Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Heritage Lost: Mastertouch Piano Roll Company

After having written the post about the Stanmore Fire Station and it's subsequent sale to the Mastertouch Piano Roll company I sadly received an email saying the former owner of Mastertouch (and a MHS member), Barclay Wright had passed away peacefully on 25 February, 2013 after a short illness.

The Sydney Morning Herald - September 7, 1975

The Mastertouch Piano Roll Company was established in Sydney in 1919 and established a showroom at the Petersham address in 1975. It manufactured and sold piano rolls until its closure on 1 July 2005. It is highly significant both to the state of New South Wales and Australia as a whole as the longest running and only piano roll manufacturer to be operating in the country. It was also only one of two remaining large scale piano roll manufacturers in the world, the other being QRS in the USA and the only one to maintain a traditional method of manufacture giving it international significance.

Interior of the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company July 2005
Image Source: Powerhouse Museum
The Mastertouch Company is also extremely important for the role it and its owner, Barclay Wright, had in attempting to maintain the history and tradition of this major form of popular entertainment and its place in Australian culture, creating a private museum of these items. Since working in the company since 1957, Wright had not only maintained the machines in perfect working order but had also collected items from other music roll manufacturers in order to preserve some of the history of roll making in Australia. This conscientious attitude also contributed toward the collecting of keyboard instruments to help preserve the history and development of roll played music. In the 1980s when several local and long established box making companies in Sydney closed, boxes for music rolls were still necessary, so Wright bought the old machines and established a box making section in the Mastertouch company which made boxes not only for piano rolls but also for a variety of other products and artefacts.

Piano Roll Recording Machines, 2002
Image Source: National Library of Australia
Mastertouch also had an important public role in the preservation of roll music recording and manufacture generally and conveying this to the public through visits, tours, lectures and music entertainment nights. Many attempts and negotiations were made to find support and funding from various bodies to allow Mastertouch to operate as a working museum. Although this was not to be Mastertouch played an important role in disseminating and educating the public about piano roll technology. This is an important point to stress as although piano roll technology has been superceded by digital forms, there are very strong links between digital data storage and encoding of music today and data storage and encoding found in piano roll technology.

The Powerhouse Museum now holds a number of artifacts and photos about Mastertouch in their collection.

Barclay contributed an article about the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company in our journal Heritage number 10 (1998). An obituary for Barclay Wright in the March MHS newsletter (2013). Our MHS newsletter is published 11 times a year and is delivered to members as part of their subscription.


Powerhouse Museum


  1. Other important advances included changes to the way the piano is strung, such as the use of a "choir" of three strings rather than two for all but the lowest notes, and the implementation of an over-strung scale, in which the strings are placed in two separate planes.

  2. Well it is a shame that Barclay Wright never bothered to actually pass it on to those who wanted to keep it running. There were such people & he knew it! but he could never sit still and watch somebody else succeed where he had failed.So..... it now sits in pieces on pellets wrapped in shrink wrap at the powerhouse museum, Never to make another roll again.
    What sort of legacy do you call that?

    1. Ah Yes, Who could forget Mr Barclay Wright. Once experienced-never forgotten A man who paraded around with his toyboys pretending he owned the world, had an opinion on everything and told you a pack of lies if he thought you we silly enough to believe it. There were many items "lent" to him that he never returned My family were foolish enough to trust him with important papers and a piano and when he sold his business he never made any attempt to contact my parents to return what he knew was not his property, we did learn until it was too late he had given it to a furniture remover to take to the tip. he sacked his staff, sold his building, gave away his business to the Powerhouse Museum, then took off with all his money and ignored you when he saw you in the street. We really felt sorry for him he could have been a lot nicer person especially since he owed so many people so much for helping him out, he had so many volunteers who helped and lent him things and so many people who donated money to help. Where did all the money go? There have been many many words written about him and Mastertouch it is about time somebody actually told a true account of the way things were Instead of the way he wanted things to be said. We agree with the other comment whole heartedly. What sort of legacy was that?

  3. Shame to hear it has gone, bought a few rolls there in the mid-90's, was amazing to find such a place.

  4. Has anyone heard of True Tone Rolls ? They started making Piano rolls in September 2013 . Run by just 1 bloke . no helpers nothing . website

  5. Anonymous geese below, I met Barclay Wright and toured the factory about 10 years before it closed. Barclay's biggest problem was that he could never find anyone with the level of passion that he could trust that he was sure wouldn't destroy his life's work.

    So many Australian landmarks handed to people whose grandiose titles on business cards far outstrips their actual abilities and intelligence.

    Regarding his foibles, if his name had been Rod Taylor instead of Barclay Wright all would have been forgiven.

    Sadly, from what I could see, he never seemed to have the personal popularity (for whatever reason) to generally liked. But being an engineer and a musician I admired his commitment to what he was trying to preserve. I wish that kind of commitment was more common.

  6. I used to own the collector shop opposite Barclay’s fire station in Petersham. I got to know him quite well. I liked him. He was trying to get the Powerhouse to take over the collection for years, keeping it together as a lot of people were trying to get their hands on it for whatever reasons. He always seemed stressed. That was my impression, as I said, I liked him.

  7. I am absolutely flabbergasted at what I have just read about Bart. I taught with him at Redfern School 1964-66 and a nicer, kinder man never walked this earth. His work with disadvantaged students was wonderful and he also taught English to hundreds of migrants at evening classes twice a week. He often brought unfinished rolls into school and we would add an extra note or octave during a lunch hour. He was Godfather to my first child and we spent many wonderful evenings at his parents lovely home in Mosman before they moved to Blues Point Tower. He was devoted to the world of music and was an accomplished pianist as was his mother. RIP Bart.

    Jim Turner 31 July 2015

  8. Rolf Wood 27 June 201826 June 2018 at 18:32

    Having worked for Mastertouch for over 10 years, and been a volunteer until its closure in 2005, I am astonished at the ignorant comments of the two anonymous trolls.When I started there, rolls were sent out in large consignments to music shops around Australia. By the end, it was all mail order, and all tiny amounts. QRS in America
    suffered similar declines in their rolls sales, forcing them to relocate to smaller premises. Barclay Wright bought box making machinery when the box makers he was relying on closed, and also made boxes for other companies, but that was in competition with cheap fancy boxes from China. There always were armchair critics who thought
    they could run things better, but manufacturing anything in Australia is very difficult. Only an extraordinary person like Barclay could have kept it going as long as it did, any normal business man would have closed it down long ago. Many government departments and organisations were approached, to keep it going as a working museum, but
    predictably nothing came of it. If critics think that is easy to do, stop to consider the small number of working museums that survive in Australia, tourist attractions such as Sovereign Hill.


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