Steinway Upright rebuild

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Steve Senseney
Posts: 673
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Steve Senseney »

This is somewhat verbose and lengthy.

If you read through the Piano Tools posted in the tools section, you will probably note some concepts repeated.

I will present my ideas of the steps to go through with a piano. Later I will specifically give the issues I dealt with as I rebuilt a Steinway upright. Some pictures will be shown after the description. If you need specific pictures regarding action or items, you can google images and hopefully get any information you need from the internet, or I will be happy to oblige.

When you look at various sites on the internet selling older Steinway pianos, they use various phrases such as rebuild, refurbished, factory specs, and a dozen other phrases.

As with any old instrument, what is the goal in reworking the instrument—Simply to have it look good, have the parts that are deficient brought up to playable standards, replace all of the mechanism with new pieces, replace the soundboard, refinish the casework, return the piano to the standards it was when it was built a hundred years ago?

When you have the choice of what to do on a piano, you have to set your own goals and standards, realize what you are comfortable with, and what tools and skills you have.

There are books available. The Piano Servicing, Tuning, and Rebuilding: For the Professional, the Student, and the Hobbyistby Artur A. Reblitz (Jan 1, 1997) is highly recommended. (I have not read or had this book.)

I had a book on piano repair, and lent this to a friend, and have not seen the book since. It was not the Reblitz book.

Another book I do recommend is the Larry Fine book The Piano Book: Buying & Owning a New or Used Piano.

Before I get into the step by step work I did on the Steinway I recently repaired, here are my thoughts about used pianos.

Take pictures of the mechanism and the pedal area. It all seems like there can only be one way to put it all together once it has been disassembled. It will help to have pictures to check back on later.

Number all of the hammers and dampers if you take them off.

Things NOT to do--

Don't worry about splits in the soundboard unless they rattle. Don't try to fix splits in the soundboard. If there is a rattle, then fix the rattle. The rattle may come from a place other than the soundboard.

Don't use polyethylene glycol to tighten tuning pins. This is a very questionable practice and probably destroys the pin block.

If you have a loose tuning pin, remove the pin, place a small shim of wood along side the pin, and this will most likely fix the problem.

You can also buy oversize tuning pins.

Another last ditch step before throwing the piano into the dump is to used Cyanoacrylate glue to tighten the pins. I have not done this and think it should be your very last effort.

Easy and recommended fixes--

Get the dirt and lost change and pencils out of the piano, and keybed.

If you have a wound string which is “weak” or has bad tone, it may be that the winding is a little loose.

If you remove the tension on the string, take it off of the hitch pin, and twist it a turn so that the windings are tighter, it may sound better, and match the other strings.

Single strings can be replaced in the bass section, but if they are old, a new string may sound completely different than the old strings, and it might be best to consider replacing the entire bass set.

Bridle straps deteriorate over time, and are easy to replace. They serve a couple of functions. The most important is to keep the action together as it is removed form the piano. If the bridle strap is not present, the jack drops down. If you try to replace the action in the piano without the bridle straps, you may break something.

The second function is to help pull the hammer back after it strikes the string.

If the keytops are bad, replace them with plastic. This requires some modest wood working and clamping skills. They will need to be reduced to the proper width and shape after gluing which is mildly time consuming, but not difficult.

Leveling the keyboard is not at all difficult, but requires a little time and a set of paper punchings. The “feel” of a piano is very important to a performer. If the keytops are not level, and the front edges are not even, the performer will notice these things.

Adjusting the action of the key bushings—The keys pivot on a single round pin in the center on the balance rail, and a oval pin on the front edge of the key. If the front bushing is worn, the key has more side play than it should. If the oval pin is twisted just a little, it adjusts the amount of side play. Don't over tighten the pin. If there are changes in humidity, it may be too tight and the key will not work freely.

Regulating the “action”-- (Strictly talking about an upright piano)--The key should have a little movement before it hits the jack, which throws the hammer. If there is too much space, adjust the screw at the end of the key so there is just a little room. Again, don't get rid of all of the space, as the humidity will change, and the action will be different in a different season.

As the key advances, the jack will kick out, and the hammer will continue to fly forward and strike the strings. To get the most control out of playing a note (playing softly or loudly at will), you want to have the hammer connected as much of the distance as you can. If the jack does not ever kick out, it will hold the hammer against the string, and cause a muffled or buzzing sound. It needs to kick out, let the hammer fly forward and then the back check catches the hammer and holds it partly forward, but still away from the strings. While all of this is going on, the jack is held by a spring, waiting for the key to be released, and then it will reload for a repeat action.

All of this sounds complicated. And it is. However, your piano is probably in good condition and only needs a little tweaking in the areas where it has been played hard.

When you are doing all of this, look at the keys and all of the mechanism. It should be nearly perfectly lined up. If something is not aligned well, something is done incorrectly. A wire may be bent, a spring is out of place. Something in the mechanism got broke as someone tried to repair the piano in the past.

Dampers—The hammers start the sound, and the dampers control how long it will continue. Whey they are really in poor condition, they probably should be replaced. Most likely, they just need cleaned or adjusted. They may be chewed up by moths or mice. They may be loose on the wire that holds them. The bushing on the hinge pin may need rebushed.

If dampers need replaced, you cut them off of the wooden blocks and glue the new dampers in place. This is easiest if it is done with the hammers off of the piano, and with the action IN the piano and the strings in place. With this situation, you simply place a little glue (either hot hide or white glue) and let the damper sit against the strings. It will set up in a few minutes, and you are done with that step. Just do it again about 60 times. (Some dampers are sold with a wood block and screw to place on the wire.) If you look at a piano, the dampers in the bass section first are made to damp a single string, then a double string, then in the tenor and treble, the triple strings.

When you are placing all of these, be careful to not move or remove any part without labeling the position. Number each piece with the key number.

When they are all done, you expect that they will damp the strings effectively and evenly and when the sustain pedal is pressed, the strings sustain well.

After the dampers are done, you need to take care of the hammers.

Hammers get hard, and grooved, and sometimes the felt comes unglued. If they need replaced, you remove them. Then make sure the shanks are clean enough to have another hammer glued in place.

Look at the shanks before any hammers are placed. If they are not perfectly aligned, look for the problem. If the hinges are not worn, and all of the glue joints are intact and the screws are tight, you may need to slightly shim the flange. You can cut a strip of paper, about 1/8” in width, and place this under one side of the flange, then tighten the flange again. Copy paper is about .005” thick, and is thicker than you will want. Look around at your paper wrappers on various products, and you may need to find something thinner for your purposes.

All of the hammers have a specific Rake angle. The bass section has hammers angled to the left, the tenor section has hammers angled to the right. The treble probably have no angle.

Bass strings are set about 3/8 inch higher than the tenor and treble strings, due to the piano being “overstrung”. This means the bass hammers are a little shorter than the tenor and treble hammers.

So, you need to figure out all of the angle issues and gluing the hammers is relatively easy.

The hammer is supposed to strike the string at 1/10 th of the length of the string to give the overtone that we expect.

To glue the hammers in place, it is easiest with the action in the piano. I recommend using hot hide glue. It sets up quickly, can be undone easily if you make a mistake. The glue will last at least a hundred years or more (My personal experience of working pianos made from 1860 to the 1920s).

It is important to have the hammers strike the strings correctly. This is easily accomplished while the action is in place, but would most likely be a mess otherwise. By “correctly”, I mean at 1/10 of the length of the string, and with the hammer hitting all of the paired or tripled strings at the same time. While the glue is still warm, you can adjust this well by pushing the hammer forward until it touches the strings, and if it needs to be nudged left or right, it is easy to get the fine adjustment.

If you restring the piano, the strings need to be spaced correctly. Both in the sense of the notes with 3 strings per note need to be spaced correctly, and the space between each set of three. This needs to be correct so that the hammers strike all three strings, and the dampers handle all three strings well.

This means you have multiple ways of getting fine adjustment on all of the hammers and dampers.

The least change you can make is probably the best choice.

The piano was set up at the factory by a very experienced worker. Try to leave as much of his work exactly as it was before, and you will have less work to do on your own.

After hammers and dampers are in place, tune the piano.

This has to be done before voicing the instrument.

Voicing is done to change the tone quality of the instrument overall, and to make smooth transitions between the various ranges. The change from wound strings in the base to unwound strings in the tenor section cause the tone quality to be quite different.

The first step is to make sure your hammers have the right shape, and that they hit all of the strings at the same time, and that there are no significant grooves in the hammers.

Old hammers can be reshaped with files and sandpaper. This is done to get rid of deep grooves in the hammers and to shape them to match the shape when they were new. New hammers can be shaped if needed to change tone quality.

After shaping you decide whether the sound of the hammer(s) is/are too mellow or too bright. If they are too mellow, you harden the hammers with chemicals or with ironing the hammer with a hot metal tool.

Generally hammers get brighter with age rather than more mellow.

Hammers can be pricked with a needle tool to break up the firmness of the hammer felt.

This is an “art”. You should approach it cautiously and slowly, doing a little work at a time, and see if this gives the results you expect and want. If you soften the hammer too much, you could iron it again.

After voicing, you adjust the soft and sustain pedals if needed, reassemble the instrument and you can do any case work that is needed.

I think it is really important to replace any of the rubber buttons that are missing. These small touches make it look finished, and much more professional. Perhaps the better way to state this: if the buttons are missing and fallboard does not close correctly, it looks like it still needs more work done.

Evaluating a used piano--

Before you bring a piano home to work on, look at a bunch of old pianos. Craigslist has so many that it would take you months to see all of those that are listed.

If you want to get some practice on a junker, you will learn a great deal and it can be a cheap education. You may not have a gem when you are done, but mostly you will have invested your time and what ever tools and repairs you buy.

Things to avoid in your used piano purchase—Square grands—Not very functional, any parts will have to be hand made and adjusted. When you are finally finished, they never sound very good, they are not easy to play and never hold tune very well.

Player pianos—They have a lot of mechanism in addition to the standard hammers and action. The parts are in the way of the key works and hammer mechanism and it is harder to work on the mechanism. The player action is always requiring tweaking to keep running. I personally have avoided working on these.

Grand Pianos—Many are sold quite cheaply. Steinways are sold like they are gold. I have not specifically rebuilt any grands. Small grands have short keys so the action is not the same as longer grands. They have smaller soundboards than the full size uprights. The strings are not very long and they require more “stretch” when tuning than a full size upright. So overall, you would do better getting a upright than a small grand piano.

It is fairly easy to get to all of the parts of a grand piano, so if you are intent on rebuilding a grand, it is not really any more difficult that an upright. I don't have personal experience rebuilding a grand.

Before you take the piano home—If the ivories are intact, that is nice.

Look at the mechanism to see if it has been removed or stripped or had major damage from some fool working on it.

If there is obvious water damage, look to see if the wooden parts of keys or keybed or mechanism are coming apart. The felt may be coming off of the hammer heads if there was extreme humidity.

If the tuning is extremely off, it could be that is needs new bigger tuning pins.

If any bass string is broken, they will most likely all need to be replaced. If any of the unwound strings are broken, most likely others will break when you are working on the piano.

If you have a iron casting which is in more than one piece, be cautious. These sometimes break when the piano is brought up to correct pitch.

All pianos built from about 1850 on were made to have A at 440. I don't think any piano should be tuned low. Tuners do this to minimize their work, and avoid the possibility of breaking strings.

The case work may be fancy or plain and has little to do with the mechanism or how it will sound or play.

The brand name means very little, unless it is a Steinway.

After you have the piano at your home—Clean it up. Take the covers off of the front and top, vacuum, and wipe off dirt and bugs and what ever.

Before you take the mechanism out, replace the bridle straps if needed.

Some mechanisms have “feet” so they will sit on the floor. Others require some kind of holder. Be careful to not break anything as you get your mechanism out. Have someone help so you can be sure you are doing it correctly and safely.

Take off the piano key front rail board. Take off the fall board. The lower front cover comes off easily.

Under the keys, you will have paper punchings and felt punchings. Don't lose the paper punchings.

Make sure the keys have numbers on them. Remove them and get rid of the dust and dirt under the key bed. Sometime you find old pieces of paper, pencils and coins.

The bottom of the piano needs to be cleaned also.

While you have all of this out, inspect the hammers and dampers.

Check to see if the flange hing bushings are good (little or no play). Look to make sure all of the little springs are working correctly and in place. Tighten all of the screws to be sure they are in place.

Look at the wear on the hammers and if the dampers are in good shape or need to be replaced. Look at the back check felt. If it holds the hammer after it strikes the string, it probably can be left unchanged.

With the action out of the piano, the strings should be easily accessible at this point. If they are grimy, you might wipe off the wound strings with alcohol. The solid strings probably do not need a real cleaning, but you can if you want.

The choice of replacing the bass strings depends on if they all sound good or not, or if one is broken or missing. If one is missing or broken, it probably indicates others are ready to break. A replacement string may not sound the same as the old strings. Then you will wish you had replaced all of them.

The unwound strings should be replaced if you have a few that are broken, or if you are needing to replace the tuning pins because they are too loose.

If the tuning pins are not able to hold tune, you can shim one or two with a slip of wood. If a lot need work, you will have to choose to replace the pins with a larger size, or consider the pinblock as failed.

Pins come as the raw iron with bluing on them, or nickle plated pins. I would suggest the nickle plated pins, as you won't have to worry about them rusting.

I have not mentioned checking the bridge. It can have cracks in it. If it is loose from the soundboard this will have to be fixed before advancing any further. I have not seen a failed bridge. Repair the bridge with the best wood working skills you have. Leave the bridge as intact as you can. If there is a straight crack, clean it with a saw and slip a shim of wood into the slot. Use hot hide glue or perhaps wood glue. You could consider using epoxy, but the hot hide glue is my first choice. The pins that the string bears against have to be placed where they were before. The bearing surface of the wood should be covered with graphite to allow the string to slide nicely.

Steinway upright rebuild-- This is the steps I went through working on this piano.

The piano is a 52 inch upright dating from 1896 or 1897.

The piano had water damage on the top. The rest of the case was acceptable for age.

The tuning was way off, at least a half step down, with very few notes tolerable when played.

The ivories had 2 keys with small chips and one which had most of the lip gone.

When the front cover was removed, all of the hammers and mechanism worked and all of the keys played. The hammers and dampers were black from all of the grime and smoke and dust the piano had been around.

I found no evidence of mouse habitation. (The 1887 Steinway I worked on previously, and this piano had metal screening on the back of the piano to keep the mice out.)

The bridle straps did need replaced. This was the second (or more) set of bridle straps that had been placed.

The single bass strings on the lowest section of single strings sounded fairly good. The double bass string area on this piano looked like they were steel wound. They sounded awful.

Some staining of the steel plate was present. I think someone had tried to dope the pin block with polyethylene glycol. It did not seem to work.

I shortly realized that I needed to redo the pins and restring the piano.

I removed all of the strings, and got the bass strings ordered. I ordered a few more of the unwound strings that I needed. (I had some around from the last time I restrung a piano.) I knew it would take 4-6 weeks to get the bass strings.

I cleaned the piano top to bottom. Removed the keys, strings and tuning pins. Vacuumed and wiped off all of the casework inside and outside.

Three keytops were damaged. Two had small chips, and the third had the front lip mostly gone. I had a lot of old ivory from old pianos. This was mostly .040” thick. The Steinway ivory was .045 “ thick, and about 1/8” longer than the other piano ivory I had.

I took the most damaged ivory off of the key top, knowing I would replace it. I used small files and chisels and saws, and scarfed in a repair using a small piece of the ivory I took from the one damaged top. I used superglue. These repairs worked well, and I have to search to find the repair.

I ordered a couple of used ivories, and was lucky enough to get the correct thickness and color and length to replace the third damaged ivory.

I leveled the key bed.

One flange bushing needed repaired.

I took off all of the damper felt.

I took off all of the hammers.

I cleaned the mechanism with brushes, and vacuums, and wiping off a century of grime and dust.

Somewhere along here I took the tuning pins out.

I carefully cleaned the iron plate, vacuumed everything out of the pin holes, and replaced the pins with the next size pin. Standard pins are usually #2. The next size up is #3 and is .004 “ bigger diameter.
Pins are available in more than one length, so be sure what you are ordering. I replaced with nickel plated pins to look nice, and avoid rusting problems.

To place the new pins, you are supposed to hammer them in rather than turn them in like a screw. I hammered them but was not able to seat them as deeply as needed with a hammer. So I “screwed” them in further with the tuning wrench. I did not feel comfortable hitting the pins any harder than I was.

I had about 3 weeks wait while the hammers and strings were being shipped. During this time, I worked on the case.

The piano was black lacquer/paint. I used the vacuum press I built to veneer the portion I could place in a bag. The veneer on the piano was a 2 layer veneer. On the portion I could not place in a bag, I used weights to glue the veneer down . The original glue had been hide glue. I used Weld wood, a water based urea formaldehyde resin.

The legs, fall board, key front, top front panel, and bottom front panel come off easily. They had slight wear and tear to the finish. The front of the piano below the key bed had a lot of injury, probably from moving the piano. None was very deep, but it was marked a lot.

I suppose I should have steamed the areas where the wood was dented, but I simply spray painted black. The areas where I added the veneer were spray painted with rattle can black, 3-4 coats. I did put some clear lacquer over the parts where new veneer had been placed after they were painted black.

As I was trying to figure how to make the finish look right with part new and part old finish, my wife suggested shellac.

I started with the bench, which had finish cracks as you would expect. A small chip of the veneer was missing on the bench, and I repaired this, and sprayed black paint to match the color.

I used the shellac, and pumice. The pumice ground down the surface, moved black into any of the areas of deep finish loss, and sealed the surface. I did not take this down to the point of hiding the old finish, but more to fill defects with the black color.

I did the same with the piano. This worked well to fill some defects, and to even out the finish over areas which had been painted.

I shellacked over the logo on the fall board by building up several layers and avoiding the pumice over that area.

I did not buff out the piano. I did not want a piano that was gloss lacquer. I did not mind that it had a pattern consistent with it's age.

If you are more than 4 foot away, you don't see any repairs or realize that part of the finish is spray paint or shellac.

While taking the piano hinges off, the screws in the area of water damage did not come out well, and several broke off. I had to drill these out, plug the holes and redrill.

Buying nickel plated #6 oval head 7/8 inch screws was difficult. I finally found some, but they are not common.

I used cleaner, and pumice to polish up the nickel plated piano hinges before reinstalling them.

Back to the rest of the piano rebuild--

The tuning pins were in place, piano had been cleaned on several occasions. The action was removed from the piano.

The under wire felt was placed, and I started stringing the treble section. The catalogs list a lot of different felt products, and it is confusing finding exactly what you want and matching what was in the piano. Save any of the parts until you are sure you know what you are replacing.

As with any instrument, the downbearing on the bridge influences the tone and volume of the string as it is played. I don't have a “downbearing gauge”. If you wanted, you could easily make a gauge prior to removing strings. I was not going to replace the soundboard or rebuild a bridge, so I simply copied the thickness of the felt as well as I could. In addition, I don't know what the original down bearing would have been, and when the soundboard changed shape sufficiently to lose the down bearing.

When restringing, it is important to have your pins in the pin block at the depth they are supposed to be. If you screw them in, they will some how go into too deep sometimes. As you string, you need to make tight coils and keep these pulled up from the pin block area.

After the tenor section, the bass section is quick to string. Try to turn the bass strings in the direction that tightens the windings rather than loosening the windings as you place them on the hitch pins.

New strings will stretch. You can buy a “stretching tool”, or on the unwound strings, I stretch them by running a wooden stick against them. The strings will need about 3-4 tunings over a month or more to stabilize. Do not take them to a higher pitch. You will probably break the casting on the piano.

With the strings in place, I glued the dampers. The screws which held the dampers were very rusty and many were frozen. After help from the mimf, I placed some mineral oil on the screws, and heated them with an electric soldering iron. This loosened them well.

Make sure you don't move anything that does not need moved. The multiple wires and dampers moving next to each other can be tricky to keep from touching each other.

The dampers are easy to glue in place if you have the hammers removed. Much more difficult with the hammers in place. I used white wood workers glue, but hot hide glue would work well also.

The Steinway has double dampers on the first few strings in the tenor section. Getting these aligned and positioned so the hammers strike the strings without interference is quite time consuming. If you have these, be careful to note how they are positioned, and try to not change them if you don't have to.

When you are having trouble getting the dampers and hammers sitting on the strings correctly, make sure your strings ( in the tenor and upper sections) are spaced correctly. They can be slid over a little sometimes (unintentionally or intentionally).

If a hammer is not aligned well, you can heat the shank and bend it slightly, or you can loosen the flange screw and shim the flange with a 1/8” slip of paper on one edge.

After the dampers are installed, make sure all of the hammer shanks look well positioned. Make sure the hammer shanks are cleaned of any old glue and that the hammer heads slip on easily. Glue the hammers with the action in place.

I used hot hide glue. I put a couple of drops in the hammer hole, used a nail to make sure all sides were covered and that there was not too much glue then placed the hammer on the shank. Push the hammer forward so it contacts the strings. Wiggle it one side or the other if it needs fine adjustment. As you glue them, they should all look perfectly aligned.

The bass section all had the same angle. The upper treble section was all straight.

The middle section had a changing angle. I had to plug the holes that had been drilled, and redrill all of these with a gradually changing angle. I used the jig that I have discussed in the piano tools posting and copied the angle. Some of the hammers were plugged and redrilled more than once when I did not get the angle perfect. This did not seem to be a problem and the hammers seem to be glued well and function correctly.

One of the problems that arose was the double damper section in the first part of the tenor section. The hammers have very little room to pass between the dampers. I had to fine adjust the dampers, slightly bending a couple of wires, and sanding the upper corners and lower corners off of the hammers. The face of the hammers was untouched, but the upper and lower corners were eased back a little to make sure they cleared the damper wires.

In the upper treble section, the hammers were striking the strings over the casting (not striking the vibrating section of the string. I had to take the hammers off, and shorten the hammer shanks by about 1/8”. I made a bent metal jig with a hole in the end. This slipped over the shank, and I used a fine toothed saw to cut the end of the shank. I smoothed the end with a little sand paper, and then glued the hammers again.

The next step was regulating the action.

This starts at the keys, making sure the key bed is flat and that there is no play. Then the capstan (the screw at the end of the key) is adjusted so there is only a little play before the key engages the jack.

The next adjustment is the let-off button which kicks the jack out. You want the jack to be lifting the hammer and kick out just before it strikes the string. If it does not kick out, the hammer will sit against the string and cause muffled sound or a buzzing sound. The longer the key engages the jack and hammer, gives the player more control as far as playing soft or loud. After the hammer hits the string, it should be caught by the back check. It should hold the hammer about a half inch away from the strings. If it needs adjustment, you might replace the felt, or bend the wire forward.

I did not replace the back check felt. Although they were worn, they still functioned adequately.

Some where in this time period, I took the pedals and connectors out to clean and straighten a bent pivot pin. I should have taken a picture before doing this to help with reassembly, but eventually, I got everything back together. Make sure that there are no squeaks in your pedals or connectors. Also, sometimes the nuts on the adjusters will gradually work loose. You may need to tape or glue the nuts to keep them from moving.

The next step is voicing. The hammers were too bright in the upper range. The tenor section was about right. The low bass strings sounded great. The transition from the upper bass to the tenor needed work.

I used the voicing tool and softened the upper treble and tenor hammers. Gradually changing the amount of needle work as I went from one end to the other.

The upper bass section had a “nasal” tone to the top 4 or 5 notes. I checked to make sure that they were striking all of the strings evenly, that the bridge did not have a crack or was loose in that area. Eventually, I used the ironing tool, and hardened the hammers. This corrected the nasal tone, and I was quite pleased with the transition.

I assembled all of the covers, and case, replaced a few buttons which were missing, and I was Finished!!

The entire process covered about 3 months. The most time consuming part was working on the action. Adjusting the double dampers took a lot of time. Gluing the dampers and hammers really did not take much time. Drilling the hammers with the jig was actually very easy. Without the jig, it might have been much harder.

If any one has questions about a particular step or tool, I would be happy to try to elucidate further.
Front view finished piano.JPG
Left view, with fingerboard open.JPG

Steve Senseney
Posts: 673
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Steve Senseney »

New Strings in place. Action removed, keys in place--
Front view no action.JPG
Keybed with part of keys removed
bass keybed no keys.JPG
Underside of keys --
Key bottom pin area.JPG
Closer look at the key bushing--
key bushing.JPG

Steve Senseney
Posts: 673
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Steve Senseney »

This is the Bass section of the piano--

No pins or strings. Note the discoloration around the pins. Probably from doping the pin block to tighten the pins.
bass piano block no pins or strings.JPG
Now with the strings in place--
bass section no action keybed open.JPG
Now with dampers and some hammers--
bass with dampers and some hammers.JPG

Steve Senseney
Posts: 673
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Steve Senseney »

Another picture simply showing the lower portion of the strings
bottom section view of strings.JPG
Pedal work view--
pedal work view.JPG

Steve Senseney
Posts: 673
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Steve Senseney »

I have some other pictures, but I don't think they really add much to the discussion.

If anyone has a question or can add anything, please ask or add as you can.

Michael Lewis
Posts: 1473
Joined: Thu Jan 12, 2012 1:22 am
Location: Northern California USA

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Michael Lewis »

Wow, Steve! You certainly have dug a deep hole and climbed out again. That is a seriously big job.

John E Giarrizzo
Posts: 139
Joined: Sat Feb 04, 2012 10:17 am

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by John E Giarrizzo »

Steve ---- a man after my own heart.

You accomplished the dream --- the vision that I had for my old piano. Although I built a violin from it's wood, I still have regrets --- am disappointed that I didn't do what you have done.

Well done.

Steven Smith
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Location: East Tennessee

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Steven Smith »

Steve, what a really nice and thorough write up. I've always wondered what it would take to bring one of those uprights back to life. Right now they're a dime a dozen; wonder if they'll be as common in 50 years?? Thanks for taking the time to post that.

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Andy Birko
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Location: Rochester Hills, MI

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Andy Birko »

Steve Senseney wrote: Don't use polyethylene glycol to tighten tuning pins. This is a very questionable practice and probably destroys the pin block.

If you have a loose tuning pin, remove the pin, place a small shim of wood along side the pin, and this will most likely fix the problem.
I wonder if you could elaborate a bit about using polyethylene glycol to tighten pins. Although I don't work on pianos, I work on a lot of banduras which use zither pins to hold the strings. I've used the "pin block restorer" from Schaff piano supply and it works quite well on pins that are only slipping a little bit. I have heard that it's a bad idea but it is a very quick fix that seems to work on instruments with little value.

Part of the issue is that on a bandura (which is plucked) pulling the pin will almost certainly require a string change. Most of these instruments have strings that are a minimum of 23 years old up to about 45 years old and there's no good replacements. When re-stringing, I use PB acoustic guitar strings which sound nice but, they sound nothing like the original strings and that one string can really stick out.

As to the shim, I little trick I learned for banduras. If you take a 3/4" board and plane some full width shavings off of the 3/4" side, you have ideal pre-curled shims to stick in the pin hole. I have a little ziplock bag filled with them for just such a purpose.

Steve Senseney
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Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Steve Senseney »

From a chemist standpoint, the material soaks into the pores and fibers of the wood, and cannot be removed. It is a permanent change.

From a wood working viewpoint, it is supposed to "tighten" the pin.

If you drill a hole in wood (or plywood) and then the wood becomes more humid it swells. The previously drilled hole is now larger. In effect, a "dry" sound board should hold the pins tighter than a "wet" soundboard.

I don't know what the polyethylene glycol interaction with lignin specifically does. I theorize that it is supposed to act like water, swelling the wood. But as I explained, swelling the wood does not specifically tighten the pin, but actually loosens the pin.

The immediate and long term effect on wood, steel and hide glue is unknown to me.

I presume you mean Phosphor Bronze strings, which mean you are talking about the wound strings.

Wound strings get dirt and oil from being in contact with fingers. They don't sound the same after a week or two.

When a wound guitar string is made, I think they put a little twist on the center wire and then place the winding. After the winding is on, the twist is released, and this tightens the winding.

When you use a guitar string for you bandura, do you simply cut the ball off? The reason I talk about the twist on the core wire, if you take part of the winding off of the core to form a loop for placing on a pin, be careful to not loosen the winding. On wound piano strings, there is an indentation in the core wire where the winding starts and another where the winding ends to keep the winding tight.

With the bandura construction, is the pin block laminated or solid? If it is solid, be sure to shim primarily on the sides which will avoid causing a split. I realize this means you won't use a circular shim, but you could shim just on the sides that avoid causing a split.

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Andy Birko
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Location: Rochester Hills, MI

Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Andy Birko »

Steve Senseney wrote: They don't sound the same after a week or two.

When a wound guitar string is made, I think they put a little twist on the center wire and then place the winding. After the winding is on, the twist is released, and this tightens the winding.

When you use a guitar string for you bandura, do you simply cut the ball off? The reason I talk about the twist on the core wire, if you take part of the winding off of the core to form a loop for placing on a pin, be careful to not loosen the winding. On wound piano strings, there is an indentation in the core wire where the winding starts and another where the winding ends to keep the winding tight.

With the bandura construction, is the pin block laminated or solid? If it is solid, be sure to shim primarily on the sides which will avoid causing a split. I realize this means you won't use a circular shim, but you could shim just on the sides that avoid causing a split.
Agree with you about the sound of PB strings after a week but, they still sound different from the 40 year old soviet copper wound strings after a year. I have found that the coated PB strings sound good a long time but man, with around 30 wound strings they really break the bank.

I'm not sure that there's pre-twist in guitar strings but there's definitely pre-stretch, just like piano strings. I design my banduras to use ball end guitar strings so I use them as is. You do have to be especially careful when unwinding double and triple wound bass strings as the windings can get loose quite easily and they sound like crap. I have figured out a reliable way to un-wind them without loosening the windings.

I use laminated pin-blocks but most of the old soviet era instruments are not. I've successfully used both the peg block restorer and shims. I think both have their place but I agree, I try to avoid the restorer if the instrument has any value. The plane shaving thing works very well.

On an interesting side note - the VP of manufacturing at Steinway is Ukrainian and I was introduced to him several years ago and showed him one of my instruments. He was pretty interested in it, gave me his card and said that if I ever need anything, please call. I sent him an e-mail asking if it would be possible to try the Steinway pin block lamination but never heard back :|

p.p.s. - here's a video I made on how to change a string:

Steve Senseney
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Re: Steinway Upright rebuild

Post by Steve Senseney »

I watched your video. I understand that the cost of a set of strings would be a concern.

Regarding tuning--

Your Korg tuner works fine.

I down loaded a program for my phone (I have a Samsung Galaxy 3 but it is available for I-phones and other phones and computers) called "Tunelab Piano Tuner". There is a free version which has all of the features of the paid version. Every 14th tuning, you get a break while it annoys you for a while. If you don't like the breaks, you can pay $300, and get rid of the breaks.

It is quite powerful and has extensive features. It is overkill for your needs, but it is quite easy to use.

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