thumb-cable-nelson-spinet-piano-key-tops-complete

Phase 1, complete.

Big day today, with the piano finally back in one piece and playable again. The most time-consuming part of the work done over the past few weeks was definitely the key tops, but it was necessary and worth the effort and frustrations.

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There are few issues that will need to be addressed soon. The new damper felts, particularly those on the trichords, are not completely leaving the strings when a key is pressed, causing partial muting for most keys. This is going to mean taking out the action and adjusting the damper spoons so that the felts clear the strings completely, as they do when the pedal is used.

This isn’t really a big deal, but there are some other minor adjustments that need to be made to the let-off of the hammers as well and so I’ve decided it would be best to handle all of these things at the same time, and at a later date.

The down side of a spinet is that the action is all located below the keys, hence the name ‘drop-action’, which means having to remove the entire mechanism in order to make any of these adjustments. On a vertical piano, the action is above the keys and so most of these types of adjustments can be made without the extra work of removing the action bracket as a whole piece.

For now, I’m just glad to have an instrument to practice on again, and the next round of repairs can wait.

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Days away.

If things go as planned, the piano will be back in playing shape within a few days. There were some unexpected delays over past month that left the piano out of commission longer than had been expected.

Since the key tops were stained beyond all possibility of cleaning, I decided somewhat hastily to go ahead and replace them during this first round of repairs. Over all this was a good decision, but filing down the the replacement tops to fit was time consuming to say the least.

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It can seem overwhelming when thinking about doing any work on a piano, that most anything that gets done is likely going to be done 88 times, more or less, and depending on the task. In the case of replacing the white key tops, only 52 times, but it’s still a daunting task.

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The dampers shown below had become largely useless, many of the strings continuing to ring even after returning to a sounding string.

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The full set of dampers were replaced, including the treble dampers shown below.

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The action is back in place and I’m now in the process of returning the keys as they’re finished. Most of the hard work on the key tops has already been done, with mostly some clean-up left to do getting the edges right.

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Hammer reshaping

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The above hammers are from the midrange of the piano, a little bit above middle C. The treble range of the piano consists of trichords, meaning that the sound of each note is the result of the hammer striking three strings tuned to the same pitch; this is the reason for the three grooves in the hammers shown above.

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These hammers are from the high treble range, getting closer to the right side of the piano. I didn’t take any pictures of the hammers moving in the direction of the bass, regrettably. In the upper part of the bass register where the strings are wound with copper coil and become increasingly thick as the pitch gets lower, the sound is produced by striking two strings, called a bichord. The lowest notes, how many depends on the particular piano, are produced from a single string and are called unachords.

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A hammer never strikes the strings the same way twice, it’s just not possible. There’s no way to touch a piano key with the exact same pressure or velocity between any two attacks, there are subtle movements with the action parts that can cause the hammer attack to vary slightly, and vibrating strings are a perpetually moving target.

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The insides.

The past few days have been spent reading up on the mechanics of the piano and taking apart the spinet to get a better look. I’m going to spend a bit of time doing some general maintenance and cleaning,┬ábut mostly want to study the action and all of its moving parts to get a better understanding of how this whole thing really works.

dustykeybed

Found a veritable dust storm under the keys, along with a few stale peanuts and a sticker. The floor of the cabinet was only slightly more photographable, and unnecessarily so. There was in fact very little area on the piano, inside or out, that wasn’t covered in dust or some amount of unknown residue.

dirty-keys

The keys have no physical damage, but the key tops are pretty badly stained. Scrubbing them with a little water and vinegar mixture removed the greasy feel, but the only fix for the stains will be to replace the tops. The sharp keys fair slightly better, but could stand replacing or touching up the paint.

soundboard-unglued

The soundboard itself is in good shape, but is coming unglued from the frame around the edges on both sides of the piano. The image shows the seam from the inside just below the plate on the treble side, at just about halfway up. This can be glued again, but figuring out how to clamp the two pieces together is going to be a little tricky; not sure yet, but likely will have to attach a temporary block to the floor or to the plate somehow.

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The hammers have excessive grooves from striking the strings, somewhat viewable in the above image. The grooves mean that the hammers are not really making consistent contact with the strings, affecting the quality of sound. This is first on the to-do list this week, sanding and reshaping the hammers so that the contact point is flat, but without losing the round shape. The dampers are worn as well, with a few strings that continue to ring a little after the dampers have fallen; still investigating how to fix that.

clean-keybed

The key bed cleaned up well enough. The felt punchings that are on the pins on the front and balance rail are worn, flattened and hardened against the wood, as well as the long strip on the back rail; those will be replaced at some point. There is felt everywhere in the piano, all inside the action, and where the hammers and dampers meet the strings. Pretty much any moving part that comes into contact with any other part has felt on one or both contact points. Worn felts are one of the many possible reasons for unwanted noises, various mechanical problems, and for the quality of sound produced.