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Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
#2856192 06/06/19 08:41 PM
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I would like some opinions about my rebuild decision. For starters, I haven’t really played for decades but am about to retire and get back into practicing, lessons, etc., with the hopes of remastering my modest repertoire...and taking it from there. My skill level is intermediate Chopin, Bach, Mozart.

I inherited a vintage Chickering quarter grand, 1907 or so, that’s had three responsible owners and has been declared to be in very good condition: no damage, moths, abuse, keytops in perfect shape. No reason to believe pinblock needs replacing. Soundboard with no cracks. Hasn’t been played much in 50 years.

I live in an area with several very highly respected restorers, and I have received conflicting opinions about how to approach the project:

One firm recommends new strings, pins, hammers; total refinish of case; restoration of soundboard; cleaning, repair and regulation of action; with an estimate in the mid $20K range.

Another firm recommends new strings, pins, hammers; restoration of soundboard; a new WNG top action, and a complete restoration of the case at a mid $20K quote. An alternative quote substituting a cleaning and regulation without WNG action replacement would be a bit under $20K.

A third firm basically said “It would take about $40K to bring this instrument back to pristine historically accurate condition and then you’d have a mediocre piano. Maybe you should think about a restored Steinway.”

I’ve also been trolling the piano tech sites and appreciate the massive knowledge and talent restoration people have, and I’m easily sucked into the deep arguments concerning restoration questions. As interesting as they are, I'm just an amateur.

My question is simply this: given that I am not a virtuoso, given that the piano does have some sentimental and local historical value, I think that it boils down to whether I want to install the WNG action or stick with the original action. I am not wedded to the idea of keeping the piano historically accurate, yet all things being equal, I would.

Any thoughts? Is it reasonable to think that a 100 year old Chickering action can be restored to an excellent level? I very much appreciate your input.

Haricot Vert

Last edited by Haricot Vert; 06/06/19 08:43 PM.
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Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856219 06/06/19 11:51 PM
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I have done restoration on a couple of these, and work on several more. I have never replaced wippens, because usually they do not need it, as the range of motion is fairly small, and there are extreme clearance problems on these pianos: The action is very narrow, with the wippens mounted at angles, rather than perpendicular to the wippen rail. The action brackets are wooden, rather than metal, which can also be difficult to deal with.

I believe in doing the work to match the owners skill level and budget. Replacing things for the sake of replacing them is all too common these days. Frankly, the most important thing is the work is done neatly and accurately, and that the final tuning, regulation, and voicing are done well. New parts, well, unless they are breaking, there is not much necessity.


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Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856228 06/07/19 12:55 AM
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Chickering Quarter Grands are the finest small piano scales ever made. The middle and bass tone is full and deep for considering the size.

They require consumate skills to regulate properly.

The original whippen design is superb IF they still are serviceable.

They have weaker trebles than is best. There are two main issue here. The first is the layout of the tuning pin field which forces the strings to go sideways from the upside down agraffe to the tuning pin. The other is the extreme cantilever cutaway of the treble bridge that allows the bridge to rock in response to the Longitudinal mode energy which disrupts the precision of the termination for the Transverse mode. Both of these design details cause false beats and lack of solidity to the tone.

These pianos also require quite light hammers to maintain the Chickering tone.

With the advent of Hybrid wires scaling protocols, these scales can be reworked with tremendous success. If you also go for the patented Fully Tempered Duplex Scale, (full disclosure, I invented it), the treble tone on these pianos becomes as good as any piano in existence.

If the original board is good that is a real plus.

Last edited by Ed McMorrow, RPT; 06/07/19 12:57 AM. Reason: typos

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: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856331 06/07/19 10:43 AM
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The quarter grand is a surprisingly amazing piano. If it was mine, I would replace the 100 year old soundboard (why put new strings on an old board with old glue?), put in a new pinblock, and replace the hammers, shanks, and flanges. I'd put in new damper felt and re-bush the keys. At this point it would pretty much be like new again and the cost would be around 15K.

Rebuilders that live in big cities seem to charge a lot more for some reason.

-chris

Last edited by Chernobieff Piano; 06/07/19 10:45 AM.

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Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856338 06/07/19 10:55 AM
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Quarter grands have tightly spaced actions, and replacement parts may not squeeze in readily. The original action parts are very well made, and respond well to a thorough reconditioning. This might make the handwork yield better results. Chickering seems to have favored high action ratios; so lighter hammers are most appropriate.


Craig Hair
Hampshire Piano
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Conservative Piano Restoration
Watch us on YouTube

I've cut it twice and it's still too short.
Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
BDB #2856472 06/07/19 05:42 PM
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Thank you Craig; this is just the kind of inside knowledge I was hoping for.

Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Craig Hair #2856496 06/07/19 07:06 PM
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I really appreciate the comments about the geometry and tolerances of the layout and the quality of the original action parts. Although I am quite open minded about the merits of modern composites, I can see how it may not be the best choice for this particular piano. Not sure how to evaluate the soundboard other than it doesn't have any visible defects. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. Thank you so much!

Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856525 06/07/19 09:38 PM
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I am in the midst of one right now. 1907. It is a very nice instrument. Nice clear tone. Original hammers thus far, but I will probably replace with Ronsens, custom made. Replacing the pinblock is a bear. I epoxied this one. Quite satisfactory.

Which model is yours? Mine is a 121. The 123 is better though.

Pwg

Last edited by P W Grey; 06/07/19 09:40 PM.

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Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856528 06/07/19 10:01 PM
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The W,N&G shanks and flanges will fit the narrow Chickering scalesticks. They perform better and last longer than wood parts.

Renner parts will not fit narrow scalesticks. Tokiwa neither.


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: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856533 06/07/19 10:08 PM
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Peter,
I now tap drill and tap new plate screws for old Chickering blocks. The factory didn't drill and tap the plate until after the block was mated to the plate. Trying to position the screw holes properly in the new block has always bothered me.

I also switch to button head hard steel screws with a hard steel washer one size smaller than the stock flat head screws. I use a foerstner bit to recess the block for the screw head.

I make up a template for the new screw positions.


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: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856607 06/08/19 08:56 AM
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Ed,
Might you have a set of the original machine screws around? I need a set for a project.


Craig Hair
Hampshire Piano
Chesterfield, MA
Conservative Piano Restoration
Watch us on YouTube

I've cut it twice and it's still too short.
Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Craig Hair #2856643 06/08/19 11:03 AM
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Craig, I will check today. Jim Iallegio also does the button screw conversion.


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: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
P W Grey #2856706 06/08/19 02:25 PM
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My piano is a scale 122.

Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Chernobieff Piano #2856712 06/08/19 02:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Chernobieff Piano
The quarter grand is a surprisingly amazing piano. If it was mine, I would replace the 100 year old soundboard (why put new strings on an old board with old glue?), put in a new pinblock, and replace the hammers, shanks, and flanges. I'd put in new damper felt and re-bush the keys. At this point it would pretty much be like new again and the cost would be around 15K.



You may want to re-read the original posting: no damage, moths, abuse, keytops in perfect shape. No reason to believe pinblock needs replacing. Soundboard with no cracks.

That's the reason why one would put new strings on an old board and old glue.

Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856743 06/08/19 06:12 PM
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Plus given the situation of the original poster, there is no reason to throw thousands of dollars extra into this piano. But some people do not work (or even advise) for the customer's best interest.


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Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856795 06/08/19 10:31 PM
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If one is going to restring a 100 year old piano with an undamaged soundboard, the need to replace bridge caps is still there. No 100 year old bridge is going to hold the bridge pins well. New block would be also best.

Plus when you do these things you can; modify the treble bridge root to eliminate the cantilever treble and modify the tuning pin field to mitigate the string path problem. Then the treble will come alive. I have done a few of these that way, and it works. No more weak, faulty Chickering treble and if you do the Hybrid Wire Scales, the bass and tenor are even better than the already quite wonderful design.

Chickering had some very good "bones" in their designs. Except in the treble.


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: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2856901 06/09/19 09:46 AM
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Ed,

While you are 100% correct, there is often a degree of balance to be struck when assessing the condition of the pinblock/soundboard/bridge system. I know you know this, and I know exactly what you are talking about.

If the owner is interested in a 100% rebuild, your way is best. But if they are really only interested in a 65%-80% overall improvement, well thats a different story. If these components are judged to be "OKAY" for enough time for them to be happy, it makes sense to go the lesser route. If they're interested in a truly "historical" upgrade, it makes sense to keep as much original as musically possible.

If restringing with original pinblock I would suggest use of "Lo-torq" tuning pins. I would also suggest treating the soundboard with epoxy (Del Fandrich protocol) to restore stiffness. I would also suggest treating the bridge cap with CA if deterioration is not too bad.

These details CAN strongly enhance a "partial" rebuild.

Pwg


Peter W. Grey, RPT
New Hampshire Seacoast
www.seacoastpianodoctor.com
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Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2857092 06/09/19 07:44 PM
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Chickerings had flat-sawn laminated maple pin-blocks and some had flat-sawn maple bridge caps, (some Baldwins too), these simply do not hold up well and even epoxy or CA will only provide marginal improvement. I strongly suggest anyone approaching a Chickering like the OP describes to find someone who knows can get deep enough into the piano to bring out the full potential. The owner, Chickering and the rebuilder deserve it.


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: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2858467 06/14/19 08:56 AM
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I have been unable to access PW for nearly a week but things are now fixed.

Ed,

I had not stopped to analyze the Chickering PB procedure but your analysis now makes complete sense. No holes of any kind until after fitting of block. Yes. Why didn't I figure that out? Now it seems perfectly obvious.

So, you drill out the threads in the plate and RE-THREAD it, as well as the PB, for new, larger screws, foregoing the flathead style in preference for the larger surface area and strength of the button head screw.

Do I have this correct? What size and thread is your choice?

I like it...very much...very well thought through.

Pwg


Peter W. Grey, RPT
New Hampshire Seacoast
www.seacoastpianodoctor.com
pianodoctor57@gmail.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK0T7_I_nV8
Re: Restoring 100 y/o Chickering: Rebuild or Replace Top Action?
Haricot Vert #2858630 06/14/19 06:53 PM
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I thank everybody for their comments. I believe the basics of the piano are in very good condition and hope that the 75% approach will be sufficient for my talent and ear. It is a bit nerve wracking to have to make an assessment and decision while the beast is taken apart knowing that I'll not be wanting to disassemble it again anytime soon. Something I've been wondering about along these lines -- the block -- the CA approach sounds pretty iffy to me, but what about reboring the holes slightly and using a slightly larger pin? If the block isn't compromised, that is. Block replacement on this piano is a real pain I hear.

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