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Mark R. Offline OP
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Dear technicians,

I have read in Arthur Reblitz's book his method for reviving old bass strings. In summary, he suggests releasing the tension, unhooking the string from the hitchpin (noting how much twist was on the string), forming a loop of about 6" and running this loop up and down the string, then twisting the string as it was before (alternately, giving it one full turn in the direction of the winding), re-mounting it and pulling it back up to pitch.

I'd like to ask whether any of you have tried this method (pretty sure some of you have), and what degree of success you have achieved.

Another method, posted by UnrightTooner, is to de-tune the string(s) one octave lower, pound them, and to pull them back up to pitch. Jeff, if you wouldn't mind pitching in here (excuse the pun), could you elaborate some more?
1) How much pounding (how many hard strikes) is required per string? Is there a noticeable accoustic change while pounding?
2) Do you do this note by note (bichords presumably together), or the whole bass section in one go?
3) Question to all readers: would it be sensible to remove any obvious dirt and/or corrosion from the copper windings before doing this procedure, e.g. dry removal using steel wool or a wire brush?

I'm asking this because my Zimmermann upright had the most tubby bichord in the mid-bass replaced before I purchased it, and this bichord is sounding noticeably better than its neighbors - i.e. the tubbiness is, in all probability, due to the strings, not the bridge, soundboard, etc.

I am prepared to put some time, effort and money into the piano, but before I re-string the whole bass section (more correctly: have it re-strung), I'd like to evaluate my options.

I'd appreciate your responses.

Last edited by Mark R.; 03/15/10 09:38 AM. Reason: typo

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Mark R:

1) About a dozen pounds (of potatoes?). Yes, I think I have noticed a difference in tone while pounding.

2) Different times, different ways. Bichords together is good. Never considered lowering the entire section and making stability worse. I have done octaves together, also. I don't think it matters much.

3) I would not remove corrosion. If the problem is appearance, then replace the strings.

4) Since you didn't ask, 1/3 turn on the pin is close enough to lowering an octave. I have had some success in "voicing" the bass by using this technique on just the worst notes and then maybe not lowering the pitch a full octave. And expect to have to retune the bass in a week or two. If doing this during a regular tuning, do it first and leave the pitch at least 20 cents high while the rest of the piano is tuned. Then tune the bass last.

I will probably do this to an old baby grand this week in conjunction with a pinblock treatment. Someday I hope to have the opportunity to try it on steel wound strings and expect good results.


Jeff Deutschle
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I have done this same technique! Sorry to find out I am not the inventor of it after all, since I came up with it on my own.

I call it 'flexing' the bass strings, and yes it is very noisy but does work. I pound as hard as I can about ten times and really get that string to wobble - it moves a lot more at lower tension.


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Nick:

Congratulations on being original. I read about the technique here a while ago.


Jeff Deutschle
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Mark, this is a frequently asked question but there are no posts about it in the FAQ section. I wrote an article about it a few years ago for the PTG Journal and I posted essentially the same content on here but I can't remember when that was. The search feature only goes back 2 years, otherwise you have to look on every page. But I did find this thread which may answer your questions:

http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/652502/1.html

The gist of the answer to your question is that sometimes, the tone of old wound strings can be improved but the work involved with that can quickly eclipse the amount of work involved with replacement. There are any number of whacky things people have tried. It would be quite a disappointment to go through a lot of effort and get minimal or no real improvement.

The only time I ever cleaned and polished bass strings was in the case where it was a piano of little value and the tone was still basically good. The old corrosion and dust build up was obviously impairing the tone to a degree. Polishing that off with a power wire wheel and giving the string a twist did result in an improvement. For the time invested and the results gained, it was worth it.

The surest way to get a beautiful new tone from the Bass is to replace the wound strings. It is not an easy job. I had to do that with my own piano about a year ago. The strings had mostly all gone dead and "tubby" for a reason that was never determined. The piano was new in 1996, so it was not an "old" issue nor would it have been due to contamination. In any case, I recognized from the way they sounded that I could not use any of the known techniques to make them better. I just bit the bullet and replaced them. The tone is now restored but the instability of new strings is maddening. It takes many tunings before they really want to hold normally.


Bill Bremmer RPT
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Mark R. Offline OP
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Many thanks to you two.

[EDIT: you three - Bill's post came in while I was writing my response.]

Jeff, as to point (3), the problem is not su much appearance. Some gooey liquid (pin tightener? beverage? no idea...) was spilled on or in my piano, and it came to dry/solidify/corrode on some of the wound strings. Although it looks bad, that's not my primary concern. The resulting patch is actually quite thick, and I've wondered whether it's actually affecting the tone negatively. Put it this way: if brushing would run little risk of making the string even tubbier than it already is, I'd consider it. If you like, I could post a few pictures once my new digicam has arrived.

Last edited by Mark R.; 03/15/10 10:56 AM. Reason: given in post

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Mark:

Oh, that’s a horse (or in this case a string) of a different color. I have no experience with this. I would try pounding anyway; it can’t hurt. If I was to try to clean them I guess I would remove the strings and soak them in mineral spirits. It’s not supposed to leave a residue. But people have posted success with boiling bass strings, too. Since it’s an upright, and probably does not have agraffes, it may be worth a try on a couple to see what happens.


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Originally Posted by UnrightTooner
Mark:

Oh, that’s a horse (or in this case a string) of a different color. But people have posted success with boiling bass strings, too.


Personally, I like my boiled bass strings al dente with a nice Alfredo sauce.


Stay tuned.

Tom Seay, Recovering Piano Technician
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If you do drop tension with a 1/3 or 1/4 turn to rejuvenate a bass string, try this trick: pull up on the string at the same time to keep the coil tight.

This reduces the possibility of causing a break in the coil, or having an overwrap.

--Cy--


Cy Shuster, RPT
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Mark R. Offline OP
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Thanks for all responses.

Personally, I would try all dry procedures first, because any wet procedure could wash corrosion and dirt into the windings, in stead of away. If I were to use a solvent, I'd prefer washing benzine to mineral spirits (white spirits), because the former is more volatile than the latter, evaporating faster and leaving less residue.

Bill, I've had a look at the thread to which you provided a link. And I take your point about striking a balance between inputs (time and effort) and output (improvement to sound). I should add that as far as my piano is concerned, I have "all the time in the world" - well, almost. For the last few weeks, for example, whenever I find myself with an hour or two on hand, I have started to correct the irregular strike distance with felt under the hammer rest (the v-bar is bent backwards by about 1/8" at the treble break). So, I would have no problem trying to improve one or two bass strings and then doing a few more strings a month later. On the other hand, the upright is old and does have other problems, e.g. partially or totally worn catcher buckskins. The piano was an exchange instrument for another (a Seiler) that had even worse problems - at least this one holds its tuning. To sum it up: before I replace the bass strings and sink $1000 or more into an instrument that only cost 3000, at least I'd like to try and revive the bass strings as best possible.

Just to confirm that I understand "twisting in the direction of the winding" correctly: the idea is to tighten the windings on the core, correct? Here's a picture from the old Seiler that I returned to the seller:

http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/aCG2Toi2IWnovWf_xmSmYQ?feat=directlink

In the picture, the pinblock is to the left and the hitchpins to the right. From what I can see, the windings on the upper three strings, when following the windings from pinblock (left) to hitchpin (right), and when viewed from the hitchpin (right) towards the pinblock (left), run anticlockwise, and hence one should give the hitchpin loop an extra anticlockwise twist as indicated in red - i.e. tightening the coil around the core wire. Correct? On the other hand, the windings on the lower three strings, when following the windings from pinblock to hitchpin, and when viewed from the hitchpin towards the pinblock, run clockwise, and should be twisted clockwise, as shown in green?

I'd be glad if one of you can confirm my interpretation of "in the direction of the windings".

@ tds: Alfredo sauce, by the looks of it, is what spoiled the strings in the first place, so I'll pass on that pasta.


Autodidact interested in piano technology.
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Mark R. Offline OP
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Just to conclude this thread: would anyone care to confirm my interpretation of the direction in which the strings in the picture should be twisted?

http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/aCG2Toi2IWnovWf_xmSmYQ?feat=directlink

Thanks!


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I was going to say that I confirm your interpretation, but then I remembered that you are south of the equator! I think it depends on which way the water swirls when you flush your toilet. (Just kidding, I agree with your interpretation.)


Jeff Deutschle
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Dear Jeff,

Many thanks for your feedback. I've been observing the vortexes in the bath, toilet, wash basin and wine glass - and you know what? The hemishpere really doesn't play a role... ;-)

(Rather, I'd prefer to wash some of the postings here down the toilet clockwise or anticlockwise.)

Anyhow, thanks for the confirmation - I'll keep it in mind when next I tackle my old Zimmermann.


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Mark:

It would tick the ship's engineers off when we would cross the equator and a bunch of ding-dongs would go around flushing toilets and running water down the sinks. You are right. It does not matter for sinks and toilets. DAMHIK wink


Jeff Deutschle
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Who taught the first chicken how to peck?

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