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#1373437 - 02/14/10 10:49 AM Steinway M with teflon
deke Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/01/06
Posts: 2
Hello, this is my first post. In 2000 I inherited a 1966 Steinway M that has been taken care of very well since the day it was purchased. Everyone who plays this piano instantly comments on its tone (they really like it and it stands out for an M). Trouble is this - in summer humidity the dreaded clicking starts up. I have had so many techs look at this and all have different opinions. Some say the Teflon can be managed (and one did manage it pretty well), others want to replace everything Teflon. In addition, the hammers have some wear and the action is a bit heavy (this is how my uncle preferred it, but it's too much for me and my wife). So, it needs some work and I want to maintain this piano (it's the nicest thing we own!).

My problem is, who to trust? Since moving into a new city in 2004, I have had trouble finding a tech who seems to really understand and/or demonstrate an expertise in this issue. Is it inappropriate to ask for recommendations on this forum? Are there any others here who have dealt with teflon and can share their experience, good or bad? Thanks in advanced!

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#1373466 - 02/14/10 11:23 AM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: deke]
Larry Buck Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/04
Posts: 2456
Loc: Lowell MA
Where are you from?

FWIW, if you are doing a "soup to nuts" action job, well you can achieve great results all the way around.

For some people, this is cost prohibitive.

If you are looking to "partially" replace things then you have more of a challenge of piecing together the right combination of tasks, regardless of who does the work, that meets your expectations.

Great action work is a highly developed skill.

Some Teflon actions can be saved, some can not.

An evaluation to determine that should be first.
You really need to begin with that.

Keep Teflon vs replace some or all vs heavy to play as a regulation issue or a mass question brings you full circle to save or replace.

Where are you from?
"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
Mark Twain

E. J. Buck & Sons
Lowell MA 01852
978 458 8688

#1373491 - 02/14/10 11:56 AM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Larry Buck]
deke Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/01/06
Posts: 2
Thanks Larry, I certainly believe you that action work is highly skilled! I like your advice on starting with an evaluation. I am in that great city of snow covered landscapes, Philadelphia! I am certain there are fantastic techs here, I just haven't had any luck in finding them. I found another post here that recommended calling Steinway for recommendations. Do you think that's the way to go? I hear anecdotal horror stories about our Steinway dealer - elitist, snobby, pushy and that sort of thing - so I haven't pursued them for a tech.

#1373663 - 02/14/10 02:41 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: deke]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4756
Loc: San Jose, CA
Deke, Rich posts here quite a bit and is in your area. Couldn't hurt to give him a call; I'm sure he knows who's who, and who isn't who. Good luck with this.

This contact info is from his signature line:

Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
Philadelphia, Pa.
Direct Line (215) 991-0834
Cunningham Piano blog

Edited by Jeff Clef (02/14/10 02:41 PM)

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#1373669 - 02/14/10 02:45 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Jeff Clef]
Elene Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/07
Posts: 1429
Loc: Land of Enchantment
I don't have personal experience of this, but my own tuner has one of those Teflon pianos, and after years of struggle he has decided it's best to just live with it as it is. For whatever that's worth.

Semi-Pro Musica

Blog: http://elenedom.wordpress.com
Website: http://elenelistens.com

#1374928 - 02/15/10 06:19 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Elene]
Bill Bremmer RPT Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/21/02
Posts: 3845
Loc: Madison, WI USA
This is an interesting post for me because the Teflon parts became a scapegoat for other problems there were with Steinways of that era. Very often, the Teflon parts themselves worked fine but the action geometry was not good and it made the action feel heavy as yours does. I have known many Steinway pianos of that era that in spite of these problems, had a great sound.

The best solution is to have all the action parts replaced with parts of current specifications. The touch weight will be significantly improved. Undoubtedly, the hammers are worn to the point that they need replacement anyway. This will be a significant cost. The parts alone, in a box from the factory cost more than $2,000. If the keys need rebushing and the key frame cloths need replacement, that is even more material and labor expense. It could amount to an entire week's work just to create a new action. So, considering cost of materials and 3-5 days of labor costs, it will cost thousands to get the piano in good working order again.

However, consider this: It is a Steinway and that money would be an investment and that investment will provide you with at least as many years of wonderful playing experience as the original parts did. You can be sure that the new parts will never develop the clicking problem as the originals.

A Steinway piano is the ultimate recyclable instrument. When its strings become too old, they also can be replaced. When its soundboard and/or pinblock becomes deteriorated, they can also be replaced and the instrument be reborn. Many Steinway pianos built 100 years ago are living new lives today. Those same pianos can again be reborn in another 100 years. The same cannot be so easily said for any other make of piano.

You can look at the investment this way too: you could buy a new piano made in China or Indonesia for what it would cost to restore your Steinway's action. But what would that piano be like in 20 years, let alone 44? Would it be worth any rebuilding effort at all? The answer is NO! What you have is a family heirloom and a treasure. If you can't afford the work now, plan and save for it because it will be well worth it to you for the rest of your life.
Bill Bremmer RPT
Madison WI USA

#1375849 - 02/16/10 06:13 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Bill Bremmer RPT]
Chloe J. Scott Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/22/09
Posts: 164
Loc: Phoenix, AZ
Please forgive an old newbie, but what is the teflon action exactly? I've seen it mentioned on various threads but haven't seen any real descriptions of what it is or why it causes such a problem. I've also heard of the CBS years but don't know too much about it eithe. Could someone please elaborate?

I might like to buy a Steinway at some point and I'd like to understand what this is all about, what year models are preferable and which to avoid.


#1375878 - 02/16/10 06:40 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Chloe J. Scott]
Les Koltvedt Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/13/05
Posts: 3198
Loc: Canton, MI
CBS owned Steinway for awhile. The teflon was used for the shank pivots. Sometimes they would click...from what I've read.
Les Koltvedt
LK Piano
Servicing the S. Eastern Michigan Area
PTG Associate

#1375887 - 02/16/10 06:47 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Les Koltvedt]
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 24774
Loc: Oakland
Teflon was used for center pin bushings instead of felt in the 60s and 70s.
Semipro Tech

#1375996 - 02/16/10 09:38 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: BDB]
Bill Bremmer RPT Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/21/02
Posts: 3845
Loc: Madison, WI USA
The perception of the "Teflon piano" or the "Teflon action" is unfortunate. Steinway has made very few changes in its pianos over the years. One of the problems with its pianos made in the early part of the 20th Century was that they developed sluggish actions.

The action has many moving parts, all made of wood. Any two wooden parts which move or pivot are joined together with a brass pin. In between the pin and the wood is some cloth (not felt) material made of wool. That material is called bushing cloth and the tiny ring of it that surrounds the brass pin which is called a center pin (or simply, center) is called a bushing.

Of course, these parts must move freely but if there is either too much or too little friction in the joint, it is a problem. If there is too little, the part will wobble and rattle. That calls for a larger sized pin or in some cases, the bushing must be replaced.

Naturally, if there is too much friction, the parts cannot move freely and the action will feel heavy and sluggish. There can be so much friction that the parts stick and won't move at all. To remedy a mild condition of too much friction, some lubrication may help. In some cases, a "shrinking solution" is applied that shrinks the wool cloth and eases the joint. The joint can also be taken apart and some material removed with a reaming tool.

Apparently, those Steinway pianos made in the early 20th Century had parts that were pinned with some kind of contaminant. I have heard of various substances that the people doing the pinning used for a lubricant. There may have been more than one substance tried. Whatever it was, it caused after many years the brass pin to corrode. The corrosion of brass or copper is green in color unlike the red color of the rust on iron. But just like the rust on iron, it has a volumizing effect and creates its own friction. Brass corrosion is called verdigris (Latin for green grease). It is sticky and gooey and once it starts to grow, it often doesn't stop.

It created an incurable condition for many of these pianos. Sometimes the condition could be successfully treated but in many cases, it would return and need periodic re-treatment. Having a precise amount of friction in the action was virtually impossible. Re-pinning such parts didn't solve the problem either. I have even heard that re-bushing the parts didn't help. The verdigris would return.

So, the engineers at Steinway set out to do away with this problem once and for all. Instead of a cloth bushing, they designed a small, plastic insert made of Teflon which is as everyone knows, a slippery substance. They made the decision to make all of their action parts with these inserts and dubbed it the Steinway Perma-Free action. They thought there would never be any sluggish or sticking parts in their pianos again.

I recall going to a meeting in the late 1970's when Henry Steinway came to speak. He defended the use of the Teflon bushings saying, "Those who want us to return to the cloth bushing don't seem to remember the problems we had with them".

What Steinway didn't foresee was that this Teflon material which did not swell and shrink with changing levels of humidity was surrounded by wood which did. Ironically, the parts would stick sometimes during dry conditions and the bushings would become loose in the wood and cause clicking sounds during humid conditions. Although they were designed to never stick, there was often too much friction and that contributed to a heavy feel from the action. To remedy these problems was tedious and time consuming, therefore expensive for the customer and may technicians were unfamiliar with how to do it.

Of course, not all Steinway pianos had a problem. Most of them played just fine and they still do today. The material is very resilient and has held up just fine with most of its pianos. Many people may have played on a Steinway of that period and never had a problem with it. Unless you looked at the parts, you would never know it has Teflon bushings.

There were other problems during that period for which the Teflon became the scapegoat. The action geometry was less than ideal. The hammer shanks were thick and heavy. That is what caused the pianos to feel so heavy but too much friction would have made the problem worse. Some synthetic material for the rollers (most technicians call it the knuckle) also was not very good and that caused a problem with the way the action felt that had nothing to do with Teflon. I have seen stringing jobs that were not very well done and irregularly made wound strings. There may have been other problems with some pianos regarding the soundboard but in spite of the problems with the action parts, virtually any Steinway piano from that era I can recall always had a beautiful Steinway sound.

So, the decision by Steinway to use Teflon bushings proved to be a mistake but it was not entirely the fault of the Teflon material itself, it was more a problem with the public's perception of it. Imagine, for example, if the action parts had also been made of synthetic material such as Kawai has used now successfully for over two decades. The Teflon may have been more compatible with that kind of material.

The Teflon saga ended up the same way for Steinway as "New Coke" did for Coca Cola. The public liked the product the way it was but both companies insisted upon pushing their new product. The public resisted and both companies eventually relented.

CBS sold Steinway to a new investment group which made changes for the better. They improved the action geometry and went back to the cloth bushings without using any contaminant. Any Steinway from the Teflon era which plays poorly can be successfully and greatly improved by installing current production Steinway parts. Some rebuilders will want to use parts made by other manufacturers and that is their prerogative. However, that brings up the "Genuine Steinway parts" issue for many people.

I would have to say that very old Steinway pianos, from before the 20th Century are probably better restored with parts and hammers made by other manufacturers. But these Teflon era pianos can all be made to play well again using parts made today in the New York Steinway factory. In my opinion, that is the best solution, even if hammers from a different manufacturer are used. Some customers will probably feel better with the all Steinway parts and their wishes should be respected.
Bill Bremmer RPT
Madison WI USA

#1376069 - 02/16/10 11:17 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Les Koltvedt]
tds Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/30/06
Posts: 446
Loc: Bastrop, Texas
Originally Posted By: Monster M&H
CBS owned Steinway for awhile. The teflon was used for the shank pivots. Sometimes they would click...from what I've read.

You will find teflon in wippens and back actions as well as hammer centers. And yes, they click too! eek
Stay tuned.

Tom Seay, Recovering Piano Technician
Bastrop, Texas

#1376079 - 02/16/10 11:28 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: tds]
Peter Sumner- Piano Technician Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/07
Posts: 852
Loc: San Francisco
Thank you for the summary Bill....well thought out and written...explains the issues without any bias and, as they say where I come from "You pays your money and you takes your choice"....

Thanks again...
Peter Sumner
Concert Piano Technician

#1376157 - 02/17/10 01:37 AM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Peter Sumner- Piano Technician]
Chloe J. Scott Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/22/09
Posts: 164
Loc: Phoenix, AZ

Thanks for the information. It answers several questions that I've had and some that I didn't know I had. I knew what verdigris meant in Latin but didn't knew how it applied to action. A few months ago there was a Steinway for sale on this site where the owner said it had a verdigris problem and suggested that the action would probably have to be replaced. I didn't understand why, now I do. I'm in the printed circuit board industry and I know that copper doesn't play well with other substances, not long term anyway. And since brass is made with copper I'd expect that it wouldn't either, although it should go longer before it rebels.

It always amazes me how people don't think about the affect of what they're doing now will have on something later on, like with the teflon. I've also heard that it was common for the use of regular white glue on the cloth years ago, without any thought of how difficult it would be to remove later on. It just gets gummy whereas hideglue crystalizes. It's common for people to think that way, we're conditioned to throw away things when they become old or obsolete, like cars, electronics, etc., even houses. But just like a diamond, a piano lasts forever if it's taken care of right, with regular maintenance and replacement of worn parts. They can last virtually indefinitely. Now if only my transmission and brakes would.

Anyway, I think I've gotten a little of topic of the OP. Thanks again for the great explanation.


#1376205 - 02/17/10 04:36 AM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Chloe J. Scott]
John_B Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/10
Posts: 621
Loc: Bristol, UK
What a fascinating explanation from Bill!

#1376870 - 02/17/10 09:18 PM Re: Steinway M with teflon [Re: Peter Sumner- Piano Technician]
Bill Bremmer RPT Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/21/02
Posts: 3845
Loc: Madison, WI USA
Originally Posted By: Peter Sumner- Piano Technician
Thank you for the summary Bill....well thought out and written...explains the issues without any bias and, as they say where I come from "You pays your money and you takes your choice"....

Thanks again...

Nice to hear this from you, Peter and thanks to the other folks who responded. If there are any other insights people may have, please post them. I only wrote from my knowledge and experience as I thought while I wrote.

Teflon bushings can be serviced just as cloth bushings can be serviced. When the overall condition however appears to be worn out, well used parts, the best solution is replacement with new material that can be expected to last for decades.

I would give this one tip here as I have in other posts: The lubricant called Protek was specifically concocted to dissolve verdigris. It does work, However, in cases where the verdigris has taken such a severe hold on the action parts, a condition some technicians like to call "rigor mortis", there is a treatment that can be effective if the customer cannot at the time afford replacement of the parts. This is especially recommended for verticals.

Replacement parts for very old Steinway verticals cannot be purchased from Steinway. They must come from other manufacturers who have made parts which will fit and they are very expensive. They take much time and expertise to install and align to the strings. So, as a temporary solution, I recommend the following:

Apply pure acetone to all stiff joints. Work the joints hard and provide an environment where the acetone will evaporate quickly, i.e., outside, on a warm, sunny day. Alternatively, in a room with fans blowing for ventilation, use a high powered hair drier, (the kind designed for horse grooming is the most effective) or a heat gun (but be very careful about igniting the acetone) to evaporate the acetone while you work the joints vigorously.

This will soften the verdigris. Once you get some measure of effectiveness from that procedure, mix some acetone 50/50 with ordinary isopropyl alcohol. Plain acetone is cheap and you can still find isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol for about $1 a pint at any drugstore or for another 50 cents at a convenience store.

This will create a shrinking solution. The solvent powers of both the acetone and the alcohol are strong to soften the verdigris. It is the 30% distilled water in the alcohol that will shrink the cloth. Immediately after applying the shrinking solution, apply high heat again and work the joints hard. The heat and the moisture will shrink the wool cloth bushings. The moisture will also temporarily cause the wood to swell and that will compress the cloth. When the moisture dissipates, that will leave the joint free.

If this is not effective enough, apply 100% isopropyl alcohol to the joints, work them hard while applying heat. Eventually, the water in the alcohol and the heat applied will shrink the cloth sufficiently. Heat and motion and/or pressure applied to wet wool fibers will cause them to shrink. That is a fact.

Now, apply a dose of Protek which will keep the verdigris softened and will leave a slippery polymer in place that will allow the joints to continue to work freely. Remember, this is not a cure, it is only a treatment but it is effective. It can be repeated as often as necessary.

In less severe cases, I recommend cutting the Protek 50/50 with acetone. The acetone will allow the Protek to more effectively dissolve the verdigris and will work instantly.
Bill Bremmer RPT
Madison WI USA


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