100 year old piano

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Ryan Mazzocco
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100 year old piano

Post by Ryan Mazzocco »

A friend of mine just took me to look at a piano for her. I guess I'm the best qualified person that she knows to give her an opinion. (that's kinda sad I guess.)
Anyway, it's a 100+ year old Emerson upright. I don't know a ton about pianos but I want to try to give her an idea of what it's going to take to get it going. It plays, all the keys work. but some do stick a bit. Looking inside, the hammers don't fall all the way back into place, but only go about halfway but then eventually fall back into place. I think the felt on the dampers is worn out? when you press the damper pedal it works as it should but when you let off the pedal the strings still sustain a bit even though I can see the dampers go all the way down to the strings. Most of the keys are in pretty good shape, but about a handful of them are missing the ivories. I think it's ivory. :?: if so, I know it can't be replaced. good substitute?
anyway, so that's the story. It's a free piano, pretty ornate marquetry work and and carving; she just loves it and really wants to get it going again.
any advice here? thanks.

Jason Rodgers
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Re: 100 year old piano

Post by Jason Rodgers »

My mom once bought an old upright piano for cheap - mainly because it was oak, and my mom loves oak, and loves to salvage and restore oak furniture even more - and had an estimate done to get it back in playing condition. This thing was in pretty sad shape, and would have needed a complete overhaul inside and out. She told the repair guy his job was to make it work inside, and she'd take care of everything on the outside. It needed all new felt, some action linkages repaired/replaced, all new strings, and some ivories replaced. I think the quote was $600 on the low side, and this was in 1992 in SE Idaho. My mom revels in digging old furniture out of county dumps and ancient barns, complete with rat's nests and severe water damage, for free. She gave it away.
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

Greg Steil
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Re: 100 year old piano

Post by Greg Steil »

check the "bridle straps", they help the hammers work, and mice find them tasty. They are little cloth straps that hook on to one end of the hammer assembly and either have a small clip, or a cork that fastens them to the other part. As far as the "Ivories", they probably are, and most piano techs keep some spares around.

Steve Senseney
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Re: 100 year old piano

Post by Steve Senseney »

I have worked on pianos some, and currently, I am in the middle of a repair.

Are you doing to do the work Ryan?

Prices on new pianos have dropped from what there were in the past.

Getting a piano tech to work on a piano is generally pretty expensive.

The one good thing you mention is that this is an older (probably) full size piano.

The mechanism is easy to get to, and there are lots of replacement parts available.

I love restoring old items, but sometimes you can put hundreds of dollars of parts and hundreds of hours of work, and at the end of this, you could have bought a fairly reliable piano for less.

I have worked on a couple of old Steinway uprights, and these are generally a higher quality piano. After they are repaired, they are much more playable, and sound great. So they probably deserve a little more time and money.

First thing I would suggest is look at the local area Craigs list. I have seen Steinway pianos given away to a home where they would be appreciated and cared for.

I have seen many nice pianos that play well and have only minor problems thrown in the dump.

Rather than get a piano with multiple problems, look at the local Craigs list for better pianos. Go and see the pianos and get an idea of what a "tidy" vs "untidy" piano looks like.

As far as repairs--Nearly anything can be rebuilt.

Cracks in the soundboard are not a problem as long as they don't rattle. Don't waste any time worrying about cracked soundboards.

If the hammers don't return correctly, the bridle straps might need replaced. These are about $12.00 and take about 30 minutes to replace.

The keys--Used ivory can be purchased (as of 1 month ago) when I bought 2 pieces.

If very many are damaged, you might just as well plan on replacing the ivories with plastic. Not a hard job, but it does take a few hours to get the old one off, cut the tops flat and glue and clamp the plastics, and then file them evenly.

The keybed will probably need releveled. (Easy work but you need the set of punchings.)

The key guides might be a little loose and need to have some adjusting so they have less "slop". Easy work.

If the hammers are not wearing evenly, the hinges may need to be rebushed. (Some what precise work, and you need the pin set and reamers.)

If some of the bass strings sound bad, they may need replaced.

If ONE sting is bad, it might just need to have a twist in the string to tighten the coils around it.

If the tuning pins are not holding well, they may need to be replaced. Possibly the soundboard has "failed" with a big crack in it somewhere.

Replacing dampers may be needed, but is one of the more exacting processes.

Replacing hammers may be needed, and is one of the more exacting processes.

Adjusting the action after all of the prior repairs may require some attention, but is not really too hard.

If you have other specific questions, ask.

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Ryan Mazzocco
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Re: 100 year old piano

Post by Ryan Mazzocco »

Thanks guys. Yes I am planning to do the work myself. I want to do it for free just because I think it will be very exciting. It really doesn't seem to be in that bad of shape. I think you guys are right about the bridal straps. the sound board looks fantastic, not a crack or anything. I don't remember, but I think there were only like 5 or 6 ivory pieces missing. a couple were loose but still there. hammers seems to work fine, though they look quite worn. pretty sure the dampers are worn out though.
I'll post more questions as they come along as I undergo this project. thanks

Jason Rodgers
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Re: 100 year old piano

Post by Jason Rodgers »

Have you seen that documentary about Steinway? Holy crap, the whole felt adjustment process is ridiculously time-intensive! Even if you're going to just make things work "better," you're a brave man diving into key mechanisms. You too, Steve!
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

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Ryan Mazzocco
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Re: 100 year old piano

Post by Ryan Mazzocco »

Or maybe Im just too stupid to be scared.

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: 100 year old piano

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

First I would suggest you get the Arthur Reblitz book "Piano Servicing, Tuning, and Rebuilding.....". It will explain many of the processes for restoring the piano to working condition. Pianos are very mechanical and repairing them is not so much difficult as tedious - often things have to be done 88 times. PM me if you need some key tops.

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Ryan Mazzocco
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Re: 100 year old piano

Post by Ryan Mazzocco »

Clay Schaeffer wrote:First I would suggest you get the Arthur Reblitz book "Piano Servicing, Tuning, and Rebuilding.....". It will explain many of the processes for restoring the piano to working condition. Pianos are very mechanical and repairing them is not so much difficult as tedious - often things have to be done 88 times. PM me if you need some key tops.
thanks Clay. She hopes to go pick it up some time next week. I'm looking forward to getting started.

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