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.


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.


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


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


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.



Hammer reshaping


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.


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.


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.


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, but mostly want to study the action and all of its moving parts to get a better understanding of how this whole thing really works.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



It doesn’t add up.

It would probably be a bit ridiculous to think that I should need to explain why I haven’t posted anything here in almost a year; would be best to just get back to it I suppose.

I’ve recently acquired a Cable-Nelson spinet. It’s in reasonably good shape, was a fair price, and based on a not-so-thorough investigation of the serial number, is most likely from the mid-1960s.

This piano is sort of a project. While it’s completely suitable for practicing, the primary purpose is to facilitate an ongoing but ultimately unrequited fascination with tuning, repair, and maintenance.

There’s still some doubt as to whether this is the right instrument, whether it’s worth the effort and the mostly nominal financial investment that might require. I have a running list of potential repairs to make, but I’m not yet convinced that it will hold a tune or not, and equally unwilling to say that I’m even qualified to make that distinction; not yet.

Which is of course to say that before I blame the instrument for any flaws begat by the unforgiving hands of time, or on the woeful neglect of any countless number of previous caretakers, it would serve us both that I spend substantially more time with the hammer and pins.

I’m hoping to get back to writing here on a somewhat regular basis. There is certainly no shortage of thoughts rolling around the brain these days, especially in regards to temperament and the like.

I titled this post It doesn’t add up for a reason, but one that might be best saved for another day. In previous posts, I was pretty obsessed with graphics, images, videos and such, but I don’t have much ambition for that any longer; nor the time or energy.