Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grand Piano Restoration: Keyboard Set-up

 The key frame at this point had the old felts removed and has been fitted with the replacement felts measured for correct size against the original. The key frame is then fitted into the cavity of the instrument and checked for warping against the key bed and shimmed if necessary. 

Once the key set is completely restored with new bushing felt, new buckskin back checks, damper lifter felts, and the capstans polished, the key set is ready to be returned to the key frame and set up with the correct geometry using felt and paper punching to lift or lower the key set.

Here are some photos of that process being completed.

Keyboard Set-up 

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Tuner’s Life 5

 Last week I had a pretty special morning. A teacher had called and asked if they could have a piano tuned and have a demonstration at the same time. Nothing special about tuning with the exception that this was the Jericho Hill School for Deaf Children.

About 15-20 kids in the class total. Many of them were not completely without hearing and they were amazed at the sound of beats between two out- of- tune strings. I used some in the temperament octave to demonstrate. Many of the children wanted to put their hands on the piano to feel the tuning rather than hear it……

But there is always one child right??

This very small boy……. (small for his age), was kind of hanging back in the background. I asked if he was interested too because when most of the children are looking and touching, he was just looking. I sensed that maybe he was a bit shy, before the teacher informed me that he could not speak either.

I stopped what I was doing and moved my tool box to the end of the bench, then looking at him directly I patted the available space on the bench. Well this boy practically ran people over to get to sit on the end of the bench….. The teacher told me that this fellow just loves anything that moves… (mechanical motion).

After I started to actually tune for real, most of the children lost interest somewhat, and moved onto other sources of entertainment. But not this one fellow, he sat on the end of the bench…..when I used a wire mute and then turned for another one; he got one out of my toolbox and handed it to me…..then another one. I showed him where the bass mutes were and allowed him to hand me those ones too….

A couple of times he got off the bench to see what I was doing and I had to get the teacher to sign for me so that the boy could understand what my response was. At the end of the tuning he carried my small box of tools out to the car and then ran quickly back inside…. At the door of the school he looked back and gave me a big wave goodbye………….a very special day for him too…..

I drove back to the shop thinking about that movie with William Hurt.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Grand Piano Restoration: Ivory Repairs 2

To continue with piano ivory repairs here is the method I use for replacing the tail. I have found when replacing piano ivory head and tail it is best to set the tail last. By setting the tail last this will give the proper length of the head over the front of the key. 

 In the previous blog posting on piano ivory restoration, we set a new head to a pre-existing tail. Just to review, the new head only fit in that case because the manufacturer of the piano (Heintzman) had a consistency of ivory products, so for that piano maker the heads and tails are interchangeable under certain conditions.

Most of the time it is best to replace the head and tail as matching original heads to the original tail gives the best results.

In order to complete this task properly, I start by clamping the tail without any glue (dry fit) into place using the old marks left by the original tail and head. Usually the line of the tail end is left on the wooden key along with a line where the head and tail bond together. Once the tail is dry fit into place, the head can be set with adhesive as shown in the previous posting on repairing piano ivory. Then, once the head is dry, the clamps and plate can be removed and then the tail glued into place. I usually leave the head and clamps in place as I will need them for replacing and setting the tail.

I always put a little horizontal pressure on the tail by making the set points with the clamps a little too small. Once the head is set and dry it will not move; then the tail can be set correctly without checking the measurements.

The tools are the same for setting the tails; the iron to heat the plates, the choice of original pre-mixed glue, or the glue wafers, and the plates for the tails which are slightly different but used in the same way. 

Here is a photo set of how I set the tail on replacement piano ivory.

Ivory Replacement Tail

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grand Piano Restoration: Ivory Repairs

One of the most time consuming and painstaking tasks associated with piano restoration, ivory  repair rates up there as one of the most difficult to accomplish properly.

The removal of old broken or chipped ivory is fairly easy and straight forward to complete. The original ivory glue is heat and water activated so heat and water make it soft once again.

I have found over years of practice that for most ivory repairs it is a waste of time to try to match existing pieces with another head or tail. If one side of the ivory, either the head or tail, is missing or chipped, I have found it best to replace both pieces. When replacing both pieces the difficulty of matching the seam between the head and tail of different qualities of ivory does not present itself as a problem.

Here are two of the most common ways to repair ivory; first using the pre-glued linen wafers, and then using the original premixed hide glue readily available from suppliers in Germany.

 Unless ivory repairs are done all the time one gets out of practice immediately.

At times, with certain manufacturers, ivory pieces can be retrofitted from one head or tail to another but very few companies had a continual supply of ivory that was identical in grade and quality. With the Heintzman Company of Canada the quality of the ivory was quite consistent so I am able to replace a chipped head only in this case.

Whether replacing just the head or doing the complete head and tail assembly, I have found it best to set the head first. This is to obtain the correct length over the leading edge of the key. Here is a photo album of setting an ivory head against an existing tail with text instructions underneath each photo. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vintage A & S Nordheimer Upright

 The brand name Nordheimer is the oldest and longest lasting in the music industry in Canada. In June of 1844 brothers Samuel and Abraham Nordheimer opened a small business in Toronto, Canada offering music books, square pianofortes, and sewing supplies. To begin with, the Nordheimer brothers were agents for Broadwood, Stodart, and Chickering pianos. The firm did not actually enter the piano manufacturing business until 1886.

By that time, Abraham Nordheimer had passed, and Samuel and Albert (Abraham’s son) decided to enter into piano manufacturing with Gerhard Heintzman and formed the Lansdowne Piano Co. 

Tom Mason, Vincent Risch, (Mason & Risch Piano Co.)and Octavius Newcombe( Newcombe Piano Co.) were also partnered with this venture each having his own name stencilled on the pianos that came down the Lansdowne production lines.

This company was short lived and lasted only five years before each of the partners opted to have their own manufacturing firms.

The Nordheimers built their own factory in east Toronto and began turning out one of the finer pianos built in Canada. As a manufacturer of grand’s, uprights, and players, Nordheimer produced 12, 000 instruments before Samuel died in 1912. In 1927 when Albert retired, Heintzman & Co purchased the assets of the company and ran the brand name until the mid 60’s.

To find an A & S Nordheimer today is a rare thing because this was such an early company.  I came across this piano about five years ago when the owner contacted me to inspect the instrument for restoration purposes. This piano was purchased new by her grandmother, eventually finding its way to my client. This is also a rare thing; to find a piano more than one hundred years old and still in the original owners family.

Because this piano was a rare vintage piece in outstanding condition for its age, I encouraged the owner to complete minimally invasive restoration. By this I mean to fix only what had deteriorated due to age.

The tuning pin torque had dropped to unacceptable levels so the piano was restrung in the bass and treble with new tuning pins. All felt work in the keyboard was replaced. The action was reconditioned, and a decision was made to retain the original hammer set to be replaced at a later date.

The cabinet was left in original condition because it was in such good shape. Here is a photo album of the piano.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Grand Piano Restoration: Ebony Sharps Refinished

I use this process because it is fast, works well, and gives good results. First the ebony sharps are cleaned with white vinegar to remove all dirt and grime from use. At times this type of verdigris is hard to remove. In that case a stronger cleaner such as Methyl Hydrate is used. With any type of chemical cleaner such as Methyl Hydrate, always make sure you have proper safety gear available; gloves and a respirator, along with good ventilation or use these products outside if possible.

I like to use the alcohol pigmentation stains in the new aerosol spray form. I find them really quick and easy; spray on the key top, let the alcohol flash off for a minute and then wipe the excess away. Allow thirty minutes to dry before spraying a top coat of satin lacquer.

 Usually the keys in the center of the piano have the colour worn away below where the ebony sharp is attached. This will show as bare wood when the key set is played. I use another new product that is a felt marker pen with the alcohol pigmentation stain and lacquer together.

Here are a few photos of the process and the finished product. Starting the photo album at photo 136.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grand Piano Restoration: Keyboard Repairs

Once the action rack is separated from the key frame, the key set is removed and the key frame checked against the key bed for warping or other types of damage.  I usually bed the frame empty once or twice just to see how the key end blocks are set up and, once tightened down, observe if they interfere with the bedding of the frame in certain areas.
When the key frame is seated well into the bed, the key frame is then removed and rebuilt with the usual replacement punchings on front and back rails, along with bolster cloth or key end cloth. When replacing cloths, by using the same grade of materials or close to the original, and by taking into account overall wear, this keeps the adjustments to a minimum when regulating after cloth replacement.

The key set is completed in the usual way; replacement back check felt and buckskin, key bushings replaced top and bottom, and the original ebonies are re-ebonized and coated with a satin or flat finish. The original ivories, if still found on the instrument, are cleaned, whitened, and polished.

Here is a photo album of the various repairs to the key frame and the key set. This the same photo album starting at photo 126.

Keyboard Repairs

Also here is a photo album of key bushing repairs.