Saturday, January 31, 2009

Baldwin F Soundboard Completed

After the new soundboard is glued into the piano, there are several finishing touches that need to be completed. Usually there is a trim piece of wood that is glued into the piano along the straight side of the case. I use cauls and multiple clamps to achieve a good glue joint. Next, the edge of the board needs to be trimmed along the belly rail. The board is left slightly proud in the front so that a perfect edge can be achieved in this area when finishing. Finally the piano and bridge tops are masked and final top coats of lacquer are applied to the top side of the soundboard. It's time again to stop and reflect and enjoy the satisfaction of another completed task.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Great Old Pianos

Just yesterday a fellow piano tuner and I were discussing some of the great old pianos that we are called to service. One particular brand mentioned was Baldwin Acrosonic spinets made in the 1940's till about 1965. My friend also mentioned that he had come across some great old Wurlitzer spinets. Up to today, that was not my experience. Typically the old Wurlitzer's have loose tuning pins, and an assortment of other deficiencies. Well, this morning I tuned a GREAT little Wurlitzer spinet. Mauufactured in 1940, it was clean inside, showed no signs of rust, and played really well. The tuning pins were tight, and although it hadn't been tuned for 9 years, it really didn't sound that bad, although it was 15 cents flat (the last tuner recorded that he had tuned it 15 cents flat).

So what makes a great "old" piano great after all these years? Why aren't piano manufactured in the 70's and beyond "great"? I believe the big difference can be summed up in one word CRAFTSMANSHIP. Companies that really cared (there were junky pianos made in thet era as well) developed workers who made piano manufacturing their lively hood. That meant starting at the bottom and working one's way up the ladder of experience. That all seemed to change in the 70's. One explination might be that workers became more transient, not staying in the factories long enough to develop the skills necessary. Another explanation is that in that era, the manufacturers didn't seem to really care. Thankfully, that trend began to reverse in the 90's as many manufacturers (that hadn't already gone out of business) again began to consider the quality of the products that they were manufacturing.

Please note that not all pianos from any era are all great or all terrible. Also, how the instrument has been cared for over the years has many ramifications. If you are thinking of purchasing a used piano, be aware that every piano needs to be individually evaluated, regardless of brand or age.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Key Bushing Replacement- Part Two

After having the old felts removed as outlined in my last post, It's time to install the new felts. The sizing cauls are removed, and clamping cauls are chosen to match the thickness of the balance and front pins. In this piano they are both .146". Next, the proper thickness of felt is chosen to achieve a finished bushing that is neither too tight or too loose. Finally the felt is glued into the mortise one side at a time, and then left to dry overnight. When the cauls are removed, the new felts are lubricated, and individually fit back onto the key frame to assure that the fit on the pins is correct.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Installing New Key Bushings. Step 1- Remove Old

Key bushing replacement is a very common repair. The wooden keys in a piano "ride' on two metal pins. One at the middle of the key (balance rail) and one at the front of the key (front rail). The mortises in the key are lined with small pieces of felt , which allows quiet and smooth movement of the key. With usage, these felts wear, and the keys become wobbly, and no longer move smoothly. For removal, the old felts are first soaked with a mixture of wallpaper remover and warm water. Heat is added to the mortises and felt with an iron to speed up the process, and the old felts are removed with a pair of tweezers. Mortise sizing cauls are pressed in the mortise to shape the damp wood as the wood dries. The keys are left to dry overnight before proceding to install new felts.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Baldwin Board Glued In. Ahhhhhhhh

After hours and hours of work, the Baldwin board with completed bridges attached is ready to be glued into the rim of the piano. The board has been dry fit several times to assure that it fits properly. Yes, it is glued in....there is no turning back from this point on. Liquid hide glue (which has a long working time before it sets up) is spread on the shelf that will recieve the soundboard. There are a lot of clamps required to complete the gluing job.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Completed Bridges Glued to Soundboard

Last week I completed notching and pinning the recapped bridges for the Baldwin F. Today I am showing the bridges being glued to the soundboard. I use liquid hide glue because of what I believe is superior sound transmission through the glue line, and also because it is easily reversed if the need arises to ever remove the bridge from the board. My soundboard press also doubles as a brigde press. You can see the bridges and board in the press and also the finished product. After finishing the bottom side of the soundboard, it is ready to be glued into the body of the piano.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Treasure Chest Gang

I have performed as an amateur ventriloquist for several years. I currently own 9 vent puppets. I say currently because I'm sure there will be more to follow. Up to the present time i have primarily performed at my home church (McBIC). I recently had professional photographs taken with some of my "gang" for use in a promotional piece that I can give out in an effort to drum up some performing outside my home church. Pictured on the picture are Uncle Henry (old man), Kookie Krumbster (blue monster), Al Dewitt (bear), Larry, (little boy) and GJ (bird) is on my arm. They are part of the Treasure Chest Gang, who live in Kharacter Kastle. We seek to find hidden treasure to provide Entertainment With Purpose to children of all ages.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Winter Dryness And Your Piano.

The break in the cold was welcomed today, but I'm afraid winter is still with us. Winter can be extremely hard on piano. This is a result of the realitve humidity being very low in most homes and institutions this time of year. The piano is made largely of wood, which changes dimensionally with humidity changes. Particularly at risk is the soundboard. It is constructed of a thin (3/8") panel of spruce. This panel, if unrestrained, would "grow" about 1/2" across the grain between winter dryness and the summer humidity. In the piano, the panel of spruce is restrained by ribs that can be seen in the photo (This is the Baldwin F board. More on the in the future). The result is that the board bellies up in the summer and goes flat in the winter. This causes the piano's pitch to go sharp in the summer, and flat in the winter. Keeping the change in humidity around your piano at a minimum will greatly improve it's tuning stability, and will lengthen the life of the instrument. Humidification devices can be installed on some heating systems. I can also install a humidity control system in your piano to protect it from seasonal humidity changes. (see

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bridge work completed on Baldwin F

Installing new bridge caps is probably one of the most demanding of all rebuilding tasks. It not only requires a lot of physical work, but is very demanding in layout and execution of the work. A few of the things that need to be considered are down bearing, both on the speaking side of the bridge as well as the tail side. Also there is the stagger across the bridge determined by proper pin location on top of the bridge. Proper alignment of brigde pins with hitch pins on the plate affect side bearing on the bridge. The proper speaking length needs to be maintained to remain true to the original scale and design of the instrument. Especially important to achieve a clear sound is the hand notching that occurs after all of the above lay out issues have been dealt with . This is achieved by cutting a relief exactly midway through the holes drilled to accept the bridge pins. Brigde pins are .076-.096 inches in diameter. This requires a steady hand, and some muscle power as we are chiseling hard rock maple. The picture shows the tools used in notching the bridge and installing new bridge pins.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Alien Shop Visitors?

These guys recently showed up in my shop. Must be something scary on the ceiling! Actually they are 3 of my 9 ventriloquist puppets. They are from left to right: Uncle Henry, Kookie Krumbster, and Kornelus VonKain. I will be using Kookie and Kornelus on Sunday morning at McBIC with the preschoolers. we will be talking about Jesus calming the storm while he was on a boat with his disciples.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Steinway "A" S/N 81246

I just purchased this old girl as a speculation project. The case is in pretty rough condition and will require some body work before it can be refinished. I also plan to replace the legs and lyre with modern spade style units . The piano is in playing condition, but is in need of new strings and some action work. It can be purchased as is and I will do the restoration work to the buyers specifications. This could make it possible to own a Steinway for a very reasonably price.

Baldwin 243 Bridge Repair

I am just finishing up an upright bass bridge cap replacement. The piano was laid on it's back, and the bottom board is removed. Next, the screws securing the bridge are removed from the back side of the piano. The bridge is carefully chiseled away from the soundboard to minimise damage to the sound board. Once removed, patterns are made and the old pins are removed. The cap can then be cut off with the bandsaw. The sawn surface is planed on the bridge body, and a new cap is constructed. I chose to use dilignet as my cap material on this project because of it's superior strength. After the new cap is glued to the original bridge body, it is ready for pin layout, hole drilling, and installing new pins. When reinstalling the completed bridge, I added 2 additional screws, making a total of 4. Fortunately, non were obstructed by a back post. When the glue is set, the strings are reinstalled, as well as a the case parts. The piano can then be tuned.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ready for a new week.

As you can see in the photo, a lot is happening in my shop right now. In addition to several days of tuning this wee, I also need to finish up a bass bridge cap replacement, get the old Steinway (that is on it's side in the photo) set up, as well as continued work on the Baldwin "F". As the economy slows down, I am very grateful for the blessing of sufficient work.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Shop

It was a cold winter morning with a touch of snow. It's always 70 degrees inside! Enjoy a cup of coffee with me as I work inside!

Baldwin F #182888

The Baldwin F is getting a major work over. The body of the piano has been sprayed, the soundboard has been press and the bridge notching is nearly finished. After the bridges are glued to the top side of the soundboard, the bottom side of the board will be finished, and then the board will again be glued into the body of the piano.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mason & Hamlin AA before and after.

I am showing you the before and after pictures of a three year restoration project. The piano has all new parts including soundboard, bridges, strings, damper felts, back action, Keys, whippens, shanks, hammers, and lots of case work before refinishing. The piano is for sale for $35,000.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Favorite Six

My Plan

I thought about naming this blog "Strings Attached" because I am a professional piano tuner, and an amateur ventriloquist and harp builder. What do all these things have in common? They all have strings attached (a vent figure uses strings to move the mouth). Although this blog is primarily to promote my business, it will from time to time also contain things about harps and puppetry.

As I am working on projects at my shop, I will post photos of what I am doing along with an explanation. This will do two things: It will be informative of the work I am doing, and it will also provide a diary for me to remember what I did!