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JeffLearman

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Call me stupid, but I bought a damaged piano and hope to restore it to health. It's a 1932 Steinway Model M (5'7"). It was in a historic home here in Durham, but was in a fire in 1980. The older couple who owned it died after jumping out of the 2nd story window trying to escape. It was restored with new strings & hammer felts.

 

The finish is badly cracked. The action needs work; mostly easing (too much friction). Worst of all, it has a soundboard crack that buzzes; badly for the 2nd octave above Middle C.

 

But the price was so low I couldn't resist, less than the price of an RD700NX. I'm hoping that I can get the crack filled and action improved and possibly refinish it myself. (I have a friend who's great at this and will give me lots of advice -- too bad he's in Colorado.)

 

I doubt this is my forever piano. I'm hoping I can improve it to be a rewarding piano to play and recoup most of my investment by selling or donating it.

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Here's an odd thing. It was obviously out of tune. I figured I'd tighten up the unisons and that would improve it a lot. Well -- it did, sorta. I didn't really have to touch up too many strings. But the temperment is TERRIBLE. It plays quite well in Eb major; G major and C major are OK, but F major triad sounds like crap. The major 3rd interval is excruciating to the ear.

 

The octaves away from the center are nicely tuned to the center octave. I can't believe that it would go out of tune this way. I guess the tuner was a moron, or else it's tuned in some odd classical temperment.

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Do you know how to tune a piano beyond the unisons? I've been using TuneLab on my iPad (I also have it on my iPhone) and I've been pretty happy with it.

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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I've had my M for over 20 years now, early 80's vintage, rebuilt with fresh strings and action/hammers at one point - holds its tune amazingly well... a lovely instrument - while I may be lusting for a B, this is perfect for our home...

gig: hammond sk-1 73, neo vent, nord stage 2 76, ancona 34 accordion, cps space station v3

home: steinway m, 1950 hammond c2

 

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It's almost never the crack in the soundboard that buzzes. The buzz is usually between the board and the ribs that often separate near the crack. Filling the crack with shims is largely cosmetic. It's most important to get the board and the ribs glued back together. This can be done without restringing. I made some clamps for this purpose back in the day. This unit is similar. Only requires a very small hole through the board. I used 12 gauge piano wire for mine, which is .025"

 

--wmp
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I would worry about the finish last of all. Buzz silencing and action would be primary concerns for me. Then voicing. That fire survival finish is kind of interesting, it shows some history.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."    Facebook Harry spends his time teaching jazz piano online and playing solo piano gigs.

 

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It's almost never the crack in the soundboard that buzzes. The buzz is usually between the board and the ribs that often separate near the crack. Filling the crack with shims is largely cosmetic. It's most important to get the board and the ribs glued back together. This can be done without restringing. I made some clamps for this purpose back in the day. This unit is similar. Only requires a very small hole through the board. I used 12 gauge piano wire for mine, which is .025"

Thanks! Very helpful! Is this something I should have a good tech do, or should I try myself? If nothing else, I can try to isolate the bad spot.

 

I found the crack first by pressing on the soundboard in different places and found where pressing stopped the buzz. That can be misleading, I know, but lo and behold, right under my finger I could see daylight through the soundboard. Might I try tiny shims between soundboard and braces to find the loose ones, or something like that?

 

Jazz+: yes, the buzz is the first order; if that can't be fixed well, the rest is meaningless. And definitely, appearance is last in order of priority. It would only be earlier in time for logistical reasons, and I can't think of any offhand.

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The travel on the action seems short. Is this very adjustable?

 

The travel on the damper pedal also seems unusually short. I can see that I can adjust that, but by setting all the dampers higher. They'd just travel farther above the strings, which wouldn't really achieve any musical purpose. Perhaps my expectations are off? Right now, with the damper pedal fully depressed (pushing the horizontal bar the dampers all connect to up into the unmovable stops above), the dampers just clear the strings, but clear them fully enough that there is no possible contact.

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Do you know how to tune a piano beyond the unisons? I've been using TuneLab on my iPad (I also have it on my iPhone) and I've been pretty happy with it.
A friend who tuned his own CP70 loaned me his copy of Piano Tuning for Dummies (really). I had two problems trying to do it (though I never really gave it the college try on my own CP70).

 

1) I can't imagine actually counting beats per 5 second interval. I tried it a couple times -- when they get down to just one or two beats, I can hear "solid" vs "off", but I can't quite count the beats. I just hear movement. Maybe it just needs more training & practice.

 

2) I don't bother trying to adjust even unisons in the top octave. I can't seem to make the tiny adjustments necessary.

 

And there's one other thing. I really really really like a piano to be tuned rock solid and even tempered and, well, the way only really good tuners do. I suspect it would take me a long time to tune well enough to satisfy myself.

 

But, given that this piano is so far off, maybe I should give it a try. What have I got to lose? It's going to go out of tune as it adjust to its new home anyway! :)

 

Maybe TuneLab would help ... but IMHO, stretching the tune on a piano to its own harmonics is important. I have a hard time imagining a program doing a good job of that. Still, no harm checking it out. Hopefully it's avaliable for Windows, or else I'll have to commandeer my wife's new iPad. :laugh:

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BTW, I did pull the action, first day. Back when I was young I used to cruise the UMich campus area playing all the avaliable pianos in dorms, the Union, Law Quad, etc. A lot of times these pianos had wonky keys, so I'd bring a screwdriver, pull the action out, and fix them. Fortunately I never got caught, and I kept the pianos working reasonably. (The most common problem was a weight added to a key to balance it working its way out and rubbing on a neighbor key. Other times there'd just be crud in there to clean out, or a part to just carefully work back and forth until it worked easily again.)

 

I was hoping to find something obvious I could do with this action, but no luck. With only a few minor exceptions, all the parts look like they're working correctly, and I didn't want to fiddle with the various adjustments. I did try a couple just to see but they didn't help so I set them back.

 

What was clear was that across the board, there's just too much friction. Hammers don't fall back quickly; the pushrods that push the damper up doesn't fall back, etc. I'm sure that any resistance to returning is even worse when striking. I don't mind a heavy action, but this is more stiff than heavy.

 

Maybe google will help me find more info on all the things to fiddle with on a Steinway M action of that era. But ... I think I'll let a good tech take care of it. There's a huge difference to making a key work like its neighbors, versus making a shift in the operation of all of them.

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1. Get the Reblitz book if you don't already have it.

 

2. If you're a hack tuner like me, you can use TuneLab and tune the entire piano. No beat counting and all that. At the very least, it would get the piano in the ballpark so that the real tuner doesn't have to do anything major.

 

There is a Windows version.

 

http://www.tunelab-world.com/

 

3. The Reblitz book talks about regulating as well as repairs, so you could get those specs you discuss a few posts above in the ballpark if not all the way to your satisfaction.

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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BTW, I did pull the action, first day. Back when I was young I used to cruise the UMich campus area playing all the avaliable pianos in dorms, the Union, Law Quad, etc. A lot of times these pianos had wonky keys, so I'd bring a screwdriver, pull the action out, and fix them. Fortunately I never got caught, and I kept the pianos working reasonably. (The most common problem was a weight added to a key to balance it working its way out and rubbing on a neighbor key. Other times there'd just be crud in there to clean out, or a part to just carefully work back and forth until it worked easily again.)

 

West Quad had a pretty nice Steinway (or maybe Baldwin?) grand in a hallway that I used to play. South Quad had an upright that a bunch of football players threw out a window back in the early 70's.

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Jeff, forget the DIY approach on the action. A good tech will get stunning results out of your action. Nobody else will. To equip yourself with the tools and supplies necessary will cost you more than having it done by a pro. Key easing pliers are used for nothing else on earth and can do serious damage in the wrong hands. A Steinway capstan wrench is used for nothing else on earth.

 

Of all your problems, the sound board buzz is the only one I'd recommend going after yourself.

 

--wmp
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The travel on the action seems short. Is this very adjustable?

 

Yes. Key height and key level are adjusted with paper punchings under the balance rail bushings. Key dip is adjusted with paper punchings under the front rail cloth punchings. To perform these adjustments, you need a set of 88 lead weights that clip onto the backchecks to replace the weight of the top action (wippens and hammers) which must be removed for this step. These weights serve no other purpose on earth.

 

Steinway key height ought to be 2 5/8" from the keybed* to the top of the key. Key dip ought to be 3/8".

 

* this is why it's important not to call actions keybeds.

 

 

--wmp
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Very cool, Jeff. :thu:

 

My apologies for not getting over there Saturday. Too much family stuff going on here & I couldn't leave.

 

Nevertheless, I will put some gas in the car and come see this beauty as soon as possible.

 

Congratulations. :cool:

 

Tom

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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Excellent. Thanks for the tips, Joe; I'll look into that book, the software, and the site!

 

wmp, I appreciate your wisdom concerning the action. I suspected as much anyway. I'll go measure dip right now, and now I understand the term "dip" that Jim was using in my Rhodes refurb thead. :) Did you mean to include refinishing in the things I shouldn't attempt? Even then I'd probably consult an expert (e.g., there's a married couple on RPT site here in Durham where he's the tech and she's the finisher) and find out which labor-intensive and less-skilled jobs I could do myself.

 

Marzz: I probably played that West Quad piano more than any other. Not only was it one of my favorites, it was a nice place to meet people. I wonder if anyone remembers the phrase, "Leon, eat my shorts!" which used to abound on notes posted on bulletin boards there. Leon was the dorm director and had a great sense of humor. When he finally retired he had a cake made in the shape of boxers, and so West Quad residents ended up eating Leon's shorts. Law Quad had a nice Steinway, and the Union piano was great too. I remember a great big piano in South Quad that just screamed to play in C; you'd get it started and it would practically play it self, deep rolling notes.

 

Tom, no worries, as it wasn't on anyway -- timing didn't work out as per my message. Hope to see you soon!

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Refinishing might be a little more ambitious than you think. It's messy. It takes a lot of space to disassemble the whole piano, store all the hinges, screws, and the various wood parts between operations. All your work surfaces and storage racks ought to be covered with carpet scraps so you don't mess up one side while working on the other. The correct finish is sprayed lacquer, which requires some expensive tools and a very well ventilated shop. There's a special dolly that holds up the grand case so you can roll it around while the legs are off. Life without that is much harder.

 

Because the finish is lacquer, lacquer thinner will melt it. So there are ways to spread out and polish up the existing finish to get rid of the gator skin look. You still have to disassemble the whole thing to do it right. You shouldn't go over the top of the rim inside the case unless you're doing a complete rebuild. Don't forget about all the cloth parts, like the cloth along the bottom of the fallboard, the guides for the music desk, the little cloth bushings and felt bumpers in the music desk and in the pedal lyre. Fallboard decal or brass inlay? If it's a decal, you either need a replacement or you do need to polish up the fallboard without disturbing it.

 

It's not impossible, but don't underestimate how much work is involved. If it's something you were thinking of doing in your living room, that's impossible.

 

If you're very lucky, you might clear up a lot of your stickiness with a good squirt of CPL (center pin lubricant), a mysterious liquid supply houses sell that evaporates harmlessly. Clean the action with dry soft paint brushes, shop vac and compressed air first so you don't wash the dust into the wood and cloth parts. Less humid weather will help some, as will playing on it, if that's tolerable.

 

If CPL doesn't free things up, the next step is to very gently work the part by hand with very gentle sideways pressure. If that doesn't do it, the next step is to heat the center pin very slightly with a soldering iron being very careful not to overdo it. This always does the trick. When you hold a hammer by its flange and swing it like a pendulum from about 60 degrees, you ought to get about one and a half full swings. Tick tock tick. Too much is bad. Too little is bad. Any side to side motion is bad.

 

Key easing isn't so bad for an experienced hand. Easing each set of action centers can be time consuming. Especially if you have to do them all. What looks like sluggish dampers might just be sluggish keys holding them up. You have to get the action out, get the top action off of the key frame, and check the keys, dampers, hammers, wippens, jacks, and repetition levers individually to really know what's binding. Often, easing the keys and the hammer flanges is all that's required.

 

If the dampers fall freely and damp the string, that's good, because you don't want to mess with them at all if you don't have to. Getting even damper lift is about the hardest thing to get right in action regulation, and being a shade out of spec isn't going to make that much difference if the pedal lifts them evenly, they work well, and the rest of the action is well regulated. That should shave a few bucks off your regulation bill.

 

I'd try to get the action eased up, the flange screws snugged up. the buzzes silenced, and get it tuned first. That'll make it playable and put you in a better position to contemplate regulation and refinishing options.

 

 

--wmp
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I'd just like to briefly second wmp's cautious note. This is not some crummy piano to experiment on. Properly refurbished, this piano is not only a great practice instument, its one you could resell for $20,000+ A mediocre do-it-yourself could end up costing you more than a professional Steinway rebuilder.

 

Larry

 

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OK, thanks! I pulled the action but didn't pull the top part off -- wasn't sure that was wise. However, just fiddling with the parts, I got the impression that the friction is both in the keys and in the upper action ("action centers"?).

 

I think I'll give the key easing a try; it shouldn't be much different from the Rhodes in that regard, and I have some key pin lube on order from Vintage Vibe. It's a brush & bottle, not spray, so I'll leave the upper part to the pros, other than a good vaccuming. I have a vaccuum tool for delicate work which should do the job, plus I'll pick up a can of air.

 

I suspect the dampers are fine; I mean the little felt-covered rods attached at the back of the action, that push the dampers up when a key is depressed. (I need to learn the right words for these things; gotta get out my Larry Fine and study!) When the hammers go down, these damper rods follow without any obvious hesistation, and that's without the weight of the dampers. So, that should be good enough.

 

I'll leave the dampers and pedal alone (other than the usual pedal rod adjustment). They work great; they just feel funny to my foot with such a short travel. I'm surprised they're difficult to get even. I would have adjusted the pedal rod so that they're raised just a touch, lowered each to fall on the string, and then tightened the set screws. That would make them all have equal pressure (or so I think) and maybe that's not desirable.

 

Regarding refinishing, I might try just dissolving the laquer on top and rubbing it out, but leaving the rest of the piano alone (for now). I'll focus on the important stuff first. My wife fixed the finish issue by tossing a scarf over the piano. :laugh:

 

Just send me your bill. :)

 

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My wife fixed the finish issue by tossing a scarf over the piano. :laugh:

 

Yeah... Wifey does this to me whenever we venture out in public. :facepalm:

 

I don't know why. :(

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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I suspect the dampers are fine; I mean the little felt-covered rods attached at the back of the action, that push the dampers up when a key is depressed. (I need to learn the right words for these things; gotta get out my Larry Fine and study!) When the hammers go down, these damper rods follow without any obvious hesistation, and that's without the weight of the dampers. So, that should be good enough.

 

Felt covered rods? I'm totally lost. Without the weight of the dampers? I'm confused too. The last thing you want to touch back there is the set screw that secures the bottom of the damper wire to the damper lever assembly. That's the one that's can be bear to get back into position. Trust me, it's not as easy as you think. It looks that easy, but it isn't. You can give those set screws a check to be sure they're not loose, but don't even try tightening them. That can be enough to change their position, and it doesn't take much to give you a ringing damper. If the dampers work, leave them alone.

 

The back ends of the keys are notched and have nice felt cushions that sit under the damper levers. With the action out, lift the damper levers with your fingers and let go. Do they fall freely? If so, you're good there. Be grateful for that.

 

I guessing late here that you're hip to the risk of ripping off hammers with the pinblock when you remove the action. Also, never strike a key if there is no string or letoff rack to stop the hammer travel. That'll break 'em off at the other end.

 

Pull out one of the sluggish hammers and give it the swing test. I'm guessing from your description that you'll get a tick and perhaps half a tock. With the hammers lifted out of the way, flick the jacks and the rep levers. They are spring loaded and ought to snap right back when released.

 

There are two rules for key easing. Don't overdo it and don't split keys. If you've got a good system for doing that, easing the action centers might not be beyond you either. It'd be a lot easier to offer a little phone support to cover the procedure, caveats, risks and rewards than trying to type it all out.

 

 

--wmp
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Thanks again! I probably confused things in my mind after putting the action back in.

 

Whenever I've removed an action, I've always done it very slowly and gently. I didn't specifically know about the hammer breakage risk, but that makes sense. Easy does it!

 

I'm looking forward to a swing test, though I'm not sure about getting the hammer off the key without messing something up. I'll ask again if I need to, but first I'll take advantage of some of the printed and web material.

 

I think you're about right about that tick and half a tock, though. I've had actions out before, and just about everything in them have moved with more ease.

 

I just got my Rhodes parts (with the CPL) so I have plenty to do now. :)

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Marzz: I probably played that West Quad piano more than any other. Not only was it one of my favorites, it was a nice place to meet people. Law Quad had a nice Steinway, and the Union piano was great too. I remember a great big piano in South Quad that just screamed to play in C; you'd get it started and it would practically play it self, deep rolling notes.

Jeff-

 

I lived in South Quad for two years (78-79) and I have no recollection whatsoever of any playable piano there. The one in West Quad (West Quad sucks, btw) was excellent- I played it for hours unless they kicked me out, which they did frequently....

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