DIY Projects Using Antique Piano Rolls - Wall Art, Lap Steel Guitars & More

Player piano rolls?  Let's make stuff with 'em!!!

Above:  A simple piano roll, when hung on the wall gives the appearance of an old Chinese hand scroll painting. The air holes add a modern art twist and the lyrics, running from bottom to top, add an extra element of surprise. 

This article originally appeared in Poor Man's Guide Issue #3.  Get the full download now (and all other issues, too) here.

I was rummaging through several boxes of old piano rolls at a flea market and was captivated by the beautiful look of these out-modded pieces of music history. Some rolls had fantastic artwork at the beginning and others even had lyrics printed along with the air holes that graced the fragile, dotted paper. 

Long before Netflix, families would gather around the piano, pump the pedals and sing along to the popular tunes of the day as the mechanical parts would move the keys in perfect order. These old rolls are keys to the past, giving us a glimpse into another fading chapter in American music history.

I made the wall art at the top of this article in 20 minutes by selecting a piano roll with a very artistic bottom that also had lyrics. In this case, the song was “My Laddie.” I also used heavy gauge wire to run through the roll, making a hidden mount on back. 

Since the roll had been in storage for years, the artistic bottom page was wrinkled and would roll up. A discarded piece of cardboard cut to fit and attached to the back with double sided tape was the perfect solution. 

A closeup of the scroll shows a stanza of lyrics from the song. Because the roll is placed at the top of the piano and scrolls down, the lyrics appear bottom-up when displayed. 

Many of these rolls are sappy love songs, making perfect wall art for a family room!

Roll Up the Fretboard... 

These 2x4 lap steel guitars feature piano rolls placed under a acrylic fretboard. The main photo has the air holes section of the roll, giving a really cool affect, allowing the green sparkle paint to come through. 

The insert photo shows above what it looks like to use the up-scrolling lyrics under the fretboard. Personally, I found this look a bit lacking, although the lyrics were cool. One idea might be to hand paint artwork on the paper in watercolors with images that match the lyrics. 

“Say it’s only a paper moon” 

This 5x7 piece of art sits atop my desk and was made with a lyrical section of a “Paper Moon” roll, an old man in the moon picture and a junk frame. Once again, the lyrics are read from bottom to top. 

“If you believed in me” 

Wrap a discarded plastic container with a piano roll and some double sided tape and add a LED tealight inside for a cool mini lamp. The light projects out from the air holes and shines off the walls.

Got other ideas?  Post 'em in the comments below!

-Shane Speal

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