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  Rebuilding and Restoration

Pianos age very gradually. Often the piano owner doesn't notice the slow decline in their piano because it has happened so slowly. I find  generally speaking, that by the time a piano reaches the thirty year mark the hammers are losing their ability to be voiced properly. The bass strings may be starting to noticeably decline  as well. Often replacing the bass strings (or all of the strings) and installing new hammers will make these pianos sing like new once again.

A piano that has been played frequently over the years may also require some action restoration by this point. This will depend on the demands of the pianist and their expectations. Many pianos don't have this kind of restoration done until they are much older and the decline in the instrument is so noticeable that it can no longer be ignored. At this point the real question will be "is it worth it"? A thorough inspection by a qualified technician will be required to answer this question.

 What Is Rebuilding?

Rebuilding does not mean refinishing although refinishing may be included as  a part of a rebuild. Real rebuilding involves restoring the musical instrument to like new condition. Typically this will mean replacing the strings, hammers, hammer shanks, damper felt, key bushings and keybed felt as well as shimming the soundboard cracks and  recapping cracked bridges. A complete rebuild could also involve replacing the pinblock and the soundboard. So what does all this mean?

Restringing

This is pretty straight forward. The old strings oxidize and loose their original elasticity, the tone suffers and the instrument becomes very difficult to tune. The bass strings in particular get "thumpy sounding" and the notes die quickly upon being sounded. Replacing the strings restores the clarity and sustaining qualities to that of a new piano. The tuning pins are also replaced with larger new pins during this procedure to ensure tight pins that will hold a proper tuning for years to come.

New Hammers

Unlike a violin,  a harp or a guitar, the musicians hands never touch the strings of a piano. The hammers are like the musicians fingers on the strings. It is only through the hammers that the pianist can express themselves through the strings of the instrument. The hammers create the tone. This is why replacing old hammers can have such a dramatic effect on piano tone. An extreme example of this is a "honky tonk" piano where the hammers are so worn out that it sounds like a completely different instrument. 

New Hammer Shanks

It has become increasingly common to replace the hammer shanks when restoring a grand piano. This component of the action is where the pianist will feel the ability to control their touch. The flip side of this of course is a piano where the action centers for the hammer shanks are worn out. When this happens the pianist will not be able to control how hard they strike the strings. If often sounds like they are banging on the piano even though they are trying to play softly. New shanks will restore the solid feel of a new piano to the action.

Damper Felt

Older pianos often have notes that don't stop cleanly after the note is played. Many of these pianos have a slightly "haunted" sound as the notes reverberate after the key has been played. New damper felt restores the dampers ability to stop notes cleanly. 

Soundboard Shimming and Bridge Recapping

The time to repair soundboard cracks and repair a cracked bridge is when the strings have been removed for restringing. This is the only time that a piano technician has free access to these components. It would also be a mistake to install new strings over cracked bridges and a cracked soundboard as it will affect the tone adversely for years to come.  

Pinblock Replacement

Many older pianos have arrived at the point where replacing the tuning pins with larger pins will not result in tuning pins that are tight enough to hold the strings at pitch. When this happens the only real solution is to replace the pinblock. This procedure is more much more common with grand pianos than upright pianos. This is because the pinblock in an upright is under less stress being glued directly to the back of the piano. A grand piano is also more likely to be worth the cost of this repair.

This is a job for an experienced technician. When a new pinblock is installed it must be fitted exactly to the piano's iron plate. Any gaps that are left between the pinblock and the plate will result in a piano that will never stay in tune properly.  

Soundboard Replacement

Once only preformed in rare cases, this procedure is becoming more common place. It is still primarily reserved for very valuable pianos. 

Our Services

We offer complete rebuilding. This includes pinblock replacement, bridge and soundboard repairs as well as action and key restoration. In short, everything except refinishing. Many older grand pianos can be made to perform and sound like new. This may be of particular interest to people who own high quality older pianos. Many people prefer the sound of these instruments because of the quality of the sound produced by these classic grand pianos.

Unfortunately with the exception of a handful of pianos makes such as Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Baldwin and Chickering all of the other North American manufacturers of high quality grands have gone out of business. Fortunately there are many of these instruments that can be acquired and with the proper restoration, can be made to sing again. Depending on their quality and condition, they may represent a viable alternative.

This type of restoration may be an option for a good quality upright piano as well if there are family connections that give a certain piano special meaning within your family. However the current resale value for restored upright pianos makes this type of restoration impractical for most upright piano owners.

Here is a list of pianos that are excellent candidates for rebuilding. The original quality of materials, design and workmanship ensure a good result assuming that the restoration is performed by a qualified technician.

CANADIAN
Bell, Gourlay, Nordheimer, Heintzman,

AMERICAN
Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Knabe, Chickering, Baldwin, Krackuaer, Sohmer, Hardman

GERMAN
Bosendorfer, Bechstein, Grotrian, Seiler

JAPANESE
Yamaha, Kawai

 

 

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