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It takes me about 3 hours to regulate a grand action of a good piano well enough for just about every pianist. That should not cost thousands of dollars.


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Originally Posted by Raindrops
I heard some people purposefully seek out 100 year old M&H and restore them. So there has to be something original still there after the restoration. Otherwise why do they bother?
What is preserved is the design. The core (rim and sub structure, plate, bridge root, cabinet parts) as well as reference points from the action are all that is needed to re-create the original piano design. Elective changes like choice of action parts and hammers affect the performance but can work with the core and original design. This is not against conventions of piano repair.

Many people think of "restoration" in their own terms or mistakenly equate what "restoration" means for other types of items (art restoration, gun restoration, car restoration, etc). Piano restoration has its own tenets, and performance restoration is done by returning the piano to like-new, emphasizing same or equivalent quality of design, materials and methods used. There are gray areas for non-modern instruments that may want a "historical" restoration, but a 1915 Mason & Hamlin BB is a modern instrument. Improving upon factory tolerances is one way to improve. Applying better principles of action balance is another. Whether using wood or WNG composite parts, using softer or harder hammers, using various custom bass strings fall to preferences. Execution can be objectively judged even if subjective tonal results cannot.

If you like a certain rebuilder's work and that rebuilder feels they can deliver more predictable, satisfying results using certain parts and small choice of hammers, etc, that's also part of what you are buying. Going back for many years, I see techs recommending a new idea or new technology, effectively "selling" the parts to get the work, but then applying it poorly (i.e. Steinway - Hamburg dimension parts screwed onto NY dimension rails). Better parts cannot make up for poor execution.

It looks like Nelson is pleased with his research that his rebuilder will execute well the design differences for both wood and composite parts. It sounds like a fun project as well. IMO, Mason & Hamlin BB from that era is the finest American piano made. We just completed a AA and have a BB currently in process.


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Nelson -
I don't mind that you aren't talking about cost, etc. I am interested in seeing the steps it took to go from before to after, and seeing how it looks now. I'm sure with new finishing it probably looks spectacular. Rebuilding a piano is like a journey, which is always interesting to hear about!

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Ok, so I'm back from never-never land. It's been some tough months with part of my house burning, racing injuries and other health problems but we all have these trials and I consider myself one of the fortunate ones.

Anyway, I want to pick up the barely begun story of my Mason BB1 rebuild which has progressed magnificently. I'm amazed at the workmanship that has gone into this great piano and it'll be a truly superb instrument when finished.

Having never documented a piano rebuild I'm not sure of the best way so I'll just give it a shot. Looking over the few posts I'd made earlier I see I haven't discussed who I chose to do the work. I'd contacted a few of the nationally prominent rebuild specialists and soon learned I wouldn't be sending my piano to any of them. I'll describe my negotiations with one of them, one of the most well known.

I called and had a nice conversation with one of the owners who then sent a very professional proposal outlining the process with pricing. I'd told him I wanted a full WNG (Wessell, Nickel & Gross) custom built replacement action installed which was included in the price. I know there are many technicians/builders who have no experience with WNG products so I called back and asked who at their facility had already done what I wanted. It turned out nobody there had ever done any WNG work but they assured me that a phone call to WNG would provide all the tech info they'd need. Yeah, right. I asked several general technical questions but they were unable to answer any and that was the last I heard from them which was fine as they never would have gotten the job.

Sadly this is one of the biggest reasons so many owners spend tons of money on rebuilds only to find their finished piano plays like crap and some of the problems can't be corrected and require starting over with someone who knows what they're doing. If you don't know what questions to ask, and why would most piano owners know, any 3rd rate tech will sound like they are fully competent to undertake the job.

So now I'm wondering where to turn when good fortune strikes. I live in central Florida, the town is Ocala, and a man named Bruce Fanzlaw owns a piano facility in Ocala with his wife, Nancy. Bruce has 40 yrs of tech work and major rebuilds while Nancy handles new and used piano sales. They own a large building and Bruce has the back half for repairs and rebuilds in a state of the art rebuilding facility.

As with so many serendipitous happenstances I came across them purely by chance and when I visited I was excited to learn of the work he's done. The fact that he has a close working relationship with both Mason & Hamlin and WNG, has gone through their training program and has built a number of complete customized actions was particularly encouraging. I've played 3 or 4 of the WNG actions he's built and they are as good as I'd heard. I consider having the rebuilder I was hoping to find living in my town was tremendous good luck.

This thread is not about advertising a particular rebuilder but I can't see how I'd describe the process without including information about who's doing the work. I think it might be best that any questions about Bruce from this point on be sent to me offline.

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Thanks for the update. I don't think mentioning the rebuilder is out of line at all. But then again; I "are" one!


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When I first began discussions with my builder he visited my home and inspected my BB. This initial evaluation was to determine if my piano was worth spending the money to rebuild. He wanted to know what could be done to the piano and what couldn't so he looked to see how closely or not my B had remained to the original design specifications. There wouldn't be much point in further considering a rebuild if this piano wasn't suitable and perhaps I'd be better served to look elsewhere for a different piano, either a player or rebuild candidate.

He obviously reviewed the condition of the case, checked the entry height, how much crown was in the soundboard, the condition of the bearing components and I'm sure a number of other things that would immediately be apparent to him. While the B had received some pretty hard use and neglect in the 100 years of its life and some parts had been changed for the worse, Bruce felt it could be a wonderful piano after an extensive rebuild.

I had the B transferred to his shop where he began a far more thorough inspection in order to create a build program as a basis for a repair contract. How far did I want to go to rebuild the B, what was my budget and how would that compare to what needed to be done, what was my timeframe for wanting/needing the piano back in my home and how much time and effort was he going to have to spend? Largely based on the info back from him and partly because I decided it was important to me to have a piano that was really worth owning I gave him the go ahead for a full, no holds barred rebuild and we worked out a contract.

Now the serious study of the B commenced and I was quite surprised at how detailed his investigation and measurements were of all aspects of the piano. We have a more or less open understanding of how long the process would be since he doesn't do this kind of work in a rush and I had something else to play on at home. If Bruce figured a particular area of work might require 10 hours and he chose to spend 25 hours that's fine by me since we have a contract specifying the cost. The fact that Bruce does the entire job in house including all the case refinishing was a selling point to me and he has no employees so everything done to the piano would be performed by the guy with the 40 years experience and not a less proficient or experienced tech.

So now the rebuild was under way. It's important for me to remind everyone that this isn't about instructing other technicians in the correct way to rebuild a piano or suggesting anyone might be doing things the wrong way. While I have considerable experience in mechanics and engineering, I've no experience in piano repair so I'm simply giving my take and understanding of how and why this piano is being rebuilt. The purpose I have is to alert other owners of what needs to be considered, watched out for, etc, if they are contemplating a rebuild and have no more knowledge of what is involved than I do. If the number of new threads about getting screwed on a rebuild drops by even 1 as a result of this thread I'll be pleased.
































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Looking forward to seeing/reading the rest...

Nelson, if you don't mind the curiosity: what are you playing while the M&H is being restored?

A couple of weeks ago I was in Chicago, had a couple of hours available and (of course!) went to see pianos... found a 1908 (restored ~2000) M&H BB that was a very nice if looking rather neglected instrument, with the "centripetal tension resonator" thing under the soundboard. Does yours have something of the sort? Did it help with keeping the soundboard in good conditions?

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I have a 7ft Young Chang PG-208 that's a very nice playing piano.

Yes, my BB has the tension resonator as did all masons after Richard Gertz designed and patented the idea in 1900. I'd have to do some research to learn if the resonator was ever discontinued for a time during the years of Aolian ownership starting in 1932 when cost cutting changes began to be implemented. When Bud Greer bought mason in 1989 he returned production to the original Gertz design and certainly from then forward all mason grands have included the resonator but my guess is every mason grand since 1900 has included it. The current owners, the Burgett brothers are committed to the quality standards of mason's golden age around the turn of the century.

My soundboard still had some crown but it was pretty beat up looking with some repairs having been done to it over the years. There was no way I'd have used the original board for the rebuild. The piano was worn out as far as the action, pedals/trapwork, strings and soundboard were concerned but the rim/case and harp were all as solid as the day they were built. Mason rims are legendary for being massive and the resonator is a big, heavy piece of equipment so the combination creates one heck of a solid unit. My BB didn't play too good but it still had monster sustain. The pin block was in original condition after 100 years with no oversize replacement pins and it held tune perfectly well but again no way I'd have undertaken a complete rebuild without a new pin block.

This BB is getting ready for its next 100 years of service and if it gets better treatment this time around it'll be a magnificent instrument on its 200th birthday.

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Actually I mis-spoke when I said the pin block was original with no oversize pins. The pin block was original but bigger pins were installed when the piano was restrung at some point. Trying to be factually correct throughout this discussion as best I can.

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So after the extensive examination process and our discussions about whether or nor the things I'd like in the piano were possible, it was time to begin work. The lid, legs, lyre and the plate were removed after the strings were cut out. The legs were non-original and it was impossible to know why they had been replaced. The best guess is they got wet over the last hundred years and the replacement legs were too short and not fit correctly.

The legs being too short caused the lyre to be modified. The legs also wouldn't lock in place using the camlock system developed by Mason all those years ago because they had been altered and incorrectly transferred to the replacement legs. The result was the piano was in jeopardy of falling over from a strong hipcheck. The mechanisms have now been changed to a newer style and the legs are now positively locked in place. It was simpler to use a different lock mechanism although the original Mason mechanisms are very good when correctly installed.

I'm adding pics now and will upload many new ones as this thread moves along. There will likely be 400-500 pics taken by the time this rebuild is completed. I'm trying a different image hoster and hope this works well for everyone as this isn't something I've done much of. If you see a bunch of edits it'll be me trying to get the pic uploads to work.

http://postimg.org/gallery/2t7ij5hsm/

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Modern Mason & Hamlin legs, rather than what would have been original, I see.


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Yep, original legs gone in which decade we know not.

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I noticed it because when I rebuilt an RT into a T, I tried to emulate the style of Mason & Hamlin legs of the period. Straight legs with ferrules, not spade legs. The spade legs with ferrules seem odd to me.


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Here are some pics of the early stages during evaluation.

http://postimg.org/gallery/3ivyam72u/

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On the front edge of the lid you can see where different layers of paint and primer have been uncovered atesting to several refinishes over the years. When I got the piano it was obvious it needed a refin.

The harp didn't look too bad but nothing like how it would turn out. The dampers were pulled for new felt and refin. You can see where repairs had been done to the soundboard, it was like that in numerous places. The wooden termination bars needed replacement and upgrading. There are a couple pics of the dampers in place.

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I uploaded some pics of the earliest work done on the BB1 including paint stripping, sandblasting the harp and making repairs to the side arm of both sides.

At the side arm area, as I understand it, Steinways and Mason’s often have problems with delamination on older pianos and pulling off the old veneer for replacement is not uncommon. This isn’t completely surprising since the veneer at that location has multiple curvatures over a small area and the hide glues at the turn of the century, while surprisingly effective, aren’t up to the standards of current adhesives. The repair looks perfect when finished.

In a couple of sandblasting pics you can see your’s truly pounding away on the painted plate which is the only part of the rebuild I was allowed to take part in. I’m not sure what the big letter and numbers on the back of the plate signified but they looked original so we left them.

http://postimg.org/gallery/xube1rme/

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I don't see any sand blasting pics. Is there a way to see more pics on that site?


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You're absolutely right, Cynthia. I was planning sandblast pics for next post and forgot they weren't with this bunch. I'll have them up tomorrow.

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Here are pics of the plate being sandblasted and looking great with all the old paint off.

http://postimg.org/gallery/jk96c9p2/


Previous pic links:
http://postimg.org/gallery/2t7ij5hsm/

http://postimg.org/gallery/3ivyam72u/

http://postimg.org/gallery/1val16xcm/

Last edited by Nelson Muntz; 07/18/16 02:25 PM.
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As a general question on re-building;
Do manufacturers make parts specs available to re-builders ?
I'm thinking of the line drawings that were used 100+ years ago to create lyre, legs, leg camlock, etc.

M&H, S&S, etc probably have these all stored electronically now, having gone through the micro-fiche era - - but are they AVAILABLE to re-builders ?

I know M&H ownership has changed hands several times and may not have had a full time archivist/librarian, S&S may have been more contiguous.

Follow-up question;
Does PTG or any other organization have such documentation, either factory original or measured ?

Last edited by R_B; 07/18/16 03:24 PM.
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