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Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright #2846815
05/09/19 02:33 PM
05/09/19 02:33 PM
Joined: Jan 2009
Posts: 40
heavypiano Offline OP
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heavypiano  Offline OP
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Joined: Jan 2009
Posts: 40
I tuned a friend's Fischer upright last night, serial number 108812 which placed it as being built between 1890-1900. The piano is a family heirloom and just recently made it's way to my friend's house and ownership. I thought for sure due to it's age the piano would be un-tuneable, but to my surprise the pins felt fine and seemed to lock in the pinblock well. I did not measure torque.

The piano was about 80-100 cents flat and my friend had no idea when it was last tuned. Rather than risk breaking strings or putting too much tension on this ancient instrument, I decided to tune the piano to itself approximately where it currently sat-around A=420 instead of A=440. The piano sounded much better after giving a single pass and I told the owners to give it a few weeks to see how well the pins held. Once it seems as though the piano will hold a tuning I said we could go back and start some basic regulation and part replacement (for instance the bridle straps are shot).

The pinblock is an uncovered, open-pinblock design so I assume it would be rather simple to perform a CA-glue treatment on the pins if needed. I was wondering if anyone else has tuned anything of this vintage and what pitch you decided to tune to. Because my friend is just a casual player, he wasn't too discerning about having the piano at concert pitch. I know that some of these older pianos weren't designed for A=440 anyway, and bringing them up to modern standards would place too much tension on the design (?) If I continue to bring the piano up in pitch slowly, how close to A=440 should I aim for?

Despite the age and disintegration of some parts, the piano was in amazingly good shape. It had been stored safely in climate-controlled spaces and I don't think it was really played. The hammers had some grooving but weren't rock-hard like many older pianos I tune. There are some minor regulation issues that would need to be addressed, but everything played ok considering how old the piano is. It seems like a very well-made instrument.

Anyone else run into and tuned any old Fischer uprights? Would love to hear your stories or any thoughts/advice you might have. The last 100+ year-old piano I looked at was a Steinway upright but the pinblock was super soft so I adjusted a few notes the best I could but let the owners know it would need to be rebuilt if any serious playing was to be done on the piano.

Cheers, -j



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Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: heavypiano] #2846839
05/09/19 04:43 PM
05/09/19 04:43 PM
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 1,816
Scotland
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David Boyce Offline
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I've tuned many many pianos, upright and grand, that old. Almost all Bechstein pianos here are that age. And many others.

I don't buy into this 'family heirloom' business. If it meant that much, they'd have maintained it properly. When people sentimentalise about great-granny's precious piano they could never part with, it's surprising how quickly the wallet snaps shut when the idea of spending money on it is mooted. And what about great-granny's washing machine - think of all the little socks it washed, the sentimental value. It should be an heirloom too!

Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: heavypiano] #2846856
05/09/19 05:40 PM
05/09/19 05:40 PM
Joined: Oct 2011
Posts: 756
Lincoln, NE
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That Guy Offline
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Lincoln, NE
I've tuned many of these also. Sometimes, like this one, they're pretty amazing! I like your course of action. I'm thinking that you don't want to go any higher than A435 and realistically lower than that. If they're just a casual player I wouldn't worry about getting it up to A440. Who knows, it may go up there just fine, but I say why risk breaking strings or even worse, the plate cracking. Again, many of these I tune 90 cents flat and leave it at that.

As far as the CA glue is concerned, yes, it should work well with the open pinblock. Just take it slow and easy if it's in the upright position or maybe tilt it if you have the equipment to do that.


"That Tuning Guy"
Scott Kerns
Lincoln, NE
www.thattuningguy.com
Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: That Guy] #2846860
05/09/19 06:15 PM
05/09/19 06:15 PM
Joined: Apr 2010
Posts: 2,020
Michigan
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kpembrook Offline
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kpembrook  Offline
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Joined: Apr 2010
Posts: 2,020
Michigan
Originally Posted by That Guy
I've tuned many of these also. Sometimes, like this one, they're pretty amazing! I like your course of action. I'm thinking that you don't want to go any higher than A435 and realistically lower than that. If they're just a casual player I wouldn't worry about getting it up to A440. Who knows, it may go up there just fine, but I say why risk breaking strings or even worse, the plate cracking. Again, many of these I tune 90 cents flat and leave it at that.

As far as the CA glue is concerned, yes, it should work well with the open pinblock. Just take it slow and easy if it's in the upright position or maybe tilt it if you have the equipment to do that.



I mentioned this in another thread, but taking the tension up in tiny increments or in one pass really doesn't matter. If the string is going to break at a445 then it's going to break at that tension regardless of how you try to "sneak up" on it. It's not like your going to "surprise" the string into going higher than it had planned...

The same with plates.
If they are going to break, they are going to break. And, it will be because of some pre-existing flaw -- not some new stress.

After all, remember that in the factory they yank the piano up to pitch in one or two passes.

This is one of those "piano lore" things that gets passed down and has the aura of technical wisdom but doesn't pass muster from the science/engineering standpoint.

However, it is definitely good practice to reduce friction at all possible points of contact between the string and forward termination/counterbearing points. That is the main cause of string breakage -- exceeding the limit of the string because of the tension needed to overcome the drag of friction. (Or, if the string is well and truly corroded to the plate, there is no "friction" ... it's simply welded to the plate and won't move.

A435 would be the correct target pitch... but even 440 is not that much over-stress. Really within the tolerance that should have been engineered in when it was designed.




Keith Akins, RPT
Piano Technologist
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair
editor emeritus of Piano Technicians Journal
Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: heavypiano] #2846867
05/09/19 06:47 PM
05/09/19 06:47 PM
Joined: Jun 2005
Posts: 244
Fitzgerald ,GA
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Steven Bolstridge Offline
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Steven Bolstridge  Offline
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Joined: Jun 2005
Posts: 244
Fitzgerald ,GA
Funny coincidence I just looked at a 1901 Fischer upright today. Approx 1/2 step low at A4, but very unbalanced overall. This piano was refinished and reconditioned and is a remarkably beautiful oak instrument. Tight pins, great bridged, all strings original, bass not bad. The owner is 86, and this was his mother's piano. She had the work done in 1968.. I plan to bring it up to A440. He is starting piano lessons in two weeks.


piano tuner/technician
Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: Steven Bolstridge] #2846869
05/09/19 07:00 PM
05/09/19 07:00 PM
Joined: Jun 2004
Posts: 565
Rockville, MD
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Seeker  Offline
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Joined: Jun 2004
Posts: 565
Rockville, MD
Originally Posted by Steven Bolstridge
====SNIP====The owner is 86, and this was his mother's piano. She had the work done in 1968.. I plan to bring it up to A440. He is starting piano lessons in two weeks.

3hearts Thank you for this story...It made my day better.


Andrew Kraus, Pianist
Educated Amateur Tuner/Technician
Rockville, MD USA
www.AndrewKraus.com
www.YouTube.com/RockvillePianoGuy
Twitter at @IAmAPianist

1929 Steinert 6'10" (Close copy of New York S&S "B")
Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: heavypiano] #2846912
05/09/19 11:53 PM
05/09/19 11:53 PM
Joined: Apr 2010
Posts: 2,020
Michigan
K
kpembrook Offline
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kpembrook  Offline
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Joined: Apr 2010
Posts: 2,020
Michigan
Originally Posted by heavypiano
I tuned a friend's Fischer upright last night, serial number 108812 which placed it as being built between 1890-1900. The piano is a family heirloom


Sadly, a few months ago I had to send a similar piano from ~1880 to the landfill. It was a beautiful case but needed rebuilt. It was historically significant, having belonged to one of the first mayors of the largest city to the north of me. After a museum backed out of taking it, I had to dispose of it to make room for paying rebuilding work that was coming in. (I designed my smaller shop for a capacity of 2 instruments at a time and it has had 4 for the past few years.)



Keith Akins, RPT
Piano Technologist
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair
editor emeritus of Piano Technicians Journal
Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: heavypiano] #2846963
05/10/19 07:37 AM
05/10/19 07:37 AM
Joined: Nov 2008
Posts: 5,943
Bradford County, PA
UnrightTooner Offline
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UnrightTooner  Offline
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Joined: Nov 2008
Posts: 5,943
Bradford County, PA
I have tuned many of these old clunkers, too. If there is a broken or replaced string, I will bring usually tune one semitone flat. Otherwise I will tune one string on C4, C5, C6, C7, and C8 up to A440 pitch. If anything pops, then one semitone flat. Otherwise I tune to A440, after the necessary pitch raises of course. It's amazing how the tone improves on the bass strings when the tension is brought up where it should be. Most need their pinblocks treated with CA.

Speaking of old uprights... I'll be rebuilding my late mother-in-law's victorian Ludwig upright for my daughter to have. Soundboard, bridges, and keys stay. Everything else goes. One challenge will be the action. It is non-standard. Looks like I will have to mill new rails. Not even the flanges are the same. I think it has good scaling. The bass bridge is straight. I'll be getting the strings and new scaling from Arledge.


Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
Who taught the first chicken how to peck?
Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: David Boyce] #2847051
05/10/19 12:10 PM
05/10/19 12:10 PM
Joined: Jan 2009
Posts: 40
heavypiano Offline OP
Full Member
heavypiano  Offline OP
Full Member

Joined: Jan 2009
Posts: 40
Originally Posted by David Boyce
I've tuned many many pianos, upright and grand, that old. Almost all Bechstein pianos here are that age. And many others.

I don't buy into this 'family heirloom' business. If it meant that much, they'd have maintained it properly. When people sentimentalise about great-granny's precious piano they could never part with, it's surprising how quickly the wallet snaps shut when the idea of spending money on it is mooted. And what about great-granny's washing machine - think of all the little socks it washed, the sentimental value. It should be an heirloom too!


David, I agree with what you are saying, but in this case the piano was purchased new by a past family member and had been kept by various family over the years. They even showed me an ancient black and white photo showing the piano in the living room with a Christmas tree!

Last edited by heavypiano; 05/10/19 12:10 PM.


Re: Tuning a 120+ year-old Fischer upright [Re: heavypiano] #2847057
05/10/19 12:28 PM
05/10/19 12:28 PM
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 1,816
Scotland
D
David Boyce Offline
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Joined: May 2007
Posts: 1,816
Scotland
Well, as long as they are willing to spend money on it.....


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