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This page features the work of David McNeeley of Alabama,
David's 1928 Chickering Grand,
And the help of David's piano tuner,
J.C. Hill of Pinson, Alabama
Phone: 205-681-9927


David McNeeley started restoring his Chickering grand after purchasing it for $700, and after talking with us about the task. He was, like most folks, a bit anxious over the task ahead of him, and we assured him that lots of folks are restoring their pianos and that he should be able to finish the task if he stayed with it. We always wonder if someone will have a bad experience as they try a restoration, but this is very rare.

After finishing the restoration, David sent the following photos. I want you to know that the piano was a "dirty dog" when David bought it, as is often the case with old neglected pianos. So, the following photos should help YOU to be encouraged. David is a clever fellow, but please don't let this fact frighten you. Anyone with persistence can do what David has done. I must say, David determined to do a complete restoration, so all the felt is new, and a new decal went on the fall board. But, the harp and sound board decals were very meticulously restored and cleaned without replacement. Also, David used all new felt throughout the piano.



I hope you remember me from the last 6 weeks. Thanks to you (and your wife) I have finished the restoration of this 1928 Chickering. My tuner put the hammers and keytops on (I couldn't get the ivories off!) and I did the rest with the aid of your great book and catalog.

The piano looks and plays great. I followed your instructions to the letter and stripped it down to the wood. I then applied 10 coats of Tung Oil. The soundboard, strings and harp were all black with dust and dirt. You couldn't even see the decals on the harp or soundboard. I used Murphy's Wood Soap on the harp and soundboard and they cleaned up well.

The decals in the pictures are the originals except for the fallboard decal. I replaced all of the tuning pins, strings, and damper felt, as well as polished the brass (the pedals and hinges were black) and replaced all of the felt. I also removed all of the painted agraffes, polished them down to the brass and replaced them. I am very pleased with the results and I have you to thank. Thank you for your help and concern. You are truly a Godsend.

Also, I don't think I told you this. When I bought it there was a mark on the plate of this piano: "J. C. Hill 11-17-59" Isn't that cool. Also, since we're here, it turns out that the lady who died with no will who's estate I bought the piano from, was a co-worker and longtime friend of my mother 40 years ago. She lived with her mother, never married and never moved.

David McNeeley

P.S. I paid $700. for the piano in an estate sale.




The piano tuner, J.C. Hill of Pinson, put the keytops on. David did not feel good about taking the old ivories off, so he called his tuner.




I am amazed that David could get the sound board so clean, and the harp decal is beautiful. I have never been able to get this kind of results with cleaning. One thing that helped must have been that no one was a smoker in the home where this piano was used over the years. Tars and nicotine really make this task nearly impossible.

Note the effect of new hitch pin felt rounds, and the dampening action cloth. The old ones would have worked, but the brightness of the new felt cannot be over emphasized.




David cleaned the harp and sound board with Murphy's Wood Soap. The gold patina is perfect and looks like a new piano.





Note the new tuning pins and the red action cloth felt.This is the key to a complete restoration. The new red felt is such an important accent. Also, David installed new damper felts, and they look very clean and neat.


We would not want to imply that the exceptional work of David McNeeley was somehow the result of our skills. David did the work, but, as he noted, we gave much advice by E-Mail, and David was greatly helped at out online Table of Contents section on various repair and restoration tasks.

I do want to stress the virtue of hand rubbed Tung Oil, especially the top quality brand by Formby's. This process will get the most natural and deep complementary results, AND you use only your hand to rub it on. This eliminates the hazard of lacquer and urethane, in which you can get brush strokes and runs. When spraying on a finish, if there are imperfections or dusk in the air, you cannot detail them out. With Tung Oil, you can buff them out with 0000 steel wool, and add another coat. Tung Oil is also more tolerant to humidity problems, which is NOT the case with lacquer.

Again, we commend David McNeeley for this exceptional restoration. But, we want YOU to understand that this result is available to anyone with persistence and a perfectionist attitude toward the work. David must have spent around $300 on materials, and some labor to the tuner for doing the keytops and hammers. David's total investment must be around $1200. This total is minimal compared to the cost of buying such a restored piano, which I would estimate at minimum $5000 in any showroom. Also, I hope you noted that much of the task was completed during a six week period.

Best of all, some kid someday, when David has passed on, may say to his friend, "My grandpa made that piano." Well, kids say things like that, but who would argue?

You may think we are being a bit mushy, but we really do feel good about making a living in a way that brings back these old beautiful instruments to use. It sure beats running a Roto Rooter or writing parking tickets in Padukah.

I hope you understand that the new pianos today do NOT have the quality of veneer used in these old instruments. Urethane is used on Japanese and Korean pianos to cover up the poor quality of the wood underneath. The veneer on the above Chickering all came from the same tree, and it looks like it was "quarter cut." In this process the veneer was sliced off the butt of the tree at a 45 to 30 degree angle, layer by layer. This generated very busy and artistic patterns in the veneer. This is NOT done anymore. You will find, if you ever see a modern veneer job, that the pattern of the veneer is very long and not very interesting.

Chickering was possibly the first piano company in America to do production work, and since the piano was made before the Great Crash of '29, there is no doubt about quality. You always want to have a good look at the quality of a post '29 piano. Some companies got into financial trouble and cut quality to survive the Great Depression.

We do thank God for letting us use the medium of the Web, and the zeal of folks like David McNeeley, to put our cabbages on the dinner table. It IS a good life indeed.

QUESTION: "Can I really restore my own piano?"
ANSWER: Here is what Roger did to a 1913 Jacob Doll Piano....
Roger is NOT a professional in the piano trades.
He has average mechanical skills and persistence. :-)


Ryan Estep, age 16, completely restored this 1896 Hamilton.
This predates the take over of Hamilton by Baldwin.
We are delighted to see his zeal and the finished product.
The period outfit sure beats the modern ward robes I see lately.


These folks replaced their natural and sharp Key Tops.
Read the instructions to see if you can see yourself doing this.