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Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs #2720437
03/10/18 10:26 PM
03/10/18 10:26 PM
Joined: Mar 2018
Posts: 15
NH
D
Dean Barker Offline OP
Junior Member
Dean Barker  Offline OP
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Joined: Mar 2018
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NH
About five years ago, after Bach’s various works for keyboard began to wind their way into my daily listening (thank you Gulda, Gould, Dershavina, many other brilliant pianists, and most of all, Rosalyn Tureck), I decided it was time to address one of my lifelong regrets: learning to play the piano. I guess you could call this my own version of a mid-life crisis?

So I looked into the most affordable way to go about this, and decided on an a lower end quality digital piano that met minimum requirements of weighted keys, dynamics, polyphony, etc., but something that, if this crazy mid-life crisis inspired idea turned out to be a disaster, I might be able to turn around and sell it.

Three and a half years later,. I was practicing daily on a (perfectly decent, would definitely recommend for starter hobbyists like me) Casio Privia, and having worked through Schirmer’s First Lessons in Bach, Books One and Two, was beginning to explore some of the Inventions and Preludes from the Well Tempered Clavier. At this point the daily practice and playing had become something I needed to do for my mental well-being. It became my “Calgon, take me away!”, my go-to source of joy, without which life was more troublesome.

I reached that inevitable point many of you will recognize: maybe it was time to start thinking about a real piano. Through the magic of the intertubes, I researched as much as I could, discovering this forum, among other sites, trying to thread the needle of having not a lot to spend while also obtaining a quality instrument.

Of course, I ended up doing the very thing everyone warns against doing: I become the proud owner of one of those massively heavy, ancient uprights someone’s giving away “for free.”

[Linked Image]

In my defense, it was a Steinway Model K, made smack dab in the heart of the “Golden Era.” And the tone, when the verdigris-frozen action and worn hammers let you hear it, was resonant and warm and textured and singing. The previous owner, who played Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and the like on it, hunted far and wide for a piano before she settled on it decades ago, and the reason was also, in her words, “the tone.” Besides, Piano Tech #1, who inspected it, said the soundboard and pinblock were in good shape, and that’s half the battle, right?

[Linked Image]

Piano Tech #1 replaced the bass strings, reattached a fair number of loose ivories, and felt confident Pro-Tek could do the trick on the verdigris.

It couldn’t. And then Piano Tech #1 sold his shop and moved away. Uh-oh.

Enter Piano Tech #2, Will Truitt, who, combining his decades of experience with his willingness to try new ways of doing things, proposed replacing the action with a new carbon fiber Wessell, Nickel & Gross one. Certainly not as inexpensive an option as picking up a “free” piano on the one hand, but on the other, if it worked out, I could end up with a really high quality machine for my piano hobby: golden era materials, design and structure with 21st century technology for the “engine” as it were.

[Linked Image]

In addition to the action replacement (with new Abel hammers), Will reglued some loose joints in the frame, fixed the trapwork, rebushed and custom re-leaded the keys, regulated the action and even voiced the hammers a bit after I played it in some. (I’m sure he did more than that as well, but that’s what I most remember). He also put modern sized dampers on when replacing the action, which I must admit, makes a big difference; thanks to that, gone is the old-timey echoey sound you hear on even very well rebuilt uprights due to the smaller dampers used back then.

[Linked Image]

It arrived last October, and despite new surroundings and the temperature changes of a northern New England fall to winter to “mud season” early spring, the tuning stability so far, even with an hour or so of practice a day, has been rock solid (knock on pinblock wood, haha…). The old soundboard and scale design plus the new Abels and WNG action make me happier than I thought I could be touch and tone-wise. One surprise to me is just how much power a 52’ upright can produce. I had no idea the volume it was capable of projecting; it has a much deeper and richer bass than I was expecting. I’m also really pleased with the sustain overall and especially around the fifth octave; it really can sing when it needs to. Even though this is just an upright and not a grand, it still betrays that New York Steinway textured tone character to it. Being still somewhat new to an acoustic piano, sometimes I will just play octaves or arpeggiated chords with the sustain pedal down to let the resonance wash over me. I have yet to hear an electronic speaker in my lifetime that can replicate that essentially therapeutic experience.

[Linked Image]

This is just a hobby, and most likely I’ll never actually perform in front of anyone besides family, but there is no question that this piano is somehow making me a better player. Not because it masks my weaknesses, but because the quality of it is such that I want to honor the sounds it can produce with the best playing I can muster. It’s an interesting relationship, between player and instrument, isn’t it?

I wrote this post primarily to thank the piano tech and rebuilding community for the work you do. I had no idea just how much a piano tech has to know and how much of it can really only be gained by experience; a truly amazing profession. I enjoy reading the posts on this forum, as well as watching YouTube channels like Living Pianos, Cunningham Pianos, Brigham Larson Pianos, Regi Hedhal, among others, as well as other following other techs and rebuilders on social media sites. Through my own experience with Will I have become a big believer in restoring golden era instruments. I know for marketing purposes Steinway would consider my WNG hybrid Model K a “Stein-was” or “Franken-steinway,” but I don’t care. I love the touch and tone and I hope I can continue to play on this wonderful tone production machine for many years to come. I didn’t understand the emotional connection players have to their pianos while I was on the digital, but I totally get it now.

[Linked Image]

One last thing, and it’s a little odd for me because I am a absolutely agnostic and uninterested with regards to religion and am not superstitious at all. I mentioned earlier that it was a regret of mine that I never took up piano earlier in life. When I was a kid, my mother offered to get me a piano and lessons because she saw that I had an interest in it, but knowing that we didn’t have a lot of money and that she was raising me and my brother as a single mom working two jobs, I never took her up on it.



My mother passed away almost a decade ago, but her birthday is September 15, and her lucky number was 17. The Model K that has found its way into my home was built in 1915, serial no. 171717.

[Linked Image]



More pictures at the gallery.


[Linked Image]









Last edited by Dean Barker; 03/10/18 10:33 PM.
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Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720440
03/10/18 11:32 PM
03/10/18 11:32 PM
Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 4,711
Seattle, WA USA
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Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
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Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 4,711
Seattle, WA USA
Congratulations on your piano! Thank you for posting about it. Will Truit is a wonderful piano technician. Enjoy!


In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible.
According to NASA, 93% of the earth like planets possible in the known universe have yet to be formed.
Contact: Ed@LightHammerpiano.com
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720488
03/11/18 09:29 AM
03/11/18 09:29 AM
Joined: Nov 2014
Posts: 153
North Tx
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dhull100 Offline
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North Tx
What a satisfying post to read. Thank you for sharing.

Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720595
03/11/18 10:51 PM
03/11/18 10:51 PM
Joined: Jan 2017
Posts: 441
Kitsap County, WA
squidbot Offline
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Posts: 441
Kitsap County, WA
Wonderful story and photos! Thanks for sharing, it was a fun read. Sounds like you’ll get a lot of pleasure from your instrument.



Currently learning: Beethoven "Easy" Sonata Op 49 No 2, Clementi Sonatina Op 36 No 1
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720651
03/12/18 08:51 AM
03/12/18 08:51 AM
Joined: Jan 2017
Posts: 418
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GC13 Offline
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Posts: 418
Congratulations! Your pictures are beautiful. I'm sure that is an amazing instrument. I love the WNG action in my S&S B. I'm sure it will bring you many years of enjoyment. Please post some recordings when you can.

Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720674
03/12/18 11:22 AM
03/12/18 11:22 AM
Joined: Mar 2016
Posts: 49
Colorado, USA
D
Dave in Denver Offline
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Dave in Denver  Offline
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Posts: 49
Colorado, USA
Congrats! I am always happy to see a great instrument brought back to life.


Dave In Denver
1916 Weber FR 6' Duo Art
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720676
03/12/18 11:25 AM
03/12/18 11:25 AM
Joined: Mar 2016
Posts: 49
Colorado, USA
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Dave in Denver Offline
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Colorado, USA
(duplicate post deleted)

Last edited by Dave in Denver; 03/12/18 11:25 AM.

Dave In Denver
1916 Weber FR 6' Duo Art
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720761
03/12/18 04:05 PM
03/12/18 04:05 PM
Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 260
Phoenix, AZ
agraffe Offline
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agraffe  Offline
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Posts: 260
Phoenix, AZ
Beautiful story/tribute, and it really never is too late to begin playing piano. I hope you find many more years of enjoyment with your Steinway.

Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720793
03/12/18 06:13 PM
03/12/18 06:13 PM
Joined: Jul 2017
Posts: 78
Salish Sea
Qwerty53 Offline
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Qwerty53  Offline
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Posts: 78
Salish Sea
What a wonderful tale; thanks for sharing the story. I hope you have many many happy hours and years of playing your piano!


”Mister Upright,” Yamaha YUS5. Goodbye digitals: Yamaha N1, P-115
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720838
03/12/18 08:40 PM
03/12/18 08:40 PM
Joined: Mar 2018
Posts: 15
NH
D
Dean Barker Offline OP
Junior Member
Dean Barker  Offline OP
Junior Member
D
Joined: Mar 2018
Posts: 15
NH
Thanks for the kind words everyone!

A few miscellaneous items:

Forgot to mention: in addition to the YouTube channels mentioned above, I am very fond of Roberts Pianos channel, on which I have learned loads about golden era uprights and piano rebuilding issues in general:

https://www.youtube.com/user/RobertsPianos

A note about that odd relationship between piano and player. As I relayed above, this ol' NY S&S has a tone that feels textured or layered when at its best (not sure I'm articulating it well, but those who have heard early NY S&S's may know what I mean). As such, it's probably not an ideal "Bach piano," the way a modern day Hamburg S&S or Fazioli or such would give you superior clarity of lines of counterpoint. But on the other hand, because of its tone character, it seems to have successfully gotten me to try some Satie and Schubert, because they sound so much more lovely on it than they do on my digital. I'm curious if there are folks in this community who have a piano whose character pushes them in the direction of some composers or periods or genres that they were not expecting to go to.

Lastly, when I record the piano on my smartphone it doesn't seem to do it justice; makes it sound almost underwater-ish (not great for a piano that is already not on the bright side of the tone spectrum). Recommendations on a mic that will not break the bank but records decently authentic audio from an upright are welcome. Thanks in advance...

Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720845
03/12/18 09:04 PM
03/12/18 09:04 PM
Joined: Sep 2016
Posts: 982
H
huaidongxi Offline
500 Post Club Member
huaidongxi  Offline
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Joined: Sep 2016
Posts: 982
thanks for sharing your experience. the vintage instruments can do very well with Bach, they encourage control of articulation, for example when the notation says, 'quasi non legato'. for me there's quite a bit of mutually complementary structure and technique in the works of Schubert and Bach.

this is heretical to the doctrine/dogma of some of the technicians/tuners who frequent the forum, but the composers from the early romantics and earlier gain texture from non equal temperament tunings. the piano available for most of my practice hours is a 56 in. high 1895 vintage upright tuned to a mild ' equal beat victorian' temperament.

Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2720956
03/13/18 09:04 PM
03/13/18 09:04 PM
Joined: Mar 2017
Posts: 63
Middle Atlantic
J
Joe302 Offline
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Joe302  Offline
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J
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Posts: 63
Middle Atlantic
Great story Dean and congratulations.
Glad you had the courage to upgrade your piano.
Many would have been afraid to alter the "original steinway" for fear of ruining its sound.

As for the sound, I have a 52" Kawai upright and it is a TANK!
My neighbor (who is quite a good piano player) was over the other night to play it and he was really surprised and impressed.
He was hitting the keyboard so hard, it felt like the piano was bouncing on the floor.
Joe


Proud owner of a Kawai KU-5D 52 inch professional upright.
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2742597
06/06/18 04:16 PM
06/06/18 04:16 PM
Joined: Dec 2017
Posts: 7
Cookeville, Tennessee
J
JasonInTN Offline
Junior Member
JasonInTN  Offline
Junior Member
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Joined: Dec 2017
Posts: 7
Cookeville, Tennessee
I really like what you and Will have done here. I'll bet it plays like a dream. I've never been a fan of big old uprights, but that one looks like something I could definitely enjoy. Congrats.

Last edited by JasonInTN; 06/06/18 04:21 PM.

Some of my keyboards:
1912 Ritmuller Art Case Grand, 1976 Baldwin Hamilton 243, 1973 Hammond C3, 1987 Yamaha HX-1, Casio PX-160, Casio PX-130, 3 Older Clavinovas, 2 pump organs, and an assortment of other toys.
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2742692
06/06/18 09:56 PM
06/06/18 09:56 PM
Joined: Mar 2008
Posts: 2,865
Northern VA, U.S.
ClsscLib Offline

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Joined: Mar 2008
Posts: 2,865
Northern VA, U.S.
Beautiful instrument. You ended up with a perfect piano, and it found its perfect owner!

Congratulations, and enjoy!


[Linked Image][Linked Image]
[Linked Image]

"People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

-- Florence Foster Jenkins
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2743184
06/09/18 08:31 AM
06/09/18 08:31 AM
Joined: Mar 2018
Posts: 15
NH
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Dean Barker Offline OP
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Dean Barker  Offline OP
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Posts: 15
NH
Thanks for the kind words!

Since posting, the K has received its spring tuning, along with a few very minor odds and ends adjustments that cropped up from playing it in (key leveling and damper adjustments in a few spots).

It gets at least an hour a day of practice time. On most days it sounds fantastic and I can't believe my luck. On a rare day a bit blurry and unfocused. On some days it sounds glorious and I *really* can't believe my luck. I attribute this variability to my mid-life ears and temperature/humidity changes on any given day. Hope to get a decent audio recorder at some point. My smartphone doesn't do it justice.

To be fair, I have very little experience playing other acoustic pianos, but I will mention this: a couple weeks ago I snuck into the practice rooms of a fancy liberal arts college and played a little on everything I saw, a variety of Yamaha, Steinway and Kawai uprights and baby grands. With the exception of one Yamaha grand with a nimble action and a surprisingly warm and rich tone, I wasn't jealous of any of them compared to what I've got at home. (Yes, I know that school pianos get absolutely wrecked, but still.)

Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2748622
07/01/18 07:58 PM
07/01/18 07:58 PM
Joined: Mar 2018
Posts: 15
NH
D
Dean Barker Offline OP
Junior Member
Dean Barker  Offline OP
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Posts: 15
NH
You all might enjoy this booklet I found today that Steinway made to help market the Vertegrand. I find it equal parts fascinating (esp. how they viewed their own sense of advancing piano design in the first 50 years of their history) and hilariously over the top in self-praise.

http://omeka.philaathenaeum.org/collections/items/show/2435#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=5&z=0%2C-207.8364%2C4180%2C3373.6728

Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2748668
07/02/18 02:08 AM
07/02/18 02:08 AM
Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 26,255
Oakland
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BDB Offline
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Oakland
Steinway really was a pioneer in the development of the vertical piano. Their action was way ahead of other makers in the early days, and the only thing they changed on it remains difficult today: replacing a screw adjustment for the damper lift with a spoon. I think they should have made more changes as time went on, and they could use a better action today, but the sound and playability can be quite nice. My V got traded for my Mason & Hamlin A, and the man who bought it went on to Mason & Hamlin and Hamburg Steinway grands.


Semipro Tech
Re: Rebirth of 171717, or, In Praise of Piano Techs [Re: Dean Barker] #2749394
07/05/18 02:06 AM
07/05/18 02:06 AM
Joined: Jul 2018
Posts: 14
LearnEveryDay Offline
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Dean Barker, I love the "warm tone" of your story as well as admire the confidence exuded from your self-making (do-it-yourself) spirit ! Trust me, you are not an isolated "case" of "...the proud owner of one of those ... ancient uprights someone’s giving away “for free.” laugh


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