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Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys #2791558
12/15/18 12:10 PM
12/15/18 12:10 PM
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Brittany, France
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petebfrance Online content OP
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Hi
my old upright piano that hasn't been used for about 9 years is recently tuned, sounds good etc. but the keys (except for the top dozen white notes) are creaky and resist playing. I thought that with playing they would free up, but that seems not to be the case.
I'd very-much appreciate your advice.
Have taken the front (top) off and had a look - apart from being dusty (well, very dusty) the keys look regularly spaced and from the outside they do too. The action seems ok, a bit lazy but quiet, so the keys have been pronounced guilty.
Our environment is fairly dusty, the soil around here being light and sandy, and the keys have often been left uncovered quite often for long periods of time. There have been regular periods of high humidity and the piano usually stands up to them well enough - but if dust / debris is the problem my guess is that would compound the issue.
I think my first course of action should be to remove the keys and vacuum, try to clean the whole lot up.
So, some questions:
1) is what I'm planning to do sensible, or is there another more likely explanation? (or, of course, is it a stupid idea for someone who knows nothing about pianos to do, come to think of it)
2) dismantling - does the action need to be lifted out (I've no idea how to do that), or can I just ease the keys from under it?
3) cleaning the keys - the wood and the, er, plastic, any recommendations on what to use to clean them, or do I just dust them down and hope?
thanks
regards
Pete

Last edited by petebfrance; 12/15/18 12:11 PM.

regards
Pete
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Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791658
12/15/18 04:21 PM
12/15/18 04:21 PM
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Look on YouTube there are excellent videos showing how to work on a piano - do this before you take apart your piano !

Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: Goof] #2791667
12/15/18 04:51 PM
12/15/18 04:51 PM
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petebfrance Online content OP
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Originally Posted by Goof
Look on YouTube there are excellent videos showing how to work on a piano - do this before you take apart your piano !

Thanks - will do that, I've seen a few but not found what I want yet. Will have another trawl around in the morning and see what I can find (I'd hate to put it back together afterwards and find a piece left over.)


regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791697
12/15/18 06:07 PM
12/15/18 06:07 PM
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There is a particular kind of creaking that in UK piano terminology is called "scrooping" and it arises on older pianos from friction between the tops of the key capstans and the felt or action cloth on the underside of the wippens.

You can hear that scrooping or creaking sound if you have the front panel and keyboard fall off, and listen carefully as you depress a key without doing so fast enough to play a note.

That may, or may not, be the creaking on your piano keys. If it is, you need to do some polishing and lubricating. If the key capstans are metal, clean and polish the tops with a mild metal polish and buff with a clean cloth. With the action out, apply Teflon powder to the felt or action cloth on the underside of the wippens. If the piano has wooden dowel capstans with slightly domed heads with black stuff on them, a firm buffing with a clean cloth might suffice on them, plus the Teflon powder to the wippen felts.

If you are going to do all that, it would be as well to remove all the keys, vacuum out the keybed (taking care not to vacuum up any of the felt washers!) and then lubricate the front rail and balance rail pins with Protek Prolube, or possibly with the Teflon powder. They keys can, with care, however, be removed from the piano without removing the action. If it is a large older upright however, the action may have "stickers" that are "tied" to the keys. That's more tricky for a first-timer.

It is not that difficult to take the action out (unless it's a spinet piano, but yo say it's an upright). But you do need to be careful - a piano action is 1) heavy 2) unwieldy and 3) fragile and easily damaged.

You mention that the keys resist playing. It may not be the keys that are the problem, but sluggish action centers. With the top panel off, if you move a group of hammers forward to the strings by hand, do they smartly fall back to the hammer rest rail, or do the return very slowly if at all? If the action centers and too tight, treatment with Protek CLP may help, but you need some skill in its application.

I am surprised that at the recent tuning, the technician did not give you any advice about these problems. Very odd.

Please note that advice given here cannot be a substitute for assessment in person by a capable tuner technician, nor is it our function here to do the latter out of a job!




Last edited by David Boyce; 12/15/18 06:16 PM.
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Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: David Boyce] #2791710
12/15/18 06:48 PM
12/15/18 06:48 PM
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Originally Posted by David Boyce
There is a particular kind of creaking that in UK piano terminology is called "scrooping" and it arises on older pianos from friction between the tops of the key capstans and the felt or action cloth on the underside of the wippens.

You can hear that scrooping or creaking sound if you have the front panel and keyboard fall off, and listen carefully as you depress a key without doing so fast enough to play a note.

That may, or may not, be the creaking on your piano keys. If it is, you need to do some polishing and lubricating. If the key capstans are metal, clean and polish the tops with a mild metal polish and buff with a clean cloth. With the action out, apply Teflon powder to the felt or action cloth on the underside of the wippens. If the piano has wooden dowel capstans with slightly domed heads with black stuff on them, a firm buffing with a clean cloth might suffice on them, plus the Teflon powder to the wippen felts.

If you are going to do all that, it would be as well to remove all the keys, vacuum out the keybed (taking care not to vacuum up any of the felt washers!) and then lubricate the front rail and balance rail pins with Protek Prolube, or possibly with the Teflon powder. They keys can, with care, however, be removed from the piano without removing the action. If it is a large older upright however, the action may have "stickers" that are "tied" to the keys. That's more tricky for a first-timer.

It is not that difficult to take the action out (unless it's a spinet piano, but yo say it's an upright). But you do need to be careful - a piano action is 1) heavy 2) unwieldy and 3) fragile and easily damaged.

You mention that the keys resist playing. It may not be the keys that are the problem, but sluggish action centers. With the top panel off, if you move a group of hammers forward to the strings by hand, do they smartly fall back to the hammer rest rail, or do the return very slowly if at all? If the action centers and too tight, treatment with Protek CLP may help, but you need some skill in its application.

I am surprised that at the recent tuning, the technician did not give you any advice about these problems. Very odd.

Please note that advice given here cannot be a substitute for assessment in person by a capable tuner technician, nor is it our function here to do the latter out of a job!





Thank-you. I'll go through this in the morning (I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'll need to translate into layman's terms either with my book or checking on the internet). The hammers return reasonably smartly (I think they are the same as they used to be, really) and the action seems quiet and reasonable but I'll have a closer look. The tuner / technician didn't seem to notice this problem - he fixed a non-working note, tuned the piano and pointed out that the holes in the wrest plank were 'oval' and strings tended to slip - suggested I got another piano...hmm (this has been a problem for a long time, the previous tuner just tuned it!).
As it's after mid-night here I'll resume my battle with the piano tomorrow and check things based on your advice. I don't intend to take the action out unless I have to - if it needs work then I'm probably not the person to do it, and it looks a bit to fragile.
If the problem is restricted to the keys then I can look at cleaning underneath, check the pins for rust / bending (unlikely?) and I do have some PTFE so could possibly lubricate (yes, I found some videos eventually!)

many thanks
Pete

PS, yes, it's a UK piano


regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791727
12/15/18 07:49 PM
12/15/18 07:49 PM
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In my experience (I am also in the UK) if you hear a little squeak, it is most often from the jack centres. Protek CLP cures it. But it can be a little tricky to get to the jack centres.

Another couple of capstan variants: Old English uprights often just had a woodscrew at the back of the keystick, with a piece of action cloth glued over it. The wippen heel would have graphite in solvent applied to it. The other variation is the 'rocker capstan' which is similar in that the capstan has action cloth and the wippen heel is wood with graphite.


Is it a birdcage action? (see my website to find out about those). Any pics might help.

P.S. I've found it surprising how many pianos have wrest plank (pinblock) holes that are oval at the front, yet still grip the tuning pins adequately.

Last edited by David Boyce; 12/15/18 07:51 PM.
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: David Boyce] #2791861
12/16/18 06:00 AM
12/16/18 06:00 AM
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Brittany, France
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petebfrance Online content OP
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Originally Posted by David Boyce
In my experience (I am also in the UK) if you hear a little squeak, it is most often from the jack centres. Protek CLP cures it. But it can be a little tricky to get to the jack centres.

Another couple of capstan variants: Old English uprights often just had a woodscrew at the back of the keystick, with a piece of action cloth glued over it. The wippen heel would have graphite in solvent applied to it. The other variation is the 'rocker capstan' which is similar in that the capstan has action cloth and the wippen heel is wood with graphite.


Is it a birdcage action? (see my website to find out about those). Any pics might help.

P.S. I've found it surprising how many pianos have wrest plank (pinblock) holes that are oval at the front, yet still grip the tuning pins adequately.


Thank-you. Will look at that too - just picked up my Piano Tuning book (published in 1907!) and found that whereas the grand and square piano actions have a diagram on one page with description facing, the upright is on one page and a long description follows - oh (expletive deleted). Will find a better and probably more up-to-date one on the internet.
It's a standard over-strung under-damped action, the make is Co-op's own 'Amyl' but although the frame has 'CWS' cast into it the action, according to a very good tuner / technician in the UK, is standard Kemble (and he reckoned made by them for the Co-op) so there shouldn't be any surprises there.
Will open the piano, have a look and take some pics.

thanks,
regards
Pete

Last edited by petebfrance; 12/16/18 06:01 AM.

regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791873
12/16/18 07:18 AM
12/16/18 07:18 AM
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Pictures of action here:
http://forum.pianoworld.com//ubbthreads.php/galleries/2791868.html#Post2791868
looks shinier and nicer in the pictures than it is in reality.


regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791877
12/16/18 07:57 AM
12/16/18 07:57 AM
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petebfrance Online content OP
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OK, have had a look.
Hammers come back smartly, so that end seems OK.
With the action 'held up' by the wippen, the keys are quiet.
The creaking sound appears to be coming from the wippen / capstan join, and moving action with the wippen is quiet but there is a varying amount of resistance with the creakiest and worst notes being the stiffest. So the connection between capstan and wippen is perhaps one of the culprits, but the varying amount of stiffness in the action above, being worse on the creakiest notes, suggests that the real problem may lie elsewhere - or, more likely, there's lots of 'real problems.'
Going to think about this with cup of coffee, as I'm not really sure how (or if) to proceed at this stage. Any suggestions gratefully received, but thank-you - looks like pulling all the keys out and cleaning under them would have been a long job for little improvement, if any.


regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791897
12/16/18 09:12 AM
12/16/18 09:12 AM
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David Boyce Offline
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Pete, thank you for the photos; very helpful.

Looks like you have a good quality large English upright piano, probably from the 1920s or 1930s. Yes, the Co-op (Cooperative Wholesale Society, or CWS for those outside the UK) did not actually manufacture pianos, but followed the venerable tradition (still much in evidence today) of having pianos "badged" for them to sell.

I don't think Kemble ever made piano actions - the action will probably be a Herrburger Brooks, or maybe a Renner.

I think if you do two things - or have them done - your problems will go away. They are 1) lubricate the Jack centres with Protek CLP and 2) clean and lubricate (with Teflon powder) the capstan/wippen interface.

You can do both of these with the action in the piano, but it's easier with it out, and placed upside down inside the action cavity.

You do not need to be too fearful about taking the action out of the piano. Just remove the two round knurled-edged nuts, one at either end, that hold the action brackets on to the action standard bolts, and the action should just lift out and away. Something things can be a bit compressed, and the action is slightly jammed on to the bolts, and gentle persuasion is needed. Also watch out for any oddities with the pedal rods at the left-hand end.

If, however, you don't feel confident about taking the action out, you can work with it in place.

I see from the photos that your keys have dowel-type capstans. The tops of these are a shallow dome shape, and they are coated with graphite which is applied in a solvent that dries leaving a graphite film that is then burnished. If you are being very thorough, you can apply new 'liquid graphite' and burnish. The keys need to come out for this, if you are leaving the action in place. After the graphite has dried, burnish with a soft cloth. BUT, I don't think you will need to apply new graphite. Just get some Teflon powder onto the action cloth on the wippen foot, where the capstan bears. An artists' brush with short stiff bristles will work. Just lift the wippen with a finger, and apply the powder with the brush.


As for the Jack centres, you need a plastic oiler bottle with long fine nozzle, available from the supply houses. I have put an arrow on one of your pics, showing where the Protek CLP needs to go: http://forum.pianoworld.com//ubbthreads.php/galleries/2791893.html#Post2791893

Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791899
12/16/18 09:17 AM
12/16/18 09:17 AM
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By the way, if your book is 1907, then I guess it's the J Cree Fisher one "A simple and accurate method for amateurs". It really isn't much good for describing repair processes.

It would be worth your while buying the Haynes Piano Manual. It's not that expensive, is in full colour throughout, and being by a UK technician, it features English pianos. (Currently £16:99 on Amazon).

Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791907
12/16/18 09:34 AM
12/16/18 09:34 AM
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Thank-you. I understand that! I'll see if I can find the CLP and plastic oiler bottle (not sure how easy that will be to apply - presumably needs to be done from both sides, and access is rather tricky.) I have some sort of lubricating powder but I think that it is PTFE.
Certainly looks like it would be easier to do with the action out - a nice project for the longer winter evenings.
As an aside, I do remember (now) the tuner saying something to the effect that repairing the piano would probably cost 2 to 3 thousand euros, but at the time I thought he was referring just to replacing the wrest plank - perhaps he was considering the repair to the action too.
Anyway, thank-you very much, I know 'where I stand now' - I'll look this stuff up and decide if I have the nerve to tackle the job!
thanks
regards
Pete


regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791909
12/16/18 09:47 AM
12/16/18 09:47 AM
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My opinion from seeing the age of those bridle straps is that the wippen felts are just as old and have indentations in them?... This, plus the buildup of dirt would definitely cause a key to be difficult to depress smoothly, and would definitely lend to a "creak" in the process.

Really, this piano looks like it is in need of some reconditioning work at minimum.
If the bridle straps are old and brittle- you might think twice about pulling the action out. Had a customer who tried this with their old upright and soon found that they could not get the action back in. Several of the bridle straps were broken and the lower action parts were allowed to drop when the action was removed. Upon going to put it back in he found that the parts were jamming-- which is exactly what happens, unless you know how to free up the jacks when re-installing. Just a heads up there.


Parks and Sons Piano Service
www.parksandsonspiano.com
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: David Boyce] #2791914
12/16/18 10:09 AM
12/16/18 10:09 AM
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Originally Posted by David Boyce
By the way, if your book is 1907, then I guess it's the J Cree Fisher one "A simple and accurate method for amateurs". It really isn't much good for describing repair processes.

It would be worth your while buying the Haynes Piano Manual. It's not that expensive, is in full colour throughout, and being by a UK technician, it features English pianos. (Currently £16:99 on Amazon).


Yes, that's the one! The language is really quaint, but tbh although it was pleasant read I'm a bit wary of using it, so will look at the Haynes manual.
Btw, there's a plaque on the action which is mostly covered by a metal plate (good planning, that) but it looks like Herrburger Brooks from what' visible - a shame, really, because although I like the action (very light, I suspect many would hate it) it would be nice to boast of a Renner action!


regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: Rick_Parks] #2791920
12/16/18 10:25 AM
12/16/18 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Rick_Parks
My opinion from seeing the age of those bridle straps is that the wippen felts are just as old and have indentations in them?... This, plus the buildup of dirt would definitely cause a key to be difficult to depress smoothly, and would definitely lend to a "creak" in the process.

Really, this piano looks like it is in need of some reconditioning work at minimum.
If the bridle straps are old and brittle- you might think twice about pulling the action out. Had a customer who tried this with their old upright and soon found that they could not get the action back in. Several of the bridle straps were broken and the lower action parts were allowed to drop when the action was removed. Upon going to put it back in he found that the parts were jamming-- which is exactly what happens, unless you know how to free up the jacks when re-installing. Just a heads up there.

I agree. It was bought reconditioned in the 1970s, and has had a tough life (3 people playing, two going through grades, some not too gentle playing.) I'd almost be tempted to pay the 2/3 thousand euros for repairs, but am not too keen on having the wrest plank replaced because this carries the risk of breaking some of the strings and I suspect that matching new with old would be difficult. A problem I have, though, is that because of the dreaded BREXIT, I don't know if I will still be living here in France for a reasonable length of time so am not keen to commit to any largish outlay of cash - which includes, of course, buying another piano. On buying: new is probably out of the question (apart from anything else, at my age a new one would well outlast me and be a problem for the family to deal with!), the second-hand market looks to be a pain to navigate and I'm really not impressed with the digitals I've tried.
Thank-you for the warning about the bridle straps. The ones I've checked over look OK and the action feels pretty solid. I have to admit, though, that I am quite keen to leave it in place if I can. I've cleaned a lot of it off with a vacuum cleaner (carefully, though) and it looks to be in good shape, but I'll examine the bridle straps more closely if I think I need to take the action out.

thanks
regards
Pete

* edited to add - yes, the felts must be pretty worn by now. I don't know if they were replaced when it was reconditioned, but even so, they must be pretty bad.

Last edited by petebfrance; 12/16/18 10:27 AM.

regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791924
12/16/18 10:31 AM
12/16/18 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by petebfrance
Originally Posted by Rick_Parks
My opinion from seeing the age of those bridle straps is that the wippen felts are just as old and have indentations in them?... This, plus the buildup of dirt would definitely cause a key to be difficult to depress smoothly, and would definitely lend to a "creak" in the process.

Really, this piano looks like it is in need of some reconditioning work at minimum.
If the bridle straps are old and brittle- you might think twice about pulling the action out. Had a customer who tried this with their old upright and soon found that they could not get the action back in. Several of the bridle straps were broken and the lower action parts were allowed to drop when the action was removed. Upon going to put it back in he found that the parts were jamming-- which is exactly what happens, unless you know how to free up the jacks when re-installing. Just a heads up there.

The ones I've checked over look OK and the action feels pretty solid. I have to admit, though, that I am quite keen to leave it in place if I can. I've cleaned a lot of it off with a vacuum cleaner (carefully, though) and it looks to be in good shape, but I'll examine the bridle straps more closely if I think I need to take the action out.
.

in some cases and in some places of an action you can try to use a bicycle pump or a large medical enema

Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: Maximillyan] #2791930
12/16/18 10:58 AM
12/16/18 10:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Maximillyan
Originally Posted by petebfrance
Originally Posted by Rick_Parks
My opinion from seeing the age of those bridle straps is that the wippen felts are just as old and have indentations in them?... This, plus the buildup of dirt would definitely cause a key to be difficult to depress smoothly, and would definitely lend to a "creak" in the process.

Really, this piano looks like it is in need of some reconditioning work at minimum.
If the bridle straps are old and brittle- you might think twice about pulling the action out. Had a customer who tried this with their old upright and soon found that they could not get the action back in. Several of the bridle straps were broken and the lower action parts were allowed to drop when the action was removed. Upon going to put it back in he found that the parts were jamming-- which is exactly what happens, unless you know how to free up the jacks when re-installing. Just a heads up there.

The ones I've checked over look OK and the action feels pretty solid. I have to admit, though, that I am quite keen to leave it in place if I can. I've cleaned a lot of it off with a vacuum cleaner (carefully, though) and it looks to be in good shape, but I'll examine the bridle straps more closely if I think I need to take the action out.
.

in some cases and in some places of an action you can try to use a bicycle pump or a large medical enema


Interesting, thanks. Unfortunately I don't have either of those, but yes, I would have prefer to blow the dust off rather than vacuum (but preferably with the action out of the piano). I think, though, somewhere or other there may be an air pump for inflating camping mattresses which may do the job.


regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791938
12/16/18 11:12 AM
12/16/18 11:12 AM
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Scotland
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David Boyce Offline
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David Boyce  Offline
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It's a good point about the bridle tapes (or bridle straps, in USA parlance).

You could, as a precaution, run some masking tape along the whole length of the wippens or perhaps on the bridle wires, to tie them all together and stop any odd ones dropping if the tape is broken.


Rick, as a 'quick fix' for 'scrooping' or creaking at the capstan/wippen interface, I've found that in these old English uprights, the use of Teflon powder really does suffice. I totally agree with what you say, of course, about the likelihood of the wippen heel felt or action cloth being quite indented. The 'proper' way would certainly be to replace that material. And to re-graphite the capstans. But as a no-cost option, the Teflon powder does take away the creaking.

Pete, I wouldn't really consider wrest plank replacement. That would only be done as part of a full rebuild, which would be very expensive, and at the end of which, the piano, though playing well, would not be worth much more than it is now, because it isn't one of the 'big names' like Bechstein or Bluthner or Steinway.

If you look, for example, at the YouTube videos of Roberts Pianos in Oxford, you can see that they ONLY do that degree of work on those famous-name pianos, which they know they will be able to sell for a good price because of the 'brand cachet' (plus Oxford is one of the most moneyed places in Britain. That sort of work doesn't get done in Glasgow....).

Whereabouts in France are you, Pete?

Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791952
12/16/18 11:39 AM
12/16/18 11:39 AM
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Brittany, France
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petebfrance Online content OP
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David
thanks, yes a bit of masking tape seems like a good solution - actually even without the risk. Still a bit unsure about the jack centres - presumably poke the oiler inside the action and apply to the outsides of the pin/felt and it wicks the protek up?
The value of the piano in terms of price may not really be the issue because to get a good 2nd hand piano could cost the same amount if bought from the professionals advertising them here (with varying levels of guarantee, but watch the small print) and be worth not a lot when it comes to selling. Of course there is always a possibility of getting something good at a reasonable price if bought privately, but I have been keeping an eye on them over the last year or so and am dubious about finding one, at least anywhere reasonably local.
Professionals rebuilding and selling pianos I think have to see it in terms of what they can sell - they don't want the things to hang around for years waiting to be sold. Mine is described on a site called 'Virtual Piano' as 'noisy furniture,' the lowest rating they give - Roberts certainly wouldn't rebuild one. In my case it is a question of getting a piano I will enjoy playing, but of course with reconditioning this one there is a time without a piano and the possible risk factor involved.
Not a decision I want to have to make!
I'm in the 'extreme NW France', I suppose, at Audierne, which is in Finistère, Brittany. Soggy climate which pianos don't appreciate, and not a hot-spot for pianos in general.


regards
Pete
Re: Stiff, Creaky (and squeaky) Upright Piano Keys [Re: petebfrance] #2791959
12/16/18 11:50 AM
12/16/18 11:50 AM
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As an aside to this, the thoughts about replacing the piano were kind of damped when I came across this on an otherwise interesting set of repair videos from the same source:


regards
Pete
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