What I learned taking an antique upright piano apart to clean and restore the inside…

I recently picked up an old piano from a neighbor and brought it home for the family to play. We’ve had several over the years, but not since we left Mississippi. With the 3 older kids all doing band or music of some kind, I decided it was time to see what we could find on the cheap.

C322293GULBRANSENNWe bought a Gulbransen upright studio piano made in 1937, according the serial number. The piano looked great, sounded relatively in pitch, and generally in good working order, so we loaded it up on the trailer and took it home. After playing it a while, I could tell that while it had been maintained pretty well for its age, some of the keys were not responding quite right and it had a tinny, harsh sound to it. Not the mellow, smooth sound and feel of a piano in top playing condition.

setting-let-offAfter discovering one key where the hammer kept sticking when played softly, I opened it up to see what was going on.

[If you don’t know what a piano “hammer” is or you want to see what the inside of an upright piano looks like when it’s being played, check out this short video…]

I decided to see if I could fix the piano myself. A couple of hours and several good YouTube videos later, I was in neck-deep. In this post series, I’m going to share what I’ve learned along the way.

imgext.phpAcoustic pianos (the kind with real strings, not electronic keyboards) are amazing machines made of wood, leather, and felt. Apart from the strings, the iron harp that holds the strings, and myriad little wires, springs, and screws, pianos are engineering marvels. At least they are once you stop and really study how they work. Which is what happened to me.

Here are some interesting facts to get started. Did you know…

  • There are 88 keys on a full-size piano, each with its own separate mechanism
  • Each mechanism has 20 separate parts of wood, leather, springs, felt, screws, and fabric
  • There are over 2,000 parts by the time you add in the 220 strings & tuning pins, parts for the damper bars (sustain) and pedal components.
  • There are three main systems inside an acoustic piano: the strings, the keys, and the “action“. The action consists of all those moving parts — hammers, jacks, springs, backstops, butts — that transfer the pressing of the key into the striking of the string(s).
  • Each key on a piano is over 15 inches long and made of wood. The black and white you see are just the ends. The black ends are stained or covered in plastic. The white ends have a thin ivory or plastic layer glued to the wooden key. The rest of the key’s length reaches back to connect to the mechanical.

The first thing I did to the piano was to take the insides apart and clean it all out. Read part 2: Cleaning out the inside

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