Pianos: Agraffes, alloys and art.

Painted agraffes. On many pianos one area (or several) may have agraffes. They're little brass snouts with nostrils through which the strings pass, creating a termination point between the part of the string that sounds (technicians call that the 'speaking length') and the part that does not sound (except possibly sympathetically in certain circumstances). Some pianos have no agraffes at all, some have 88.

The termination points of a string must be as concise as possible. Rust, incorrect angles, deformation of the string itself (or the areas it passes by) may cause compromised sound, loss of energy, confusing aural artefacts and tuning instability.

One might be forgiven for imagining that the inner profile of an agraffe nostril owes much to the snouts of early Disney bovines. In fact, the holes in agraffes are more like the holes in donuts. This provides a focused termination point for the string while still allowing it to move easily when being tuned. 

This is a new agraffe. I've documented its hole. My Nobel Prize nomination for this work is just a matter of time. Back to the painted agraffes, ideally they would have been removed or masked off before the frame (the bloody big gold-coloured thing) was re-gilded. If the agraffes are removed, their screw holes in the frame must be masked off during spray painting. If the original agraffes are to be re-used their holes should be inspected and lightly filed to address any grooves that the strings have created. 

An agraffe-removing tool has been made by adapting a socket fitting. Agraffes are regulated to be firmly tight (while also pointing the right direction) with very thin brass washers. It is important to keep track of these little washers. Keep them with the relevant agraffes and keep the whole lot in order. This way you're not starting all over again when the agraffes are returned. Keep the washers in order even if you are replacing the agraffes. There may be changes, but you won't be starting from scratch.

There is much in piano rebuilding that involves careful measuring of existing situations before anything is removed. Much might be out of adjustment, worn, or wrong, but it is important to know what was there and where.

Even with careful accounting things can get confusing. Methods for organising all manner of screws and crazy widgets are workshop staples. Many reflect practices that are commonplace in the automotive industry. Ikea Man can't help you here.

Another similar tool for agraffe removal. I recommend alternating between the two tools based on which one is hurting your hand the least at any moment. It requires a fair bit of force to undo them, but care must be taken because agraffes can be snapped off if they're really stuck and one goes at it too brutally. An undesired complication.

Forceful brutish wimp sought for honest work. Secure employment for the insecure. I'm squarely in the wimp category, and pissweak as well, but the show must go on, baby.

You can't beat a bichord agraffe for robot cuteness. These were bought for this piano...

Here an agraffe has failed under the load of its pair of strings. This should not happen and never did back when manufacturers had pride and made things to last. Softer alloys may be cheaper and easier to machine, but they will not have the necessary strength or ductility. Many piano factories care more about their bottom line than making functional pianos. All metals are not created equal.

Flat chat. It's heartening to know that not every neighbour slipping a note under the door is a complainy arsehole.

A friend asked my thoughts on this 'mini piano'. I said that any time an upright piano is lower than hip height, step away. If a barista cannot drape his beard atop it from a standing position, it is reasonable to make condemnatory remarks (in one's head). Remarks about what? The piano or the beard?

Selective framing and angles can make the mini piano look almost respectable. It isn't.

In drop-action pianos it is much more difficult to gain the necessary access to the mechanical components to perform maintenance and repairs. Consequently, these teeny pieeni receive disproportionately low levels of servicing, and are barely worthy of what they might receive. 

I'd rather organise the Crazy Cat Lady's cats by colour (in the manner of clothing racks in an op shop) and persuade them to high-step march to a Son Clave rhythm at 140bpm - than remove a drop-action from a piano. 

Any time a piano looks more like a writing desk, it is almost certainly best deployed as one - a writing desk, I mean. Crack open the laptops and crank out those memoirs.

In piano technology school we were taught that the optimum relative humidity to ensure that a piano's jockstrap is never sweaty - is the magical number of 42%. Unless you live in a human humidor, this is impossible, but the essential goal for your piano is to ensure that it is in a protected stable part of the house where the climate does not swing through a wide range of variations. 

Humidity in the mid-range is the key, between 40%-60% with minimal fluctuation. In very low humidity woods dry, shrink and crack. In very high humidity woods, cloths and felts swell, traditional glue joints fail and wires, pins and other metals corrode. 

Pianos are fussy creatures by nature. So am I. I have banned all temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius, not necessarily for pianos - but for me. Yep, 25° is my official cut-off. I need to advise Kim Jong-un, who controls the world's weather. Well, he has persuaded his countryfolk that this is so. 

Here is another squirt of a drop-action piano. Pianos this short deploy rods (stickers) that extend downward from the far end of each key lever to connect each note in the action. 88 rods to disconnect, contain, then re-connect. The action resides down behind the keys, halfway to Mordor. The pitch is usually similarly subterranean. That (the pitch) can and should be addressed.

Some form of wood carving ensures that this piano evokes some sort of torturous jigsaw puzzle. It's a fine line between what aesthetically pleases me in piano cabinetry and what finds me wishing I could include the green-puke emoji in my condition report. I'm never quite sure where I'm drawing the line, but I reserve the right to vacillate.

I don't remember tuning this piano. It would be churlish to suggest that I had had therapy to block it out. I think it may have been in another room in a school where the brief was to tune the more conventional pianos. I don't care for this aesthetic. Wood meets wrought-iron with equal parts Laura Ashley and Laura Ingalls. I stand by my 'yuck'.

In a house whose proportions made my own abode seem miniature, the lovely woodwork here is the floor. A screwdriver still-life I've titled, I'd rather not have to pull the action out of this piano yet again

Another astonishing private house being prepared for a party.

This little piano's journey onto the stage made a compelling argument for fitting it with wheels. The small 'footprint' of such a piano means that an appropriate form of stage truck should be considered. If casters were fitted to each corner of this piano's base, a piano of this type might still be at risk of being toppled during moves. 

These stage trucks extend beyond the base of the piano (front and rear). We'll see how they were fitted in another blog instalment. Stay tuned.

Rustic security on a rustic piano.

A piano's ornate wood features. Even the faded hint of purple doesn't redeem this design for me. I'm not sure why a lyre on a bed of pith helmets fails to entice.

A prettier piece of furniture but let's forget about making music.

It appears that the last technician left in a hurry and the front door had to be replaced.

I couldn't sleep if I had a Steinway under my bed. It was annoying tuning the treble because I couldn't disconnect or move that ladder and had to just shimmy in somehow. 

The Caped Regulators (piano pamperers to the stars... and you) frequent two secret lairs - one in outer suburgatory, the other ruefully rural. That's the wrong 42. Is there any comfort in reflecting that we were only enduring 39 degrees? I called a meeting to propose we have a good old-fashioned Homer Simpson Fridge Party. 

Homer: "I got the idea when I noticed the fridge was cold".

Before you get your loincloth in a twist, we did this for a mere minute, as long as it took for me to educate my partner about a pertinent Simpsons moment then take this photo. Marge: "Homer, the fridge wasn't meant to be used this way. Although I must say, it's certainly refreshing!"

I'm back in the Art Gallery, tuning under the watchful ear of the Crazy Cat Lady (back when she was a beautiful young woman). 

She has a lapful of kittens. Please refrain from pussy references. Credit where credit is due, this work is Rupert Bunny's A summer morning (circa 1908). Lots of little bunnies will find my blog now when they google Uncle Rupert.

A senior staffer asked had I seen the current touring exhibition: 'Rembrandt & the Dutch golden age - Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum'. No, I haven't. Would you like to? It's the last day today. Yes, please!

She whisked me through past all the snaking queues (including the queue to cloak my backpack and tool bag) I've never felt more VIPpy. Wonderful. The exhibition itself was stunning. Exceptional. I highly recommend it (in whichever major centre it is next unveiled). I visited the Rijksmuseum while on tour as a performer in 2008, when swathes of it were undergoing renovation.

Portrait of Lucas de Clercq, Frans Hals (circa 1635). Black might seem plain (and it is) but on certain levels it is quite the statement because dying fabric a decent Melbourne or Beatnik black was hard to do at the time. That's not a sling on his right arm but rather 'a fashionable accessory, seen in other early 17th-century portraits'. The next time you see a stupid impractical fashion item (and that will be tomorrow, I predict) please remember the Dutch Sling (not a euphemism - and not a sling).

Judith Leyster's The jolly pisspot (1629). The radiant subject is dressed as the Krusty the Clown of his era, Peekelharing (Pickled Herring). On the table are his smoking accoutrements, including a tub of hot coals. Most vocations and trades were not available to women. This painting was at first attributed to Frans Hals.

The detail in this small work, Ary de Vois' The merry fiddler (1660-80), is hard to describe.

I've known a few drunken fiddlers.

If I spent twenty lifetimes striving, I'd still never be able to paint such detail. The elaborate goblet, its reflections, the coloured shadow it casts on the fiddler's hand, the elixir-like contents, the light on his dirty fingernails. 

I've worked as a musician employee in a controlled environment where committees propagate pointless policies. Ubiquitous tipple bans notwithstanding, I imagine today's bloated bureaucracies would respond to this sight with the introduction of compulsory under-the-fingernail checks for all musicians entering the orchestra pit.