Pianos: Something screwy

Art above the piano is always studied thoroughly during the tuning.

Blossoming baubles.

Does it chronicle the parting of the waters? Are serpents at play? I don't know, but at the moment all I see is...


We met this teeny pieeny in 'Kablammo' (a recent blog instalment). On my first visit I didn't notice the proximity of that fireplace. I was too busy being overwhelmed by the piano's ailing innards. It was much more wintry on my return to reinstall the repaired action. The marshmallow-melter was pumping out the BTUs. The toasty output pounded on the piano. I insisted the client feel the side of the piano which would be a lovely thing to put your feet on if your toes were blue. Where would the piano like to be? Wherever the fluctuations are fewer.

Some sort of thermally-protective baffle should be considered. It'd be baffling to make it aesthetically charming (it's a delightful abode). Shunting the piano just a few more inches away from the fireplace would help. Such situations are dire for a piano's health and lifespan.

Readers of 'Kablammo!' will recall that I installed a certificate documenting my epic repair session. I tucked my list of repairs in there too. This gives me a way to monitor what happens next. If more hammer felts detach from the wooden hammer cores (which was the most obvious affliction troubling this piano) I can confirm that they were not the hammers I repaired... unless, of course, they are.

A tiny time-capsule. I'd happily send this piano into orbit as a musical missive to the cosmos. Aliens could as readily play this piano as play a golden phonograph record. The piano is working and sounds fab. The client declared it a miracle. The aliens would love it. "I left my mark", as Zorro famously said after urinating in a paddock then encouraging his horse to follow him. So his horse also urinated? Yes, the steed peed.

The Baldwin console piano (still on Planet Earth) features an unusually-positioned sustain pedal rod. It's just beyond where the dampers end (in the mid-treble). It's pictured disconnected. Another pedal rod in the 'usual position' (left of the action) operates a bass-bridge-only damper lift. Too nerdy? Probably.

It's toasty (even though the heating is now off). I decide to doff the leggings under my jeans. I knew the clients had left the building. It would seem that in my house we just wear more clothes, and our power bills reflect it. My housemate delights in crunching the specific percentage of a 'one person household' that the two of us total. We're not ridiculous about it, but I am wearing a scarf as I write.

'Astern warning' Cazzbo. What? For flashing a bit of leg? Avast!

 The multi-roomed piano mansion which houses this ship-shape whosiwhatsit hosts a perplexing array of gargantuan ornaments. I eschew collectibles, but this, I like. I don't know where I'd put such an object in my own home, but I'd almost be prepared to find a way forward.

"I'll need three ships and 50 stout men."

Gargantuan objects. I guess you've got to fill all those rooms with something, but it was a bit much (for me). Spooky. Perhaps the figurines can get COVID-19 gigs to make eateries look fuller.

Elsewhere in domesticity I text a client photos of what I find. He's scored what he believes is a piano in 'immaculate condition'. It's not a complete disaster, but I need to point out a broken string (before I start).

I find the string coiled up in the bottom of the piano. "That's very unprofessional," he offers. No, I explain, it's appropriate. If we want to replace the string we have this one to provide the bass string maker to measure and copy. Plenty of cobwebs, too. No need to copy them.

Always have a peek at the nether regions of any piano you're about to tune. The client was convinced the seller had maintained an exemplary tuning regimen. That's right... 'regimen', not 'regime'. I digress. Before visiting, I advise the client that invariably a decade has gone by (without any tuning) before the seller finally acknowledges that they're still too busy to take up their planned retirement hobby, or they accept that the kids have found other interests.

Something screwy indeed. I can't begrudge this agricultural bridge pin replacement. With good indirect light I have a bloggable photo opportunity. "Don't Do What Donny Don't Does". An orthodox bridge pin repair this ain't. This piano had several of these screwy saviours.

Here's another rustic replacement. It's wrong on so many levels (like farting in a lift). The angles of bridge pins (and the deviation of the string around them) are important. Strings need to be firmly in contact with the bridge. Here the screw's thread almost helps the situation. 

It's a wonder I could make these notes sound plausible while tuning. Notice how the string barely deviates between the speaking length (above the screw) and the rest. This piano's bridge is under-engineered and not the finest wood.

I thought 'just' had a more positive uplift than 'barely'. I take great care with my client communication.

Here a more worthy piano has a crack in the bridge repaired. Bridge pins are removed (like pulling teeth) then their holes are preserved, so they are still 'there' for when the bridge has been glued, clamped and stabilised. The bridge pins will then be returned. You can see that this section of the piano has had its strings de-tensioned and moved out of the way for this repair. Not for the faint-of-wallet.

Beautiful, and not usually my bag, baby.

When white keytops detach from the keys, revealing the wood, clients react, "It's beautiful, perhaps we should take them all off." Mercifully, no one harbours this thought for more than a few seconds.

A stack of jumbled key coverings atop the piano. Four more (the lowest four naturals) were also completely detached, just cowering and trying not to be discovered. No one had played down there to disturb them. A piano can be (and often is) in a deplorable state of tuning, and folk play on in cloth-eared bliss... for years...

...but no one can play without a sense of hindrance when the keytops are falling out faster than Homer's hair in a Simpsons flashback. "You're PREGNANT?!" Finally a piano technician gets the call. A pitch-raise tuning and some other repairs are also required.

Here's a tip: If you do suffer detached keytops, if you can, keep track of which note is which. Label them (don't write directly on them) and/or keep them in order. Have you noticed that C looks exactly like an F? E looks like B? But that's just the beginning. They're not interchangeable - because the entire keyboard has been sliced up from a large series of joined boards. The keysticks are very subtly different widths. To B or not to B? It is quite the puzzle when you're handed a shuffled pack of detached keytops.

Step One: Solve the puzzle. Ideally the whites will not have been jumbled. But 'tis what 'tis. There are 21 keytops to be reglued. Gah!

The top of the keystick and the underside of the keytop must be thoroughly cleaned of the old glue. Carefully does it, with a sharp blade. These plastic keytops are older and are likely to be brittle and easily chipped or broken.

The keys have been cleaned. Keytop undersides next.

It's hard to see here, but it's worth creating a 'key' (as they call it) by roughening each surface, to give the glue a better chance. I cross-hatch each surface with a blade. This is very artisan and not done in any piano factory. The reglueing should be very stable. I'm big on lists. I list the keys repaired. More keytops may fail, but they will not be the notes the Caped Regulators have serviced.

Another tip: Don't DIY. We technicians encounter laughable keytop reglueing jobs. A right mess. There's more to it that the dabbler may think. But if you'e the tinkering type, impatient, or parsimonious, by all means give it a whirl - it's your piano!

Client keytop replacements as viewed by a trained piano technician.

Iso-fun. Spontaneous amusement for my housemate. There's nothing like banana muffins, and these were nothing like banana muffins. I'm kidding, they were delicious. I never bake, but COVID isolation and the surprise re-emergence of over-ripe bananas for $1 a kilo combined deliciously.

Lockdown lasted about five minutes. I miss it. In case y'all haven't noticed, there's no cure nor treatment for Coronavirus. But now it's harder to be safe when folk largely think the 'game' we were playing is over.

Significant parts of my employment activities won't be feasible anytime soon, and I am OK with that. It does not trouble me. I'm an introvert. I have been fine with setting myself little goals to achieve on the home front. I've barely scratched the surface. It might sound crazy, but this is the first time I've ever been able to spend the morning picking leaves out of my pebble gardens without feeling guilty.

I still feel a bit guilty when I have spent the morning making memes, yet it's no worse than needlepoint, surely. It's important work.

I didn't make this.

But I did make this wee me-meme... to honour a certain wonderful individual. You know who you are, O, Purple Pimpernel.

I love finding request lists in club or cruise ship pianos (pre-COVID). Great choices. 'Three Coin (sic) in the Fountain'. Sound investment advice? Financial forecast? No, it proves to be some sort of gambling (on love). Secret Love, great song. It's the one that resonates here. Hey, that's enough vague-posting for now, Cazzbo.

By the way, if we're ever rid of COVID, I will still uphold my need for physical distancing (which predated this particular pandemic). And thank Gough the hideous 'kiss hello' greeting will never return (not if I have my way). I have no idea how that ever sneaked into our culture, in which it has no place. I coped (where I couldn't avoid such 'air-kisses') by turning them into hugs. But that's no solution because it besmirches and cheapens the hug! Who wants to hug people they just met? Ghastly. Be gone!

So, I've drawn up my guidelines. They're to be found above in Mr. Men meme form. 

Nota Bene.

Purple gig memories.

The super-spreading capabilities of COVID-19 in music and theatre groups (particularly in enclosed spaces) is clear. The specialised and intense way we breathe and project (as singers, woodwind and brass players) is at odds with ensuring no community transmission.

Observing via social media (May/June 2020) folk already doing sneaky live gigs and sessions evoked a thought.YMMV but for me, it's a 'no'.

LANGUAGE WARNING (and thanks for reading this far).

LANGUAGE WARNING (I refuse to censor).

"There's a swear in there..." (tell me you didn't just mentally sing it).*

I'm considering taking a trombone to domestic tunings - solely to extend its slide to seventh position to delineate my personal space. You have been warned.

* When I find a version of the Play School Theme from the 1990s being labelled 'old' (and it still sounds a bit too fancied-up and modernised to me) - then I know that I'm the one that's old.


Go forth, Dear Reader...

Pianos: Nailed or screwed

Pianos: A bridge too far

Pianos: Painos (not a typo)

Pianos: Like pulling teeth

Pianos: Beale Street Blues

Pianos: Bristols and barflies

Pianos: Talking dirty...

Pianos: Arty facts