Reconditioning always involves a general upgrading of the entire piano, but with as little actual replacement of parts as possible. For instance, reconditioning an old upright might include resurfacing the hammer felt (instead of replacing the hammers) and twisting (instead of replacing) the bass strings to improve their tone. However, definitions of reconditioning can vary widely: Many technicians would consider the replacement of hammers, tuning pins, and strings to be part of a reconditioning job in which more extensive work is either not needed or not cost-effective; others would call such work a partial rebuild.

Rebuilding is the most complete of the three levels of restoration. Ideally, rebuilding means putting the piano into "like new" condition. In practice, however, it may involve much less, depending on the needs and value of the particular instrument, the amount of money available, and the scrupulousness of the rebuilder. Restringing the piano and replacing the pinblock in a grand, as well as repairing or replacing the soundboard, would typically be parts of a rebuilding job. In the action, rebuilding would include replacing the hammer heads, damper felts, and key bushings, and replacing or completely overhauling other sets of parts as well. Refinishing the piano case is also generally part of the rebuilding process. Because of the confusion over the definitions of these terms, sometimes the term remanufacturing is used to distinguish the most complete rebuilding job possible—including replacement of the soundboard—from a lesser "rebuilding." However, there is no substitute for requesting from the technician an itemization of the work performed.

Grand Piano Rebuilding Checklist

The following is a list of the tasks that might comprise a fairly complete rebuilding of a grand piano. Any particular job may be either more or less extensive than shown here, depending on the needs and value of the instrument and other factors, but this list can serve as a guide. See also The Piano Book for information about specific rebuilding issues pertaining to Steinway and Mason & Hamlin pianos.

Notice that the restoration can be divided into three main parts: the soundbox or resonating unit, the action, and the cabinet. The soundbox (also known as the strung back or belly) includes the soundboard, ribs, bridges, strings, pinblock, tuning pins, plate, and the structural parts of the case; the action includes the keyframe and action frame, keys and keytops, hammers, dampers, trapwork, and all other moving action parts; the cabinet includes cosmetic repair and refinishing of the case and of the nonstructural cabinet parts and hardware. Note that the damper parts that contact the strings are restored with the soundbox, whereas the damper underlever action is treated with the rest of the action.

There is very little overlap among the three types of work; each of the three parts could be performed alone or at different times, as technical conditions permit and/or financial considerations require. In a typical complete rebuilding job, restoration of the soundbox might comprise 45 percent of the cost, the action 30 percent, and the cabinet 25 percent, though these percentages will vary according to the particulars of the job.

Soundbox or resonating unit

  • Replace or repair soundboard, refinish, install new soundboard decal (if not replacing soundboard: shim soundboard cracks, reglue ribs as necessary, refinish, install new soundboard decal)
  • Replace pinblock
  • Replace bridges or bridge caps
  • Replace or ream agraffes, restore capo-bar bearing surface
  • Refinish plate, paint lettering, replace understring felts
  • Replace strings and tuning pins, tune to pitch
  • Replace damper felts, refinish damper heads, regulate dampers

Action

  • Replace hammers, shanks, and flanges
  • Replace or overhaul wippen/repetition assemblies
  • Replace backchecks
  • Replace front-rail key bushings
  • Replace balance-rail key bushings or key buttons
  • Replace or clean keytops
  • Replace key-end felts
  • Clean keys
  • Clean and refelt keyframe
  • Replace let-off felts or buttons
  • Clean and, if necessary, repair action frame
  • Regulate action, voice
  • Overhaul or replace damper underlever action and damper guide rail
  • Overhaul pedal lyre and trapwork, regulate

Cabinet

  • Repair music desk, legs, other cabinet parts, as needed
  • Repair loose or missing veneer
  • Strip and refinish exterior; refinish bench to match piano
  • Buff and lacquer solid-brass hardware, replate plated hardware

 

SPRING 2010 -- page 60

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