An old run down self-playing pianola housed in the Ōtaki Museum has been expertly restored.
The 1925 pianola was used in Ōtaki's Bright's Theatre before it was sold, escaping the theatre fire in 1935.
A family donated the pianola to the museum at the end of 2017 because they were moving houses and couldn't take it with them.
While the museum was delighted to acquire the pianola, it was apparent a lot of work would be needed to make it play again.
Fortunately a grant by the Philipp Family Foundation allowed the museum to employ registered piano technician Stephen Powell to restore the pianola.
Powell knew the job wasn't going to be easy.
"The piano was in a very poor state.
"Being mechanical devices, pianos wear out with use and because of the natural deterioration of perishable rubber parts, as well as insect [chew felts] and mouse damage [chew on wood and felt and urinate on metal parts which cause corrosion].
"The piano was untunable and sounded terrible.
"It had sticking notes and the player mechanism was completely non-functioning.
"It required nothing short of a full rebuild."
Powell took the pianola away to his workshop in Wellington and started the restoration in February before finishing it recently.
"It involved almost complete disassembly of the piano followed by the repair of such things as the bass bridge, and the replacement of strings and other parts.
"Many of the piano action [mechanism] parts were replaced and nearly all of the felt, leather, cloth, rubber hose, and so on, was replaced.
"The key tops were also replaced as the original ivory was almost completely missing.
"Some wooden parts were remade from scratch."
The restoration was fairly straightforward although the nature of the job meant unexpected challenges arose.
"I did have trouble getting the keybed out.
"This is the heavy wooden platform that supports the keys and the action.
"It was stuck solid and took several hours to prise out of the piano.
"All of the 246 adjustment screws were rusted solid and these can be quite time-consuming to replace as they tend to break off during removal.
"This type of pianola mechanism has many parts glued together and they have to be either sawn or broken apart to gain access to the valves.
"Sourcing the special rubberised cloth is an ongoing challenge.
"I like to use original-type materials and currently there is only one supplier in the world."
Powell enjoyed the restoration especially when it came time to making the pianola play.
"The thing I enjoy most about these jobs is hearing the piano burst into life after being silent for decades.
"It's quite a buzz. It's also nice to know that another of these instruments has been saved from a trip to landfill."
And what is the sound and playing quality like?
"The piano now sounds and functions as close as possible to when it left the factory in 1925.
"It has a big 'warm' tone, not strident like the sound of many new pianos today.
"It should give many more decades of pleasure."
Di Buchan, a trustee of the museum, was delighted with the restoration.
"The whole thing about having the pianola in the museum is that it's working so people can see what it's for.
"We didn't think we'd ever be able to get it working because it was going to cost so much and then the Phillipp Family Foundation said they would pay for it.
"It has been wonderful and Stephen has done an amazing job restoring it."
What is a pianola?
The pianola, also called the player piano, is a piano that has a pneumatic mechanism so that it can play by itself.
The air for this system came from a pump operated by the player's feet. Inside the piano are paper rolls that have holes punched in. These holes release air which in turn triggers the keys to play. When the pianola plays itself the keys of the piano can be seen 'playing themselves'.