QRS Music
1026 Niagara St.
, Buffalo, NY
Q-R-S Music Rolls Inc - Official Webpage

History Beneath Illustations

Photos taken June 2017

Medina sandstone foundation

has been manufacturing piano rolls since 1900 and is the only manufacturer of piano rolls still in business today, with over 5,000 master recordings and 45,000 music rolls. We have rolls from actual performances by legendary greats such as Liberace, Scott Joplin, Fats Waller and George Gershwin, among others.
- QRS Music (online June 2017)

Q-R-S Marking Piano
One of the first machines to produce master rolls for player pianos by recording actual performances

The Q-R-S marking piano was one of the first machines to produce master rolls for player pianos by recording actual performances. Other roll recording devices were developed within this time frame, but as far as known, the Q-R-S is the only example still in existence and in service. The marking piano made it possible to capture live performances--including those of Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington--and thus preserve keyboard artistry of many artists, incidentally documenting the history of pre-radio 20th century American popular music. The first "hand-played" roll that QRS released was Pretty Baby by ragtime pianist Charlie Straight.

Player pianos provided home entertainment to millions of Americans from 1900 to 1930 and were the first widely successful consumer device to use binary encodement of data in its software, configured as piano rolls. Prior to the development of recording devices, sheet music was transcribed to master rolls by hand.

Invented by Melville Clark (ca. 1850-1918), founder of QRS and piano player designer from Chicago, the Q-R-S recording machine is a modified piano, with each of its 88 keys pneumatically connected to a stylus in the recorder. These styli are suspended horizontally above a roll paper at a point where it passes over a carbon cylinder. When a key is depressed, the corresponding pneumatic collapses, pressing the stylus on the moving roll paper as it passes over the carbon cylinder, which leaves a mark on the underside. As an artist plays, each stylus marks its note on a roll of paper being pulled over a cylinder covered with carbon paper, faithfully recording the performance. Upon completion of the recording, the carbon marks are cut out and a production master is made from this roll by pneumato-electrical means.

This marking piano, in particular, originally saw service from 1912 to 1931, when the Depression and declining roll sales made alternate means of creating master rolls more economical. Following a player piano revival in the 1960s that increased demand for rolls, this machine was restored and refinished in 1972 (at which time the roll drive motor was replaced). Artists who have recorded on the restored machine include Liberace, Peter Nero, Ferrante & Teicher, George Shearing, Roger Williams, and Eubie Blake.
- ASME (online June 2017)

QRS has ended production of player-piano rolls

By Mark Sommer
January 3, 2009
The Buffalo News  (online June 2017)

The remark scribbled at the end of the production sheet said simply, “End of era.”

It was written shortly after the last piano roll came off the assembly line at QRS Music Technologies, 1026 Niagara St., at noon Wednesday.

The halt in production comes 108 years after the company was founded in Chicago, and 42 years since it moved to Buffalo. Rolls used in player pianos reached their peak in popularity in the early 20th century, when a roll of paper was able to reproduce music through perforations signifying notes played on the piano.

The company is now a leading manufacturer of digitized and computerized player-piano technology that runs on CDs.

“The roll market has continued to decline, which is no surprise,” said Bob Berkman, the company’s music director and manager of the Buffalo office. “It no longer is, nor has it been for some time, the central part of our business.

Until Thursday, QRS was the only continuously operating mass producer of piano rolls in the world. The only other company, in Australia, stopped earlier this decade. Sales dropped about 80 percent from 15 years ago to around 50,000 annually, Berkman estimated.

Five of the 10 employees in Buffalo have been laid off because of the piano roll shutdown. The remaining employees will produce all the music for its high-tech Pianomation system for now.

But that operation ultimately will be absorbed into QRS’s Seneca, Pa., plant.

The piano-roll manufacturing equipment also is being sent there.

However, QRS stopped making player pianos earlier this decade. The company had bought the sole manufacturer of player pianos, Classic Player Piano, in 1993 with the express purpose of providing a continuing source of pianos to play its rolls.

Berkman said reassembling the piano roll factory elsewhere will be difficult.

One machine dates back to the 1880s when it was used to make shoes, and for the past 100 years has made the tabs with brass eyelets used to hook the roll into a piano.

Photos and their arrangement  2017 Chuck LaChiusa
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