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
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!
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
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
One of the biggest and most immediate factors in how a piano “feels” to the player is the key dip. You’ve probably played a piano with very shallow key dip, and disliked it, but not been able to put your finger on the culprit (pardon the pun).The keyboard may have felt sluggish, clunky, hard, unresponsive, or just plain weird. Key dip is the distance the key travels downward when you play it. As pianists, we are used to a key dip of about 3/8″, and even the smallest fraction of an inch makes a significant difference in how the piano feels. Part of this is due to the fact that the key dip is directly related to several other action regulation items, such as how far the hammer travels, at what point it stops being driven by the action (let-off), how far the key continues to move after let-off… Read More
The Dampp-Chaser Piano Lifesaver system is an all-in-one humidity control solution for pianos. Pictured are three different stages of the installation: 1. All components installed. 2. All wires tied and secured neatly out of the way. 3. Undercover installed. This not only helps protect and “seal” the humidity and temperature levels inside the piano, but also neatly covers up the entire system without affecting the sound at all.This church piano was having major problems with tuning stability due to temperature and humidity fluctuations in the church. It’s no magic bullet, but this system should make a big difference! #pixlr
Cleaning the soundboard and plate of a grand piano can make a huge cosmetic difference! It won’t make the piano look new again (at least, don’t count on it), but if you have a grand piano and like to leave the lid open, make sure you stay on top of cleaning. General purpose, non-abrasive cleaners are fine for the metal plate. The soundboard is a little trickier to clean if you don’t have special equipment to get under the strings, so you may want to talk to your technician about that at your annual appointment. This piano was nearly a century old, and it might have been that long since it was cleaned. There was about an eighth of an inch of dust on the soundboard!
It’s important to recognize when you hire someone to work on your piano (or anything you own) that the fee or hourly rate you pay encapsulates the entire amount needed to run the business and offer you the service. There are significant cost overheads involved in any business; self-employment and in-home services are certainly no exception One of the biggest cost overheads in piano work is tools. In order to work efficiently and quickly, at a high level of quality, while minimizing the risk of any damage to your piano, there are a number of specialized tools that piano technicians carry. One of the most important is the tuning lever, or “tuning hammer.” This Fujan tuning lever is not cheap, but it is one of the best investments I’ve made. With a carbon fiber shaft and precision machined head, it gives the best possible grip and torque on tuning pins.… Read More