Refurbishing a Secondhand Piano

Refurbishing a Secondhand Piano

Jeffrey Shackell has a long history in restoring secondhand pianos - going back to the early 1980's. Whilst most central European makes such as Bechstein, Bluthner and Bosendorfer pianos have been restored in his hands it is the Steinway piano for which he and his team has become best known for.

I estimate that since the beginning of our restoration history some 400 - 500 Steinway pianos have been through our hands for items ranging from minor action work to full piano restoration.

I am often asked 'what does piano restoration mean?'

Lets take a look at the terminology used for the various tasks that take place to pianos ...

PIANO TUNING EXPLAINED

This is simply to adjust the tension on the strings of your piano. Often piano tuners will do no more than this and will not touch the action mechanism or pedals. Piano tuning is patient work and the quality of the result will depend on many factors. The age, size and condition of the piano, the ability of the tuner and even the time of year will all play a part in how good the tuning will be. If the strings are corroded, if the tuning pins are too easy, if the pitch is flat, the dog is barking or the baby crying... don't expect a great result from the labours of the tuner.

To achieve fine temperament, accurate octaves and clean unisons the piano will need to be in reasonable condition. If the tuner is less than 20 minutes at the work ask him (or her) if he (or she) has a terminal health problem, if the tuner is longer than 3 hours offer to make another cup of tea to make sure he (or she) is still awake!

Tuners vary like pianos and finding the one that meets with your expectations can be a test of stamina. When you do find the right one though respect their skill and always allow the courtesy of peace and quiet and freedom of timetables.

PIANO VOICING or TONING

This can mean the same thing. This skilled work is carried out after tuning, not the other way round.

We should think of voicing as the even control of the dynamic range of the piano tone. Piano tuners or technicians can sometimes be quite secretive about this work and it has been known that they will only work at this if left alone. We must remember that what suits one person may not suit the next and keeping an open mind about voicing and not doing too much can be advice well taken.

The condition of the hammer heads will also determine how successful the voicing might be, if your technician says it is not possible to voice the piano they will have good reason to offer that advice. If the hammer heads need reshaping before further voicing can take place don't expect this to happen in a hurry. Reshaping hammers is time consuming and together with fitting of hammers to strings afterwards to ensure even distribution of the pressure of the hammer against the string is very skilled work requiring good experience.

The technician will have various tools to their armory with this ranging from glass paper sticks, needles, little bits of chalk and sometimes a violently smelling liquid called in our trade 'dope'.

Before agreeing to or requesting voicing or hammer reshaping make sure the technician/tuner is happy about the work involved and has enough time to carry out the work properly.

PIANO SERVICE WORK

Refurbishment of a second hand piano

Refurbishment of a second hand piano This could reasonably include both of the above with the addition of cleaning out the interior and casework of the piano, polishing of the steel strings, adjustments to the pedals, attention to dampers and their correct damping, regulating work to the action and possibly small on-site repairs to worn action parts.

In the same way that a car should have a routine and scheduled service programme, a piano should not be neglected of servicing either.

The loss of sensitivity from the action will be accumulative over a period of time and its all too easy to forget how well the piano worked when new or directly after the last service. Pianos that are heavily used will clearly require more servicing than those having an easy life but a yearly service for all pianos should surely be a good idea to maintain condition and value. If you ask your technician to 'regulate the action' make sure enough time is given, you may even have to allow the use of the guest bedroom for the night!

There are dozens of different stages to the full regulation of the piano action and whilst big improvements can be made with attention to the basic points an in depth regulation can take well over a day to carry out.

PIANO OVERHAUL WORK

Refurbishing the Action of a Grand Piano

Refurbishing the Action of a Grand Piano Now we are getting into the hospital department and for most overhaul work you should expect your piano, or parts of it to go away for a while to the workshops of your technician or a specialist firm dealing with this line of work.

Replacement of worn parts due to use and wear and tear is the usual reason for considering an overhaul. This could quite reasonably consist of fitting new action parts such as the hammer heads and hammer shanks.

Sometimes either part or full restringing will be necessary due to a variety of reasons.

The use of quality and correct specification strings is most important here, restringing is not something you do for fun so it is well advised to get it right first time round.

PIANO RESTORATION WORK

Varnishing a Refurbished Steinway Grand Piano

Varnishing a Refurbished Steinway Grand Piano

Jeffrey Shackell would tend to think of this as a complete look at all aspects of the piano includingcasework restoration, soundboard and plate cosmetic attention and if necessary repair. Full restringing with changing of the plate stringing support felts, all strings and tuning pins. Sometimes it will be necessary to have a new pin block fitted, this is fairly major surgery for any piano and not something you decide to do for the fun of it or practice!

Full action restoration can mean a complete new top action including the action frame, replacing the key coverings, key bushes, check heads, key frame materials and dampers together with trap work and numerous other smaller fittings.

Piano casework restoration can run to hundreds of hours of work and there is nothing nicer than to stand back at the end of a full casework restoration and admire the lovely lines of the bent side of a grand and how the gleaming brass fittings sparkle against highly polished surfaces. There is a pride and deep passion about anyone working with works or art, whether they are made of wood or steel, small or large and the world of piano restoration can hold its own against many of the industries that keep craftsmen employed in the backbone of our historical heritage.

Jeffrey Shackell can offer any of the above services. We often have a waiting list for workshop time but customers are kept well informed of progress and once underway visits are welcomed to see your piano and pieces of it that you never thought existed. We have extensive facilities at our Oxfordshire base and instruments are well cared for whilst in our care.

Please contact Jeffrey Shackell for an initial discussion about your piano and an estimate will be provided.

Jeffrey Shackell takes full responsibility for all costs of restoration work until the piano is ready to be returned to you, we do not ask for a deposit on the cost of parts and instruments are fully insured whilst in our care.