Player piano collector restores relics of musical history in Federal Way

Dave Goodwin has turned his childhood curiosity into a full-fledged hobby.

The Federal Way resident collects and refurbishes player pianos that fill his home with old-fashioned ambiance. He grins at the automated ivory keys as they plunk out live Mozart classics or Roaring Twenties standards like "It Had to Be You."

The ideas behind self-playing instruments can be traced back for centuries. After first emerging in the mid-1800s, player pianos reached a popularity peak in 1924. Amplified and electronic instruments quickly relegated player pianos to collector's items.

"When I was 11, I had a friend with a player piano," said Goodwin, who recalls a fascination with the foot-pedal pumping mechanism. About four years ago, Goodwin started looking for a player piano of his own. Someone showed him how to restore a piano to working condition.

Now he has five pianos just in his living room along with another piano in a bedroom. In the kitchen sits a nickelodeon, a coin-operated "jukebox" that includes automated piano, xylophone and mandolin. He spent six months restoring the instrument.

"These are like computers," he said of the simple technology.

Most of Goodwin's instruments were originally built in the 1920s. The music is supplied by perforated rolls of paper that spin on a spool. Air is forced through holes on the paper, causing the corresponding hammers to strike the piano's strings. Goodwin collects the rolls, which sell for $10 or $15 each, with more rare rolls available at websites such as eBay.

Goodwin, who is actually a violinist, has given a few restored pianos as gifts to family. His current project is a 1912 Seeburg piano that sat in the Seattle Center for several years. It will take 50 or 60 hours just to refurbish the "stack," which contains valves that play the notes. The piano also features a coin slot for dimes.

"It'll look pretty good when it's done," he said, anticipating a lot of sanding and gluing.

In 2011, Goodwin will serve as president of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors' Association (

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