Pianos: Doing Time

When I see piano serial numbers that look like this my imagination flits to picturing myself as Prisoner Number 120584. The numbers don't have to be in this font, nor this location, but the overarching feeling of entrapment is associated with old (almost always neglected and abused) pianos. Gah. Call the RSPCP.

I'm in the clink with a clunker.

Homer behind bars. His cellmate plays mournful harmonical. 

Homer: What are you in here for?
Cellmate: Atmosphere.

A random sighing near the piano. You can't start the planning too early for the irritating break in normal transmission that is Christmas. Otherwise yule be sorry. Cazzbo, please apologise for that pun.

I like the spatial approach to this home-baked chart of the Imperial March from Star Wars. You've got the right stuff, young space cadet. It mirrors the gestures we all pull out trying to help intermediate students learn their parts in band camp group tutorials. We've all been there. Where, space? My specialty of low brass meant that melodies were rarer than a transit of Uranus as seen from Neptune (not a euphemism). Rare indeed.

Often the thinnest gossamer filament separates older pianos in doily-and-tchotchke-riddled 'good rooms' from the famed 'trailer trash' piano spied locally.

The sounds are able to transport one to a higher plane... in that 'kill me now' kind of way. It just needs a tune-up, eh? No worries? No, worries! Do I need to show you another rural rust-bucket?

A young client's composition. I detect a wistful yearning for the times before he was born. Nostalgia is huge money-spinner, perhaps the lad's onto something. In days bygone even poorly-made pianos were still made better than most entry-level items of showroom bling today. Centenarian pianos were half the age they are now and there was more merit in rejuvenating them. I've anonymised my client's name, honouring Bill Duthie the codger character from Shaun Micallef's Mad As Hell. In days bygone Bill Duthie and his ilk were of voting age. Hang on a minute, they still are.

Days bygone. Those far off times when a bong meant a chime, and a buzz was a noise insecticidal. I find my mind flitting to fragments of an Eric Bogle ditty whose lyrics I took the great trouble to transcribe in the pre-internet days. Now in a trice I can google to determine whether my memory has served...

It's fraught agreeing to service centenarian clunkers. It may give clients false hope. When getting the 'trouble notes' going on a piano like this one, it is important to stress that this instrument cannot be banked on long-term for a developing musican. Many of these pianos are on borrowed time at best, set for the knackery at worst. There are plenty of times where the verdict will be 'no, it cannot - or should not - be done'. This needs to be said. Repeatedly.

Contaminated damper felts are noisy when silencing the strings. And how the heck do these sorts of things happen in the first place? Crusty old dampers may be noisy and inefficient even without contamination. Each damper in this part of the piano has two flat felt pads. Occasionally an untrained shed-type may have re-felted with single long pieces. You (and the shed-type) may think that would be more efficient at silencing the strings. It isn't.

I invite my partner in piano pampering to share this job. The piano is in a child's bedroom. Childrens' bedrooms are notoriously cluttered. We improvise a workspace on the front verandah. The demoralising nature of certain clunker work is eased by forming a fun (and skilled) team. I never stop trying to educate clients on the mechanical nature of pianos and the toll that age, neglect and climate takes on every widget therein.

The worst (noisy) contaminated damper felts are removed and the dampers are returned to the piano ready for new felts to be fitted. It's a good view of the excessively worn hammers, too.

New felt pieces of appropriate sizes are selected and glued to the wooden damper blocks with the action in the piano, so that alignment with the strings and correct function can be monitored. Fiddly-diddly specialist work, and not for the faint-hearted. Troubles lurk around every corner. One may attempt to remove a part only to find the screw is rusted in and inoperable. Often wooden parts have split and must be nursed to a still-frail level of health with glueing and clamping. Gah.

Here we see a wippen. The jack centre pin (red arrow) is working its way out of the flange. The part must be repinned. Specialist tools and knowledge are required. Pianos can have over 12 000 moving parts (a client was delighted to share that statistic with me just this morning, having heard it on ABC radio). 'That'd be right,' I affirmed. The blue arrow indicates the spoon that presses on the damper lever to lift it when a note is played. I was banging on about spoons in pianos (how cute and functional they are) last blog instalment.

A dead piano's wippen has taken up residence as a cable tidy in a mate's car.

In a trice I find a meme generator that does this. Astounding. What a time to be alive!

1923. I remember it like it was Bill Duthie's birthday.

At a recent Piano Tuners' Guild meeting this article was passed around for our interest. Just as well. I only normally see this particular tawdry broadsheet on offer in Australian airport gate lounges. I assumed it was for fashioning into extra barf bags, but I was wrong. Click on the image to read about the First Fleet piano, how it 'doubles as a table' and has endured 'damage and some very clumsy repairs'.

This soundboard logo speaks of my burden. The piano was not too bad, yet I had removed the action and was using the floor as my bench as I repinned sluggish action parts. It's not fun doing mechanical repairs to pianos in weird kitchenny spaces where folk seem to need to display all their bulk-bought everything everywhere. Not a surface free of sky-high clutter. I can only assume that all the cupboards are also bursting and that this just might be the residence of a daigou. Meanwhile it is the overly-humid kitchenny space that is exacerbating the piano's woes.

Atlas' weighty plight.

In Homer the Great (the Stonecutters episode) Homer is deemed 'The Chosen One'. Thus he is able to swap dragging the Stone of Shame for the Stone of Triumph (a much bigger stone).

Dirty dampers and inky stigmata in a grand. The hammers are also contaminated. Despite the First Fleet piano article, pianos are not meant to double as tables, pot plant stands nor barf bags.

My partner indulges me by recreating another golden Simpsons moment.

Homer parks his car straddling three disabled spots and is arrested by his own wife, in an episode where Marge has joined the police force.

The last time we savoured re-enactment hi-jinks we had a Homer Simpson fridge party. A timeless classic.

Homer: I got the idea when I noticed the refrigerator was cold.

A client's clinically-white bedroom.

It's nice to savour something clinical after all the grotty pianos that have graced this blog edition. Sometimes the doctor needs to flip that little IN sign over.

Dog day afternoon.

Fireside fop, or flop. Take your pick.

The same doggy, previous visit, previous house.

The same doggy on an even earlier visit. It is hard to find a moment (photographically) when this doggy isn't licking his own arsehole. Thus I am utterly befuddled as to how any human can think it's OK to have their face licked by a dog. No thanks.


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