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In the photo, James P. Johnson, the Black musician
who transformed rag time into stride piano.


Here is a large selection of public domain piano compositions
by well known classical composers--
Print them in PDF
format and learn to play them.


As far as I know, there is no butterfly veneer work being done on anything on earth today, especially not on pianos. This piano was restored by Jenifer Strickland, Phone: 415-563-5615, Upholstery Arts and Home Improvement, San Francisco CA 94102.
The restoration is beautiful, but especially since the original veneer work was exceptional.

Butterfly veneer is all taken from the same tree. The veneer is cut from the butt of the tree, and a blade is used which is run through the tree butt at about a 30 degree angle. This makes for a very active grain in the veneer. Piece after piece is cut, and it is all used on one piano (or on a table and other furniture). The end blocks and key slip are often solid wood from the same tree, as are the leg pedestals. This is why you see in the picture that the piano has perfect due and patina throughout. This is not possible if wood is used from several trees, even of the same kind of tree.

To get the butterfly look, the cabinet maker takes a piece of veneer, cuts it to perfection, and lays it on the base wood so that it will come half way to the middle of the board being covered. Then the craftsman takes the next piece of veneer from the same tree, and he has to make a perfect cut and fit, turn it end for end, and fit it to meet the first piece. The result is the "butterfly" look of the grain fanning out from the middle. I have seen this done so well that you virtually cannot see any crack where the two pieces meet.

This is done on the front board, the bottom board, the top, the fall board (front and top), and often the ends are done vertically. The key cover is the most amazing one, for the veneer also has to be curved around the cover.

This is old world craftsmanship, and it is basically a lost art. The cost to do a butterfly veneer today would be almost as much as the rest of the piano, what with the fanatical cutting of the wood, labor costs, and the time it takes to do this kind of work. There is something sad about losing some of these skills to modern ways. As far as I know, even Steinway will not do a butterfly veneer.

We commend Jenifer to your attention, for she clearly can bring them back.


Wishing to encourage her young son's progress on the piano, a mother took the small boy to a Paderewski concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy rose and eventually explored his way through a door marked "NO ADMITTANCE."

When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that her son was missing. Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage.

In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy's ear, "Don't quit." "Keep playing." Then leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and he added a running obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice transformed a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.


From: ______________
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001
Subject: Bridge separation

Dear Steve,

Thank you for your online book, which helped me not only avoid getting ripped off by a dishonest tech, but also helped me to know when I finally found a good one, and helped me to discuss my piano problems with him intelligently.

My new tech is both a member of the PTG AND Steinway trained, but don't hold that against him. He shaped the all of the hammers, set/shimmed the pins in my poor old Kimball baby grand (1923 model), and re-tuned it 3-4 times to bring it back up to A=440, so that it now holds pitch for the very first time -- and even though it took a LOT longer than he thought it would (i.e. all day), he only charged me the $250 he quoted (parts & labor). Plus, we discovered the following, which may or may not be new to you and your readers:

Problem: Muddy, ugly dead sound in the bass, from an octave below middle C to the C below that.

Previous techs suggested that the bass bridge may have separated from the soundboard at the upper (hammer) end, resulting in a loss of bearing angle, but it turns out that the bridge is subject to two different forces (pay attention now).

It is subject to *downbearing* which may cause it to separate from the soundboard at the upper end, and also to the force of the strings pulling it toward the hammers, by means of the tension on the bridge pins, which may cause it to separate at the tail end -- depending upon which glue joint decides to give way first.

By experimentation (i.e., by pushing down on the bridge), we discovered that the problem was not too little bearing angle, but too much, leading us to conclude that the bridge had separated at the tail end. Pushing down on the bass bridge resulted in a DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT IN TONE.

We then tightened the mounting screws on the bass bridge (located under the soundboard -- too bad if your piano doesn't have these). Although this did not give us the *dramatic* improvement cited above, it did result in a noticeable improvement in bass tone.

BTW: Although I gave him plenty of opportunities, this tech did not try to sell me a lot of expensive work as others did; instead, he patiently explained why it would not be worth putting that much money into my old "beater." Nice guy, huh? If you would like his name & number for inclusion in your list of nice-guy techs, I would be happy to provide them.

John ___________



Editor: I asked this gentleman to look into the noise factor of piano tuning since I am concerned if we can do harm to ourselves in this trade. I really appreciate this very good work on the topic.

From: "Wayne Edwards"
To: "Steve's Piano Service"
Subject: Hearing loss
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 2001


I broached the subject of possible hearing loss among piano tuner in a previous e-mail, and have since made some measurements. Also have some suggestions for anyone concerned about hearing loss.

I measured the sound pressure level near where my head would be when tuning. I measured tones in the 78 - 84 dB range, with peaks around 90 dB. Now, my meter doesen't respond perfectly to the peak sound of the hammer hitting the string, so I'd guess it's in the 94 to 100 dB range. Someday when I have more time, I'll measure the peak more accurately. Now, pianos, tuners, and rooms vary, so realize this is a sample of one. Your mileage may vary.

What does this mean? Well, OSHA starts their daily noise exposure limits at 90dB for up to 8 hours per day. This drops to 4 hours at 95 dB, and 2 hours at 100 dB. Many people think the OSHA limits are too lenient - that is, even observing the "official" limits, one could experience hearing loss after a few years. Personally, I start with hearing protection at about 80 dB, even for short periods of time.

One resource for information is a good audiologist, or "House Ear Institute" at

As for protection, anyone who deals with sounds, music, or noise on an ongoing basis owes it to themselves to get some ear molds made. These molds fit the ear much better than one-size earplugs, making them more comfortable to wear. They also maybe fitted with "hi-fi" attenuators that "turn down" the sound while keeping the frequencies in balance. I finally got a pair, and it makes live sound mixing (and family reunions) so much easier. Of course, I now need to use a meter, to protect everyone else's hearng, but that's another story. At least in my first tuning attempt, they did not seem to hinder my fledgling abilities to hear the beats and unisons.

I hope this is useful, and I that have not spoken out of turn. Some people get a wee bit touchy about the subject. But anymore, I consider good hearing protection just another professional tool.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Wayne Edwards

David Lechner Checks In

David has restored his own piano, and he purchased materials and parts from us.
We occasionally share with you how this went.
David's piano will speak for itself and for David's zeal and skill.





David also wrote a poem for us. Poetry is a dying art in modern society, so I was startled at this poem. I have visited a number of piano shops where the following scene is very real.

The Piano Shop
Dave Lechner, 1999

In silent rows now, side by side, the old pianos stand.
Waiting quietly to see, their future dim, or grand.
Do, Do-Do-Do, Re-Do- Up front the tuner works.
Do, Re-Re-Re-, Re-Do.
Once a living room they had, filled with warmth and cheer
Children practicing, scales and notes, Christmas carols sung each year
Mi, Re-Mi, Do-Re-Mi, all shining new, preparing for delivery-
Mi, Mi-Fa, Mi-Fa, Fa-Mi.
Traded for a slight discount, they sit now in the back-
Gathering dust now, dirty keys, silent whites and blacks.
Sol, Fa-Sol-Sol-Sol-Sol, Do-Mi-Sol.
Looking forward to a home, admiring friends and neighbors.
La, Sol-La, Sol-La, La-La-La.
Wondering if those happy days will ever come once more-
Waiting for a random glance, to move past front of store.
Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Each string is tuned with care.
Sol-La-Ti, La-Ti, Sol-La-Ti.
Perhaps a pardon yet will come, a staying grant from scrap.
The days slip by, the dust grows thick, in silence in the back.
Do! do, Do, do-Me-Sol-Do!
Ready for a brand new life! A new piano! Harmony!
Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do!
In silent rows, still side by side, some tall, all aged, a grand,
For thoughtful buyers, waiting still, the old pianos stand.


A "Birdcage Action" Challenge

I have told you about how tuners will intimidate you folks. Well, the UK is just as bad for this as the USA. Here is how it works in the UK, and thanks to these folks for the letter.

From: "Shane ________" To: Steve Van Nattan
Subject: Thank you for your site.
Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2000

Dear Steve,

My wife and I love your Piano website. It has been a great comfort to us. Let me explain. We have been looking for a new piano for a few months. (We had one up until 5 years ago, but we moved house and had to sell it - we bought a Yamaha keyboard, but they are not the same are they?)

In our local paper a few weeks ago we found an advert for a piano which 'needs some attention' it was only 100 (about $160 ish). We went and had a quick look at it. It is 'straight strung' and 'over dampered' We have since learned that this is about the worst kind there is. It sounded awful but, foolishly, I thought that because all the notes made a sound it must be repairable.

We bought it home in a van and then I telephoned a local tuner. He advised me that we had 'bought a pile of junk' and the guy who sold it to us should have offered us money to take it off his hands! In short the tuner guy wasn't interested in even attempting to tune it.

My wife wanted a second opinion so we called in another tuner. He said the same thing. He suggested that we drag it into the garden and set fire to it! Not what we wanted to hear at all. I asked him if it was possible to repair and he said it was - but it was not worth the effort. I asked him I would be able to have a go at tuning it myself. - He laughed at me!! Then he showed me some of his tools and told me that all the kit I would need would cost me a fortune.

We spent a few days being upset and then we discovered your website. You have obviously put a lot of time and effort into your book and catalog. Well done, and thank you.

I would like to order the 'Touch up tool kit' ( I don't want risk too much cash). Which I will order by phone with my credit card. How much is the handling and carriage to England? Are there any other taxes to pay?

Thanks again for the website.


Shane and June
Scarborough, England  

Note: The tool kit Shane is buying from us costs $ 43 (With a Sabine meter, $114). Someone is just a bit off, right. We will keep an eye on Shane's venture and let you know how it works out.

Music People Encourage Customers to tune their own Pianos

Hey, a GREAT service to the public is done by your site! I've been a tuner/tech for years now, in Michigan (since 1976)...(!) I ran Grand Traverse Piano Service for 10 yrs, and Action Piano Service for the past 12 years here in Kalamazoo area. We do rebuilding and player piano work, and of course service work in the field.

Your website (and excerpts) is really a great idea. For years I have been trying to convince my customers to be "lighter" in their attitude regarding tuning their own instruments, and have even convinced a few to buy tools to keep ahead of the problem. The professional musicians/teachers are the most likely to go this route. Now I have a great website (yours!) to refer people to, and also a lay-person available source of parts and tools. Thanks!

Obviously, I am not the least threatened by your approach, although I can well imagine you receive some criticism from the old guard. Overall, your site and approach is really very refreshing, truthful, and enlightened. Very nice indeed.

Jane and I are full time musicians/piano techs. Jane does player restoration on the bench, I do the field work and also bench work on players. Again, thanks for the great site.

Rick Davies Check out this site and visit the store if you are in Western Michigan.

Squeak in a hidden hinge fixed with drinking straw

Thanks for your advice on fixing nagging squeaks. My wife is very pleased that I was able to eliminate a nagging squeak that was produced when she used her sustain pedal. I located the squeak on the hinge of the bar that was operated when the sustain pedal was pressed. However, I couldn't reach the area at first. That is, until I took a soda straw and placed one end on the end of the hinge and then sprayed my silicone in through he other end. A short spray and the squeak was gone. It had been a real aggravating pest. My wife plays the piano for our church and practices at home. She was getting very aggravated with a lazy hammer and the squeak. Thanks to your sight I was able to remedy both. Thank you very much for your web page and, most of all, for your helpful advice. My wife and I appreciate it very much.

Thanks again,
James M. Block

And, it sounds like a great trick-- Plan to try it myself.

Steve, this is an interesting site. I am a tuner and don't have any real problems with this site.

I did look at your method for repairing hammer shanks. I use the Bill Spurlock method of removing shanks with glue remover and a drywall screw when the break is at the butt.. I have about 90% luck with this. It's in his PACE book.

Instructions for removing a hammer shank broken off flush with the hammer butt:

First drill a small hole in shank left in butt.

Fill hole with glue it twice.

Then, install drywall screw into hole.

Heat the screw with a will feel the hammer butt heat up. This process loosens the glue.

Next, remove the screw with your hammer shank puller.

In most cases, the entire shank will come out of the hammer butt.

Frank Cahill
Associate Member, Piano Technicians Guild
Northern Va

Editor: A dtywall screw is one of those sharp pointy things, usually black. Ask for them at Ace or True Value hardware store. Don't get one that is too long so the heat will transfer. I can't wait to try this-- save the customer some labor cash.


The trick here is how to get the new felt piece to slide under the strings easily. A customer said he glued the end of the new felt piece to the end of the old one, and then he dragged the old one out. He had to help it along, but he said it took a lot less time than forcing the new one through with a tool of some sort.


Steve, Thanks to the instructions in your manual I just finished fixing the double blows on my piano. About ten keys were bouncing and were very annoying. The tuner told us she would have to remove the action to fix it and it was going to cost us $200 (including a cleaning). But I looked at your instructions, made a litte tool using a wire coat hanger, turned those little eye-screws and fixed it myself. It took me ten minutes to understand the instructions and ten minutes to do it. Thanks for saving me $200. -- Tom F__________, Billerica, Massachusetts

Steve Van Nattan: For the record, we got nothing out of this writer. He owes us nothing also.


From: "Mike Persenaire"
Subject: Hot Stuff Glue and plastic parts
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2000 19:07:27 -0500

Ran across a Lester spinet from late 40's/early50's. Many dampers not operating properly. All flanges plastic, and any one of them would break if I looked at it crosseyed. Did some replacing with wooden ones, but the groove for the rail was too thin, and I had to knife it out wider. What a pain. Furthermore, almost every time I put a damper back in, I would manage to touch the next damper over. Result? "Snick!" Another broken flange.

Owner wants me to just try to get it back into bare minimum shape. In desperation tonight I tried Hot Stuff Red on broken flanges. Amazing! When you use the accelerant, the stuff cures in 3-5 seconds, and it is STRONG! I had tried using some quick set epoxy, but no luck. Too small a surface area and the flange came apart with little pressure. Tonight I took that same flange, didn't clean it up any and applied the Hot Stuff. I can't break it.

Of course if the flange broke right at the flange spring cord, I was out of luck. Still, I managed to save about a dozen flanges so far, each taking about 10 seconds. I'm tempted to put a layer of the stuff on all the unbroken flanges.

Mike Persenaire  



I had a very nice chat with your wife while ordering the Piano CD today. I want to tell you that your piano midi files of hymns minister to my family frequently as I play them through my "Pianomation" system (a modern player piano with expression and sustain). My PC is connected to the piano via midi cable and I simply load the whole directory of hymns in the jukebox and send them to the midi out port and there you have it! Pianomation likes all midi data to be on channel one, so I've edited the midis to accommodate that. These hymns are ones we sing every Lord's Day. Thank you. I hope to download some more when available.

Brad Richards  

Good Work in Browns Station, Texas

Wurlitzer made a piano in the late 1930s or early 40s which had a oil cloth top and ends. I have never seen one in good condition-- until now. Ken Mcfarlin acquired the piano in the photo, and it had keys that were a mess and all uneven. He used our site and opened the piano and found that the front rail and center rail bushings were eaten away by moths. He found a number of hammers and action parts loose, and he reports in that his repairs were nearly done. I had not remembered that he did the cabinet also, but here it is. This just proves that it IS worth it to restore a small upright. This should encouage some of you readers who wonder if you can do it. Ken lives in Browns Station, Texas, and he is a machinist, NOT a musician or cabinet maker. Now, you better get to work on YOUR piano :-)

Let me share one:

Hello Steve,

I received the Sabine Tuner this week and finally went at it to see what I could do on my Yamaha piano. Well, it was a great time distortion experience. I spent about 2 hours a night, 3 nights in a row with the tuning lever and the electronic tuner. 2 hours went by like 15 minutes...every night. This might be addictive. I have achieved results that I am quite pleased with. So thank you very much for providing the tools over the internet. I guess you may have heard the same story over and over, but I did try to find a place locally, piano tuners, local music stores,etc. in search of piano tuning tools. No luck, of course until I found your webpage. I have two sisters who give piano lessons. They are anxious to see if I did a good job on my own piano. M y investment in the tools might pay itself back in a few months on my piano and on theirs. Thanks for making available the information and the tools.




While we don't judge you for your convictions, we do not celebrate Christmas.  This is not because we are Jehovah's Witness or some odd cult.  We simply don't believe Jesus Christ was born in the dead of winter.  There are about four ways to prove that.  So, why should we trouble ourselves with all the frenzy of the alleged "Joyous Season?"  The chaos and financial pain of Christmas is terrible to watch.

Thus; we don't offer Christmas gift specials.  We don't care to tempt you to over spend.  There ARE a number of items in the catalog which make exceptional gifts.

Do look us up later though.  We try to reward the prudent with a sale early in the new year  :-)

Cleaning Old Ivories

Rick McAree of Hopkinton, Mass. told me he wanted to clean darkened ivories.  He decided the job looked similar to cleaning his wife's glass topped electric kitchen range (cooker in the UK).  The results were very good, so we want you to know that this could well be the best way to do the job.  Still, be careful not to damper the ivory excessively.  It could warp.

Petrof Versus Yamaha

Editor:  I asked Sarah, a piano teacher, why she preferred a Petrof.  Here was here answer.

I really debated between a Yamaha and a Petrof. If I remember right, the Yamaha U-1 is only a 48" piano, so first off, I liked the size of the Petrof, which was 50". The Petrof store was right next to the Yamaha dealership, so it was easy to compare the two. The Petrof seemed to have a much richer bass tone, very noticible on a piece such as "Moonlight Sonata". I was also impressed with the way it was built on the inside with the agraffs and all of that. The touch is about the same as the Yamaha, maybe a little stiffer, but I think that's good for my students..makes their fingers stronger.

Last of all, the price difference was significant, and I felf that the Petrof would suit my needs for my studio just fine. I've heard that the Petrofs usually have a few bugs to work out in the beginning (mine had to have a low C string replaced right off the bat), but other than that, I've been happy. I would really like to have the 52" Petrof with the ----------'s fantastic! Have you ever worked on a Petrof before? I never would have tried one if I hadn't read so many positives about them in Larry Fine's book.

In Him,

Sarah Scott

Editor: The action maker above forbids the use of their name on the Web. Their loss.

Very Nice Bedtime Story on the Use of Silicone on Actions:

This kind to thing really does bless me.  We DO want to be more than a business--  

Letter One:

At 01:32 PM 8/24/99 EDT,

you wrote: Steve, Heeeelllpppp !!!

The piano tuner guy just left my house. I don't know where to begin. He said he really didn't want to tune it, so he didn't he just raised it an octave or so. He said there were to many things that needed to be done before it could be tuned properly.

First of all, this is an indication that there is a lot of stuff to replace, he said that the hammers needed to be replaced (we already knew that one). The shanks and flanges needed to be replaced because they are too sluggish and to many of them needed to be worked over so it would be easiest and cheapest just to replace them. Also the same story with the whippens. They too are sluggish. He said that the piano probably sat somewhere humid for a long time and all the wood parts have become warped.

He gave me a price quote, $1600 to replace all the above and to regulate it.

Ouch, that is more that I can afford right now. Got any advice or helpful tips, would appreciate it greatly.

In Christ,


My Response:

Did you try the spray silicone trick?

Spray the moving parts of the action with spray silicone. Then moderately pound on the keys as the silicone dries.

I don't recall if this is a grand or upright. If an upright, remove the action, and spray the action from the back also-- all moving parts. If a grand, just remove the action and spray all moving parts from above.

As for the key levers, which may be the problem, read about shaving the felts in the key levers in the online repair area. Also, check the pins under the front of the keys to see if any are twisted out of alignment.

If this is a grand, you need to check to see if the backchecks are catching on the hammers and stopping them from working normally. Tommy tuner may know how to do this job in a couple of hours, but he will never tell you that. Try to describe the sluggish thing to me in more detail.


1. Don't get any silicone on the tuning pins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2. Beware of overspray onto the floor or carpet-- deadly!!

Do this, and let me know what happens.

If it works, you own me a cup of coffee :-)

Next time, tell me what kind of piano this is. By the way, did you rule out buffing the hammers as the book instructs? This may buy you some time.

In Christ,


Todd's Last Letter:


The spray silicone works wonders. I can't believe the difference it has made. I have only gone through the upper set of keys, but already it is amazing. I have taken each hammer and flange out so that I won't get the silicone anywhere else. Most of the hammers (when removed and held upright) won't pivot on the hinge, it's an effort for them to move from a horizontal position down do a vertical one. After the silicone is sprayed on they swing back an forth freely, at least six or eight times. WOW. I do owe you a cup of coffee.

Thanks a bunch. I will be in contact.

In Christ love,


Slovakian Version of the Hammered Dulcimer:

You asked on your web page about other stringed instruments.  We had the opportunity this summer to be in Slovakia at a conference.  Entertainment one evening was by a gypsy combo. They had a stringed instrument called a cymbalum, apparently a typical gypsy component. It is about the size of a small harpsichord and is played with mallets much like a vibraphone. Strings run from both sides alternating. I'd never heard one before, but it was quite fascinating to hear as well as to watch the musician playing it.


Make Pedals Shine:

From a customer who is not an Amway distributor  :-)

These folks report they did not know how to clean tarnished pedals.  They tried several things with poor results.  The gentleman remembered they had some Amway metal cleaner.  They tried it, and they report that it really did the job. After shining the pedals, they used Amway Shoe Glo to spray them and retain the shine.  I realize this sounds like an Amway commercial, but, hey, if it works, it could save you a lot of pain.

Regarding stripping and Re-finishing:

There's a GREAT book out called "Understanding Wood Finishing" by Bob Flexnor. In it, he explains why you should not "brush in" your varnish stripper. It's because most strippers contain wax which rises to the top. If you "paint" back over the spot, it messes that up. The solvent cleansing is, of course, partly to remove all the wax residue contained in the stripper.

Gracie Eddins

Lubbock, TX


I need to know the CPS for all of the notes on the Piano Keyboard. I know that the A above middle C is 440 CPS. What formula would I use to compute the rest (up and down the scale) of the notes, or is there a comprehensive list of these frequencies? Thank You!!!

Answer: In brief there are twelve basic pitches and say starting with (A220, for example), and multiplying it by a constant number twelve times in a row the result is double the frequency of the starting pitch (or A440). The number is 1.0594631, the twelfth root of two. Starting with (A220) and multiplying it by 1.0594631 twelve times in a row give the frequencies for the twelve pitches near the middle of the keyboard, and ends up on A440. Given theses twelve pitches , it is a simple matter to find the frequencies of the remaining keys on the piano, by halving each basic pitch over and over to get the lower octaves, and by doubling them over and over to get the higher octaves. Hope this helps, mathematics of scale charts are avaliable.

Check out the good work of one of our customers.  
They did exceptional work, and I hope this encourages those who wonder if it can be done.

Thoughts on Pin Treatment and Harpsicords et al:

I just bumped into your Internet site today; I've been tuning, repairing and manufacturing since 1966, and am surprised (and pleased) to learn that my sandpaper-bushings trick for loose harpsichord pins also works on piano pins. My own sequence (where it's not a case of cracked pinblock) has usually been: first tap; if that doesn't work and you've got to do it cheap, apply dope; if you want to do it right, fit an oversized pin.

When I do a repin/restring, I always dip the pin-threads in rosin dissolved 1:10 in acetone. Dries quick, makes for a nice smooth tuning action, and seems to retard rust somewhat.

I'll try your emery-cloth bushings next time I'm about to fit an oversize pin. Sounds promising.

Oh, by the way-- for threaded harpsichord pins, try 500 or 600 wet-or-dry. I've had quite good luck with this. I'm not sure exactly how I'd approach a loose plain-shank harpsichord pin with a tapered bottom; loose pins in the few such instruments I take care of have, thus far, needed nothing but tapping.

I like your approach. I, too, like to demystify my work for the customer, give value for money, and keep the piano on its legs if it has any redeeming qualities at all. And (alas!) I, too, have seen some very strange things when working on pianos that have enjoyed the ministrations of certain Guild technicians.

Bill Ratajak
Corvallis, Oregon

A Tuner Tells of his Improvising, and I know it works

From: Tom Thievin <
Subject: re: loose piano pins


In regard to the loose pins.

While I'm sure someone has covered it elsewhere, here is my solution to the problem. I use emery cloth, the kind that has a cloth backing. You can get it in rolls or in sheets, no matter. I use stuff that is spent, that is, it is used already and has little active grit left on it. It matters not that it be spent or which grade of grit it is, but I find like the finer grits that are worn because they seem less agressive.

I release the tension on the string, unhook the wire and remove the pin. Only do one string at a time. Do not unduly work the wire. It is often quite brittle and along with a little rust, it can easily break. Sometimes, if the pin is loose enough, I have left the wire on the pin and slowly worked the pin, turning back and forth while pulling up.

I tear, cut it if you would rather, a chunk that long enough would go to the bottom of the pin length in the hole and wide enough that it circles half the pin. Insert the chunk so the gritty side is toward the wood.

I have oriented the emery cloth such that, let us say the string pull is from the north, I have put the emery cloth on the north, south and east and west side of the pin and not noticed much difference. Normally I put the emery cloth on the south side of the pin because I feel that the pin should be pulled into wood, but logically, if one considers the physics involved, only the top half of the pin would, the bottom half of the pin would go in the opposite direction.

I have found that by varying the width of the paper, making it wider to circle more of the pin if the pin is looser works well.

You will need to drive the pin back in. Never hit a tuning pin directly.  Tuning pins are hard enough that they can easily splinter and a steel shard sharp enough to take out an eyeball is very possible. Besides, if you do get away with driving the pin in, you will have a pin that looks like _____. Technicians use a pin driver punch that has a concave head, or even drilled out head. You could do the same with a soft iron bolt.  Drill it out in the centre to provide a seat for the pin. Always wear safety glasses for this type of operation.

I don't like to use the shims that are sold by many suppliers. I find that while they seem tight at first and seem really tight when you first drive the pin back in, but after a couple of tunings they get quite loose. An old time tuner told me that the reason is that even though they look to be made of a light steel, they are actually brass and brass can be slippery. Whatever. I've not had good luck with them.

I have done the emery cloth treatment extensively here on the prairies and I am always amazed as to how well it works and how well the pins hold over many years.

If the loose pins are in line in a row of pins, up, down, sideways or more usually, diagonally, I'd suggest some caution. It might be that the pin block has or is developing a crack. I have done the emery cloth treatment here, making sure that I not causing forces that would further split the pin block. To do that I place the emery cloth so that the pin is forced into the crack, rather than at 90 deg to the crack. This has worked, but not great, but really, cracked pin blocks are a losing battle no matter what. You might help the situation a bit, but it might be short term.

The way I see it, especially if it is an upright, you are faced with tossing the piano in the garbage, and if tightening the pins will get a few more years out of it all the better.

By the way, I'm a Registered Piano Technician with the Canadian Association of Piano Tuners.

Lots of luck

Tom T

Reputed to Have Steinway on the Run !!

From: Anthony Maydwell <
Organization: Western Australian Conservatorium of Music

Subject: Another Piano Site

You may be interested to know of another piano company out there producing pianos that would make Hamburg Steinway and Bosendorfer weep.  Made in Sacile, North Italy, these pianos knock the socks off the opposition. The only thing saving the big boys is this company is not intending to make any more than 60 pianos a year.

And guess what, I just bought one!

Having played Steinways, Steinwegs, Bosendorfers, Yamahas, Kawais, Bechsteins, Mornington and Weston etc, I can say unreservedly that you need to know these instruments.

Here's their Home Page

Anthony Maydwell

Western Australian Conservatorium of Music


Steve Van Nattan--  Check this out.  It sounds impressive, and the piano at the Web Site DOES look exceptional.


Subj: oh, another thing....
Date: 97-10-12 15:19:10 EDT
From: ____________________ (Gregory B______)

One more thing,

I like your site and your concept. Living in Thailand, it is difficult to care for my piano and to get good  technical assistance. I have started to tune it myself. With time and patience, I have developed an ability to  identify a good fifth. It's great to be able to have the piano in tune all the time.

I have one or two rather loose pins in my piano. I was reading what you said. The pins hold, but sometimes they  slip easily. My technician wants to replace the whole set. But there are only a few that are loose. Is this a  defect that I can ask the manufacturer to remedy? It is still under warranty.

One more thing. I wonder if you can suggest a remedy to this problem: One or two notes refuse to tune properly.  I cannot set the pin by pulling the hammer forward. I can only set this pin by releasing tension on the string.  That is, by overtuning it and releasing tension. (b above middle c. Several octaves below, I release tension to  tune with good effect. But the middle octave demands increasing tension.) This doesn't give a clean sound. It  is in tune. But there are too many distorting resonances. What might be the cause of this problem?




One Opinion, with which I agree :-)

Subj: That little old piano
Date: 97-08-17 20:16:59 EDT
From: (wwetc)

My little old piano is a wreck. It was kicked around the family before it ended up at my house over 20 years ago. Its keys are chipped & the finish looks shabby. But the tuner comes (almost every year), even though we don't play it much (shame on us). Both of my now grown boys used it for lessons - wonderful sound background for percussion. I'm really sentimental about that piano. Sometimes I tell myself that if I had a lot of money (that's what it takes nowadays), I'd replace it.

But then I sit down and play it. I know it's not my overgrown love for it - it really is wonderful. It holds its pitch so well (except for a key here & there after the "desert monsoon season"), but oh my, the sound it makes. And its touch is just right. I could never find better or even equal for less than thousands of dollars (in a new one, anyway).

Repairs are hanging over my head - I'm afraid to have anyone do much.  You see, I was raised on another piano that also had the most beautiful sound and perfect touch. My brother & sister in law got it because they were the only ones with a room big enough for a baby grand. My sis in law plays beautifully. She decided to have the piano refinished, inside and out. Now when I go over & play there, I want to cry. My piano playing husband agrees - someone ruined that piano. Bad touch and tinny lifeless sound.

The point of my tale of 2 pianos? Keep yours if it's even ok, and if you have one that pleases you to play, KEEP IT FOR SURE. I know almost nothing about all this. Because I have and play a piano, and to me it is a very special thing to have, I wandered into this section. Your advice about whether to keep one's piano prompted this letter.

Another lesson I have learned over the years is to be sure and get a really good tuner. Wish you were in the El Paso area.

This section is great. In fact I haven't found a section I don't like.


Sue Webb

Regarding the Theory of Teaching Keyboard and music reading.

We offer this discussion by Marian Drake, EdM--

Subj: ear playing, self-teaching, and music reading
Date: 97-08-04 12:22:38 EDT
From: (Marian)

Dear Seve Van Nattan,

You have a wonderful web page. Wow!

I notice that you provide a link to a music education page.

I would like to offer my experience with so-called "traditional" music teachers -- that is, the ones who follow some sort of tradition that started after about 1820. In 1820, the first "fully realized organ arrangement" was published, and the organists made a huge outcry that it would cause them to "lose their talent" (from the *Oxford Compamion to Music" - which, of course, is exactly what happened. Before that time, music was taught very differently, especially keyboard music.

All keyboardists were expected to be able to improvise, play by ear, compose, arrange, and also read music. That is the way the Mozart children were taught, and also the way Bach was taught to sing in church. Bach himself was mostly self-taught, as was Leopold Mozart.

It is really a shame that today so many children and their parents are prevented from allowing the children's talent to develop because reading music is introduced much too early. Also, technique is taught in arigid way so that people hurt themselves.

In addition, the myths persist that adults cannot learn to play by ear, that playing by ear with "ruin a person's ability to read music", and that improvising on "the classics" is some sort of crime or sin. There is an ignorance of the fact that those classical composers themselves got their tunes from folk music or from other composers! Most of the tunes are not original with the composers.

Another thing that is sadly overlooked or not known is that learning the keyboard is learning language. Not A LANGUAGE, but many languages,unless a person decides to specialize and limit themself to one musical language such as Blues, Ragtime, Baroque, or one of many particular styles of Jazz. Within each of those "styles" or musical languages lies variants of that language,too.

Yet another sad thing in modern "traditional" teaching of keyboard is the lack of knowledge by modern "traditional" teachers of solfege and the number method of teaching both melody, counterpoint, and chords. I know the number method for melody and chords, but, I am very sorry to say, I do now know the number method for learning counterpoint. I do read figured bass, however, and can improvise on that fairly well. (No one taught me this, although I tried and tried for years to find a teacher,including in the colleges and universities. I learned all this on my own doing research in various books.)

I know all this (1) from my own experience as a child trained in the modern "traditional method" who lost much of her talent, then taught herself all over again starting at age 30; (2) from other pianists and organists I know who demonstrate the falsity of these myths; (3) from my own students who thrive under the precepts of developmental educational techniques and freedom at the keyboard; and (4) from my Master's degree in adult education, specializing in the teaching of language, reading, and difficult learning problems.

I would be very grateful if you could incorporate this letter somehow into your web page. This information is extremely hard to come by, and it has taken me 25 years to compile it all.


Marian Drake, EdM

Editor:  Balaam's Ass Speaks--  I want to leave this open as a forum to any who wish to respond to this article.  I do Appreciate Marion Drake's desire to promote good music.  What do you the reader think about Marion's observations?

STORY TIME-  Otto Von Opperknockity

A strange thing happened in Rio Rico, Arizona.  This very rich lady decided she wanted to buy the most expensive piano in the world.  She thought that if she had such a piano, she would really impress her musical friends.

She called a piano store in Tucson and asked what the most expensive piano was.  They told her a Bösendorfer-- the one with the 97 keys.  Well, this lady called the Bösendorfer factory in Europe and ordered a Bösendorfer. It was air freighted to her in Rio Rico, and a factory tuner came along and tuned it.

After a few months, she decided that she needed to tune it again, so she called the Piano Tuner's Guild and asked who was the best tuner in the world.  They did some research, and called her back. They told her that Tom Walker in Ohio was exceptional, but the best tuner in the world was a fellow named Otto Von Opperknockity.

So the lady called Mr. Opperknockity in Vienna, Austria, and she told him she wanted him to tune her piano.  He said he would if she paid his very stiff fee and all expenses.  She agreed at once saying that she would pay anything for the best.

Otto Von Opperknockity then flew to the USA, on to Rio Rico, Arizona,  up the arroyo past gila monsters and wet backs, and he tuned her piano.  She was happy, and Mr. Opperknockity was happy since he got a nice trip to Arizona in the deal.

Well, the tuning lasted two years because Otto did such good work, and the Bösendorfer was such a good piano. But, after the two years, the lady realized she would need the piano tuned again.  She at once called Otto Von Opperknockity in Vienna. She told him she was ready for her next tuning.  Mr. Opperknockity told her that he could not come.  She told him that price was not a consideration.  She would pay his fee, expenses, and make up any loss he incurred by interrupting his regular schedule.  Otto still wouldn't come.

The lady asked why, and here is what Otto said, "Dear Lady, Opperknockity only tunes once."  Now, I just passed the story on the way I heard it, friend.

STORY TIME-  The Cat Came Back 

I once answered the phone in Michigan, and I heard this horrible cat-like contralto howling.  A frantic lady told me her dear kitty cat had jumped down into the old upright piano while the top was open.  It also sounded like the cat was making the keys play at random.  This is nearly impossible from inside the piano.  The lady was wailing and begging me to tell her what to do.

I got very skeptical as I heard this cat howling.  He sounded more like the lady's drunk husband.  Not wanting to offend a truly innocent victim, I stifled a heartless laugh, and gave the husband instructions how to remove the front.  The alleged cat jumped out, and the lady told me she would be, "eternally grateful" for my saving her kitty.  I am sorry to say, I never heard from Al Gore or Reader's Digest regarding my heroic gesture.  Perhaps Al doesn't like cats after all.

The thing that is very suspicious is that, as soon as I moved to Arizona, someone called with the same problem, only this time it was a poodle.  The second time I suggested they shoot the poodle.  As the Amish say, "Ve get too soon olt und too late schmart."

Update:  A tuner in Illinois told me on the phone recently that he did indeed have to rescue a cat from an old upright piano.  It DOES happen.  I feel much better about the cat.  Maybe I had better not tell them to shoot the poodle next time :-(


The famous batsman for a UK cricket team recently retired to become a piano tuner.  He was a total failure.  Every time he found a piano "off pitch", he would yell "take six."  

Sorry about that one, my fellow Americans.


Here is a little controversy which should end in some sort of benefit to us all.  It seems that some pin treatments with glycerin in them may be damaging the pinblock or the pins.  Thus:

Hi Steve,

Being the one responsible for the creation and maintenance of my own domain, I know how much work has gone into your site and I commend you for offering some very good information. There is, however, one piece of advice that has been proven by time to be incorrect. The use of glycerin, in any form, will ruin the pin block. I'm not the rocket scientist that figured this out but it has to do with moisture retention and the rusting of the pins. There were numerous articles about this topic in recent issues of the Mechanical Music Digest (http:/

That information, however, was not what prompted me to write. I have numerous links to information, world-wide, that pertain to player and reproducing pianos and I would like to add a link to the information you have about players. You are welcome to choose the Title of the Listing that will appear in the "Lots of Technical Stuff" Category on the Main Page at:  I hope to hear from you soon.

Musically, John A. Tuttle

Special thanks to John for this note.  I believe I discussed making one's own pin treatment somewhere in the book.  You better buy the factory made item until this is resolved.  I do supply a factory made pin treatment found in the Mini Catalogue.  It does sound like, unaware of this tricky discovery, a lot of tuners have been doing some degree of damage. 

LETTER to Steve

Subj: Your book & page
Date: 97-06-30 19:10:58 EDT
From: (Paula Goldie)
To: ('')

Thank you very much for the hard work you put into your do-it-yourself piano repair pages. I am e-ing you here because I could not link from your web site and your e-mail address was nowhere to be found (until I hit the classifieds!). We got some $ from my Dad (the Grandpa!) to buy a piano for our daughter who really, REALLY, wants to play. Plopped it down on a used "spinet", hauled it the 50 miles home and paid someone to fix the key that was broken. 2 months later, he told us it was unfixable. Oh, those 1950's plastic parts. Now, bought another "upright" at a garage sale for $50.00. No crack in the bridge, one broken hammer and the damper pedal is disconnected, but the sound is beautiful. To make a long story even longer, we are stripping it (cuz it's ugly) and must patch and paint, as the veneer is chipped, cracked and gone. But, thanks to your web site, we will at least be able to order new hardware & maybe felt, too. Plus we won't look like COMPLETE idiots!!

Again, many, many thanks.


Subj: Thank's!

Date: 97-07-16 21:10:31 EDT
From: (Don Moore)

Thank you very much!

My wife purchased a square grand for our home that we are renovating that was built in 1907 in SC.

Following your advise, she found a broken partical of ivory under two of the key's that prevented them from operating.

Thank's again.

PS: You should add letter's of success to this web site!

Subj: Re: Old piano

Date: 97-08-09 02:22:19 EDT
From: (Charles Martin)

Subject: Re: Old piano
Date: Thursday, August 07, 1997 10:46 PM

Chikering is the oldest piano company in the US. They made great pianos too.

Check the Ctatlogue page for "Action Parts" The things you need should be there. Also, the book has a section on how to replace the straps.

In Christ,

Steve Van Nattan

The old piano had a twisted hammer. I used your suggestion to straighten it, and it worked!

The order for straps follows.

Thank you very much.