Planning Part II: The Piano

I don’t want to take an abundance of time on this; however it does bear mentioning, so here goes!

The primary purpose of this blog is to document the rebuilding of the player action, but as I mentioned at the beginning, ultimately we need to see the instrument holistically, as the whole piano needs to work as a unit. If the piano does not operate well, the work on the player action is wasted.

To review; before taking reception of the piano, I had already checked the major structural issues like case solidity, soundboard and bridges integrity, and pinblock stability. Similarly I checked the piano action for completeness and functionality.

My evaluation confirmed that there were no obvious deficiencies in the case or structure (the “belly”) of the piano. Nonetheless, because the piano was rather dusty and musty, I didn’t know one hundred percent of the information I desired, so I gave it a much-needed air blast and vacuuming. You really only get all those nooks and crannies with compressed air (I will get into that in more detail, in another post soon).

The action is somewhat tired, but serviceable. The piano plays well enough; some of the hammer centers pins are binding in their bushings, causing a few notes to be sluggish. This calls for a lube/cleaning solution, and failing this some selective rebushing/repinning of those parts. Action centres are one of those things which are sometimes taken for granted; however if they are not doing their job properly the action will grind to a halt. I will keep my fingers crossed that widespread repinning of all centres will not be necessary – there are hundreds of those things!

The hammer heads have noticeable string grooves worn in them. Interestingly I think that the hammers may be original, they bear the mark of Bohne & Co. I believe they still have one carding left in them.

[Sidebar: this is another Canadian firm which originally made piano parts, but decided to concentrate on springs in the early 1940’s, as the war redirected production profitability away from the consumer market, to the military-industrial market. The company still operates today.]

All action and damper felts are present, and show an expected degree of wear. In a nutshell the piano still works and plays reasonably well, although it is somewhat tired and could use some sprucing up at the very least. The damper felts have a bit of leakage due to their age-induced hardening; I will have to decide for myself if I will accept them “as is”.

I mentioned in a previous post my suspicions that at least one intermediate intervention had been done on the piano. Although the action looks fairly original, there are some things which stand out. Some of the more obvious examples:

  • The strings, for example, do not show excessive oxidization or corrosion. That would be a bit unusual (in this climate), if the strings were original, meaning almost 100 years old.
  • The keytops are plastic, the originals would have certainly been ivory. The front decal (Willis & Co.) On the nameboard is missing, and it looks like the case has been refinished.
  • There are similar telltale signs from what I can see on the player action, such as the addition of certain couplers and hose clamps that are certainly not OEM parts! Also the fact that several of the expression tube runs did not make any logical sense; perhaps this went unnoticed as the stack and transmission components were still tubed correctly.

I don’t know when this work was done, and I don’t know the precise quality of the work, but I have not yet seen any alarming things jump out. By “alarming” I mean work which is very wrong and very challenging to fix easily, the kind of thing that makes your head hurt when you see it. With some experience, you notice “hack” work almost immediately, and are able to size up how much work it will take to undo what has been badly done.

In summary, I still believe I can work with the piano (for the most part) in its current state, and I will have more to say about that next time.


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