

This year, the Schaeffer Piano Company is once again installing player pianos like crazy. Rick says player pianos help people address a bucket-list item of learning to play the piano without actually having to learn to play. “Maybe their kids had years of lessons. Then, the kids leave for college and people still want to hear the piano,” he says.  

Schaeffer’s can install one on nearly any piano, including uprights (if there’s room) and grands. The process begins with cutting a hole. “I sold a Steinway 1901 concert piano,” Rick recalls. “And now I put a huge hole in the bottom to operate the keys for a player piano.”

After the install, only the music is noticeable. It’s all controlled from a phone app that includes 3,000 song choices and provides the ability to sing along with words – and artists – that can appear on your TV.

Rick says he has even heard murmurs about technology that would create a hologram of someone performing at your piano. “So, you could see Bach while he plays,” Rick says as his voice trails off, imagining the possibilities.

  • A piano at Schaeffer's Piano Company is prepped to have a player piano device installed.
  • Schaeffer's Piano Company readies a grand piano for the installation of a player piano device.
  • Sales manager Tim Schaeffer works on a piston rail system for a player piano device. Each key gets its own piston to make the hammer strike the string.
  • The magic of a self-playing piano is due, in part, to a circuit board like this, that the Schaeffer Piano team will install.
  • With a grand piano in his company's showroom, sales manager Tim Schaeffer represents the fourth generation of this family-owned business
  • Rick Schaeffer, the third-generation owner of Schaeffer’s Piano Company in Rockville.

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