While I agree that most pianos need new piano action parts, I do not
agree with those folks mentioned that remove the case and replace the
back and action with new ones. This applies especially for birdcage
action uprights. I am probably the only shop in this country that
restores birdcage actions and their accompanying pianos. I stick with
historic in every case, unless the customer prefers something other
than that, in which case I try to talk them out of drastic changes and
usually win out.
I replace actions with all new piano parts because the new parts are
exactly like the originals. If I find a piano that is way off of
standard, I usually releather and refelt the original action parts.
When I started out restoring just standard pianos, I began by taking
each hammer butt and refelting and releathering it. Refelting flange
bushings, I found after a couple of pianos that often the butts were so
worn that I needed extra large center pins. Some were so worn that the
largest center pin would not stop hammer wobble.
I also found that the newly rebushed flanges often shattered. I exam-
ined the new parts available and began to use them. This resulted in
an action that looks better than a releathered one and plays better
with no hammer wobble. I found the same in grand wippens when I tried
refelting and putting in new springs. It was a ton of work and I spent
much time gluing the wood back together.
I now find the best built piano action parts I can find. For grands
that is Renner. For uprights it is Pratt Winn, which is owned by
Baldwin and makes all their parts. If you use cheap parts or those of
lesser quality, you will spend way too much time shimming the action
parts to lie in a straight line from bass to treble. How do you think
I know that?
In a birdcage upright you must refelt and releather all the action
parts. In historic grands and some uprights there is a velum or
parchment hinge. These must also be replaced with chrome tanned
parchment which took me two years to find. At the moment I use
parchment made from unborn sheep which is chrome tanned and cut in
this country. It is then sent to Jerusalem where it is made into
Torahs and the Hebrew scriptures are written on them. I get the
trimmings from this process and make fine parchment hinges for
historic pianos. I expect this hinge to last another hundred years.
Just this year I restored an historic birdcage German built upright
and a Chickering square grand for a local historic house museum.
The pianos hold tune as well or better than any modern piano and the
actions work as well as they ever did. They are not modern actions.
Also for the standard square grands, I just had 1000 square grand
hammer butts made for our use. These have not been built in this
country for about the last 40 years, I think. I will need to install
felt and leather to them but I will be doing that so I can be ready for
more square grand restorations.
My sales manager had decided that these restored square grands and
birdcages will be selling in the 6 digits within 10 years. I am not
sure I agree, but I do know that there are so many that were chopped up
that finding one that is in concert ready condition simply doesn't
happen. The only ones I have seen are the ones I restored. Do you
know of others?
In 1999 I finished two square grand restorations and one is for sale.
By the way, I just started three more square grand restorations for
customers, so there seems to be no end of demand for their restoration.
D. L. Bullock Piano World St. Louis