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Frequently Asked Questions
With Steve's Answers by E-Mail


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Action Adjustment

Question: Many hammers will not return to rest.
We were given a spinet piano -- a Whitney made by Kimball. At least a third of the hammers do not reset, they stay laying up against the strings. The keys do not stick, the dampers do not stick, the hammers don't even stick, they just fall forward and lay there. We took the piano apart (the entire action was easily lifted out by taking out a few screws -- sorry -- my dad was an engineer and encourages us all to be curious) and discovered that many of the hammer return springs are either missing or are bent so far away from the "v" in which they normally sit at to be worthless. Also, when we talked to the last owners about the problem, they suggested the "hammer springs". No one in their family plays the piano, so I think they must have had a repairman look at it and determined it wasn't worth their effort.

Steve Answers:
The best thing here is to see if we can order a hammer spring return rail complete. It is not supposed to be available in the trade from any suppliers, but I know of a supplier who has a pile in the back room. You will need to make the thing fit, and you may have to drill holes for the mounting of the rail. You may also have to add one of two repair springs to complete the set up. But, we have supplied several people, and they had good results.


Buzzing and Strange Sounds

Question: Can you tell me what things are done to a piano when it is regulated?
>I have mentioned before that my father has a 6 foot or so Steinway grand and that a
>piano tuner/technician was doing some work on it. Specifically, he put on new
>felt hammer heads on the end of the shanks of the hammers. He also did a tuning
>and said that he was going to regulate the piano. The piano seemed to have some
>muted, dampened sounding notes that would make a buzzing kind of sound as if
>something was just touching the strings abit. That is, this problem was there
>before he did any work. I asked him about this and whether regulation of the
>piano should clean up and make clearer those sounds. His answer was yes. I asked
>him this before he started to do some work on the piano, that is on his
>assesment visit. I don't think it's improved one bit. I think all we seem to
>have is a brighter yet, still muted sounding piano. When we originally had him
>look at the piano he said that the muted, buzzing notes were something that
>would be taken care of in the regulation.

> This guy wouldn't take the time to answer my questions after he came back to
>do the work. That is when he was in the middle of working on the piano. He said
>oh yeah he had regulated the piano and fixed the sticky notes and the muted
>notes. Yeah, right. Any answer I got was quick and not designed to increase my
>knowledge but, to evade answering and to discourage me from asking more
>questions. Sluffing me off. I don't think he has done anything that approaches
>regulation or adjustment of anything at all. One of the things that I asked him
>was whether regulation covers the ability to play rapidly repeated notes. He
>said yes. I asked him this because that seems to be an area that needed some
>adjustment as well. It wasn't responsive enough to play all the notes quickly,
>clearly and cleanly. In other words my fingers could play faster than the piano
>could respond. Should regulation be able to adjust this kind of a problem? If
>this area has improved it is hard for me to tell. If it has, that is, if he did
>some kind of adjustment any improvement is marginal.

> On top of this his tuning is bad in the high end. Does the regulation of a
>piano fix these kind of problems, that is muted and buzzing strings? What could
>cause these problems? We are paying $1000 for what seems like butchery to me or
>next to nothing in terms of quality in workmanship and knowledge of the piano.
>What do you make of this guy? Any suggestions about what we should do?
> >Thanks very much-- Eric

Steve's Answer:
First, regulation does NOT remove buzzing. This would be very rare if it could ever happen. You got ripped for sure.

I would suggest you contact an old established music store and ask for the name of the technician they use. Tell him what happened without the name of the rascal. See if he can help.

The most common yet tricky cause of a buzz on grands is that the wire rod going down from the damper to the action below is just slightly touching the string it passes on the way down. Try moving the damper slightly to the side as you play the offending notes.

The buzz can also be something loose in the action or anywhere in the piano. It can also be various moving parts. It can even be a defective string if it in the bass.

A very common cause of buzzing is some toy or pencil which has fallen into the holes in the harp of grand pianos. You will need something flexible and long to poke into the holes and under the harp at all points to see if you set something rolling or rattling. Fish it out at all costs. In uprights, the most tricky place is down back of the piano in the space between the sound board and the lower frame. Johnny often drops his marbles into this neat hideout. Also, check inside the cabinet bottom for things which have come loose and fallen down there. Uprights can also have the stash of corn, candy, and acorns which pack rats have hauled into the piano and put in terrible places, the most common being under the keys.

This fellow who ripped you was a real fake if you did not see him crawling all over the piano trying to local the buzz.

Ah, one more trick. This one is very hard to find. The wood brace, about 2 by 2 inches, screwed to the top from underneath, can develop a buzz, as can other wood top pieces. Tighten all screws in wood fixtures.


Caster Installing and Selection

Question: Casters seem to crush and bind-- Why?
Hi, my name is Barry, and I ordered some piano casters( part #3290064) for an old upright the week before Thanksgiving. I just now got around to putting them on. But, when I let the piano down, the housings collapsed onto the wheels and now I can't move the piano. I lifted one side up and tried to turn the caster and it wouldn't move. Could you tell me why they collapsed? Barry

Steve Answers:
The metal carrier would not collapse unless you dropped the piano, but I suspect the casters are not clearing the wood recess into which you mounted them. You may need to lay the piano down (I assume this is an upright) and carve out the recess so the casters can swivel around. We also have some shims you can use to move the caster out of the hole, but this is not ideal. Carving the recess out is the best plan.

There is also a possibility that something went wrong with the under side of the piano. There are several brands of old uprights which put a bar in the rear of the piano which was only glued in. This has a habit of breaking loose and causing trouble.

Also, was the hole into which you inserted the casters larger than the socket post which holds the caster stem? If so, you should have used the wooden sleeves included in the order to fill the hole.

Also, how did you turn the piano up so that you could get the casters into the holes? Did you actually lay the piano down on its back, or did you use some other method?

Again, did you try to use the original sockets and insert the new casters into the old sockets. This will often result in jamming. The new sockets MUST be used with the new casters.

Cabinet Problems


Hammers won't play

Question: Why won't my hammers play in my spinet?
I have two keys which appear to be striking correctly, however there is no sound. Where should I look first? This is a small spinet in generally excellent mechanical shape, about 20+ yrs old with a good case and sound. Thanks! Beckie

Steve Answers:
The most common problem is the jack is not resetting under the hammer butt. This could be because the jack spring is weak or broken. The jack could also be sticky for some reason. A squirt of spray silicone into the hinge point could be all that is needed.

Have you opened the piano to see if the hammers are dropping all the way back to rest. If they are not, the problem could be a sticky hinge point of the hammer butt, in which case the silicone at that point would help.

Also the hammer springs may be broken. Did you check the buttons at the top of the drop wires? They can flip out of the key lever at the back end.

Question: The top octave of the piano is very dead sounding... is this just because of the atrocious tuning?

Steve Answers: The dead top octave is the serious problem. This is most likely because the bridge pins have twisted out of the wood and the wood of the bridge is damaged. This is very hard to correct. The top end of the treble bridge will need to be replaced, or add on aggraffes added to give full transfer of sound into the sound board.

Question: I just retrieved my parents Ellington up right Piano, and I plan to restore the Piano, but to begin with one Hammer is loose.... It came out of its mounting and in your diagram you do not reference this little attachment at the bottom of the hammer. I have tried to do everything to get it back in without taking the whole unit apart. I did loosen up the Bridle Strap and therefore I was able to lift the Hammer out completely. Upon examination everything looks to be in order including the metal pin at the base. The big question is how do I get it back on that metal stump at the base so that it is held in that place?

Steve Answers: You have a brass hammer rail. I suspect the clip is bent of broken, or the tab on the rail is broken and offers no mounting point. Take the one our next to the had one and compare. Tighten those screws very cautiously and not tight. The brass is old and brittle. We sell all the brass clips and repair items for this situation in our Catalog.

Key Lever Will Not Return or is Sluggish

Question: A lower C (If I remember correctly # 16) sticks and stays down when the sustain pedal is pressed but otherwise works ok, well, very very occassionly sticks. I am wondering if you can provide any help. The piano is a Samick upright with 88 keys bought new around 1990-1991

Steve Answers: The problem is probably that the hammer return spring, which I believe attaches to the hammer butt on the Samick via a silk thread, is either broken, the string is broken, or the bridle strap is broken. The damper spring is doubling for the hammer return spring and making the action function OK without the sustain. But, when the sustain is activated, all return tension is gone, and nothing causes the hammer and key to return to rest.

Also, you could have a sticky hinge pin in the hammer butt, and you could have a tight bushing in the key lever. The damper would still be overpowering the problem, and you would need to loosen the key lever bushings or spray the hammer butt hinge point with aerosol silicone.

Moth Proofing

I am looking for recommendations on protecting the felt material in a piano from moth attack. I recently found a few moths which may have come in on some antique wool rugs which we purchased. I read somewhere that it is not recommended to use a standard moth spray which you can find at the hardware store to spray in the piano. What procedure and materials would you recommend?
Howard Towlson

Steve Answers:
I moth proof when I open the piano to work on it. I take out the action, and then I spray the wood of the key bed on an upright or grand. Soak it pretty good with a spray like Raid in a petroleum carrier. Try to get one with no water carrier. Do not spray the hammers or action felt.

I do spray old upright hammers if they show moth damage already. The effect of the spray is not nearly as deadly as the moth larvae. I spray the lower cabinet on uprights in the wood areas. The spray will send fumes through the whole piano. Perfumed moth crystals are an option, but don't forget to do it again regularly since they dissolve into the air.

I am told that the damage to hammers and other piano felt is not always moths but carpet beetles which lay eggs in the felt which hatches later. Also, the common advice from the old timers is to play the piano a lot. This disturbs the moths which like to lay eggs in quiet places.



String Replacement


Tuning Problems and Theory

Question: How often does a piano need to be tuned? I have been told two times a year.

Steve answers:
Tuning once a year is OK with some pianos if the climate is stable in the house. Yours may be way off and need tuning twice a year for a couple of years. Also those smaller pianos hold pitch poorly since they are so small. The keys may be loosened. Read in my Table of Contents, or ask the tuner to do it. It may cost a bit though.

Voicing of Hammers

Question: Should I buy Steinway Hammers?
>Hello. I have enjoyed your web sight tremendously. I
>have a 1960 Steinway B which is going to be rebuilt in
>March. The biggest problem I am having is deciding on
>the brand of hammer to use. My rebuilder is used to
>using Steinway hammers. He spends a lot of time
>shaping, weighing and voicing them. These hammers are
>not very good "out of the box" in my opinion but he
>does good work with them. I was wondering if you could
>give an opinion on different hammers suited for a
>Steinway B. Do you have any experience with Issac,
>Abel and -----------? If you don't want to support one
>hammer over another, I understand. I was considering
>using Issac hammers since I have played pianos with
>these and like them. My desire is to have a piano
>which sings clearly in the treble with a bell like
>quality but not too bright or harsh. The bass I want
>the typical "growl" I hear so much about. But most of
>all, I want a piano that can change it's tonal
>character depending on how the strings are hit. I
>think this quality falls mainly on the hammers and
>voicing. The quality of the strings is also important,
>but let's talk hammers. Can you give me any insight
>from your experience? Many thanks for any
>help...........Ralph, Delaware.

Steve's Answer:
Steinway hammers are so expensive, and I think a lot of it is hype as usual with Steinway. I would think though that if you can afford them, you might want to let your technician use them. He will do better work with what he likes. Hammer voicing is an art form, and I would think that he could move the sound to meet your preference. Beware of trying for too much volume. That can end up in a bright harsh sound. I don't recall what a B can do, but do not ask your technician to push it beyond what that model can produce.

Horowitz used to push for volume in concerts so the orchestra would not drown him out, and the rascal didn't care it sounded like beating on a piece of water pipe. It drove his tuner mad until the guy told Horowitz he just wouldn't do it anymore. The old boy just shrugged and agreed.

Strings do make a difference. There is a fellow in Canada making strings. I intend to look into his work. His name is Isaac, and he may be the one you are talking about. You might want to consider asking your tuner about him and use his strings. I am told he is very fussy about perfection. Your technician may also be able to ask him to set up your scale for the sound you want. Isaac might do it.

You can also play with various wood choices in shanks if you can find them. Some wood gives more snap and makes up for a softer hammer.

I would ask the technician also if he has ever steamed hammers. That was the old way long ago. I hate to put solvents and treatments into hammers. It seems too final. I do it in desperation because I have never learned to steam them and the device is kind of special.

I got some samples of hammers from a new piano parts company in Shanghai about 4 years ago, and they were every bit as clean as Steinway hammers. No fluff and frayed edge from cutting them. The people went away though before I could experiment.

Well, I rambled around the barn and didn't help much, but I do hope you have a good experience with this project.


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