“We joined SCCA to learn from and work with other successful businesses in the Seward neighborhood.”
SCCA Member: Jim Welna, Welna II Hardware

Barton Player Pianos Coming to Seward











Before there were mp3 players and earbuds, before smartphones and video games, before LPs, even before the radio, player pianos served as one of the first forms of home entertainment. Above is a picture of one of the first versions of the device, which could be rolled up to any piano. The device plays directly on the keys as a pianist would, and is operated by pedals as demonstrated here by Don Barton, owner of Barton Player Pianos.

Don started playing the piano as a boy, and dreamed of becoming a professional performer. Attending a particularly excellent concert in his teen years convinced him that he would never attain the skill he would need to succeed at that level, and he redirected his effort toward the inner-workings of pianos. He attended McPhail Center for Music with a focus on piano tuning and repair, and after graduating, took a job at Leonard Piano. His apprenticeship was where he first fell in love with player pianos, and today he is one of only a few people in the world with the ability to restore antique player pianos. Most of his business comes from clients across the midwest who inherit player pianos (mostly built between 1910 and 1925) and want to repair and refinish the instrument. The process can take months. Once restored, the typical player piano runs a “piano roll” that is turned by depressing a pedal. Some have been electrified to turn the roll without the pedal, and there are also CD operated systems that may even include recordings of other instruments cued to play through speakers hidden in the piano for an ensemble effect. The piano rolls scroll past as the song plays, and often include lyrics – serving as an early form of karaoke. It was this feature that helped made them so popular in the 1920s. Despite the decreased popularity of these instruments that was caused by recorded music, piano rolls are still produced for modern music – Don has rolls by Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion next to Liberace.

Don currently has his workshop in Prospect Park, but the building where he rents is slated for sale and redevelopment. We are excited to welcome him soon to his new home at Seward Commons, off Snelling and 22nd. We will let you know when he opens up shop in Seward so you can pay him a visit and learn more about his unique business.

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