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#2086072 - 05/21/13 12:07 AM 50 Yr. Old Steinway L Gets New "Do"  
Joined: Jan 2010
Posts: 4,400
Cinnamonbear Offline
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Cinnamonbear  Offline
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Rockford, IL
WARNING: This post is appx. 2,300 words long, a typically chatty "Samuel Pepys" report from me...

(As I recall one of my English professors say in a lecture, "Literature has a dual purpose: to entertain and educate," I make no apologies... ...Yet. Even so, I hope I have provided some of each for disparate readers--entertainment for the well informed, education, perhaps, for others who wonder how much 8 hours of work can improve a piano...)

Over the past year, I've been getting to know a solid Steinway L at a Senior Assisted Living Center where I play atmosphere music twice a month over lunch time on a Sunday (light classical, light jazz, and vintage American pop--you know my schtick). As I got to know the piano, I started noticing things. First, I noticed the amount of work it took to play the piano, which I just chalked up to it being a Steinway. (I've never been a fan of "The Steinway." As a pianist, I've always considered them to be a bit hard to work with in terms of touch--somewhat miserly on the cooperation side of things. That is, I've never played a Steinway that completely cooperated with my keyboard expectation and desires. On the other hand, I've "become one" with a few Yamahas here and there that drew me into the mind meld and fulfilled my every desire. Know what I mean?) Next, I noticed 1/4" of dust on the soundboard, paper crumbs and dust in between the tuning pins, and some rather dirty keys. Then, at some point in time, between the Sundays that I played, two bass notes went way, way out of tune. I noticed two exceptionally loose tuning pins in the bass that, when I got permission to check them, did what I came to find out is called, in the biz, "power steering." Then, when I got permission to tune the whole piano, discovered an overall mis-alignment of the hammers, which were shifted too far to the left, making the soft pedal ineffective for anything except tuning tri-chord unisons. I also noticed a few other hammer misalignments of the skewed variety.

During this time of discovery, I also met the owner of the piano--one of the residents, a Grande Dame if ever there was one (and a delightful one at that)--and, Wonder of Wonders, in a serendipitous meeting on the day that I was tuning, the recipient of the piano in due time--her granddaughter--who was there from WAY out of town for a short visit. It occured to me that, since this piano was in use for the enjoyment of the residents of the senior center at present, and, since this piano had a known future home of one who would want to play it for sentimental and pianistic reasons, that it would be a good thing to end the obvious neglect and bring this piano up to some kind of snuff.

I suggested some work.

Told the staff-in-charge about my mentor, Bill Bremmer. Fixed the loose tuning pins with CA glue upon Bill's instruction. Identified the root of the hammer alignment/soft pedal problem by talking with Bill. Offered to clean the piano for free (which I did on a rainy day--that's just me being me--sorry fellas (btw, thanks Ron Koval for posting the YouTube vid with piano cleaning tricks)). And explained the problems of this fine instrument to staff-in-charge (eventually by expository e-mail essay, which related the problems caused by the soft pedal mis-alignment, necessitating hammer re-shaping, and let-off and drop adjustments), who communicated my concerns to the family, who went on to hire Bill for a day's worth of work to bring the piano up to some kind of snuff.

So, this is a report about what we did, what Bill called, "a rough regulation," and my impressions (as somewhat of a pianist/performer) about the difference that it made.

Bill's immediate assesment was that this piano had not been played very much in its 50 years, (corroborated later that day by the piano's owner) and that, besides the soft pedal alignment problem, it was not in too bad of shape.

The first thing was to fix the gross hammer mis-alignment, which was accomplished by shimming that block on the left of the piano that you can see when the action is pulled out, the one with the two screws holding it in place, the one that the action rests against that has the white felt glued to it (don't know the name of it, and can't find it in Reblitz). It looked like it had been shimmed before with a piece of "tortoise shell" formica (unless Steinway used formica in the 60s, in which case it wasn't a shim, but something prescient...) We shimmed further using a few thick cardboard front rail punchings that Bill determined would be about the exact right dimension (it was), applied with a thin coat of Elmer's, along with two and a half turns in (I think it was) of the adjustment screw on the opposite side of the piano (the one that mashes into the buckskin dot). That did the trick of putting the hammers where they needed to be under the strings. Then, Bill went about using the flange spacer and the Bic lighter to align the hammers that needed it a little more attention:

Bill aligning hammers
[Linked Image]

At this point, we also checked the keys for leveling. A small handfull needed very thin punchings, which we placed on top of the keys at the keypins to put on the balance rail later. After all of that, Bill went on to re-shape the hammers.

After turning the action around and using the piano as a table, Bill put the key slip along the backchecks, and then lined the action with newspaper.

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Then, he went about the work of filing with a coarse Perma-Grit tungsten carbide flat file, sanding from the grooves down, and from the shoulder to the grooves.

[Linked Image]

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It took a few swipes to follow the contours, one section at a time...

[Linked Image]

Then, Bill used a piece of 120 grit sandpaper to "shoe shine" the hammers he had just filed:

[Linked Image]

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A thing of beauty is a joy to behold:

[Linked Image]

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[Linked Image]

All of that shaping took Bill about an hour.

While we still had the newspapers in, we rubbed teflon powder on the jack knuckles. After that, Bill aligned the wippen assembly to the hammers (with a story about why wippen is spelled without an "h"). At this point, Bill determined that the jacks were in good position in the repetition lever, the repetition springs were fairly well tensioned, and the backchecks were catching the hammers appropriately. We then adjusted the capstans to put the hammer shanks about 1/8" from the hammer rest rail. Then, Bill turned each let-off screw about one full crank. After that, Bill adjusted the drop screws. Then, he had me finesse the hammer line while he adjusted the damper guide rail. It think it was about at this point when we removed the stack and put the balance rail punchings into place, and at some point, Bill also adjusted the key frame glides, but because I am a bad student, I don't remember exactly when.

We put the action into the piano, and Bill asked me to play a bit at tell him my impression. It was a lot better, but "tight." So, we took the action out, and Bill adjusted the damper guide rail. I was astounded at the difference that that made. Bill put a tuning on the beast, and at that point, we called it a day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

I stayed to play over the dinner hour, because after all of that activity in the dining hall all day long, with the commensurate questions and gossip among the residents about what was going on with the piano, there was no way I was going to get out of there without playing a few tunes.

While I put the piano through some relative paces, I noticed three significant things: 1) Improved tone. (Actually, I noticed this as soon as Bill started tuning, even with the temperament strips in.) 2) Improved predictablity of touch. 3) Improved dynamic control.

The improved dynamic control is very important at this place. The first time I played atmosphere music at this senior center, I put the piano at the small-stick, and started out very gently with Bach's French Suite No. 5. I had not even got through the first repeat of the first movement's second section when one of the wait staff approached the piano and said, "Some of the residents are complaining that it's too loud. Can you please turn it down?" I did *NOT* say, "Yes, let me just find the volume knob. I know it's here, somewhere." LOL! grin But I *did* smile and say, "Sure!," closed the lid and played as quietly as I could. It occurred to me later that, in putting the lid at small-stick, I was reflecting sound waves in the bright key of G maj. into the dining hall at ear level, right into hearing aids attenuated to accentuate the mid-range. Ouch. Since then, I have scaled the dynamics to never go above mezzo forte. What I noticed after our rough regulation was an ability to finesse the scaling of the dynamics, with mezzo piano as the default starting point--and this without the use of the soft pedal. In fact, I am such a dunce that I did not even think about trying the soft pedal while I was playing that afternoon. I think that is testament to what a difference was made by the hammer re-shaping and the rough regulation.

I did notice some weirdness up and down the keyboard in places, but especially in the baritone section. From about A2 to A3, there was some degree of unpredictability. I wondered at the amazing difference the damper guide rail adjustment had made in "tightness" vs. "looseness," and thought whether or not there was a happy middle to be found. But because I am a rather poor pianist, I was not sure if it was the piano, or, if my technique was at fault. I slept on it, and went back the next morning before going to work to check my senses. I played for about a half hour, and got the same feeling. I was still not sure if it was bad technique or recalcitrant piano, so, I e-mailed Bill about it, who replied with some ideas about what might be going on, especially regarding the damper guide rail. He said he'd be in town today doing some other tunings, so we met today for about an hour and a half, and finessed the rough regulation a little bit.

Now, just so you know that I am extra picky where others might not be, as I arrived at the Senior Center today, someone was just getting up from the piano. I introduced myself and told her I'd been working on the piano with my teacher, and asked her what she thought of the piano--did she notice any improvements? Turns out, she was not a resident (sorry! It was hard to tell... I don't know everyone there, yet...), rather, a teacher who was bringing her students in for a recital a few weeks from now. She had just come to the Senior Center to see if the piano was suitable for her students' recital. She said that she had just run a chromatic scale up the keyboard and it seemed fine and very much like her Steinway D at home. (She said "Steinway D" with a great deal of pride, and even thrust her chest out a bit when she said it. LOL!) Then, she sat down and played a Chopin nocturne, beautifully, and as she was playing, said, "It's lovely! It's very even." We exchanged some pleasantries, and as she was leaving, Bill arrived.

Sure enough, the damper guide rail was the culprit. There is a notch in the rail at about that point (somewhere around B2, I think?), just enough to cause the rail to bow. Bill had me put it in place, and showed me some details about damper "hop." What a difference 1/16" makes!!! Bill also checked some individual spring tensions, and lowered the hammer line a scoatch while I adjusted the drop by a similar scoatch. One key required a slight let-off adjustment.

Bill had me put the action back in, and then play it. WHOA!!! O.k.--it was not the Yamaha I've been pining for, but, WHOA!!!, it was N i i i i i i i i i i ce!!! I mean, really niiiiice!!! Fast and crisp!!!

I played over the dinner hour, again, which was a blast, and this time had no impression that there was any slight weirdness in the responsiveness. Got lots of compliments about the sound of the piano and the playing. Shared lots of laughs with the residents, and strengthened more relationships through the music and the memories it elicited.

Before the dining room filled up with people, I managed to make a recording with my little Tascam DP-004. I wanted to record the Chopin Etude Nouvelle No. 2, but that one wasn't happenin' today. So, I fell back to Scriabin--a simple prelude that you've heard from me before. Sorry for the re-run, even though this is a new iteration. This is played with the soft pedal engaged, lid fully open, digital recorder on the treble side of the music desk.

Scriabin, Prelude Op. 13, No. 3 on a Steinway L

That's my story, and I'm sticking with it. If any of you made it through this whole post, thank you for reading and congratulations for your tenacity and perserverance. Thanks also to Bill for being an excellent teacher, and who, if he has anything to add to this account, I hope he does.


I may not be fast,
but at least I'm slow.
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#2086433 - 05/21/13 07:20 PM Re: 50 Yr. Old Steinway L Gets New "Do" [Re: Cinnamonbear]  
Joined: Aug 2011
Posts: 2,604
Dave B Offline
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Dave B  Offline
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Joined: Aug 2011
Posts: 2,604
Philadelphia area
It's great to spend a whole day with a tech like Bill Bremmer. Reading through your post, I'm assuming you're talking about the damper up-stop rail adjustments. In some pianos it is difficult to adjust the damper bounce to be equal with and without the sustain pedal activated. I service a Steinway "M" with an up-stop rail that becomes loose so often, I'm ready to use super glue on it.

"Imagine it in all its primatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls - our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure!" - William Carlos Williams
#2086435 - 05/21/13 07:33 PM Re: 50 Yr. Old Steinway L Gets New "Do" [Re: Cinnamonbear]  
Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 25,622
BDB Offline
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Old pianos often had the up-stop rail pinned in place, as well as screwed.

Semipro Tech
#2086440 - 05/21/13 07:49 PM Re: 50 Yr. Old Steinway L Gets New "Do" [Re: Cinnamonbear]  
Joined: Apr 2013
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dynamobt Offline
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Piano sounds great! And so do you, Andy! You played that very well.

It always amazes me how a person who knows what they are doing can improve so many aspects of a piano in such little time. What an instructive day!!!

1918 Mason & Hamlin BB
1906 Mason & Hamlin Es
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#2086510 - 05/21/13 10:22 PM Re: 50 Yr. Old Steinway L Gets New "Do" [Re: Cinnamonbear]  
Joined: Aug 2002
Posts: 4,006
Bill Bremmer RPT Offline
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Bill Bremmer RPT  Offline
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Madison, WI USA
Yes, it was the damper up-stop rail Andy was talking about (although I think I just called it the damper stop rail). The damper guide rail is the piece that the damper wires run through. I often tell people of the importance of the adjustment of that one piece alone. If everything else is regulated anywhere from reasonably well to superbly, if the damper up-stop rail is far too high, it gives the action an ill-timed, sloppy feel.

Thanks BDB for pointing out that one may find it nailed into place with finish nails on certain old grands (but I have never seen that on a Steinway). I did tell Andy about that too. If it is nailed in place, you can bet that will be one of those pianos where the damper up-stop rail is far too high. Murphy's law.

While it seems to be and can be a simple adjustment, it can also take some trial and error to get it right. I suppose one could select a few keys, depress them fully, then carefully place a wedge mute under them to keep them propped up, then set the damper up-stop rail to them. Otherwise, it is trial and error to get it just right.

The rail can also bend somewhat as it can in a Steinway, so you have to make sure you have it adjusted evenly across the whole piano. You could also have it tilted so one end is lower than the other.

Some rails may not allow you to lower it all the way that is needed. In that case, you would have to elongate the slot with an appropriate sized drill bit.

Then, there is more. If you move the rail significantly, the sostenuto blade may not work and you have to adjust it.

If one has a limited amount of time or such as in this case, the customer paid for a full day's work but no more, you have to triage the diagnosis and do what will make the most positive difference in the time that is allowed.

Sure, an oversized pin for those in the Bass that were too loose would certainly take care of the problem but then, just that is traumatizing to the pinblock and eats up considerable time. A scant few drops of CA glue took care of that without any visible evidence of it. If that didn't work, then yes, something else would need to be done.

The hammer to string alignment problem was typical of what I often see. The material on the keyframe stop block has compressed, so the entire action has shifted to the left. In this case, simply shimming the keyframe stop block brought the entire action into rough alignment. Only a few hammer flanges here and there needed to be spaced and a few shanks "burned" after that.

As sometimes happens, the fore/aft position of the jacks was all OK, at least not worth spending any time on. The same was true of the repetition lever height. So, after hammer filing, it was merely the capstan, let-off and drop screw adjustments that made the difference.

Of course, all of the flanges needed to be tightened. There were two stripped wippen flange screw holes that were stripped. Again, a tiny amount of medium grade CA glue in the hole, put the screw in and let the glue cure, remove the screw, put back the wippen and the screw tightened up as if it were new material.

This was one of the notorious "Teflon Steinways". However, the resistance on all action centers was perfect and even. I have heard many complaints about those kind of parts but these were all fine.

I took maybe a little less than an hour to tune the piano during that 7 hour period. I used my generic Steinway tuning for the EBVT III that has been posted on PWF before. I tuned the wound strings by ear. It was not a concert or broadcast quality tuning but certainly sufficient.

The rough regulation ended up being quite fine. The let-off buttons were all turned a full turn counterclockwise. Only on the note, B2 did I end up a little too close upon further review. Everything else ended up right where it needed to be.

After spending considerable time coaching Andy how to set the damper up-stop rail, I could see that the drop screws could be improved a little, so we did that. I could also lower the hammer line just a little more for some optimum after touch.

One could, I suppose spend another half to full day fiddling with the jack position, repetition lever height, back checks and springs but I doubt that much of any significant improvement could be made.

The Steinway pianos of the golden "Teflon era" often had the Teflon bushings as a scape goat for other defects in materials and workmanship. I did not see the best hammer flange spacing and traveling I have seen, for sure. The hammer shanks all traveled well but many of the flanges appeared crooked as a result. A few knuckles had to be trimmed to get the best hammer to string alignment. They rubbed slightly against each other in a few places.

Andy and I both noted that some tuning pins looked crooked. I am not sure if the tuning pin holes were drilled slightly wrong or if, when the piano was new, someone bent the pins when trying to tune it.

The piano did, in the end, have a nice Steinway sound. There were no cracks in the soundboard. I have noticed that on other pianos of that era. In spite of some other sloppiness, they all sound good and are worth replacing the action parts with new material if the hammers are worn out. I have done that with three of those instruments and have had very good results, even though I do not consider myself to be in the rebuilding end of the business.

One such model D Steinway has been in a concert hall for well over 20 years. That is the one where the Canadian pianist said before the audience, "Thank you Mr. Piano Tuner, wherever you are". Tony Bennett also chose it over the Yamaha he had brought with him. Another is in the concert hall at the Technical College here. The new parts and hammers have been in service for five years now.

Bill Bremmer RPT
Madison WI USA
#2086616 - 05/22/13 06:35 AM Re: 50 Yr. Old Steinway L Gets New "Do" [Re: Dave B]  
Joined: May 2003
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Ed Foote Offline
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Ed Foote  Offline
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Originally Posted by Dave B
Reading through your post, I'm assuming you're talking about the damper up-stop rail adjustments. In some pianos it is difficult to adjust the damper bounce to be equal with and without the sustain pedal activated. I service a Steinway "M" with an up-stop rail that becomes loose so often, I'm ready to use super glue on it.

The STeinway design is such that the under lever pins are located approx 1/4" proximal to the tray pivot. This causes the underlever pins to rise when the tray pedal lifts the tray. As a result, there is no way to have the same clearance between the underlever and the upstop rail with key rise and pedal rise. In order to not jam the underlevers into the stop rail when the pedal is depressed and the note is played, there will have to be extra clearance when the keyend lifts the dampers by itself.

The discrepancy can be minimized by regulating the underlever height to the key end felt while the tray is in its proper position ( 1/8"-1/16" below under levers) and regulating it so that it lifts the dampers no higher than the keys do. It can be eliminated by moving the tray pivot points to be on the same axis as the underlever pins.

Last edited by Ed Foote; 05/22/13 06:36 AM.
#2086649 - 05/22/13 07:40 AM Re: 50 Yr. Old Steinway L Gets New "Do" [Re: Dave B]  
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Olek Offline
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Originally Posted by Dave B
It's great to spend a whole day with a tech like Bill Bremmer. Reading through your post, I'm assuming you're talking about the damper up-stop rail adjustments. In some pianos it is difficult to adjust the damper bounce to be equal with and without the sustain pedal activated. I service a Steinway "M" with an up-stop rail that becomes loose so often, I'm ready to use super glue on it.

The Sh... with that CA , you are really terrible wink As if that is the first word that come to mind in any piano problem !!!

insert piecase of shank cut to lenght above the rail, or even a few nails (that can be taken out later.

Professional of the profession.
Foo Foo specialist
I wish to add some kind and sensitive phrase but nothing comes to mind.!

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