Rebuilding Whippens


Recently much has been said about the proper definition of a rebuilt piano. The older parts do not have to be replaced but must come up to the standards set by the manufacturer for the new part. I would like to concentrate on one part frequently replaced by rebuilders – the whippen. There are several reasons that I have not to replace parts but to rebuild them instead.
First, there is the convenience of not having to adapt parts possibly not made for the particular piano or that are not the same quality or size as the originals. Secondly, because of excessive action noise caused by teflon – I simply refuse to install Teflon bushed whippens into an old Steinway. Even if no definite clicks are present, there is still detectable noise in teflon whippens.
The ultimate product of a note played on a properly pinned, bushed and regulated piano is simply a bell-like tone escaping from the instrument with no evidence of mechanical means; and this can be more closely achieved with a cloth-bushed whippen.
Prior to regulation, a properly restored whippen saves on regulation and troubleshooting time, with no action noises to track down.
Lastly, the intrinsic value of the instrument, which may not be an antique now, but may be in 50 years has to be considered. Basically, antique collectors see the most value in a piece that has never been refinished or changed by a later craftsman. The highest prices paid for an antique of any sort are those for pieces in original condition. This has to be tempered of course by the function of an instrument. We want a piano to be playable with the least amount of change in the original design so that future generations will have examples of late 19th and early 20th Century instruments as close to the original as possible.
The first step is to space the hammers to the strings. This will insure that after removal whippens can be replaced accurately. Number all whippens upon removal. In many cases you will be replacing screws with a slightly larger one for a tight fit, but if you plan to save them keep them in order.
Usually an initial dusting off is required just forclose examination of the part. This can be done prior to removal with an air compressor of after removal with a soft paint brush by hand. I use three-sided action trays with a row of numbered screw holes in the back for easy transportation of parts around the shop. Remove all felt and cloth that you have determined has to be disposed of for reasons of wear, moth holes, etc. Clean the spring slot with a toothpick or other wooden scraping tool and regraphite with a No. 3 pencil. Examine the spring to determine if it is too severely bent or corroded to use. New springs are available from supply houses. Remove the centre pin first if one exists (some only have the cloth bushing) and ream the hole.
The new spring should be threaded on the bushing cloth as it passes through the hole in the wood. Usually the springs can be cleaned with either very fine steel wool or metal cleaner. Use of the metal cleaner (Noxon) avoids any possibility of scratching the surface of the spring that rides in the slot.
Frictionless contact between the spring and the slot is crucial. Many times the reason the spring does not make the hammer walk up properly is that …
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Pre-Voicing


When confronted by tone problems, many piano technicians seem overly anxious to find a quick remedy by using voicing needles or lacquer. Both needling and lacquering are important elements in the over-all voicing picture; a skilled technician must know when and how to use voicing needles, as well as how to prepare and use lacquer solutions for hammer hardening. The point is this: both these methods are ultimately destructive to hammer felt, and shouldn’t be used until all other possible solutions have been explored. What are some of the things to check before we begin to needle or lacquer?

A. Before thinking about voicing we must make sure the piano is well tuned. We all have had clients comment upon the remarkable change in tone or volume after a good, solid tuning. A major pitch change will most assuredly change a piano’s voice, so tune it first. As part of our preliminary tuning procedure we must consider several areas which can affect tone:
1) Tighten all plate screws.
2) Seat strings properly, using a wooden or brass tool to tap them down on bridges, aliquots, duplex bars, and counter-bearing bars. This can clear up false beats, and clean up a muddy sounding tone.
3) At this time, check and, if necessary, correct the tuning of the duplex scale – if the instrument has one. You may notice a brighter, louder tone when the duplex strings properly reinforce the harmonic structure of a given note.
4) We also double check the location and tension of stringing braid. A minor point, but one which can either add or eliminate high partials without using needles.
B. Next, we consider the role of proper action regulation in piano tone-building. Perhaps this is an obvious point, but sometimes we overlook regulation problems and are quick to blame hard or soft hammers, old strings, etc., for tonal problems. Some areas of regulation seem to have a greater effect on the tone we hear:
1) Of primary importance in this area is the bedding of the keyframe. This foundation for all our regulation has a very direct influence on what the artist hears, both physically and psychologically. Generally, an improperly bedded keyframe will cause loss of power and consequent loss of tone.
 2) Another major item to check here is the proper hammer striking point, especially in the high treble. Many a hammer has been unnecessarily hardened, when the problem was really an incorrect strike point. Check by experimenting- results here are immediately obvious.
3) Travelling of hammers and shanks can affect tone, so do this work carefully.
4) Of utmost importance is the actual hammer-string contact point: each hammer must hit its strings squarely and simultaneously. Space the hammers to the strings. File the hammers if necessary to remove dead felt, and to provide a perfectly level surface at the strike point. Later, we will discuss filing to bring up volume and brilliance.
After checking that the hammers are level, we check for level strings. String levelling is much over-looked, both by manufacturers and technicians. Here is an area that can dramatically improve tone. The symptom of an unlevel unison is an unclean, almost buzzing sound. It can also seem like a false beat, and can make tuning difficult.
Check all unisons by pulling the hammer up to the strings and blocking it there. Use either a hook to support the shank from the bottom, or use the method of pushing up on the bottom of the jack and not allowing let-off to occur.
When the hammer is blocked in such a fashion, the strings are individually plucked. It is immediately apparent if one or more strings is not level. The high strings will sound, while low strings will be deadened by the hammer. Carefully lift all low strings to the level of the high strings. Use a tool available from supply houses (string lifter) or make yourself a stringing hook using heavy gauge music wire epoxied into a handle of some sort. 
In string levelling we are actually pulling up and slightly bending the wire near the agraffe or cape bar. This technique is easily learned and is an important part of pre-voicing. (An added bonus of level strings comes when we regulate dampers- especially in fine adjustment of the tri-chord wedges.)
C. The piano can be well tuned and properly regulated, but still lack volume or brilliance. Don’t lacquer yet. If there is plenty of felt on the hammers, another filing can increase tone quickly. Getting down closer to the hammer molding, the layers of felt are harder and can create a more brilliant tone. This is especially useful to bring up sound in the high treble.
Some manufacturers count on the technician to remove…
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Concert Piano Preparation – part 2 (Conclusion)


The primary concerns in concert voicing are evenness (funny how often that word comes up in piano work, isn’t it?) and colour flexibility. By evenness, of course, I mean that notes should not stand out from their neighbours by being either too powerful and brilliant or too soft and mellow. By colour flexibility, I mean that the tone should be able to change to meet the artist’s needs. For instance, a note should sound mellow or “pearly” when played pianissimo, but should sound brighter and have more “bite” when played at louder levels. The best way to achieve these results in voicing is to start out with good quality hammers and a solid regulation, then follow the tried-and-true methods laid out in Franz Rudolf Dietz’s “Grand Voicing “(1). Short-cut voicing methods may make a quick and obvious difference in a piano’s sound, and may be fine for some home pianos, but I prefer the slower and more controllable traditional voicing techniques, especially when dealing with fine concert instruments.
Because pianists do not all have the same preference as to piano tone, no one piano and no one voicing are going to keep everyone totally happy. I recall attending a piano recital where a faculty friend approached me at intermission and said, “Steve, I think your piano is too bright.” Another friend, overhearing, said, “I think it sounds gorgeous. It’s perfect!” A few minutes later, I ran into a technician friend who thought the piano sounded nice, ‘but it could stand to be a bit brighter.” Three different people, three different opinions. That incident taught me not to take any one person’s opinion too seriously. Naturally, the best approach to voicing pianos that are used by a wide variety of performers is to keep the hammers in good shape (some technicians file the hammers after every performance!) and keep the sound as even as possible. I try to make the overall tone quality match my conception of what a piano should sound like, always remembering that it’s generally better to err in the direction of “too brilliant” rather than “too dull” where a concert piano is concerned. If a particular artist requests changes in a piano’s voicing, I will usually attempt to meet that request, but now we’re entering the realm of “working with people.”
The Artist
Whenever possible, I like to meet with the pianist during the piano selection process. If the artist has chosen the piano prior to coming to the hall (some choose a piano solely by brand name), or if there is no choice available, I try to meet the artist at the beginning of rehearsal time, when the pianist is first trying the instrument. I introduce myself, ask the performer if there are any problems with the piano, and after any necessary discussion, I leave.
Where voicing is requested, I prefer to have the pianist present while I voice the piano. This approach helps eliminate misunderstandings, especially when I can get the pianist to participate with me in the process by trying the piano after each stint of needling or filing. If for some reason the pianist can’t be on hand for this type of work or to try the piano after the voicing is done, I’ve found he or she is usually reluctant to have any work done besides tuning. That’s for a good reason: they would rather know exactly what to expect when they sit down to play at concert time. (2)
Other People
Besides the artist, we often deal with promoters, stage managers and stage hands. The rule with all these people is…
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Concert Piano Preparation – part I


Most piano technicians have the opportunity to experience many different facets of piano work. While comparatively few of us actually specialize in tuning and preparation of fine concert instruments, I think most of us, at one time or another, are called on to perform this service. My first concert tuning experience came when I was barely three months out of tuning school. The pianist was famous and I was nervous. Nothing really terrible happened on that occasion, and for the next few years, one of my regular duties was to care for that same piano whenever it was used in a concert. When I took this university job a few years ago, I assumed responsibility for a stable of concert grands now numbering five (representing three different makes) which are used for both performing and recording. In addition, I frequently take calls to tune for performances at different halls in the city. Since most technicians may expect to do this sort of work at some time, I would like to share some of what has “rubbed off” on me so far, during my own continuing education.
Like nearly all areas of piano work, concert piano preparation consists of two basic types of work: working with pianos, and working with people. These two aspects are equally important and necessary; no matter how brilliant the technician, if he can’t communicate and assume certain responsibilities toward the people who are necessarily involved with the piano, he will ultimately fail. I’ve found that customers are usually quite willing to exchange a small amount of technical brilliance for a large amount of conscientious and responsible behaviour. On the other hand, a technician may have “personality plus,” always be on time, and charge the lowest rates in town, but without technical expertise, will not be able to “cut it” where piano performance is a critical factor. So, both are necessary. Let’s talk first about working with pianos.
Tuning
Even if you have the job of caring for a given concert piano on a long-term basis, tuning is the job you will be asked to do most often. Tuning is still an indispensible job before each performance. When we speak of concert tuning, we imply that it is somehow different than ordinary, everyday tuning. Actually, I think of only one real difference.’ That difference deals with the concept of “point of diminishing returns,” a point which is reached much sooner with the average home piano than with the average concert grand. What it means is this: on a good concert grand, it is worth our time to be especially nit-picky about our tuning, because the extra time spent translates to a discernable difference in the finished product. This would apply to the areas of regulation and voicing as well.
Within the realm of “concert” tuning, every part of the tuning is important, but we must give special emphasis to unisons and tuning stability. At this point, I still hold with the belief that beatless unisons are important to a tuning because of the crisp, clean effect they give it. I have yet to be convinced that a unison with a two-cent spread is in any way desirable. Unisons drift rapidly enough without our setting them “on the edge” to begin with, and the average layman will complain about bad unisons long before hearing misaligned octaves or uneven temperaments. For these reasons, we should pay close attention to unisons, going over them two or even three times in the course of a concert tuning.
The other area of special emphasis is tuning stability. Conditions are often aggravated by circumstances surrounding the piano, such as temperature and humidity fluctuations in the hall, the fact that concert instruments are often brought in from somewhere else, and must readjust to the hall, and the fact that, in performance, a piano often undergoes extremely heavy playing. In light of these factors, we must make sure that, when we tune the piano, we are hitting the keys at least as hard as the pianist will, and that, before tuning, the piano has acclimated as well as possible.
I will never forget the time I had to hurry through a concert tuning and managed not to hit some of the keys as hard as I should have. Sitting in the fourth row at the concert that evening, I was mortified to hear Bb50 suddenly become a very wild unison during a stressful part of the Schumann Fantasy. Thereafter, the note was played often in some very exposed melodic passages, and I cringed each time I heard it. At intermission I hurried onto the stage to touch up the unison, and was greeted by a smattering of applause. As I bent over the piano, someone shouted, “It’s the Bb!” Needless to say, I was thoroughly embarrassed.
By thoughtful practice, a technician can overcome problems with unison tuning and tuning stability. Tuning tutors can be helpful even to experienced tuners, sometimes spotting small deficiencies which have become ingrained in our technique over the years. I find it instructive to watch others tune and see their methods of pin-setting. By experimenting with different hammer techniques and measuring slippage with a good electronic tuning aid, a tuner can learn a lot about which method works best for him or her. A machine with one-tenth cent accuracy is a great help in honing unison tuning as well.
One other aspect of tuning that is sometimes critical is the…
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Fine Tuning


I have completed my 30th year of tuning and general piano service and during all of that time it has been my aim to improve the quality of my work in any way possible. I believe most tuners have this same aim.
I have been successful and my work has been acceptable to my customers all along, but I have come to realise during the last five years that there are many things to be learned about fine tuning. And many of them are not taught to the students who study the theory and practice of tuning.
This is not to say the theory of tuning, as taught in the best schools, is faulty. On the contrary, it is a theory which has developed into an exact science.
It has been correctly described as a closed mathematical system which, if followed faithfully, will result in tuning all intervals, correctly tempered, and all octaves tuned as “dead” or perfect octave intervals. But even this result, if it could be achieved, would not necessarily be entirely pleasing to the critical musician.
There are several reasons why this is true and every tuner should know all he can about them, and about how he can best overcome the difficulties they present.
First: -All tuning, except unison tuning, is done indirectly; that is, in tuning any interval, octave included, we are comparing coincident harmonics of the two tones being sounded.
Second: – The harmonics of a piano string, which is under high tension, are not exact multiples, in frequency, of the frequency at which the entire length of the string vibrates.
Third: – To tones which are either very high or very low in frequency, the human ear does not assign pitches which are directly proportional to their frequencies when compared with tones in the middle frequency range. In other words, our sense of pitch is a subjective discernment for each individual, and it may be considerably different from true pitch theoretically determined by the correct frequency for that pitch.
Fourth:- I doubt it’s possible to set an absolutely perfect equal temperament, probably because the harmonics on which we depend are not true harmonics of the fundamentals from which they arise. This should not, however, prevent any of us from setting Bach temperament as perfectly as possible and, on a good piano, it is possible to set a very good temperament indeed.
Fifth: – I also doubt it’s possible to tune a perfect octave without resorting to tests other than our evaluation of a “dead” or beatless interval. A number of years ago, a technical editor for a piano trade magazine warned all tuners “never trust an octave.” My experience has borne out the value of his warning. In fact, I have found that there is a considerable range of frequency over which an octave is acceptable to my ears, but the same octave will often be found to be less than perfect when one of its members is made a part of some other interval which is known to be correctly tuned.
We must recognize that perfection in tuning is not possible, but we should always strive for it. And as nearly perfect an equal temperament as we can set is a must, for it determines the harmonic pattern upon which all of the rest of the tuning depends. The quality of the piano is a limiting factor, as is our skill, but in the matter of skill it is our responsibility to do all we can to improve it constantly.
We recognize also that we are dependent upon coincident harmonics for practically every step in tuning. And also, that coincident harmonics may create some of our worst problems when they result in dissonant intervals. Therefore, they become the basis for some of our most useful tests, especially when they are coupled with some knowledge of chord structure. With this background of recognition of the possibilities and the problems we face I would offer these suggestions for achieving what we term “fine tuning.”
First: – Become familiar with the piano keyboard so that you may test any combination of tones likely to be used in piano music. Those who play the piano may not know how careful the tuner may have been with his temperament or how much attention he has given to tuning perfect octaves, but they will be quick to notice any interval which is dissonant to the degree that it offends the ear. So, we must know what degree of dissonance is correct in the equally tempered scale, for it is, after all, a compromise whose greatest advantage is that all scales in all keys are equally acceptable, though none may be said to be perfect.
Intervals used in polyphonic music include seconds, major and minor thirds, fourths, fifths, major and minor sixths, minor sevenths, octaves, ninths, tenths, twelfths, and so on. And most of these intervals, as well as others, have their uses as tests of accurate tuning.
Second: – Do not expect to leave a piano accurately tuned with a once-over tuning if any considerable pitch change is to be made, because the change in down bearing on the bridges during tuning will defeat your best efforts to achieve accuracy.

With a reasonably acceptable scale at the proper pitch, I strip mute the middle and treble sections of the piano. On uprights, above the treble break, the loops in the muting felt must be pushed down behind or preferably below the dampers, but this is not too difficult.
Then I set as perfect a temperament as possible, realizing that not only are fourths and fifths important intervals, but that major and minor thirds and sixths, while more dissonant, must also be acceptable intervals within the temperament octave. Also that fourths, fifths, thirds and sixths, both major and minor, have their proper beat rates and that these rates increase in frequency as we ascend the scale. This is true, of course, throughout the entire piano scale. The progression of .beat rates and its evenness is one of our best tests of the equal temperament we try to achieve.
Third: – When I am satisfied with my temperament, and sometimes I must be satisfied with a compromise on spinets and small grands, I proceed with the bass tuning. My reason for doing this is, that…
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Grand Regulation – part XXX


Step no46 Check string level / damper seating  

Most technicians know that piano wire, even after being strung  and pulled up to tension, still retains a natural curve as a result of being reeled upon a spool during manufacturing. Because of this natural curve, the three strings (or two) which make a unison may or may not be perfectly level at the point where the hammers strike and where the dampers seat. Irregularities in string level may also be caused by the holes in the agraffes not being perfect.  Whatever the cause they must be corrected.  If one string in a unison is higher or lower than the others, problems in voicing and damper sealing are sure to result.
Since the string level affects both voicing and correct dampening, I find it easiest to match the string level to the dampers, then alter the tops of the hammers to finish matching the hammers to the strings. Theoretically, all strings should be perfectly level, with all of the tops of the hammers also perfectly level, and correct dampening on every note. However, being one who is more practical than theoretical, I have a tendency to leave the dampers alone if they are working fine! Play each note staccato, listening for the familiar “after ring” which tells that the dampers are not seating correctly. Don’t forget also to try the dampers using a lighter, legato touch, as well as using the sustain pedal. If any dampers are heard to “ring through,” feel the string directly in front of the damper head and check for a problem in the level of the strings. 
Not all problems with dampening are caused by string level. Sometimes the damper head is bent side to side or front to rear. Maybe the damper-to-string alignment is off. On trichords, if the middle string is dampened but one of the outer strings is not, try cutting the middle of the trichord a little deeper. There are numerous other reasons for incorrect dampening besides these. But if the strings are felt and one of the unisons seems to be too low or too high, try leveling the strings. When one string is low and the others are high, the obvious solution is to raise the low one. However, some technicians   would rather not raise two low ones to match one high string when one is high It is possible to lower one string. Whatever your preference, the end result should be to get all three unisons level.
To raise a low string, take a string hook, as used in restringing, and place it under the offending string between the agraffe and the damper. Slide it back and forth with a slight upwards motion a couple of times. This process is much like voicing in that you can always do a little more if needed, but it becomes a problem when you’ve gone too far. Don’t run the string hook too close to the agraffe as you want to put a slight bend in the wire rather than a crink. It is possible to break a weak agraffe, so put only a slight upwards pressure on the string. Retune the string and check for correct dampening.
As mentioned above, if one unison is high to the other two, you have a choice. The high string can be lowered, or the two lower ones can be raised with the method just shown. If you prefer to lower a high string, take something softer than the wire, a piece of brass or hard wood (not a screwdriver) and gently run it up and down the string using a slight downwards motion. This is a little trickier, and perhaps not as permanent as raising low wires. 
Step no47 Check sostenuto tabs for evenness, adjust knife angle  
The evenness of the sostenuto tabs should already have been checked while performing steps no43 & 44, the dampening lift form the key and lifter rail. If these previous steps were done correctly, all tabs will be in a straight line. If they are not, go back to step no43 and redo, as any change in the height of the damper lever to get good tab alignment will cause problems with the damper lift from the key and lifter rail.  
Adjusting the sostenuto knife angle rather simple. Adjustment is made by varying the length of the sostenuto pedal rod. Looking from the treble side of the piano at the rod, it should be at 5 o’clock in its rest position, 3 o’clock in the raised position. 
Step no48 Adjust sostenuto knife in / out and up / down  
Now that the tabs are perfectly even and the knife angle is adjusted, all that is left is the in/out and up/down adjustment of the sostenuto rod itself. Taken in this order, working on sostenuto systems becomes considerable less painful. If you can’t remember anything else about the sostenuto rod, remember the distance 1/8“. The rod cannot interfere with the normal playing of the piano. All tabs must clear the rod when not using the sostenuto pedal.  On the other hand, when the pedal is played, it must catch and hold firmly any tabs in the raised position. Adjust the rod in/out to give 1/8” clearance between the rod itself (not the knife part of the rod) and the ends of the tabs.
With the sostenuto pedal in the down position…
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Grand Regulation – part XXIX


Combined Steps no43 check damper lift from key (1/2 dip)
& no44 check damper lift from lifter rail 
The regulation of the damper levers involves checking for evenness of the levers for proper sostenuto tab adjustment, how high the levers are for proper damper lift from the keys, and how evenly the levers lift from the lifter rail. Since these three aspects are inseparable, steps no 43 & 44 are combined for this discussion.
The time to worry about how well the sostenuto system will work is when the damper levers are regulated to obtain proper lii from the keys and lifter rail. The first principle to remember is that the levers must be perfectly level in the rest position. This will give a straight line for the sostenuto tabs, which is vital for the sostenuto system to function properly. Once the tabs are level, it is simple to adjust the sostenuto knife.
Never, never adjust the height of a single damper lever to correct for improper damper lift from the key or from the lifter rail unless the offending lever is not level with the others. Individual adjustment of damper lift from the key or from the rail is made by altering the thickness of the lifter felts. If the piano being regulated is brand new or at least new enough that the lifter felts are not worn, then proceed to adjusting the evenness of the damper levers. If the piano is older, especially if the instrument is being rebuilt, replace the key lifter felts and the damper rail felt.  Failure to replace worn lifter felt will surely result in lost time and big headaches.
The only way to replace the damper rail felt is to remove all of the damper wires (see last post’s discussion) and also remove the damper rail itself. Replacement felt should be of similar thickness and of sufficient density, like understring felt. While the lifter tray is out, lube the pivot bearings and return spring. Reinstall the lifter tray and damper wires. As was explained in step no42 in the last post, the damper wires must ride freely through the brass inserts in the damper levers. If the hole of the brass insert has been aligned and the wires still do not pass freely, reduce the size of the damper wire by light filing.
To regulate the height of the damper levers while maintaining a perfectly level line, I have a homemade aluminium square 1” x 1” x 46”. At each end of this square are holes large enough to let a threaded rod pass through. The rods are screwed into a wooden base. Nuts and washers are placed above and below where the rods pass through the square. This jig can then be placed inside the piano on the keybed directly underneath all of the damper levers. The piano action can also be placed where it normally goes, this jig not interfering since it is back under the levers!
Sample damper wires are screwed tight to their levers, making sure that the levers are too low in height from where they should be. These sample wires are at the extreme ends as well as selected places through the middle of the action. The nuts on the threaded rods are then screwed up or down to raise all of the damper levers higher or drop them lower as needed. The proper height for the lifter rail is found by installing the action and checking the damper lift from the keys. Usually this is adjusted so that the lifter felts on the back of the keys engages the damper levers at 1/2 the key dip. This specification can be changed a little up or down to make the action feel a lithe heavier or lighter as desired. Just remember that the point of engagement must be soon enough to lift the dampers high enough to clear the strings. Also remember that altering the way the action feels by adjusting the point of damper lift from the keys is ineffective hen the pianist plays with the sustainpedal down!
When the correct damper lever height is found, remove the action and tightenall of the damper wire screws so that the dampers are seated on the strings ml the bottom of the levers just touch the aluminium squares. If the damper heads move while tightening the wires, take a pair of pliers and twist the wires so that the damper heads are aligned to the strings. The screws should be quite tight. You do not want the heads to be loose enough to be able to get out of alignment after a few months of playing.
At this point, all of the damper levers should be perfectly level at the bottom, and all of the sostenuto tabs in a straight line. The point of damper lift from the individual keys and from the lifter rail can now be checked. The procedure for correcting too early or too late is the same whether it be for the lift at the keys or at the rail. If the felt needs to be thicker, shim with paper underneath. If the felt is too thick, simply remove a layer or two with a sharp knife (best for key lifter felts) or use a hot blade and scorch the felt (best for the rail). On some pianos altering the thickness of the felt is unnecessary.
Many European style actions have spoons which can be bent slightly up or down to regulate the lift from the keys. These and other actions also have capstans or let-off type buttons to regulate the individual lift from the lifter rail. If the above procedure is followed, that is, making sure that the level of the levers is correct first, then adjusting each key for lift and each damper for lift, the painful experiences of regulating the dampers will be diminished. That is not to say of course that there won’t be problems with some pianos.
Pianos which have split lifter trays are among the worst offenders. The procedure here is …





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Grand Regulation – part XXVIII


Step no 42: Check Damper Guide Rail, Ease or Rebush

All of the felts in a piano eventually ear out with age or use. One of the more overlooked areas of wear is in the damper guide rail. Perhaps the reason the guide rail, and for that matter, the entire damper system, is overlooked is because technicians hate to work on the dampers. Granted, the work is tedious, frustrating, and often a source of complaint from the pianist when it is not functioning correctly. However, the solution is to learn how to regulate the dampers, not to avoid it!
New pianos are much easier to work on since the felts are (or at least should be) in good shape. Before attempting to regulate the dampers, the first thing to check is the damper guide rail. One by one raise each damper head with your hand. Gently rotate it inside the hole and check to see if the damper wire has proper clearance. If it does not, then the hole will have to be eased. If it is too loose, then the felt must be replaced. Let us assume the worst and talk first about rebushing the damper guide rail.
Preferably this should be done in a shop, although it doesn’t have to be if you know how to do the job. Remove and store safely the action to the piano. Build a holder for the damper head / wires. I use a piece of firring strip 1” x 2” x 60”.  Blocks 3” x 3” x 1” are glued on to the ends of the fir strip. Holes are drilled about 1/2” apart, just large enough to fit the damper wires, but not so large as to let the dampers fall out if the fir strip is lifted upside down. Each hole is numbered and felt is glued onto the bottom of the 3” x 3” blocks.
Position the holder directly in back of the damper guide rail, letting it rest on the case, soundboard, strings, or whatever. Loosen all of the screws on the damper wire blocks. Carefully, making sure that the wires do not get bent out of shape, remove each damper head/wire from the wire block, pulling it through the guide rail and inserting it into the proper numbered hole in the damper wire holder. This is most easily done by starting at damper number one and working up. Spread the strings on each side of the screws for the damper guide rail, and remove the screws and rail. Either mark the screws for the holes, or else screw them back into their holes.
If the guide bushings were press fitted into the holes, removal of the felt will be easy. Where they were glued, take the damper guide rail to a drill press and punch the old bushings out. Make sure the holes are cleaned. Before the new felt is installed, I like to sand and refinish the guide rail to make it look as good as I can. Only the highest grade bushing cloth should be used to rebush the guide rail. Often this grade of cloth is not available domestically. Buy it in large sheets. Tear a strip from this sheet to the proper width to fit the guide hole. When the felt is inserted into the hole, the torn ends of the cloth will tend to mesh together at the seam.
Cut the cloth into 6” strips and taper one end so that it can be started into the hole. Insert the cloth through the guide rail hole from the top down. That is to say, the excess cloth will protrude from the counter-sunk side of the hole. Put a drop of glue onto the cloth on the counter-sink, and cut off the excess. I realize that not everyone likes to glue their damper guide rail bushings in. The only comment I can make is that those people must not have had the experience of pushing a damper bushing out the bottom of the hole while trying to ease a tight bushing! Use hide glue for this job. Reinstall the rail and dampers reversing the process used to remove them. Again, be careful not to bend the damper wires. When the wires are being inserted back into the wire blocks, they should move freely through the brass screw holder. This is a must when regulating the damper lift from the tray and key. If the wire does not pass freely into the hole, take a small drill bit (one smaller than the hole) and using the shank of the bit, not the cutting end, rotate the bit inside of the wire block screw hole, These brass inserts are just press-fitted and sometimes get turned a little when the screw is tightened against the damper wire. The drill bit will reposition this brass insert to allow the wire to move freely inside the hole.
Regulating the damper wires will be covered in the next two steps on the checklist. Now let us talk about what to do if a damper wire is sluggish and needs to be “eased.” To help find such ,tight bushings, one quick way is to raise and lower all of the dampers using the: sustain pedal. Any sluggish dampers will return slowly. Don’t come to conclusions yet, though, as sluggish dampers can be caused by things other than the damper guide rail. Also, although the dampers do return fast enough using the sustain pedal, they may still have excess friction at the guide hole.
Remove the action, and …
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Grand Regulation – part XXVII


Step no41: Rebush / lube pedals and trapwork  
This step is divided into two parts. Part I deals with the lyre and pedals. Part II concerns the trapwork. So important is the pedal / trapwork system that it should not be left unattended, ever. Each time a piano is serviced, whether it be for regular tunings, or for minor or major repair and regulation, the pedals and accompanying systems should always be checked. As I sit down to a piano for regular tuning and maintenance, I always take a quick look inside to see how dirty the soundboard is, making note of how old the piano is and what model or size it happens to be. As I install the felt muting strips, I first depress the sustain pedal to raise the wedge dampers, to keep them from getting pinched while installing the muting strips. While depressing the pedal, I make note whether it squeaks, feels out of adjustment, or possibly if the entire lyre assembly is loose or needs repairing.
If anything seems to need attention, I correct it before I proceed any further. Only a minute is needed to wiggle the three pedals to see if they are loose. While down there, Iook over the lyre to check if any glue joints seem to be breaking loose, and also check the condition of the felt and leather of the trapwork. When the pedals are found to be loose, the lyre is usually in need of being removed. The exception is for Steinways, or any other make where the pedals can be removed independently of the lyre. One of my lesser desires in life is to have to reinstall a Steinway, so if I don’t have to remove it, I won’t! How one person can hold a lyre up off the ground, make sure that two lyre braces fit into their proper slots, and still have a free hand to join the lyre to the connecting plate under the keybed is a wonder to me. Anyway, proceeding with Steinways, remove the plate in front of the pedals, keeping the screws orderly so that they can be installed into the same holes. Disengage the pedal rods from the back of the pedals and pull the three pedals out. Each pedal can be worked on separately. Unscrew the plate on the bottom side of the pedal and check the condition of the felt bearing. New Steinways have a nylon sleeve instead of felt. The nylon seems to wear out quickly, so I only use good grade key bushing cloth when re-felting  these pedals. Cut a strip of bushing cloth, put some VJ lube on the area of wear, and tighten the plate back onto the pedal.
Of all the pianos I work on, the Steinways are my favourite for repairing the pedals. The above procedure can’t take much more than five minutes. I carry strips of bushing cloth precut to fit Steinway pedals in my tool case to speed this repair even more. However, if the pedals are accessible from the bottom of the lyre, the lyre must of course be removed. Before turning the lyre upside down, take the three pedal rods out and lay them somewhere in order. There is nothing like getting the pedal rods mixed up for wasting time and effort! Unscrew the lyre box bottom, marking it if needed to reinstall it properly. The most common type of system used in this kind of a lyre is where the pedal pin slides inside a wooden dowel. Again, before removing, number these dowels to insure that they don’t get mixed up. Also, check to see if the exposed ends of the dowels are level with the lyre box. If not, they may become noisy. Glue shims onto the dowel to bring it up level. Rebush the dowel if needed, and lube with VJ lube. After reinstalling the pedals, check to see whether they have proper clearance in the pedal slot. Cloth balance rail punchings can be used to adjust the pedal right or left as needed. Note that the felt trim in the pedal slot is not meant to guide the pedals.
I remember years ago working on my first lyre like this. I didn’t have the foresight to number the dowels before I removed them. Neither did I pay much attention to the fact that the holes in the dowels were not centred, but rather off-set along the length of the dowel. I reinstalled the pedals, put the lyre back on the piano, and …
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Grand Regulation – part XXVI


Step no39: Adjust Key Stop Rail
  
This step is certainly one of lesser importance, although it cannot be overlooked. The key stop rail has, in my opinion, two functions. The primary function, though rarely needed, is to keep the keys from falling off the key pins when the piano is put on its side to be moved. Therefore, the key stop rail should be so adjusted that it is close enough to the keys to keep them from coming off the key pins when moved, with perhaps a little bit of play (maybe 1 /16” or so) between the tops of the keys and the bottom of the key stop rail. This amount of play should be checked on the black keys, as they will be a little higher than the white keys. If the piano is never going to be moved, it is certainly acceptable, possibly even smart with foresight, to remove the key stop rail altogether. This will eliminate problems associated with function number two.
Opposed to function number one, which is rarely used during the life of a normal home piano, function number two seems to crop its ugly head all too often. That is, to cause grief to piano technicians! The key stop rail is forever causing wasted time in removing it and reinstalling it. It often interferes with the other action parts. The screws which hold the rail in place become loose and rattle on the keys below, sometimes even causing the keys to stick. This rail must always be removed to retrieve foreign objects which have been caught between the keys, or when making adjustments in the key height or key dip.
The regulating technician must be very careful when installing this rail. Putting the rail too low causes it to bind on the keys, making the hammer line rise while throwing off the key level. On some pianos, the rail cannot be too high or the keys in the middle of the keyboard under the locking mechanism will bounce up and cause a noise when they hit the bottom of the lock! I have also seen cases where the key stop rail was too high, letting the sharps come up to high on the rebound. The back of the sharp hits the front of the fallboard and creates a knocking sound that is a hard one to track down.
The list of griefs that this rail can cause seems to get longer every year. Pencils, pens, pins, toothpicks, hairpins, etc. all too often get lodged between the key stop rail and the keys. I particularly dislike having to buy a special tool and to carry it with me just to unscrew the rails with the little brass nuts. And once the slotted brass nuts have been removed and the rail taken off, invariable one of the unslotted brass nuts which holds the rail in place from the bottom is so frozen that I can not get it off the threaded rod! Everyone seems to have their little pet peeves about something. Surely, one of mine is the key stop rail.
Section V: The Dampers and Pedals
Whenever I have attended or given a class on grand regulation, the dampers, sostenuto, trapwork and pedals are always last on the presentation. There never seems to be enough time devoted to these items, sometimes having to be eliminated altogether because of the lack of time. Since time and space is not a factor here, we will be discussing these last eleven steps in great detail. The order in which these last steps is taken is not nearly as important in section V as it was in earlier sections. However, I have tried to establish a sequence that is easy for me to follow.

This sequence will be: 

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