Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Restoration And Rebuilding

There are a variety of opinions on what these words mean to various people. These words can mean many things. To restore a vintage piano is to attempt to return it to its’ former glory when it left the factory floor many years ago.

Sometimes you can restore a part of the instrument by rebuilding the badly worn component part. Other times you have to replace the part with a new part. Many of the replacement parts for pianos today are what are called generic after-market parts. These parts kind -of, almost- fit, every piano with some adjustment. One has to be careful in the choice of replacement parts for vintage pianos; especially the components that produce tonal qualities, for example, replacement hammer sets, replacement strings, sounding boards and bridge work. Improper choices in these areas may produce undesirable results in the finished product.

Also one has to be mindful of the fact that maybe this is a historical piece and it must be kept as original as possible while at the same time attempting to get the instrument to function correctly. It can be a delicate balance indeed; trying to retain the vintage or antique value……

Years of experience tell the restorer what replacement parts will work with certain instruments better than other parts.

Here is a Chickering piano that I restored recently. Depending upon how the vintage piano is cared for in its early years will determine the amount of work required to return the instrument to its former glory.
This one comes with an interesting history. Originally this instrument was owed by an English geologist. In the early part of the last century this person was commissioned to work in northern Canada; a place called Frobisher Bay.

Back then this instrument was first loaded onto a ship bound for Greenland. Then, upon arrival the instrument was loaded onto a dog sled and taken up over the Pole and down into Frobisher Bay where it remained until this person passed away. It was then purchased by my clients’ mother and sent to a place called Loon Lake (north of Winnipeg) where it stayed until she passed.

Both of these places were heated by wood stove or furnace. Because of this, the instrument was subject to huge swings in temperature and humidity. This caused the animal hide glue to come apart on almost every seam. So basically the instrument was all complete; just that everything was coming apart.

The instrument had to be completely dismantled and then re-assembled. While re-assembly was taking place, many of the wooden parts could be re-used. This is sometimes where the words restoration and rebuilding are confused. With many of the wooden parts in the antique action I restored them by rebuilding the felt work built into them. So yes the action components were “rebuilt “with new cloths and felt, but they were also “restored” to their original condition.

This instrument took 16 months to complete. Here is a photo album to browse through. This is a Picasa on-line web album. Please left click once on this link, that will take you to the location of the photo album. Then left click once on the first photo, top left and this will open up the photo album so that you can read the text below each frame. Inside this photo album you will see the some of the problems associated with replacement parts.

 Here is the link for the photo album…..happy viewing…..


  1. Nice work, Dan! I also have a Chickering grand which I picked up for a "song". The soundboard in the bass bridge area needs some work--possibly even a new soundboard. I haven't done a lot of belly work so this would be a challenge. Anyway, to get rid of some seasonal buzzing, I installed a Dampp-Chaser and cranked up the humidity in the room as much as I could. It helped. Anyway, glad I was able to figure this blogging thing out somewhat with your help. Talk to you soon.

  2. Hey Dan,
    Thanks for joining us here. Yes the Chickering instrument is a favourite of many a piano player. They do have a particularly warm tone.

    Sounds like to one you have there is as big a job as this one was here. A Dampp Chaser will help to keep the moisture in the sounding board area for sure of you have noise problems there. You might be able to repair the bridge and sound board once you get the instrument apart. Best of luck with the job there.