So what should all this techno-talk mean to the discerning rebuilding client? Of the three desirable belly attributes cited earlier, immediacy and projection are instantly appreciated when heard, if difficult to quantify. Sustain, however, is easily expressed: A mezzo forte blow on D in the fifth octave should linger nicely for at least 12 seconds without enhancement by the sustain pedal. Melody-range notes one octave higher should sustain about two-thirds as long. A seven-finger fortissimo chord spread across several octaves while employing the sustain pedal should dwell considerably longer than is musically necessary.
The only original elements of the keys and action I retain and restore are the keyframe, tubular metallic action frame, and damper heads. Eighty-eight new keylevers are designed and fit to the rebuilt keyframe, with top priority given to convergence (the interaction of the moving parts in a manner that minimizes friction) and optimal action leverage ratio (ratio of hammer movement to key travel). When the vintage (pre–World War II) Steinways were built, these critical requirements fell prey to small variations in plate location that occurred while fitting the pinblock. This defect can be rectified by a custom rebuilder. The keyframe is fitted with anodized-aluminum keypins that are virtually frictionless and soon to become the industry standard, and the keys receive capstans of the same material.
The action frame receives a fresh gold-colored finish, new hammershanks, wippens, and hammers. I insist on using Steinway hammers in Steinway pianos; I have found them essential to achieving the classic Steinway tone. A raw set of hammers from the factory requires nearly two days of prep work in my shop to achieve the ideal shape and weight. Final voicing efforts are equally meticulous.
I endorse Steinway's Accelerated Action concept, placing the lead required to counterbalance the weight of the hammer action as close as possible to the balance point of the key. One cannot argue with the physics of inertia and momentum: If lead is installed near the front end of the key, angular momentum is increased and repetition is rendered substandard. The closer to the balance point this weight is located, the less it is noticed by the player.
With the keyboard and action complete, I install a new damper tray and damper underlevers. However, unlike Steinway's procedure, I locate the pivot point for the tray in line with that of the underlevers, resulting in identical performance and regulation for both key lift and sustain-pedal engagement. To minimize noise and friction, I also modernize the vintage-style connection between the sustain-pedal trap lever and the damper tray, as Steinway has recently begun to do. The damper heads receive a fresh ebony finish and new damper felts, and the damper guide rail is rebushed to guarantee snug damping.
Old pedal lyres typically come vertically unglued. As the emergence of a spreading pedal lyre three months after a restored piano is delivered to the client is no joyful revelation, during the restoration process I routinely coax apart all glue joints and renew the entire structure. The pedals receive new bushings and felts, as does the trapwork on the underside of the keybed. With all due respect, Steinway's system of limiting the throw of all three pedals is archaic. I install heavy-duty, infinitely adjustable stop mechanisms in the trap levers to introduce precision and ease of regulation for decades to come. And I repaint the undercarriage the original factory color so that the instrument appears completely new from any angle as it is rolled into the customer's home.