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Restringing a fortepiano
#3013044 08/12/20 01:51 PM
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I have been asked to repair a fortepiano, probably from the 19th century. The strings are in a terrible condition. Many of them are already broken, the rest of them waiting to break in the near future. So, I've decided to restring the whole instrument and since I have never worked on such an old instrument I am not sure what kind of strings it needs:

- Modern piano wire or piano wire for historical instruments?
- If piano wire for historical instruments is the right choice, which variety? My piano parts supplier offers two different types: brass wire of phosphorous bronze? (the price is pretty similar)

Thanks in advance.

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Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013119 08/12/20 04:50 PM
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It sounds like you have taken on a project without fully knowing the scope and how to proceed. I have always found this to be a precarious way of running a shop or business.

Piano design and technology varied greatly within the 19th century. Just knowing a piano is over 120 years old tells us nothing about what it might need or not (except that you can most likely rule out phospohor bronze strings - those are for harpsichords)

If you are asking for help or advice, please give specific information - brand name, serial #, manufacturing year if known, size of instrument, and a few photos would be a good start.

Good luck.


JG
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013250 08/12/20 11:05 PM
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Repeat...name, #, age, size, square pins or oblong pins, bass string materials...

DON'T THROW ANYTHING AWAY! You may need stuff for reference. Please don't try to "modernize" the thing. Not a good result.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor

Last edited by P W Grey; 08/12/20 11:05 PM.

Peter W. Grey, RPT
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www.seacoastpianodoctor.com
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK0T7_I_nV8
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013463 08/13/20 03:11 PM
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Thanks for your answers. The brand is one I had never heard of before: MiƱaca. Apparently it is an Spanish constructor established in Madrid since 1830. That is the only information I've been able to find on the Internet. The serial number is 34, although anyway it would probably be impossible to find the construction year with that information. The client has taken some pictures that can help to get an idea of what this piano is like:

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

Thanks again.

Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013483 08/13/20 04:15 PM
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The photos are helpful.
This is not a fortepiano. This is a square grand. The hammers are in very poor condition, and this probably reflects the condition of the entire action, given the state of the strings as well.

Why is this piano being restored? For someone to take lessons or??

You state you have never worked on one of these pianos before. I think you should keep it that way. This is not a piano for first-time exploration and "learning". Not only will it be an exercise in bottomless frustration for you (and the owner after you are "finished" with it), you will likely destroy, for all historical purposes, an instrument which should probably be in a museum.

Rule #1 for gamblers and piano technicians: know your limits and play within them.
Rule #2: don't use your client's money and their potential valuable instruments as a "competency playground" where you can learn your trade.

Sorry, I don't mean to some across as harsh. But we have lost so many instruments with historical value due to inexperienced individuals trying their best to do a good thing or to please an uninformed client who has little clue of the piano's history or potential, and with completely false expectations of the outcome.


JG
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013602 08/13/20 10:31 PM
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I feel I need to agree with Jurgen. There are a few shops left in Europe that specialize in this type of work. It would be a professional courtesy to refer the owner to one of these that truly know what they are doing.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


Peter W. Grey, RPT
New Hampshire Seacoast
www.seacoastpianodoctor.com
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK0T7_I_nV8
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013670 08/14/20 05:19 AM
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Well, maybe you are right, but in actual facts I wasn't asking for a lesson on ethics. I wanted to know what kind of strings was more appropriate for the piano. Anyway, thanks for your advice.

Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013677 08/14/20 05:51 AM
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You could try contacting the Early Keyboard Agency in UK. They would probably ask you to send a rubbing and some samples.
Nick


Nick, ageing piano technician
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013700 08/14/20 07:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Antonio Temprano
Well, maybe you are right, but in actual facts I wasn't asking for a lesson on ethics. I wanted to know what kind of strings was more appropriate for the piano. Anyway, thanks for your advice.


You did say, though, Antonio, in your original post, that you had been asked to repair the instrument, and had decided to re-string it.

I have to echo Peter and Jurgen's comments. This is very specialised work. The instrument is so old that it is of historical interest, and needs the attention of a person highly experienced in this kind of work. The fact that you call it a fortepiano (though I realise English may not be your own language), shows that you are not such a person.

I was asked a few years ago about restoring an old square piano, not unlike that though not as old. I gracefully declined and crept quietly away.

Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013733 08/14/20 09:05 AM
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FTR, if a client INSISTED that I do the work on an instrument such as this, I would use stainless steel Puresound wire which was intended for instruments in the 1840-1860 range to mimic the wire types of the era. Although not a perfect match, it would probably be pretty close. (I am probably one of the few left on the planet with a significant store of this stuff).

I would also work to conserve as authentically as possible all the parts of the instrument, using 19th century techniques and materials wherever possible.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


Peter W. Grey, RPT
New Hampshire Seacoast
www.seacoastpianodoctor.com
pianodoctor57@gmail.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK0T7_I_nV8
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3013924 08/14/20 06:18 PM
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Antonio, can I recommend two excellent sources of advice for instruments such as this.

1. Square Piano Tech. An excellent web site, and you could contact Tom Strange.

2. Friends of Square Pianos. An excellent web site, and you could contact David Hackett.

Re your question about strings. I am not sure of the date of your square piano. For early square pianos in the UK, the general recommendation seems to be to use wire by Malcolm Rose. My restorer is using this for my 1804 Erard. I would suggest contacting Malcolm and asking his advice.

Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3014148 08/15/20 08:54 AM
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Before beginning, read these papers https://my.ptg.org/foundation/archives/conservation

This is not a square grand (factory produced), it is a square piano (hand made, small production).

The photos indicate that it has already been improperly restrung.
To restring this piano you will need the ability to calculate an appropriate stringing scale and evaluate the ability of the instrument to take the tension.

Pure Sound wire is no longer available. Appropriate wire for this instrument would be Malcolm Rose wire or p-wire by Stephen Birkett.

Before undertaking work on this instrument, you need to research its historical significance. It may be the best surviving example by this maker.

Even in the best of circumstances, it is not likely that this instrument can be restored to serve as a household instrument.

Please take the time to become fully informed before working on this piano.


Ed Sutton, RPT
Just a piano tuner!
Durham NC USA
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3015038 08/18/20 01:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Antonio Temprano
Well, maybe you are right, but in actual facts I wasn't asking for a lesson on ethics. I wanted to know what kind of strings was more appropriate for the piano.

How can we do a good job, even if someone can tell us which strings to use, if we are not guided by ethics?

Thank you Ed Sutton for expressing this so much more eloquently than I can.


JG
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3015125 08/18/20 10:20 AM
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Though I don't know European historical instruments well, it seems likely that the fact that this piano has no iron plate or even iron braces makes it an early instrument.

you have no idea what you have. It may be worth very little or be something of sufficient historical instrument that should be in a museum, or something in between.

I am a piano rebuilder who replaces parts on existing pianos and have the multitude of skills that go along with that. If this is a piano of historical value, then the approach to it will be one of preservation and conservation. That is a completely different skill and knowledge set.

A few years ago I was approached about restoring an 1825 Alpheus Babcock square grand. I did some research on it and referred the customer to Anne Garree, one of the best conservationists in the US. Typically, someone like her does extensive research before beginning repair. The goal is to preserve what is there, and to replace with great reluctance and much forethought.

I would be like a bull in a china closet were I to approach that instrument like a modern one. Anything I did would further degrade its historical value. The ethical thing for me to do was decline the work.

If your customers desire is to use the piano as an everyday instrument, this piano is ill-suited for that. Because of its age and condition, it will not stand up to that kind of use.

Ed, Peter, David G, and Jurgen are giving you good advice. Listen to it


fine grand piano custom rebuilding, piano technician and tuner
Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3015136 08/18/20 10:51 AM
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A few years ago I tuned an early Clementi square piano for a client who had many fine antiques. It had been beautifully and authentically restored by Lucy Coad, who specialises in this work. https://www.squarepiano.co.uk/

Re: Restringing a fortepiano
Antonio Temprano #3015293 08/18/20 05:53 PM
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I would suggest that this piano dates from around 1815-1825. Being 200 years old, it is very important to restore the instrument with authentic materials, and with reversible glue. You can find details on the links I gave before.


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