To discover the original color of a piano's finish, just look under
case parts; for example, under the keyslip on the cheek blocks, or the
side of the piano under the outside of the cheek blocks. Unless an
unusually ambitious refinisher has been at work, these or other similar
original finished areas are almost always untouched.
In thirty years, I have examined hundreds of original piano finishes in
this way. Without question a large percentage of them were originally
very dark finishes, and less than 10% could be called "light" finishes.
It is true that finishes become dirty and darken somewhat with age, but
there is a tendency to overestimate the amount of darkening caused by
age. What makes an old finish unattractive is not the darkening, but
the obscuring of the grain. Darkening most finishes enhances and
richens their beauty, if done correctly; which is why it was done so
By stripping off the varnish, part of the stain is almost always also
removed; don't be fooled into thinking that the resulting lighter
finish is the original color!
What the modern critic does not understand is that a fine dark finish,
done with hot water soluble aniline dyes, filled with colored grain
filler after the stain has been well sealed with a wash coat of dilute
shellac, and the whole covered with the finest gum varnish or built up
with French polish (water-thin de-waxed shellac applied with a pad,
which dries as it is applied and builds up in microscopic layers) which
is then made optically flat and rubbed with pumice and rottenstone to
flawless transparent gloss, has tremendous depth and beauty. It is
holographic; one can see the sides of each grain fiber, and the
dazzling figuring of the grain is iridescent and changes from every
** This can only be achieved with varnish or French Polish --
not with lacquer! **
I have seen many very beautiful lacquer finishes, but none has had the
transparency of these old materials. There apparently are reasons for
this, having to do with the structure of lacquers, which were explained
to me by finish chemists when I researched finishes some years ago.
Perhaps there are newer finishes which can achieve the same beauty as
varnish and French polish, but I am not acquainted with any.
Try a dark finish with oil stains and lacquer, and you'll end up with
mud -- Formica! Only the uninitiated would think a fine dark finish
boring or that it "hides the beauty of the wood." In 1915, the average
citizen, living in a wonderland of rich, deep dark wood finishes as
beautiful as the facets of jewels, knew better.
Larry Broadmoore, Broadmoore Piano Company
1709 First Street, Unit "C", San Fernando, CA 91340
tel: (800) 497-4266 , (818) 365-6231 ; fax (818) 361-0911