Friday, December 7, 2012

Another reason to have your piano tuned annually


If you've ever had to deal with these pests you know how destructive they can be. What you may not know is that a piano is a great and safe place for them to hide.

Unfortunately it's not so great on your instrument. If left undisturbed for any length of time you will soon be over run and your once fine instrument might just need hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs.

How do you know if you've had mice in your piano?

1. Smell - if you have ever had mice there is a distinct smell.
2. Droppings/feces - open the top of the piano and visually inspect the top of the keys and open the bottom panel to inspect. The droppings are generally small pellets about 1/16 of an inch around and less than 1/4 in length.
3. Staining of the key stick - as the mice traverse around the interior of the piano they will leave subtle staining. Looks for a "path". These are darker areas where the body of the mouse has rubbed repeatedly against the keys.
4. Gnawing evidence - look at the key stick and see if the edges are crisp or if they appear to have damage. The pictures show subtle rounding of the keystick. Additionally if you were to manually move the hammer forward the bridle strap should pull on the whippen lifting it up. Mice often eat through the bridle strap first. This material will be used in the nest.

To clean:

You have 2 options here -

1. Remove the keys from the piano and vacuum the debris out of the piano.
a. Mark the keys as you remove them so that if they get out of order you can replace them in the proper places.
b. Then repair any damage.

I suggest wiping down all keys with a mild beach solution as well as under the keys being careful to not contact the keypins.

2. Have a qualified technician clean up the mess. Some technicians charge an exorbitant fee to clean up after rodents. I've seen quotes for over $500.

There is some possibility of contracting certain diseases during this cleanup. I always recommend wearing rubber gloves and a dust mask or respirator when cleaning and vacuuming a piano. I would suggest you take this precaution at a minimum, and if your are immuno-compromised I would suggest having the work done for you rather than tackle it yourself.

If caught early, mice will do very little damage, so at a minimum have your piano tuned once per year and it will be opened up. Most technicians who are paying attention will notice the evidence of mice and notify you.

The two pictures below show evidence of gnawing. Notice the top edges of the keys at the 'V' gap are rounded

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Piano Buyer's Guide Available Now!

My new guide: A Piano Buyer's Guide is now available on the Kindle and iBooks format (For iPad)

If you're interested in buying a quick reference to ensure you buy a piano that will provide you years of service and don't have days or weeks to read through the other volumes on the subject this is a perfect companion to take with you when shopping.

Kindle edition includes a link to the various pictures of important areas you will need to inspect as well as a link to a sound file that can be play from most smart phones to test the pitch of the piano prior to purchase.

Buy the kindle edition!

iPad edition includes in the book the sound file, pictures and short questionairre to use in your buying decision.

Buy the iBooks edition!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Coming Soon - A Piano Buyer's Guide

I have been working recently on a quick guide for everyone who has ever been interested in buying a piano, new or used.  This guide will provide you some pictures of the specific areas you should inspect prior to purchasing a new or used instrument to ensure decades of long quality service.

The next posts will be specific items not included in the non-iBooks e-Book.  When our book is available on kindle and in iBooks we will post the links for you here.

I hope that the information will provide you the necessary details to make an informed decision.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hammer butt leather

Do you hear a pronounced scratching when you play your keys?

Your butts may be losing their leather.

Side View
Looking from above

Looking at these two images you will likely see the problem.  It is relatively simple to resolve the loose leather, but be careful.  Don't use so much glue that it soaks into the leather causing another "noise" problem once the glue had dried.

I like to use a 60 second curing super glue.
Drop of Glue Applied
60-90 Second Cure "Gorilla" brand

After applying the glue, press firmly and hold in place until the glue sets.  Alternately you can hold tight with a clamp, rubber band, etc.

 Re-install part and your jacks won't be dragging along your butt leather improperly anymore!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Broken Sustain Pedal Pivot

A customer indicated recently at a service call that her pedal was not functioning properly.  What for us a piano technician might seem like a simple repair often will seem completely confusing to you the customer.  While I will describe and show you the point of breakage with this particular pedal I will not suggest you attempt to tackle a problem like this on your own if your piano has the same features.

How do I know?

Cracked Fulcrum block
Internal Pedal Levers

If you look at the 2 pictures above you will see the inside of the piano under the keys and piano action.  This design while not common was used in the 1910-1930's or so.  To know if your piano is like this do the following:

  • Lay on your back under your piano with your shoulder to either side of the piano's pedals
  • Looking at the bottom of your piano do you see any levers or rods that are screwed to the bottom?
  • If you were to remove the pedals and legs would the bottom of the keyed (under the keys) be flat?
If the underside of the piano is flat your pedal levers are "inside" the piano.  

To assist this customer with their non-functioning pedal I removed the key slip, fall board & cheek blocks.  This allowed me access to remove the action from the piano and set to the side. Remember when removing any grand piano action to not press any keys as you slide the action out of the piano.  if you disregard this warning you are going to break a hammer or a hammer shank requiring a visit from a technician with the proper replacement part!  

Once the piano action has been removed you can see the mechanism for the pedals, and if you push the pedals can see what is happening inside and likely you will find the problem.  But as each manufacturer has had different designs it is difficult to tell you exactly how to proceed.

For the most logical approach, follow the links starting from the pedal itself up to the moving lever inside the piano.  You will likely find the problem.  In this piano.... a broken fulcrum.  The fulcrum gives the lever a fixed point to turn or pivot from.  When the pivot is broken the lever will no longer work as intended. 

For this customer I glued the crack before I began the tuning, clamping the workpiece together as the glue had some time to set.  After the tuning I replaced the now repaired piece with instructions that it was possible and even likely the piece would break again.

I took measurements of the original block so that if this piece cracks again I will be able to manufacture a part without an additional service call to the customer to remove the original piece.  When a part is manufacturer I will create 2 or more lengths of this block to use in the future should this problem occur again.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Key Spacing

Wider Gap Between B & C
When you look at your keys do you see this?

Notice the gap or spacing between the keys, particularly between the 'B' and 'C' notes. You may also notice a clicking sound when you play certain notes, this click can be caused by too much side to side movement allowing the key to contact a neighboring key.

This piano was less than 5 years old and had not been noticed before.  There are generally 2 reasons this can occur:

  • Poor spacing from the factory
  • Poor key easing
  • Worn key bushing felt
In this instance, since it was a "new" issue with this instrument I investigated the easing of the keys first.  Discovering the side to side movement of the keys to be significant, I opted to turn the elongated front rail pin.  I generally do not like to do this, but in this instance felt it was an acceptable repair for such an new piano with key bushing replacement and proper easing to take place when the felt is worn enough to warrant replacement. 
Front Rail Pin Adjustment tool

The Process:

1. With a front rail tool seen to the right, I slip the tool under the front rail felt punchings (and under the paper punchings if there is a considerable thickness of paper punchings)
2.  Move your tool parallel to the key bed and turn the elongated pin to a point where the side to side movement in the keys is minimal yet allows the key to move without sticking or binding.
Front Rail pin being turned

This adjustment essentially will make the elongated pin more wide which restricts the side to side movement in the keys. You do not need to remove the keys.  The keys have been removed to assist in showing the key pins and the proper use of the tool.

*Make sure you are below the punchings to avoid damage to the key pin.  Damage to the pin will cause extra friction and could cause the key to stick and will prematurely wear the felt bushing*

When you have turned the front rail pins re-check your spacing, in most instances this will have corrected the majority of the uneven spacing you noticed before.

Now play each note with the sustain pedal depressed releasing the key slowly.  If any keys are slow rising to rest position you may have turned the front rail pin a bit too far. Adjust and test again.

If the spacing is still not close enough you can also "bend" the front rail pin.  Use the same tool as shown above and gently twist the tool handle in the direction you want to move the key.  I find this extremely difficult to do as you're attempting to bend the pin from the most rigid area (closest to the key bed).

You should now have more evenly spaced keys.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Loose hammer head clicks (Watch and listen)

The video will show what a loose hammer head looks and sounds like. It will also show the process of re-gluing the hammer head back onto the hammer shank.

Things to be aware of when making this repair:

1.  The glue joint between the hammer head and hammer shank can be loose but when you wiggle the hammer head you don't feel it wobble.  This will require a specialized tool to remove the head.  You may also want to check for a loose hammer butt dowel, it has a similar sound, but the pitch of the click is a bit higher and more focused or precise.

2.  When pulling the hammer off the shank, be careful not to break the shank (dowel).

3.  After pushing the hammer filled with glue some will seep out. Do not let any glue come into contact with the felt that cushions the hammer shank (in the video this is green yours may be a different color) as it could cause the shank to be glued to this felt and potentially harden the felt causing an additional noise.

4.  Though you can't see in the video, there should be a collar or glue around the hammer shank where the hammer is glued.  Look at the neighboring parts to see what they look like.  The better the collar, the less likely this will be an issue.

Be patient and take your time.  This is one of the easiest repairs to make. Good luck!