Pianos: Working blue

I'm glad I peeked at the nether regions of this Pearl River piano. I've never seen the lower section of a piano's cast iron frame painted blue. Normally they're painted gold, or black where they are rarely seen (e.g. in some uprights). I mention this to the client. "Why did they choose to paint it blue?" she asks. "I expect blue paint was on special" was all I could offer.  

'Working blue' might be to misspell the name of this piano. Fuchs & Möhr. I'm already happy to mispronounce it. To say it earnestly still sounds like a Scouser is guiding a tour group around the Reeperbahn.

This toothpaste-toned lower frame is equally noteable. Sometimes there's not a whole lot else to get excited about with certain domestic goannas. I'll be tickled pink if I ever see a purple paint-job.

I love this client's striking wall decoration. I'd never be bold enough to try something like this. I love their piano, too. It's a pleasure to have this regular client in my books. They're always amazed I remember their piano, room, house and address. I don't think they know quite how many times I've slipped such pictures into the blog.

This piano is from a time when a certain socialist state seemed so unassuming. But what would I know? At least the clients here have narrowly dodged a bullet with this free piano. It was able to hold a tuning at pitch, coming up from a semitone (and more) flat, the legacy of 20-odd years without a tuning. The previous owners obviously lost interest, it's a common scenario. Even when a piano is not played, its tuning changes and degrades. The weather and immediate environment (heating, cooling, open doors, sunny windows) affect pianos far more than most realise.

Most uprights feature lids that open away from the player. The Pearl River upright has the unfortunate feature of a boomgate-style lid (behated the world over, well, by piano technicians at least). Such lids must be entirely removed for tuning access. The only thing more irritating than the lid itself, is the means by which the hinge pin must be removed - towards the wall. The only way to get it out is to move the darn piano.

Yet the annoying boomgate lid had a charming companion. This spring-hinged little propstick popped up and slotted perfectly into the lid's locator niche. 'Why such a lid?' asks the client, prompted only by my utterances as we heft one end of the piano away from the wall. 'It's pretending to be a grand, and fooling no one.'

Another boomgate lid hinge pin that must be removed toward the rear of the piano, this time on a Steinway Z upright. One could lobby to do some careful woodwork to enable the hinge pin to be inserted from the front (if that were to be regarded as aesthetically acceptable). Alternatively, such lids are sometimes converted to a more conventional style of opening (hinged from the rear).

The devil's in the detail. 'Nearly'. Observe a more conventional one-piece lid on a Yamaha C 108 upright. And the pipes are calling (in the background).

Mugs you can hear. The client's befriended magpies really were chiming in during the tuning, she was convinced they were singing along. They're smart, she said. They are. Smart enough to have skewered me in the side of the head just in front of my ear (clearing my helmet) as I cycled through Jubilee Park in September.

Gah! It felt like a jagged half-brick had been hurled at full force from across the park. Touching the area bloodying my fingers, I took this selfie to assess my injury. I know the magpies are doing their duty during breeding season. I did not return to that park for two months.

In my dressing room at the theatre I clean and review the still-stinging spot. It's more a line than a spot. Shit, magpies are clever, it's pierced my earlobe three times as well. Kidding.

Later I'm still figuratively licking my wounds.

How Danish cyclists ward off magpie attacks.

Via my mother. I don't know which is the greater Hitchcockian horror; outdoor birds indoors, or all those superfluous blobby tittles and errant apostrophes.

When all else fails, give (or receive) a musik hug. Nice selfie, Cazzbo.

Here's a previous technician's unorthodox amelioration of excessive vibration in the dampers of a grand. A small piece of bushing cloth has been attached to the side of a damper which was perhaps wobbling around enough to make contact with its neighbour. I'm playing the note to lift the damper to reveal the perky little red patch.

Each grand damper has a wire that extends from the back action (a series of parts that lifts the damper) up to the damper block and felt itself (visible here). Each damper wire passes through a hole in a wooden guide rail. Each hole is lined with bushing cloth. When this cloth wears and compresses, excessive damper vibration can develop when the damper is lifted up off the strings.

No legitimate technician would be trained to do this (to place the pictured patch). But from time to time almost any desperate measure can be legitimised. Almost. Clattery jalopy-style overly-worn pianos abound in clubs, homes and churches.

Here's another piano (in a club) with two dampers temporarily removed for the replacement of broken strings. You can see the red cloth linings, the damper guide bushings which the damper wires pass through. They are healthy and functioning well.

But for the troubled church piano (don't tell me there's a troubled church!) replacement of all the damper guide bushings is the correct solution, but it won't be done. The materials and skilled labour required mean that it is an expensive job. Regrettably, this church piano has several other serious mechanical deficiencies. Too many to sensibly invest in repairing/replacing, so said I. Second opinions (or second comings) welcome.

Reverend Lovejoy: "And as we pass the collection plate, please give as though the person next to you were watching."

Every time I encounter a piece of pin block wood, I feel compelled to blog it in the hope that I might be able to enhance folks' understanding of what a piano's tuning pins go into. A plank of quality multi-cross-laminated hardwood forms the pin block. In most pianos you cannot see the pin block (it is concealed by the cast iron frame).

In many older pianos the pin block has shrunk and begun to develop small cracks. Many a 'free piano' on Gumtree (and similar) that folk say 'just needs a tune-up' cannot hold a tuning because the tuning pins have become too loose in the pin block. Beware (and get a technician to inspect any piano you are considering saying 'yes' to).

A Tale of Two Yamahas. Two pianos in the same little music school. Above we see the cloth bushings in the key levers at the fulcrum point. Each key pivots on a balance pin. This finely-woven cloth lining is actually a kind of laminate, red-white-red, often wool-cotton-wool. It must remain dimensionally stable as it is constantly rubbed. There are so many places where cloth and leather parts in the piano are exposed to friction. Parts are always rubbing together. Yes, yes, Cazzbo, but what about pianos?

The above piano is 50 years old, there is wear in these (and other) cloth bushings, yet they are still functionally impressively. Respect. In more recent times such quality of materials has been sacrificed.

By contrast, the other Yamaha (a piano of a similar age) in the same school has had its balance rail bushings replaced. Both the material and the workmanship is of dubious quality. 'It was like that when I got here!' I cry. The replacement cloth has already compressed and become unstable and the keys at the balance rail are very loose. You can see the cloth is more like felt which (when rubbed) disintegrates quite quickly. Additionally the replacement cloth has already become curved around the balance rail pin. Its surfaces (exposed to the friction of the balance rail pin) should be flat and parallel. Now let's view the effect of these shonky balance bushings on the keyboard (below).

It's a veritable Big Book of British Smiles. I could try to move the keys and make them look straight and untilted, but because the non-Yamaha bushings cannot do their job, the moment the piano is played, the keys get all messy again. There is no point. The bushings are a disgrace. My advice to the client (for now): Ignore!

I evoke this Simpsons moment quite regularly, but this has been the first time I actually referenced it in condition notes to the client.

The dentist shows Ralph pictures...

...each more aesthetically displeasing than the preceding. Ralph is forced to confess that he doesn't brush. The tearful climax sees Ralph thrust his hand over the horror of the page depicting Prince Charles' toothy smile. It's the punchline to a darkly funny scene with a brilliant musical underscore. It's back in the early seasons, before Ralph Wiggum became one-dimensionally stupid.

A wee garden update. These unlabelled Bunnings plant specials* that I thought had died, suddenly rewarded me. The first lilies of Lilyfield (as far as I'm concerned). I couldn't stop looking at them.

This part of the garden (just a random collection of pots) has been full of delightful suprises (and a few casualties).

Here a centre pin is working its way out of the flange. Centre pins are little axles found in myriad moving piano parts. Each pin is wrapped in the famous (in this blog instalment, at least) finely-woven bushing cloth. The cloth around the 'axle' is in a precision-machined wooden part in the piano action. Parts can be too tight, too loose, there is much that can go wrong. How to resolve such problems requires the knowledge and skill of a trained piano technician. 

The hammer flange with its centre pin moved further out. Centre pins that are no longer centred cause erratic movement and uneven wear of parts. Invariably one of the flange bushings will be much more worn than the other.

How to treat this depends on the extent of the particular part's wear and the overall condition of the piano. Bushing cloth is sometimes replaced, but no sensible person is going to rebush many, many parts in a frail old clunker. It ain't happenin'. One would be more likely to investigate replacing complete parts (flanges, wippens), perhaps replacing the entire action... perhaps replacing the entire piano.

* $4 each from the Bunnings 'half-dead section'. A mate tells me I should be me more positive and call it the 'half-alive section'. Managing to resurrect something from that pitiful death row shelf is strangely satisfying.

Please browse around the blog...

Pianos: Nailed or screwed

Pianos: Going Dotty

Pianos: Behind the Candelabra

Pianos: Formal, and formerly so...

Spruced Up - Pianos About Town

Pianos: Slickers and stickers

Pianos: Fleets, flyovers and fireside folly.