The Harpsichord came before the Piano

The Harpsichord came before the Piano

Do you know that the well known piano has a distant cousin called a Harpsichord?

harpsichord

The beautiful sound of the piano has be “fine tuned” over centuries beginning with this Harpsichord.

The earliest surviving harpsichords were built in Italy in the early 16th century. Little is known of the early history of the harpsichord, but, during the 16th–18th century, it underwent considerable evolution and became one of the most important European instruments. They are similar to the piano in many ways.

the harpsichord has two or more sets of strings, each of which produces different tone qualities. One set may sound an octave higher than the others and is called a 4-foot register, whereas a set of strings at normal pitch is called an 8-foot register, (the length references the string.)

Steinway O Action Project

Steinway O Action Project

It was decided to replace the existing hammers which were not actual Steinway parts but probably some sort of asian knock-offs.  All the the balance/front rail felts had to be replaced.  Therefore, it was necessary to set the key height to the requisite 2.594″ above the keybed, etc., etc.  Plan on spending some time because everything changes with the new felt.  Genuine Steinway hammers (NY improved)  turned out to be an impact player – tall that brittle harshness was now gone.  Tonal colors could now be discerned, even prior to the shaping & voicing to come.

Piano Restoration Albuquerque: Soundboard decal for Mason & Hamlin

Piano Restoration Albuquerque: Soundboard decal for Mason & Hamlin

Applied the soundboard decal to the Mason A.  It came in 2 parts that had to be done separately.  The largest w/the eagle was an alcohol transfer; it was challenging to lay precisely over the shadow of the orig.  The word Boston was simply a stick on.  A good spray coat of lacquer sealer soft sanded w/ 180 grit served as the base for the decal(s).  Just the right amount of denatured alcohol must be used for a perfect transfer to the soundboard.  As a last step to seal a light coat of lacquer was shot over the area.

Steinway Restoration: 1918 model O

Steinway Restoration: 1918 model O

Presently working on a 1918 model O. It’s soundboard has a series of cracks running along both bridges – esp. the treble. Close inspection revealed rib separation from the s. board at various points which were epoxyed and clamped. Fortunately most of these cracks are under the plate, so the area w/decal can be left alone.

Client wasn’t open to installing a new soundboard, and the orig., still has decent bearing & crown. The piano had been re-pinned and strung at some point; a variety of pin sizes were used – #4 and #5 down in the bass, even. Will replace pinblock with a 5 ply Bolduc. Both bridges are in good shape w/o cracks, they will be scraped and refinished.

Piano tuning Albuquerque: Plate Re-gilding

Piano tuning Albuquerque: Plate Re-gilding

Plate re-gilding can sometimes be a tricky project. In our shop we’re presently doing just that to one from a ’33 Mason A. After thorough cleaning a lacquer based primer was applied to a small section for test. There were problems; it seems that when the instrument had been re-pinned/ strung some 40+ years ago an automotive type metallic paint was used to spray the plate. This explained why a lacquer based coating would crinkle – a lot. Blasting w/ a very gentle abrasive quickly removed this problem layer of enamel. Now lots and lots of gentle sanding . . .
I have been working on a Steinway 1098 action which was attacked by mice. The nest was located, not under the keys, but right in the action itself. Nearly an octave’s worth of hammer butts, shanks, backchecks, etc were gnawed away to make room in addition to damage to keys and other stuff. Quite a clean-up project w/ the case. Replacing the hammer butts and so forth has been a challenge. Since orig. parts are not available it was necessary to use the best fitting butts, an asian style with flanges slightly larger than those in the action. These flanges were switched out. Now it remains to install and regulate, which will be the true test. In the meantime wire mesh was installed along the bottom of the piano as a preventative (this is where the nearly 100 year-old tilter comes in handy).

Steinway Piano Restoration and Summer Projects

Steinway Piano Restoration and Summer Projects

It’s been one busy, productive summer. 3 re-builds were completed: a 1912 Steinway O, a 1922 AB Chase, & a 1922 Steinway M. Of these the model O was the most challenging, for it required a bass bridge re-cap in addition to soundboard repairs. This instrument had been re-pinned & strung back in the early 70’s w/ nothing being done to address thequite serious negative bearing issues (more than 5/16″) of the bass bridge or the soundboard cracks. Problems had clearly been encountered before in that an attempt was made to stabilize the bridge cap from being pulled loose from the upward pressure exerted by the strings by installing screws in the worst areas. A complete re-cap, re-pin of the enitre bass bridge was thus necessary. In the end the piano came out w/ a smooth, even tone across the keyboard. It’s soundboard had several cracks but still had excellent bearing (w/ exception of the bass bridge).

By far, the Chase grand had the most soundboard issues. There were approx 8 – 10 cracks, large and small, w/ rib separation. Spruce shims were used to repair the largest and System 3 epoxy for the smallest. Before that, however, the ribs had to be glued back to the the s. board above using special clamps for the process. The original plate finish was in such bad shape that re-guilding was necessary; there were areas where the orig. bondo-like filler was coming loose – along with numerous scratches, dings. Renner hammers, shanks, flanges were used and helped the instrument really come alive in the end with great sustain & ‘bloom’. The dampers, at first, seemed almost hopeless but cleaned up to reveal a lovely burl walnut which looked great teamed up with crimson-backed damper felt. The owner decided to leave the inside rim, along with the fall board, mahogany and ebonize the rest of the cabinet for an interesting 2 tone effect.

The Steinway M had only 2 minor cracks in the soundboard which were easily repaired. The original pinblock had been repinned in the 1980’s w/ # 4 & 5 tuning pins and thus needed repacement. After the repaired & refinished soundboard came out so nicely, it was decided to spray the plate with steinway gold and to replace the agraffs. Pinblock aside, the biggest issue this particular piano had was entire sections of veneer on the cabinet were loose and literally falling off at the mearest touch. It looked like the case had suffered either water or intense sun damage at some point. Getting the proper bearing was challenging, also, in that the litttle dowels that the plate rests on were already trimmed down to almost level with the s. board; this was circumvented by grinding off some from the plate’s footings – esp., around the bass bridge which had little or no bearing contact. The hammers/ shanks had been replaced with genuine steinway parts so they were left in place.