This 1938 Lester spinet doesn’t have any resale value, hasn’t been serviced or tuned in over ten years, and frankly was a low-end piano to begin with. So why am I writing about it? Because it never ceases to amaze me that pianos like this still have life left in them. When I finished tuning (twice over) and doing some minor regulation, this piano sounded pretty good! In fact, it hit me that it sounded and felt better than most mid-price electric pianos I’ve played. Some of which cost several thousand dollars. I think that’s pretty impressive for an 80-year-old bottom-of-the-line piano from Lester. There truly is no comparison to quality craftsmanship and acoustic sound. (Don’t get me wrong here: there are WAY better acoustic pianos than this! Don’t settle for an 80-year-old spinet if you can afford something better.)
Many people are not aware that there are actually major differences between “spinet” pianos and other upright pianos. Spinets are the shortest of upright pianos (generally less than 40″ tall), and the small size has other compromises built in, but by far the most significant is what’s known as the drop action. In all other upright pianos, the back end of the key pushes upward against the action mechanism, propelling the hammer toward the strings. In a spinet, as you can see in this picture, the back ends of the keys are actually attached to lifter rods, which drop down below the keybed, connect to the elbow and a special lever which transfers the movement to the action and the hammer. A drop action is a somewhat more complicated and less efficient way of transferring energy from the key to the hammer, but at one time was considered a worthwhile… Read More
This is what’s known as a “drop” action. This type of action is found in spinet style pianos, the smallest of upright pianos. Frankly, it’s a pain to remove due to the lifter rods (which “drop” down to the action inside the piano), and since spinets are generally not valuable instruments, it’s often not worth removing the action to do extensive work. In this case, the plastic elbows connecting the lifter rods to the action needed to be replaced. You can see the brittle old plastic on some and the clear new plastic on others. A number had already broken. This is a very common problem in old spinets, and other than a couple hours of labor, it’s not too expensive of a repair. Despite their small size and low market value, spinets can be perfectly viable instruments with the right upkeep!
A standard piano has 88 keys, but well over 200 strings. Typically the lowest octave or so consists of single-string notes, or monochords. The next section, usually ending somewhere in the octave below middle C, consists of two-string notes: bichords. All monochords and bichords are wound strings, meaning they have a steel core but have one or two layers of copper winding on top which increase the size of the string and yield a lower pitch. The rest of the piano consists of three plain-wire strings for each note.And that is part of why it takes a while to tune a piano. Not to mention re-stringing one!