My case restorations receive a hand-rubbed, closed-pore, satin finish. New furniture parts are fitted and applied as necessary, with particular attention paid to the lid and legs, which tend to split with age. All of the piano's hardware is replated in nickel.
With this recipe complete, only the instrument's reapplied serial number reveals its age.
David G. Hughes, RPT, has been a member of the Baltimore Chapter of the Piano Technicians Guild for 30 years. He regularly instructs at both regional seminars and national conventions. In 2001 he founded Vintage Case Parts, a firm specializing in the manufacture of classic Steinway furniture components for the rebuilding trade. Dave lives with his wife, Judy, in the Baltimore suburb of Glyndon, Maryland, and can be reached at www.davidhughespiano.com.
Delwin D. Fandrich, RPT
Over the past 35 years, I have developed the concept of redesigning pianos while rebuilding them because the results of conventional restoration and/or rebuilding were no longer satisfying. I call this concept "value-added" rebuilding.
Assuming competent work, conventional rebuilding — i.e., replicating and restoring the instrument's original design and construction — will return a piano's performance to its original level, but that will include the original design's weaknesses as well as its strengths. Though I began as a conventional rebuilder, increasingly those weaknesses bothered me. I began searching for ways to keep the best parts of each piano's intrinsic voice — its natural timbral character — while improving or eliminating weaknesses in its original design.
For the value-added rebuilder, the piano's brand name and year of manufacture are not important considerations. It is important that the original instrument be structurally well made, but many brands with essentially similar designs and construction provide the value-added rebuilder with equal potential. For example, a 1970s Kimball 5' 8" grand — not usually well regarded — shares enough core design and construction details with the Steinway Model M grand that, for the value-added rebuilder, its potential is essentially the same. Major components of the original — such as the stringing scale, the soundboard and rib set, and the bridges — are going to be redesigned and replaced anyway. At the end of the process I would expect the same level of performance from both, with the design weaknesses of both pianos being improved, and the tonal qualities of the Kimball becoming much more like those of the Steinway.
By subtly changing the design, it becomes possible to tailor a piano's performance more closely to the owner's personal preferences. With my own pianos, I can suit my personal taste. I want the overall warmth and dynamics of the wonderful American pianos of the early 20th century without their common weaknesses — an indistinct lower bass, uneven bass/tenor break, and choppy or percussive tone in the upper tenor and low treble. With appropriate redesign, I can achieve a clear and distinct bass, a musically transparent bass-to-tenor transition, and a clear and sustaining voice through the upper tenor and low treble. I can have a common timbre across the compass of the scale — a piano that sounds "all of a piece," with a unifying tonal quality throughout all sections.
Because the basis for the overall timbre, or tone character, of any piano is its stringing scale, that is where I start. Both the relative lengths and tensions of the original scale are considered, in an examination that reveals the range of tonal options I have with any given piano. A piano originally designed with a low-tension scale will be limited to a low-tension scale. For example, the smaller Steinways have scales that are relatively low-tensioned but erratic; to raise the string tensions on these instruments is structurally and tonally unwise. The beauty of these pianos is the warm, dynamic sound characteristic of low-tensioned scaling. I will give them a more balanced and consistent tone across the keyboard, and improve the quality of voice in the low bass, but their basic character will remain.