The Caped Regulators

I've taken on an additional role - as occasional trusty sidekick to a respected piano technician. This type of piano work can benefit from being less solitary. Although two people tuning at once is not recommended, teaming up to regulate, repair, rebuild, restring may benefit from four hands, two heads. What a great way to share ideas, diversify my piano-related activity and experience, learn and laugh. I strive to honour the Superhero Tech and ask all the right questions to help the viewer follow the narrative without feeling dumb. That's what sidekicks do, isn't it? 

So we're going to regulate!

Regulation is an important, but often neglected, aspect of piano maintenance. A piano action is a complex machine comprising wood, felt, cloth, leather, metal. Even paper and cardboard are legitimately used in piano adjustment. Playing (or not playing!) the piano, its environment, its quality, its age - all these factors affect the ever-changing condition of the felts, cloths, woods, leathers, metals  (papers and cardboards). It's crazy, really. 

Regulation is restoring the optimal relationship between the many precision moving action parts to permit maximum energy transfer from player to instrument. Consider how felt compresses, how wood responds to humidity changes. Cloth and felt are affected by humidity too. And what of 100-year-old paper and cardboard?

No, I'm not counting my millions (in stacked coin form) we're measuring the piano's static touch-weight (here, the down-weight) by seeing how many grams it takes to depress each key, with a few taps on the keybed edge to break the initial inertia. With this 'before' snapshot, we'll be able to discern improvements in the piano's touch after some regulation of the action components' relationship to each other, and use other strategies to reduce friction within the action mechanism.

The determination is to fit new wippen assemblies to the bass section of this piano (and to the middle sometime soon). Very little (almost nothing) is genuinely 'standard' in piano parts, integrating the new wippen assemblies requires calculating and testing, because they are not the same dimensions as the old parts. You can see they look different.  'Is it because they is black?' (sic)

Part of our greater quest (oh, the perfect cutaway scene for the trusty sidekick!) is to replace the capstans (the adjustable smooth-headed bolts that initiate contact with the action mechanism when the key levers are depressed). The new capstans are lighter (but they're black!) no, lighter in weight. They're being set taller than the old capstans, due to the different dimensions of the new wippen assemblies. Stay with me, or skim - it's all good! No, stay with me! 

'These are gunna go in here, but neater.' explains Superhero. They are Kawai wippen assemblies, made not from wood, but from Essence of Ninja.

Essence of Ninja can be manufactured extremely accurately and consistently and is not subject to the vagaries of humidity. It is ideally suited for many action parts. Because the new wippen assembly flanges (too technical?) are taller than the old ones, a new hammer rest rail is fashioned and installed, elevated.

The trusty sidekick glues felt strips to the new hammer rest rail.

Another assignment for The Caped Regulators - the dynamic duo banishing excess friction and harnessing inharmonicity for good, not evil. No job too fiddly-diddly. This time, we must carefully infiltrate one of Sydney's finest buildings to tend to one of Sydney's finest pianos.

A broken bass string in the Stuart and Sons piano has already been provided with an interim splice. This is only possible if the breakage provides enough core wire length beyond the winding. The string gauges are unusually large in this piano. The appropriate music wire size for the extra length to tie on is larger than the largest that technicians generally carry. A trip to the string maker was required. The spliced string (above) has been loosened in readiness for removal.

Removed string end with the best splice (not my work).

Now the tuning pin is removed. But before, the tightness of this pin and neighbouring pins has been measured with a torque wrench. Three potential replacement pins have been sent by the piano maker. Each tuning pin's small hole (the becket) has been enlarged to receive the very large music wire size. To use the pin that will provide adequate but not excessive torque is our mission. 

The white gloves are in case our secret Superhero work is suddenly interrupted, we must masquerade as waiters.  

The tuning pin is driven into the hole in the pin block. Note that a small vise support is installed below to stabilize and protect the pin block. I should add that relevant damper was removed for its protection before removing the spliced bass string.

It's hard to see, perhaps, from my wicket keeper position, but that damper is out, like a pugilist's tooth. By far the most common wire for the outer winding of bass strings is copper. The Stuart and Sons piano's strings are wound with stainless steel. Dishwasher safe (do not wash your piano).

Here is the new string. Handling strings with white gloves protects them from contamination from skin oils and moisture. Framed under the string is the piano's action, out of the piano, on the carpet. 

Check out the keyboard's extremities... you may notice they're a little more extreme.

The end of the string winding down at the hitch pin end. A bit unusual. This method of starting (ending?) the winding is a bit like when you use a sewing machine and go a few stitches in reverse, and then forward... but on such a thick chunky string, with such a thick chunky winding, it looks very curly-wurly-bizarre. 

Four white-gloved hands and many a tool called to duty. 'Sidekick, is one of your white-gloved hands operating a camera?' It felt like five hands (and a couple of feet) were needed to insert the string in the Stuart piano's unique bridge agraffes.

Fitting the string into the bridge agraffes is a different proposition to that of a traditional series of bridge pins. Normally the string makes a horizontal Z (sort of) around two bridge pins. The Stuart design pushes the string downwards so that the plane of the string's deviation is vertical. Learn more. You'll notice that the string we've installed with the curly end is just behind... I somehow gave another bridge agraffe all the glory.

The string coil is made on the pin. The string is carefully tightened. Not there yet... 

The new string's 'eye' is correctly located on the hitch pin. A softer tool is used for such tasks, usually wood (with a hammer to gently tap it).

The damper is reinstalled.

Oooh, look, a handwritten note from the piano maker, with autograph. The 'striking line' is how far along the speaking lengths of the strings, the hammers hit. It is particularly critical in the treble. 

What on earth could a fourth pedal possibly be for? Well, you'll never believe it. It's incredible. This mystery pedal provides a feature that can be found in any house and garden (OK, house, not garden) upright piano. That's right. But I love that pedal, I'm addicted to it, is it because my ears are sore? Not burning... sore. And sensitive.

So, the pedals, from RIGHT to LEFT...

Sustain (damper lift) known as the 'loud' pedal wherever violins are known as fiddles.

Sostenuto (an annoying term because it also means 'sustain') but this one is nonetheless standard on high-end grand pianos. It is rarely deployed, by far the least used piano pedal. Long and short notes possible together (in the damper range). 

Una corda (side shift of action) different part of hammer hits strings (hitting fewer strings in some cases).

Finally, the mystery pedal. The house and garden pedal. A second soft pedal, which moves the hammers closer to the strings. With this pedal, the same part of the hammer strikes the strings (travelling a lesser distance) whereas with the una corda pedal, a different area on the hammer strikes the strings. 

In this room, the artworks' eyes AND ears follow you around the room.

Related posts:

See The Caped Regulators in their first two-minute feature film: