Pianos: Talking dirty...

It's time to lift the lid on a few dirty little piano secrets.

This client was surprised to learn of moderate levels of surface rust on her piano's strings, mould on the stringing pillows and generalised amorphous gunk atop the dampers. Cleaning is not usually the task assigned, but it may be touched on in discussion to educate and to flag what is possible (or not). This day I felt like seeing if I could make a tangible improvement without adding too much more time to my appointment. I carefully experimented with the first damper on the treble bridge (above left) to see how readily its layer of smut might choose to release itself. 

I made further gentle forays with logic, care and a piano technician's understanding of how dampers operate. Dampers are incredibly vulnerable and will misalign themselves if you so much as glance sideways at them. If you're tempted to dust - don't. Dampers need lots of sleep and do not like to be inadvertently woken. If they are somehow disturbed, a regimen of controlled crying may be necessary - for the piano technician.

They came up all right! I used the cleaning job as a diverting rest between pitch-raise tuning passes, to give extra pleasure and value to the client, and to fit in with all the other cleaning staff purposefully primping this moderate mansion. My judicious Shannon Lush-style de-emphasising of the stringing pillow mould was also a pleasing win.

This situation is far more irksome (and icksome). A cat-induced catastrophe. My esteemed partner in piano pampering practically coughed up his own furballs at this sight.

Wretched and retch-worthy. Bad moggy!

There are more problems that mere moggy murk. Missing damper felts evoke The Big Book of British Smiles.

An isolated damper. If only the darn cat had thrown up on the almost-pub-style patterned carpet. Busy designs camouflage.

When I'm on a cleaning mission grocers' apostrophes had better watch out!

Hell knows no fury like a woman scorned by a surfeit of superfluous errant-apostrophes-in-plururalisation. Don't people realise that there are folk who are too poor to be able to afford punctuation?

At the Cabra-Vale Ex-Active Servicemen's Club it's more a case of misplaced good intentions. Should I dig into my toolkit and attend to the necessary adjustment?

I enjoyed the forthright missive on the piano itself. The fine Vale of Cabra is not my normal stamping-ground, so it is someone else whose not-unreasonable tuner tantrum has led to this policy change.

Under no circumstances is the top of the piano to be obstructed or items placed on it to prevent the opening of the piano.

This morning, the piano tuner attended and struggled to gain access to the piano due to a number of items being left on top of the piano and obstructions preventing access to the top.

The Chief Executive Officer has instructed Management to make regular checks of this area to ensure this direction is carried out.

Anyone breaching this direction will face disciplinary action.

This rule would struggle to gain traction in a domestic setting.

Domestic blots blitzed. This situation presented as a simple - or complex - job. It appeared that mould had impregnated the black keys. The splats weren't ready to co-operate with any simple cleaning techniques. Ultimately I felt that the substance was not mould, but paint (diluted) as though someone had flicked a paint brush around while attempting to clean it. Yet another reason why pianos don't like sheds. 

The solution involved judicious sanding of each affected key (top, front, sides) with ultra-fine sandpaper. Each key was removed for careful hand-sanding, cleaning and polishing. Again, this is a job for a piano technician, not the cleaner, ideally. The client was very happy with the rejuvenation (which included tuning, of course). 

I scrubbed and scrubbed. No I didn't. Don't whitewash Ninja notes.

Back in black? No, born this way. But how do they sound?

Foreign object(tion)s. This is not how piano technicians like to be paid.

The spillage likely here is a grand piano lid, if that hinge pin works its way out any further. Always check the hinge pins before lifting the lid. I do. 

'I do'. I'll never use that line at a wedding unless the celebrant asks, 'Do you obsessively check all piano lid pins before lifting grand piano lids?'

What is dirty here? The expression on a piano technician's face upon encountering a drop-action or spinet piano. Notice how the hammer line is barely above the height of the key levers. Where is the action? Curtail your FOMO, folks, the action extends below the hammers as usual. The kaboodle is a complete compromise of compactness, but the most striking annoyance is the system that connects the key levers to the beginning of the action mechanism. 

Normally in an upright piano the bottom of the action effectively sits on the rear of the keys. Taller pianos may have rods (or stickers) extending between the keys and the action. In a spinet piano the stickers are attached to the ends of the keys but extend downwards where they are attached to the bottom of the action in a manner that I am happy to leave shrouded in the shadows of a murky mystery wrapped up in a riddle with the possible parting rejoinder, 'You may wish to consider upgrading your piano, madam'. I'd rename the spinet stickers 'parting rejoinders' if I were updating the piano dictionary. No one wants to remove a spinet piano action, it is a reputed nightmare. I'd rather remove myself. Exit stage left.

Risky business. Copious rust sees free movement of the strings seriously impeded during tuning. Small (and even moderate) levels of rust on wires will not immediately render a piano unserviceable, but extreme rust might. The piano's sound will be affected. The bearing and termination points of the strings' lengths are also potentially compromised. Severe rust is a no-no, and it is a large expense to solve the problem (by restringing). 

I've often asked myself (and various clunker-owning clients) - When is rust ever viewed as a good thing?

Well... at long last I may almost have an answer. One of the perks of my work is to be constantly fascinated by people's houses and how they live (in a good way, mostly!). 

This interesting light box reframes rust. It was lit in my honour for having cooed over it (I imagine).

I've seen the light.

Here's a cheeky little splice knot hiding away in the piano. I love splices, in all their veritable bush-mechanic-y MacGyver-iness. I'm not at all adroit at whipping them up in a trice. Our city's esteemed piano string maker could probably whip up the requisite replacement copper-wound string in the time it might take me, grappling, to persuade the more stubborn gauges of music wire to be girl-scouted together. I know how it's done. I've been trained in it. So in an emergency would I suddenly perform some adrenaline-fuelled lift-a-car-off-a-kid feat? Probably not. In short, I'd rather not knot.  

Only in desperation would one generally place a splice in the speaking (sounding) length of the string, but where it breaks is where it breaks. The success (or not) of a splice also depends on whether the wire itself is too fatigued and may break again when a knot is attempted. This splice is not my work. I just found it when tuning and tiptoed around it trying not to unduly disturb it! Such splices (in the sounding part of the string) will affect the sound, but such pianos usually have myriad other issues. This 'scar' and its associated tale provide bragging rights when this piano talks to other pianos.


A function room piano. If you thought 'gakki' was Japanese for 'yucky' you'd be forgiven.

A healthy layer of dust on a grand piano soundboard is nothing out of the ordinary. Cleaning it is not that easy (unless the piano is being restrung). Brown (rusty) music wire is also an undesirable yet common sight. Protection is the best prevention. Close the lid and control the prevailing environment.

So many brides (and loose-haired harems) have been rendered less-than-kempt so that this piano could collect enough hairpins to send one around the bend. To calculate the number of bobby pins in a dance school piano, simply multiply the number found in a function room piano by ten. 

This is not how piano technicians like to be paid. Although...

Snow? Ice? Icing? Ice cream? We all scream.

Behind the Candelabra is a bloody mess, and no, I'm not writing a film review. Notice the very worn string-grooved hammers.

If the hammers remind you of Melting Moments biscuits, the piano has seen a LOT of heavy playing and very little, if any, restorative maintenance.

The hovering Hooverer, normally the natural enemy of the piano tuner, assists. Isn't it lovely to see a fine young man doing the women's work? 

The action stack is removed, revealing the key levers, capstans and more wax. Shannon Lush recommends putting inadvertently waxed items in the freezer* but I don't think we'll be cryogenically treating a piano. 

This piano featured in a little video I made on an earlier occasion.

* ...so that the wax might be chipped or scraped off... not just to forget the whole sorry incident for all time. Please do your own Shannon research on this one, I might have dreamed the whole thing. There was no wax-infested piano!

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