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MMD > Archives > March 2002 > 2002.03.25 > 09Prev  Next


Stringing an Upright Player Piano
By John A. Tuttle

Although some may strongly disagree, I know from firsthand experience
that it is not necessary to remove the keybed of an upright player
piano just to lay in new strings.  In fact, I will go one step further
and say that removing the bed is not even desirable.  Here's why...

The amount of time it takes to remove and then later install the key
slip, the cheek blocks, the legs, all of the linkage under the keybed,
the keys and the keybed, plus all of the time it takes to regulate
everything once the stringing job is done, is greater than the few
moments that it takes per string to walk around the side of the piano
and hook the string to the hitch pin.  (Naturally, I use a piano cradle
so the piano is horizontally oriented.)

Also, in a reproducing upright there are numerous pieces of tubing
which are routed either through the keybed or through a cutout section
of the keybed, between the keybed and the side of the instrument.  When
you think about the time that can be saved by leaving the keybed in
place, it is a wonder that anyone would consider removing it unless
doing so is absolutely necessary.

Figuring that there are an average of 138-140 pieces of piano wire
(including the bass strings) and that it takes 15-20 seconds to hook
each wire to a hitch pin, the total time spent hooking the wires to the
hitch pins is less than one hour.  Of course, with the steel strings
I (a) pre-size the wire, (b) bend the wire in the middle, (c) hook it
to the hitch pin, and (d) guide it through the bridge pins before I
(e) trim the wire to length, (f) connect it to the tuning pin, (g)
wind it 4 turns, and (h) drive it into the block.  Then I repeat steps
'e-h' for the other half of the wire.

If you have trouble keeping the wire on the hitch pin, you can add
another step between 'c' and 'd' and secure the wire in place at the
hitch pin with a set of mini vise grips.  (I only mention the steps
because they are quite different from those used if you start the
process by (a) connecting the tuning pin to the end of the wire, which
is still attached to the spool, and then (b) hammering the pin into the
block.)

Naturally, the above method assumes that you are not worried about the
few inches of piano wire that will be lost when each half of the string
gets trimmed to the correct length.  Also, it's my opinion the above
method helps reduce the possibility of accidentally twisting the wire.
This is because the wire isn't being forced around the hitch pin once
one end has already been anchored in place.

To help get the entire job of stringing the piano done in even less
time, I modified a simple telescoping rod so that the keys can also
stay in the piano.  (See the pictures.*)  The device was originally a
telescoping rod with a hook on one end, like the device used by boaters
to pull a boat next to the dock.  I removed the hook and some of the
rod and replaced the hook with a soft rubber end cap.  This gives the
ends the small amount of 'compressibility' necessary to secure the
'key-holding' rod between the inside sides of the piano.  The rod is
placed directly over the middle of the keys, at the key pins,
preventing them from falling out while the new tuning pins are banged
into the block.

I suppose I'm probably one of a very few technicians who will restring
an upright piano in the customer's home.  As long as the instrument
isn't too far away from my home, the cost of traveling back and forth
is typically far less than the cost of moving the instrument.  This is
especially true when the instrument is located anywhere but on the
ground floor of the home.

Also, working on the instrument in the customer's home eliminates the
possibility of damaging the instrument during the two moves.
Obviously, the customer has to endure the banging noises and the loss
of a 10' x 10' area of their home during the course of the job, but
I find that they are usually more than happy to make these small
sacrifices if they can save hundreds of dollars.  Besides, most people
really enjoy watching me work, and they are usually fascinated to learn
how much detail goes into the stringing of a piano.  They often take
numerous pictures.

Also, I should also mention that I routinely remove the bottom and the
top of the piano before starting the job.  I also tighten all of the
plate bolts and/or screws, service the casters, lightly tap in the
bridge pins, replace all of the felt on the plate, and give the inside
of the piano a good general cleaning.  Also, repairing the soundboard
is quite easy once all of the strings are removed.

 * Picture at: http://www.player-care.com/gifs/holdkeys.jpg
Web page at: http://www.player-care.com/string_piano.html

Musically,

John A. Tuttle

 [* Picture also at http://mmd.foxtail.com/Pictures/  -- Robbie


(Message sent Mon 25 Mar 2002, 21:34:14 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  an, Piano, Player, Stringing, Upright

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