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MMD > Archives > January 2005 > 2005.01.22 > 06Prev  Next

Rebuilding & Regulating the Piano Action
By D. L. Bullock

>> First of all, what brand of hammers? Some say Abel, some say Renner.
>> I want the piano to be somewhat on the bright side with a full tone,
>> but want to keep it soft enough so that I can get the rebuilt Ampico A
>> to play softly as it should. ... should I keep the old hammer shanks
>> and replace the knuckles or get new shanks (with new knuckles)?

To get the big American sound you want you must use Renner blue
hammers.  Abel is more appropriate, in my estimation, for thinner
sounding European pianos.

Soft playing is not a trait of soft hammers but of the way the action
is regulated.  Any grand that has a player on it has played five to ten
times as much as a standard piano, so your choice has been made for
you.  Replace it all, it is worn out: hammers, shanks, whippens.  But
worry about who does it.

I have replaced about six piano actions in the last year: two Steinways,
one Weber, a Cable Nelson, a Sohmer and a Chickering.  All were [fitted
with] completely new Renner actions and Renner blue hammers.  I had
some really fine comments on them -- no small amount of disbelief that
it was still their piano, even though the pianos stayed in their homes.

As for correct key dip:  unless you are doing the regulation yourself,
you don't need to worry about it.  That is your technician's job.  You
should have a top-notch piano regulating technician do the work and he
or she will know what is needed.  The tech who can do concert piano
regulation has tons of minutia besides key dip that is in his head, and
it is all just as important as the key dip, if not more so.

You can expect to pay at least $4,000 for a new action regulated.
Note: not all piano techs can regulate well.  In fact, I suggest that
a very small percentage can regulate to any medium standard at all.
That is why we who do it are sent customers from all the other techs.

Unless you have bushed and leveled 20-30 keyboards, I think you should
let someone with lots of experience do that job as well.  If you want
to learn bushing and leveling, do so on a cheap piano and not on your
top of the line Mason & Hamlin.

As one who gets to regulate keyboards with level and dip having been
done by someone of little experience (often my apprentices),  I can
tell you it takes me longer to do one of the novice keyboards than if
I had bushed and done the whole thing myself.  I look forward to the
time when they have done enough keyboards so that I no longer have to
fiddle with the keyboard for hours to get it working right.  On such
pianos I often have to remove all the center rail and front rail paper
punchings and start over with leveling.

Piano regulation includes the key dip, how free the keys are, and
everything else from the keybed to the strings.  We also do many things
to lower inertia.  I do not discourage people from learning to become
piano techs -- in fact, I teach them to become such -- but I strongly
suggest they learn on lesser instruments before they try a Steinway or
Mason & Hamlin or such high dollar brand.

Also, piano regulation is not just 37 steps times 88 keys, but when
you have done that you must start over and do it all again.  The later
steps throw previous steps slightly out of regulation and the only way
to regulate to concert standards is to do it again and again.

I often regulate the same piano action as many as four times before
it feels right to my fingers.  This is why you can spend well over a
thousand dollars to have a piano just regulated, with no new parts.
Better to spend it on new Renner parts rather than be disappointed with
using the old action parts, then replace them in a year and spend the
regulating money again.

When regulating those new actions this past year, I find a regulation
with new action parts can run between 16 and 25 hours just for
regulating in the piano.  That does not include the steps I can take
with the action in my shop.

If you want to know about what I am talking about come visit my shop.
You are only a few hours from St. Louis.

D.L. Bullock    St. Louis

(Message sent Sat 22 Jan 2005, 19:01:54 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Action, Piano, Rebuilding, Regulating

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