The most common type of clear coat finish on modern pianos is not shellac, lacquer, or polyurethane. It is high-gloss polyester, which yields a beautiful, almost mirror-like level of gloss. Virtually all ebony (black) finishes in recent years are coated with polyester, as well as many other colors. One of the greatest advantages of polyester is its durability – it is very resistant to scratches, wear, and chemical damage. However, for the same reasons, it is also difficult to repair when it does get damaged. These pictures are of a piano I worked on recently that had received very heavy use in a school environment for years. Even this major damage, however, can usually be repaired to an almost like-new finish. The biggest hindrance is typically cost, as it is labor-intensive to repair polyester, and the finish materials needed are specialized and somewhat expensive as well. If you have a… Read More
Tuning is not the only maintenance that pianos need! As dust and other debris accumulates inside a piano, age and routine use wear down moving parts, and hammers compact and form deep grooves, various other maintenance tasks become essential. There is no standard interval for these maintenance tasks; but as a general rule, the more use the piano gets and the more advanced the pianists using it, the more frequently they should be done. Many pianists are simply not aware of what a well-regulated and well-voiced piano feels and sounds like, and don’t realize what they’re missing! As a general rule, any instrument that is being used by an advanced pianist, or for any performance purposes, should have voicing and regulation touched up on an annual basis. A thorough cleaning and regulation will generally be necessary every few years. If these tasks are done on a regular basis, the costs… Read More
Did you know that one piano will use more than a dozen different sizes of plain string? In this picture, you can see the string sizes of 18, 19, and 20 marked on the plate behind the strings, as well as the half sizes between those. Many modern piano manufacturers indicate the string sizes in this way to make re-stringing easier and faster. Piano wire (string) varies in sizes from 12 to 25 commonly, including half sizes up through 18 or 20. Unlike electrical wire or other wiring gauges you may be familiar with, piano wire numbers increase with size (that is, 16 gauge would be larger than 14 gauge). Also, piano wire sizing does not work the same way in the bass section, where strings are copper-wound to increase the mass (and lower the pitch). Bass strings are always custom-sized to the piano, which is also what makes them… Read More
This time of year, at least in New Jersey, we enjoy some gorgeous weather. I can’t think of anyone that doesn’t like fresh air, and if you’re like my family you open your windows every chance you get and leave them open for as long as you can. Piano owners are sometimes concerned about opening their windows, thinking the extra airflow could harm their instrument and throw it out of tune. It’s a legitimate concern, but you have no reason to deprive yourself of fresh air for the sake of your piano. Just keep a few things in mind: Pianos like consistency. Unless the temperature and humidity outside are drastically different from what the piano is accustomed to, you’re not going to do any harm by allowing some breeze in the house. Strong, direct airflow around the piano could be destabilizing. Make sure it’s not too exposed. Be sure to… Read More
To replace the old, yellowed, and chipped ivory keytops on this keyboard, the customer choose Tharan. Tharan is a relatively new substance developed by Kluge in Germany, with the goal of imitating the feel of ivory as closely as possible. It also looks beautiful, with a slight sheen that sets it apart from the standard plastic keytops used on most pianos. Furthermore, for pianists that are accustomed to the slightly better “grip” of ivory keytops, Tharan is an excellent choice due to its high mineral content and matte texture. The ivory trade, of course, has been very restricted throughout the world and replacing ivory keytops with new ivory is no longer an option. However, several options exist which very closely mimic ivory, and in many ways are superior.
Although summers are busy in all kinds of other ways, the end of the summer season, the start of a new school year, and the change into fall weather brings with it a significant increase in piano work, particularly institutional pianos. A couple of times each year, I have to clean out all of my tool bags and toolboxes and reorganize. This is a small piece of what that looks like! I guess you could call it a “fall cleaning.” As I return to blog posting after a couple month’s hiatus, keep an eye out for some exciting projects and interesting work that took place over the summer!
Those extra shiny strings are aluminum-wound, somewhat of a novelty in the late 1960’s when this piano was built. Though these have held up well, aluminum-wound strings as a rule have never caught on and are all but extinct now. In this case, the aluminum winding was seen as a “transition” from the copper-wound bass strings to the plain wire treble strings. Manufacturers have tried dozens of different ways of bridging this transition point over the years, with varying results. Gordon Laughead was a small, family-run, Michigan-based piano manufacturer that operated from the 1940’s until the 1970’s. They made good quality pianos, and this particular one was a testament to that fact. Unfortunately, like hundreds of other piano manufacturers, they eventually succumbed to an over-crowded market.
I don’t discourage DIY piano work. In fact, I think it’s a great thing for piano owners to learn more about their instrument and even do repairs when they feel comfortable doing it. However, there are some potential pitfalls and it pays to be aware of them in advance. One of the most common accidents when working on a grand piano: pulling the action out without keeping a close eye on the hammers, and snapping off a hammer that was sticking up too high. The previous owner of this piano had done all the work on it himself, and while most of it was decent work, there were three different hammers that had been broken off in this way. They were all repaired, but unfortunately the repairs were causing other problems since they, as well, were each somewhat experimental. So, by all means, learn more about your piano and try… Read More
Did you know that about a third of the piano is strung with copper-wound strings? The lower notes use copper winding because the extra mass helps create lower pitches; without that extra mass, pianos would have to be 20-30 feet long just to have strings long enough for those lowest notes! Usually somewhere in the octave below middle C, pianos switch over to plain wire. On a well-designed piano, the break should hardly be noticeable. Listen for it next time you’re at a piano and see if you can tell where the break is! On this Kawai upright, the copper wound strings continue up three notes past the end of the bass bridge (the point where the angle of the strings changes). That helps make the transition even smoother. Notice also that when the switch to plain wire happens, there is a transition to three strings per note instead of… Read More
When a string breaks on a piano, it often breaks at or very near the tuning pin. This means the majority of the string’s length is still perfectly viable, and in fact is ideally suited to the rest of the piano in age, timbre, and general wear. In these cases, it’s often best to splice the string (tie a knot, essentially), creating a new lead wire to attach to the tuning pin, but leaving the rest of the string’s length almost exactly as it was before. This is especially preferable on bass strings, where the length of the string and the thickness of the copper winding is completely customized, meaning a replacement string must be a custom order, and even still will not match the old strings very well in timbre and appearance. The picture is of a recent splice on a customer’s old spinet piano. The piano is not… Read More