Maker Dave Parsonage satisfied his tastes for things both antiquated and techy by using a Raspberry Pi to build a pianola.
Raspberry Pi Model 3B+ powers this old-timey instrument. Dave says this is just a prototype but it looks pretty cool to us.
What is a pianola?
Unless you were around in the very early 1900s, or you frequent Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion often, or you are a massive music nerd like our Liz, you might not know what one is. (Liz has been banging on at length about a pianola she was on intimate terms with in childhood and has somehow now got onto the mechanism in steam-powered fairground organs. Please make it stop.) A pianola is a self-playing piano, containing a pneumatic or electro-mechanical mechanism to operate the piano keys and play music that it “reads” from a roll of perforated paper. Some rare examples use metallic rolls instead of perforated paper; most modern iterations, like Dave’s, use MIDI to play the music.
People started collecting and restoring them around the 1950s, but Dave has built an original instrument from scratch.
How does it work?
Dave liberated a light sensor from an old A3 scanner. The perforated paper is moved across this sensor by a stepper motor. A C++ program reads the output of the sensor, and converts it to MIDI code as it receives it.
A USB-to-MIDI converter takes this digital output and feeds it into an electric piano.
Dave’s pianola can play either 65- or 88-note music rolls, and this setup can be used with any instrument that can play MIDI. The USB-to-MIDI converter can just feed the digital output into whatever you want to use it with.
Dave also hooked his creation up to a monitor which shows the output of the sensor on an oscilloscope screen.