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Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
#2827876 03/17/19 02:16 PM
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This weekend I took the knowledge gained from my poor old Welmar, and paid my daughter a visit to conduct some CPR on what her sister calls her 'pub piano', which was a freeby, and truly sounds like a saloon bar piano in an old western.

It's a Burlman & Co, London - no idea of age although from the cheap pine casing I'd guess 40s, and probably made under licence by someone else, as there's no makers name on the workings.

Can anyone help me to understand some things I found?

- Before tuning there was a clear change in tone at the bass break. This went away completely once tuned.

- There was a heater in the piano - a strip heater, with electrics as old as the piano. When would that ever have been a good idea?

- I'd also love to know why such a piano, once in tune (and I managed to fix the one damper which wasn't seating right too!) still sounds 'dirty' in tone. Is that just poor build quality, or is there anything I can do about it?

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Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
scruffy keys #2827942 03/17/19 05:17 PM
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I think the piano is probably a lot older than 1940's. Any chance of pics? To address the questions:

Change in tone at bass break: Probably the bass was more, or less, out of tune than the rest, creating the perception of 'difference'.

Heater: Is it a tube about an inch in diameter and about a metre long? It's an older version of a Dampp Chaser dehumidifier bar, designed to prevent moisture condensing in the piano. Properly, these should be part of a Lifesaver System, with heater bar, humidistat and water reservoir with humidifier bar. But in the UK the heater bar on its own can actually work very well in certain circumstances.

Dirty tone: Probably the hammer are deeply grooved and worn and in dire need of re-shaping - or possibly worn beyond that. Drifted centre pins can mean that the hammer butt is only secured at one side, making it wobble around terribly, and wearing a flat all over the striking surface. Photos?

Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
scruffy keys #2828144 03/18/19 07:35 AM
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Thanks David

Makes sense re the bass break. Fewer strings to be out of tune with each other I suppose laugh

The hammers weren't too badly worn. There was a bit of a flat, which I shaped slightly, but it wasn't horrific by any means. However the hammers were HARD.
There were some places I just couldn't get a needle in beyond a mm or so. The texture of the hammers was also very different to my Welmar, and not consistent. In places, they were more like that oasis stuff you put flowers in than felt... sort of grainy, if that makes sense.

It has come up OK, but coming home and playing the Welmar, which sounds like a bell, made me realise it's shortcomings.

All in all I was expecting worse though. It's overstrung and under-damped (hence me thinking it wasn't that old). All the tuning pegs were firm and moved smoothly. It had two broken strings when I started and 3 when I finished, so that will give me something to do on my next visit.

Have asked DD to take some photos.

Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
scruffy keys #2828373 03/18/19 05:05 PM
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Good stuff. Check the hammers for side-play. If some are very excessive - wobbling madly, it's likely that the centre pin will have drifted out one side of the flange. Also quite likely that all the flange screws in the piano will be a bit loose.

Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
David Boyce #2828517 03/19/19 03:53 AM
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All good there - I did all the shaping with the action out of the piano on the floor, and the action seemed level and free.

One thing I did notice - I had to turn the regulating screws a huge amount to get the let-off anything like right (by feel, not measured) Each screw about 3 or 4 half turns - lifting the button almost 1/4 inch. Not sure whether that's OK without changing anything else, but it was much better afterwards. Possible to play piano, as well as forte laugh

Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
scruffy keys #2828559 03/19/19 07:45 AM
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3 or 4 half turns shouldn't lift the buttons a quarter of an inch....

What was the let-off distance, approximately, and what is it now?

It's possible that the let-off rail may have shifted somewhat.

Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
scruffy keys #2828574 03/19/19 08:55 AM
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From your description of the hammer felt texture, it sounds as if they have deteriorated to the point of being the cause of the 'dirty' tone. That texture you describe sounds as if the felts have hardened and changed their texture entirely from that of a proper hammer felt. This is, in fact, commonly seen on the more aged pianos, and on pianos that have experienced major humidity/moisture issues in it life... The presence of a heating element is indicative of moisture issues.

"Clear change in tone at the bass break" -
Perfectly normal for an old piano with old bass strings... You can try backing off on a bass string 1/2 to 3/4 turn, remove it carefully from bridge pins by pulling outward on the string to "stretch out" the slack {don't allow the string itself to make contact with the back of the keybed, or it could damage winding), unhitch string down below at hitch-pin, then give the bass string 1/2 to 1 full turn (following the direction of the winding, not against it). You'll have to grip the string firmly with a tool after you have turned it (as it will want to flip back round to its original point)- grip it down near the eye-loop, on the steel wire part (not the winding area!).
Reinstall on hitch pin, place string back into proper position at the bass between the bridge pins, and bring back up to pitch. See if that brings back any life.
You can try it on one of the double-string unisons- that way if you break a string you still have one at least... It sounds like the strings are old and deteriorating as well- if there are 3 broken strings. Are any treb strings broken/missing?
* Note: Once you have the bass string off the hitch-pin, you could try also cleaning with 0000 steel wool (light rubbing up and down motion)-- this will get a lot of dirt and grime off it.

As Mr. Boyce, I too am willing to wager it is older than 1940's. Agreed as well that pictures would help very much, if a more accurate diagnosis is desired. Overstrung and 'under damped' can still mean it is more like turn of the century, or so.

But, at this point, my guess would be that you are not likely going to get rid of the 'dirty' tone, and accomplish any 'good' tone without hammer replacement.

As for the reg. buttons-
If the buttons are worn at an angle (slanted/pitted/compressed-on-one-side), this would give the appearance that it was raised 1/4", if you are now looking at the side that was not contacting the jack tender (little tail off the jack that is tripped by the reg. button) all those years.

All in all this sounds like a piano that, unless you wish to do some restoration work, is not able to have much expected from it by anyone.


*** Edit: and accomplish any 'good' tone without hammer replacement.
change that to "Hammer replacement AND string replacement"


Last edited by Rick_Parks; 03/19/19 08:58 AM.

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Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
scruffy keys #2828704 03/19/19 02:43 PM
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A very good video on overhauling an action is to be found on YouTube.

Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
scruffy keys #2828729 03/19/19 03:38 PM
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Thanks everyone.

No miracles needed from this piano. My 19yo daughter managed to blag it free and delivered to her first house, and I couldn't find a tuner in her area (Cornwall). It was the reason I decided to learn how to tune for myself.

Right now it plays acceptably, and in tune, with a reasonable touch. It's also much quieter for being tuned, which is probably a good thing (semi-detached house!). No decent pianists in the house, so I'm the only one criticising the tone... and it's really quite acceptable for a bit of practising and sing-along.

Almost certainly correct about the damp Rick - there was signs of a bit of old mildew on the balance rail.

Let-off (very roughly) before was nearly half an inch, and afterwards probably nearer 1/8th... close enough that I could reliably play PP.
I did look to see if there was a way of moving the whole let-off rail, but couldn't see how. Happily there was a country mile of adjustment available on the buttons.

Re: Piano #2 - DD's 'pub piano' - a couple of questions...
Goof #2828734 03/19/19 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Goof
A very good video on overhauling an action is to be found on YouTube.


Ooh - do you have a link?

I have read lots and watched a fair few youtube tutorials to get this far (although there's nothing like actually doing something to really figure it out), but still on the steep bit of the learning curve!


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