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

Part 1

STEP 1: Remove & clean action

Getting this old Gulbransen cleaned out was chore number one. Turns out that old pianos are terrific repositories of dust, dirt, and the plethora of things that get dropped between keys or inside the top cover. Dust is like course sandpaper to the delicate parts of the piano.

I found this video from David Sprunger at playpianotoday.com that helped me get started. If you want to try this yourself on your piano, I highly recommend watching his 3 videos on how to do it. Worked great for me.

Removing the Action

The action is crafted as a single mechanism that can fairly easily be taken out and put back into the piano. That needed to come out first. Following David’s lead, I removed the music desk and the vertical side trim. Unscrewing 4 brass knobs allowed the action to be carefully lifted up out of the case.


Inside of piano box with action removed. The brass-colored harp and strings are seen against the back soundboard

Cleaning Dust from the Action

I set the action out on the back porch and used my shop vac to carefully blow the dust out. I made sure that it was blowing into the grass as there was a pretty good bit that came out. I was surprised at the coating of dust that was on all the felt and wood parts. It looked remarkable clean and, if not quite new, much younger than its 78 years.


Front of action after cleaning dust. Note the grooves in the front faces of the hammers. I have to deal with this in the third step.


Back of action after cleaning. Note how some of the backstops (little wedge shapes with brown felt) are laying back further. I will have to replace little silk straps that hold these in the proper position.


Now that the action has been pulled out, cleaned, and inspected for needed repairs, the next step is to take out the piano keys for cleaning.

Here’s what I know so far:

  • The hammers may need attention, but I’ve got some research to do here.
  • I can tell the broken fabric straps on the back are probably not good, but I’m not yet sure what they are called, what they do, or how to fix it. More research needed.

So I’ve got some more reading and investigation to do. But, first, I need to get the keys taken out. According to David Sprunger, the space underneath the keyboard is another treasure trove of dirt and odds and ends.

Up next…Part 3: Removing the keys