Pianos: Getting Hitched

A weathered piano frame performs sentinel duties at the front of the ruefully rural piano shack. Monochord hitch pins catch the sun.

Usually I'm more interested in photographing the frame artfully, but here it is in context. A few more cast-off cast iron piano frames might have the structural integrity to prop the shack up. Something needs to be done. Cast iron piano frames are unspeakably heavy. It was moved with the aid of a piano trolley and much fretting from this little sidekick. 

Ill Met By Phonelight. Under cover of darkness (curse our bloody short winter days) we perform the peculiar plotting of holes. A planned revision of hitch pin positions on a piano with a section of bothersome backlengths (inadequate non-speaking portions of the strings) has spurned necessary rehearsal for the Caped Regulators*. Drilling the drilling. It is important to learn what size drill creates what size hole and what stepping up from smaller drills might be required. Hitch pin positions determine certain angles that the strings will make. The angle of the hitch pins themselves is also important. I won't go into the numbers here (I'm very selective about when I'll darn well go into numbers!) Four-fifths of almost never is an approximation.

We leave the piano frame whimpering at the back door wanting to come in. 

I leave the calculations to Superhero Tech, my partner in piano pampering. Honestly, if he said eleventy-bajillion poofteenths of a mil, I would trust and believe. Probably. The first new hitch pin is installed with a brass punch.

This is for real, drilling into a concert grand. "But that's a priceless Steinway" I hear you cry.

The old holes will be filled, the frame painted and reinstalled. The piano will receive new tuning pins and be restrung. It will receive new action parts and hammers.

Who doesn't love tools? Here we improve a tool using a bigger tool. Sparks fly while grinding a flat surface on the base of a tuning pin punch. Why have so many manufacturers abandoned not only quality, but design for the quick buck? To make me feel old and grumpy (but I stringently eschew nostalgia, and so should you. Live your life looking forward, not back). I love producing little film vignettes right out of my smartphones. It's quite the obsession of late. This still image is grabbed from a clip in which I deployed the iPhone Slo-Mo only to discover that the sparks were still darn speedy.

I'm determined to document the little things that are part of piano workshop life. Tools (of course) jigs (and the making of jigs). This is a quality Baldwin piano (not to be confused with certain entry-level cheap goannas bearing the same name). Those other goannas would make Liberace's toupee curl (not in a good way).** But I digress. 

Little aids in the workshop might take the form of simple wooden items where screws can be conveniently perched if not in their proper holes. Believe me, it is barely possible to be anal enough with screwing in the world of pianos. Wooden threads in piano action parts must be carefully protected, or (if damaged) carefully remade in new wooden inserts or plugs. Gah! We don't want that (unnecessarily).

Yet there are times when screw bits in drills can be wonderful, with delicacy and care. Ratchet screwdrivers are another favourite for Superhero Tech. This piano is receiving newer wooden parts (wippen assemblies). Often fitting parts with a pattern of odds then evens can be of great benefit for general alignment and preliminary regulation. To the right of the drill each alternating newer part has been fitted. Left of the drill it is yet to happen. The trusty stick-with-holes anticipates action. My left hand would (or should) be on the job, but it's taking the photo to demonstrate the drill, ain't it. No screw holes were harmed in the staging of this photograph.

Tools that go into bigger tools. Odds and sods in a random snapshot of workshop flotsam. My partner in piano pampering is an avid and experienced woodworker. He'd make a wooden computer if he could. Could he rout out a router? Possibly.

With careful monkey-work (I am the most dutiful and careful monkey) replacement parts are fitted. I prefer a hand-held screwdriver more often than not (especially when screwing in).

Portrait with piano.

My cheeky attempts at organisation. I am a monkey with a typewriter...

...with a penchant for proper placement of apostrophes. This fancy sign has failed...

...while this one has done surprisingly well. Top marks for evading expensive advertising costs... erm, I think. Good luck with all that.

I don't care how musical they attempt to make them sound (nor how affordable) I will never be seen sporting an eyeglass cord. As a presbyopic myope,  I can see the potential practicality, almost, sort of. If I squint. But, no... never.

A client has marked the trouble notes. 'Glue'. Increased humidity has caused many centre pins joints in the action to become sluggish. Sticky notes on the sticky notes.

'Glue', 'sound', 'glue'. Was 'sound' failure to damp? Obvious unisons? I honestly can't remember. Whatever it was, I set to putting it right.

Don't get me wrong, this is a reasonable thing to do to prepare for a piano technician's visit, particularly if the pianist is unable to be there during your visit. Sometimes problems can be elusive, only flushed out by certain types of playing or conditions. Weird sounds, mechanical and other, can be hard to identify and diagnose. Every tuner has stories of weird vibrations being the oddest foreign object or something elsewhere in the room, Interrogating all manner of screws and parts is par for the good old golfing analogy.

The problem was predominantly sluggish action parts, yet the client was unable to concede that a recent roof leak had not contributed to the dramatic increase in humidity - because the damaged ceiling was down the other end of the room. I wish I'd thought to say, 'That's like suggesting that the piss stays down the deep end of the swimming pool.' OK, perhaps it's best that I only wrote it here, well after the event.

'Petal shaky'. Cute. To be fair, I can't spell well in most other languages. Resolving the lateral movement in the pedal required bigger tools than I had, so I let that one through to the keeper that day. When my petals are shaky I blame my brown thumb.

I wielded an actual camera (an increasingly rare activity) in my garden. Usually it's hasty phonetographs as I rush out the door. I send photos saying, 'Look, my whatever-it's-called has suddenly flowered and I only just noticed'. Keen members of my brains trust resoundingly respond identifying my plants. I cheekily re-potted a plant that my (now former) housemate seemed to have received as a gift, yet he did nothing with it. He didn't even take off the gift wrap. I reasoned, who would disapprove of such a helping and positive gesture? Only if I had planted it in the garden bed might I have been open to being accused of theft. Perhaps I was over-thinking the whole thing.  

A juvenile leaf. I bought this plant from the old man at Rozelle Markets. It's lovely that these folk supplement their pensions with loving and careful propagation of plants, so that the likes of me can jeopardise their future (the plants, not the pensioners). Another I bought from him on the basis of his advice. 'You can't kill them.' he said. We'll see about that, I thought.

Only with such selective framing can my garden look like I should open it to the public. Poinsettia (a friend replied). Brought to you by the Brown Thumb Gardeners' Collective.

* Piano pamperers to the stars... and you.

** I stand by those remarks. I stand, sit, jump, or form the shape of a little teapot - here's my bloody spout. All in the interests of serving truth and music-making.