Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Tuner's Life 8

A while back I received a call from a Disney executive. There are a lot of vintage instruments in my shop so I receive these kinds of calls often. 

 This was a set purchaser who was working on an upcoming film pilot for Disney called Big Thunder.  The movie centers on a 19th century doctor who relocates himself and his family to a frontier mining town owned by a powerful but mysterious tycoon. The doctor and his family quickly realize that this town is not what it seems to be.

  Initially Disney was looking for a vintage player piano that had been electrified. However after looking at the shoot call sheet and the scene requirements I recommended that they use a manual pump player.

 Electrified players are convenient of course, but one of the problems is that when the unit is in operation the electrified player piano is limited when special effects are required. Of course the reproducing features the instrument has will work but these effects where not called for.

With this particular scene the director, Rob Bowman, wanted the music to play then falter off-key and slowly grind down to a halt. What would happen is the motor noise would overtake the sound of the song being played as the tempo was reduced.

The director took my recommendation and ordered the manual pump player for rental. Below is the scene.

SCENE TAKE;  Circa 1856 saloon scene

What was once a thriving town just minutes ago is completely devoid of people.  A lady’s dress-shoes nearby. A bag of groceries spilled next to it.

Seed spilling out over the back of an abandoned wagon. A rider- less horse gallops towards the man, right past him out of town…..

The man begins to hear the sound of a slightly off key piano. Playing what should be a jaunty tune, but is instead eerie…. The man heads towards the sound….. inside the saloon a steaming cup of coffee on the table….a spilled drink dripping off the bar onto the floor….and the player piano still playing slower and slower….END SCENE.

The camera and the cameramen were mounted a golf cart type vehicle and this unit had to roll close by the player piano forward into the saloon. This was why they had wanted an electric player piano. To sit at the piano and pump the pedals I would have been in the way. This would have meant I needed a dark green outfit to be edited out post production. 

Much easier and less expensive to do this another way.

In order to complete this scene I had to lie on the floor and work the pedals with my hands un-evenly so the song would distort and slow until the song become un-recognizable, then the song stops in the middle of the roll. 

We practiced for about 30 minutes having me lay on the floor and pump until the camera cart got to me then I would back off and let the cart roll by. 

3 final takes were called for due to mistakes or additions to the scene. These were done with the modern camera equipment. Then the scene was repeated using what is called a hand winder.

This is a camera used in the early days of moving pictures and is run manually with the winder on the side. It gives the film an old style flickering effect and uses the old beige colour scheme. Today we call this colour “sepia.”

A while later I heard that a second pilot shoot was ordered by ABC in January of 2013. The second shoot was done at a location in LA.

The set used for the initial pilot shoot was the 200 acre Virtue Studio Ranch owned by Danny Virtue located in Mission BC.  The set location was the old Bordertown set in Maple Ridge/ Pitt Meadows. Bordertown was a TV series that ran from 1989-91.

When working for the production side of a film shoot it is best to arrive early to iron out any small problems previous to the director and the director assistants coming on set. This way everything is ready to go when required.

While I was waiting for the shoot to commence I grabbed my digital camera and took some photos of the Bordertown set.  A lot of work was going on to make this a place called Golden Horseshoe, Wyoming circa 1856.

Here is a link to the photos I took of the film set. The location map, crew call sheet, and script for the saloon scene are all at the end of this photo set.

I have recently changed the way I load photo album links. Now you can click on the photo album link and this will automatically open in a new window.

Bordertown Film Set

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Brass Flange Repairs

There are times when doing restorative work on period pieces that one encounters an instrument fitted with the continuous brass flange rail for attaching the hammer set at the center pin, rather than the more common wooden single flanges.

The brass flange rail consists of a long strip of brass flat bar that has been cut on one side to produce tongues every inch or so that attach the hammer head, stem, and butt, at the center pin.  These tongues have a small diameter hole drilled into the center of the tongue along with a V groove to accept the center pin. The groove is where the center pin locates to the tongue; a brass clip and steel screw hold the center pin in place allowing the hammer assembly to rotate freely while holding it in its proper position. The entire brass rail itself is attached to the wooden action rail by a series of flat head slot screws.

 There are two major problems I believe are the culprits that cause failure of this set-up. One is that the two metals are not compatible; the steel eventually causes the brass to deteriorate by crystallization of the brass; this, at times, causes the brass clip to fracture, or sometimes the tongue to break away. The second problem is the tremendous vibration and torque at that particular point when the instrument is played. This continuous vibration will weaken the metals as they get older; the brass being the most susceptible to this symptom. 

There are various types of repairs, and repairs clips, for solutions to this procedure. A while back I came across a Canadian built upright that gave me another idea for repairs of this problem. This was a Willis upright, and while it did have the brass flanges and clips for the hammer set, these flanges were not on a continuous rail; each brass flange has its own tongue, clip, and was attached to the wooden action rail as a single flange on its own.  When I discovered this, I thought of how this set-up was much superior to the continuous rail. For example, if a tongue was broken away, the entire flange, clip, and tongue could be replaced without disturbing the rest of the rail, because there is not really a continuous rail there to begin with. 

To install a repair clip that replaces a broken one is relatively easy task to accomplish. The more difficult repair is when the tongue is broken on the rail. So why not take an old brass rail and cut a section out of that for replacement?

Here have a look at these photos; I have some of the usual repairs clips shown and then this idea I came up with for replacement of single brass flanges, or several in a row.


UPDATED February 5, 2015

Updated January 2015 I just completed service on the Willis upright with the flanges mentioned in this blog posting. Here are some photos of the brass flange assembly in reversed single flanges instead of a continuous rail. For replacement of the brass clip, both configurations are relatively straight forward. For replacement when the rail tab is broken makes this particular setup of single brass flanges and clips the superior option.

See photo set at link below. 

Willis brass flange assembly 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Piano Refinishing: Quarter Oak colour and tinting

Yellow oak sawn on the quarter or “quarter oak” was a popular finishing veneer for the vintage tall upright pianos.

During the time period when quarter oak was used the late Victorian and Edwardian home furnishings were all dark in colour; usually mahogany or dark walnut.

Many of the pianos finished in quarter oak were stained dark to match the furniture and home living during the time period.

Over time the colour has been stripped away by use, time, and UV light from sunlight, leaving the piano a light colour of yellow and orange.

Quarter oak presents two problems with replacing the colours. First the grain lines need to be darkened once again. Then the colour of the white quarter cut lines needs to be tinted back to original.

In order to do this I use a two-step process. First I use an oil based stain which highlights the grain lines by making them dark.

Then I use a tint coat of lacquer where colours are added to the lacquer to make the overall colour even and tint the white quarter oak cut lines.  With some of the photos there are instructions for making tinting colour coats.

I have often considered placing the photos inside the blog postings. However this would reduce the photos to a much smaller size and a lot of the detail in each picture would be lost. I decided to leave the blog postings as text only and add a link to photo albums in the usual way.

When viewing the photo album it is best to right click the mouse. A new window will open and please choose “Open in new tab”. Done this way it is easy to toggle back and forth between the blog posting and the photo set.Go forward and back using the arrows beneath each photo.

If there are any problems viewing the photos please contact the blog author.  

Below is a link to the photo album of the process used to make quarter oak back to dark walnut.

Quarter Oak colour tinting

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Tuner’s Life 7


Recently I attended the home of a new client who had recently purchased a small upright from my shop.

The usual process is repeated; I arrive at the residence, access is provided by the homeowner, attend the location of the instrument, and go through the usual process of dismantle the cabinet components, insert the appropriate tools and begin the process of tuning the piano. 

This is a home with three pre-school children of various ages, from barely walking to kindergarten years. 

Because some of my previous work included maintaining school board inventories of pianos, I am well trained to be used to the constant noise children produce while playing or at work with school activities.

While I was tuning I could hear the children moving around behind me, oblivious to the work I had to complete, and their shuffling and talking was something that did not overcome my ability to tune by ear.

I just ignored the noise as usual.

So there I am, working away tuning, not paying any attention to what was going on behind me. After a short time I needed a bit of a break so I stopped tuning, stood up straight and looked around behind me.

Now we all know about those small chairs that children use in primary classrooms. These are chairs that have a sitting height of about one foot from the floor, and at my age if I ever sat down in one of those not only would the chair be unable to sustain the weight but it would be highly unlikely if I was able to stand up again.

Well unknown to me, while I was tuning the oldest child had organized the other two, they had gone to their playroom and brought back 3 small chairs, organized in a semi-circle  where they could sit and watch spellbound, at me tuning.

The only problem I could see was, the piano was small, I am big, and the children could not see any of the piano tuning but mostly were studying my back; bent over in front of the piano.

So when I turned around what I saw were 3 small children all beaming at me with their little wisps of hair poking straight up in the air, looking very much like an onion looks with its little wisp standing upright off the top.

I started laughing out loud to the point that the homeowner came to see what was going on. She told me that the children were so excited to have the piano tuner come to the house.

It seems that I have a new fan club; the three  little onion heads.

There are times in my career as a piano technician that some of the things one experiences tell me I wouldn’t change this job for any other.