Pianos: Tall Orders

The grandeur of this Rönisch two-crown upright piano is incontrovertible.

It's huge. 

The Caped Regulators* are appraising this piano with a view to restringing it. The tuning pins are too loose. It can't hold a tuning. Restringing involves installing new tuning pins of an ever-so-slightly larger diameter. This way adequate torque on the tuning pins is restored. Is the pin block wood healthy enough to handle any of this?

I spy this upturned bowl and suggest that this foolish prairie habit is the last thing any piano needs in Sydney, or on the prairie** for that matter. I didn't intend to offend the client by citing the bowl-of-water-in-the-piano as a pian-no-no. Even if it doesn't end up upturned or (here) wedged between the frame and pedal levers so tightly that we'll have to smash the bowl (or the piano) to extricate it, just please don't.

The client's a surly one. Don't worry, he'll never read this. He fired back with, 'Well, a piano tuner advised me to do that." I see. I stole a glance at my partner in piano pampering but kept my eye-roll internal.  "Well, you have two piano tuners here who would give you the exact opposite advice." I continued with the suggestion that any tuner who would recommend such a thing was ignorant, old, an amateur, or all three.

Piano climate systems that are thermostat controlled are available and recommended. Save your bowls for Cletus Spuckler haircuts, please.

Another day, another crazy gig. A quick photo to ensure that I remember that I parked my sousaphone in car space 58. 

Hey, Cazzbo, have you got Cletus and Brandine Spuckler jug-themed licence plates? Nah, I just felt paranoid enough to anonymise...

...but I do play the jug. Hey, it's Tamworth's very own Cletus Festival.

But what about Mr KURSED of car space 62? I figure he wants attention, or an intervention...

...or advice from this bloke spied in the CBD.

I'm more into acts of sharpie. There's no neat way to describe a hairdon't. This is not my work but I have taken to carrying a broader range of writing implements.

Out, damned apostrophe. That took some bold soul quite a bit of scribbling.

I've mentioned Charles Pocketty-Flappington (Esquire) before. So named after I cheekily stealth-snapped his troos with the internal pocket linings flown at half-mast (if full-mast were to imagine the flaps forming an ushanka to keep his ears warm). He's a pianist and self-styled entrepreneur of note. More recently he embarked on a personal gardening odyssey. That's the thing about us creatives - whatever we do, we do it with passion. He has devised an innovative vertical potted garden where the pots can be unhitched and stowed somewhere more protected during winter in our nation's capital.

He was madly propagating to populate his garden. Succulents and geraniums en masse. I was given my first geranium. I had little interest in them but now I can't believe that I had been oblivious to the simple pleasure they offer.

I had thought that my first dabble in the world of succulents officially qualified as 'old lady gardening' but geraniums are next-level. Can I say their scent is 'grandmotherly' without it seeming offensive? We'll see.

The making of.

I'm partial to the deep red ones although they insist on looking much lighter in most of these photos. I can't believe it has taken me so long to explore simple propagation. Now my sunny upstairs office is festooned with botanical experiments.

Preparing to voice a client's piano I noticed a feature I have never seen before. It had strange extra weights added to the far ends of all the key levers. This will make the piano's touch heavier, but it is not a conventional feature nor modification. This piano is a Yamaha G2 grand (a very common model). If this were a 'thing' (Yamaha or otherwise) it would likely have come up in general discussion with colleagues or during my training as a piano technician at the Sydney Conservatorium. It hasn't.   

The piano was formerly in Italy so we conclude the work was done there. The client knew nothing of it. Is it the invention of a piano teacher? A mad maestro hell-bent on a regimen of finger-strengthening? "They call them fingers, but I never see them fing." This is the running-on-loose-beach-sand or training-at-high-altitude approach to piano playing.

On the topic of weird modifications, the Caped Regulators serviced a piano which was the opposite of the Yamaha from Italy. Extra lead weights had been inserted into the front parts of the key levers to make the touch much lighter. It discombobulated all who experienced it, like pedalling a moped on Mars. It is not unheard of for folk to seek non-standard regulation adjustments for their piano. We should regard the accepted tolerances for piano regulation as 'Baby Bear's Porridge,' by which I mean 'just right'.

I explored lead weights in piano keys in a post titled 'Leading Lady'. Above we see a lead in excellent condition.

Contrast that with a veritable 'Big Book of British Smiles'*** in piano key lead form...

Lead oxidisation. Note the lead dust sprinkled on the key frame. Note that the key (C88, the hightest note on the piano) has been split by the expanding lead weights.

A vew of the treble end with the action still attached. This piano's action featured strange speculum-style thingies poking through apertures in each hammer shank. Not usual. They're some sort of cockamamie catchers dreamed up in order to make the action more compact. Conventional backchecks are fitted to the rear ends of the key levers in a grand. You can view conventional backchecks in the photos of the Yamaha from Italy (earlier in this post).

Let the scraping begin. Such a treatment will only be temporary. The leads will continue to oxidise. It might be a while before they bother the client (which is usually only when the swelling leads cause keys to bind and become unplayable) or it might happen quickly. The aged and fragile keysticks are so degraded that no one would recommend replacing the leads. If the client desired a resolution to this piano's woes, commissioning an entirely new keyframe and keyboard would be the go. It can be done. This keyboard would be sent (along with certain sample action components) to a specialist in the USA who would copy its proportions and make a new one. Such an endeavour would be a massive overcapitalisation in this little shitbox of a goanna. It ain't going to happen. So we're here to scrape leads.

We have lined the deck with cheap disposable plastic tarpaulins. Yuck, on every count.

Unusually, this key has split laterally.

Another yucky lead scraping job in as many days.

These key leads have been palliated (scraped back and painted over) at an earlier time. Painting and varnishing does little. In the treble the key leads are travelling OK but in the bass they are not. Nearer a damp wall, or a window? We don't know. 

It is what it is. We embark on another outdoor session.

This grand piano has the added painful bother of obsolete-but-still-plenty-out-there rocker capstans (two screw adjustors on a winged part) and a system that couples the action to the keyboard (88 fittings you normally don't have to deal with). Red flag, red flag. Normally a grand action is screwed onto the keyframe with 8 or 10 screws.  Each wippen heel sits on adjustable domed screws (capstans). Here (see red arrow) there is a pin in a flange to which a beaky bit is clipped. We call it a coupled action. This term is usually prefaced with a couple of expletives. It pays to carry a few spare expletives in your tool kit in case you run out. 

Here we see the piano action and keyboard coupled together.

Here the action is detached and we are viewing its nether regions. The bushing cloth which lines the pouty peckers is red. My blue arrow shows you how flirty some of these peckers can get if you're not careful. This is a 'swipe-left-on-Tinder' situation (I learned that from my housemate, I have no direct experience, I'm old-school, baby!) The traditional definition of 'tinder' is relevant: Dry, flammable material, such as wood or paper, used for lighting a fire.

88 (or 85 if you're lucky) of these cloth-lined beaky yokes (left) have to be individually aligned and clipped onto the pins at the rear of the capstans on the keys (right). It is a huge barrier to repairs or regulation. If such a piano were to be serviced more extensively (or rebuilt) these connectors can (and should) be converted to a modern conventional system.

I salvaged some parts from an action that was converted to bring you the above photo. Then... straight onto a toasty wippen fire.**** It's one of the best thing about being a piano technician in winter. We love to get cosy.

The Rönisch two-crown which opened this blog is lying on its back thinking of Stringland.

Now the nerdery. The height of the pressure bar is being measured at each screw. Being able to reinstall it correctly is critical. The bar forces the strings to make an angle beyond the bearing point that separates the speaking (sounding) lengths from the non-speaking lengths ensuring firm contact with the bearing point (just visible behind the pressure bar). This angle varies between 11 degrees and 20 degrees: at 11 degrees the string is likely to buzz when the impact of the hammer tends to lift it off the bearing; and at 20 degrees the string may break or make tuning difficult since it will not move easily through a 20-degree angle.

There is nothing not measured in preparation for removing the strings and many associated parts. All manner of string gauges and lengths must be recorded. Bass strings have copper windings which do not go the full length of the string. The length of the winding is measured, the core wire beyond the winding, the type of eye (to loop onto the hitch pin) and its dimensions, it's all documented.

This piano's pressure bar extends across the three sections of the treble bridge. It has 29 screws. There is a separate bar for the bass bridge (it is unusual to have a pressure bar in the bass). The number of turns taken to remove each pressure bar screw is also recorded. Keep all such screws in careful order, don't just chuck 'em in a bucket. Note and label the position and orientation of all parts removed (even if it seems obvious). Exceptions would be the most obvious oft-removed basic cabinet parts and the action. For the rest, one can't document enough. If the position of a widget is to be deliberately changed, you have to know what 'before' was.


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

** I like to say 'prairie' rather than 'desert' in this case because our deserts are so extreme. I'm referring to drier parts. It seems genteel, quaint, amusing. It's not a word Australians use. But, unlike many Americanisms, I like it. I'm also implying that things are a bit backward, in a Cletus Spuckler kind of way. Now hand me my mint julep.

*** An amusing Simpsons moment that illustrates Americans' general (or clichéd) view of the British. A humble piano technician's view of Americans is that their teeth are like whiter-than-white immaculately-regulated piano keyboards. Us Aussies? Perhaps we're a little from Column A, a little from Column B. It's funny that Prince Charles forms the punchline.

**** My term for all piano part pyromania, not restricted exclusively to wippen assemblies.

I cordially invite you to meander around the blog...

Pianos: House and Garden Varieties

Pianos: Painos (not a typo)

Putting pianos out to pasture

Pianos: The Clunker Chronicles

Domestic(ated) pianos, a homely homily

Pianos: Domestic Blots

Problem Pianos: The Squeaky Pedal Blues (YouTube)

Flowers in my tuba

Push bikes, plucky and practical.