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PIANO CARE

Repair & Restoration

Close-up of degraded piano keys.
Key Entropy. Credit: Rhodesj 1

Can You Restore A Piano?

More importantly, should you restore a piano? There are a number of factors at play here, but of most concern is the issue of cost. Restoring a piano can be expensive, the cost of which can quickly exceed the value of the piano as a whole. Much like repairing a totaled car, the financial investment required frequently outweighs the benefits. That being said, some pianos are far more deserving of restoration than others. Antique pianos from high-end manufacturers often warrant restoration, as they will retain their value, from both financial and performance perspectives. Sadly, this is an increasingly rare phenomenon.

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Evaluating The Need For Restoration

Obtaining the services of a piano technician should always be the first step in determining whether repair services are required, or even realistic. A professional technician will evaluate the following components of the piano to aid in your decision.

Woodwork And Finishing

Minor Repair – Clean the inside and outside of the piano, being careful to remove all accumulated dirt and grime. The technician will confirm that the conditions in which the piano is kept are optimal for its continued use, focusing primarily on the room's humidity and temperature controls.

Major Repair – Water damage is a piano's worst enemy. This can cause the wood of the frame to expand and contort, precipitating cracks and irregularities that can make restoration much more difficult, or even impossible. The finish will have to be removed with a sander; and before refinishing occurs, the wood will have to be kept in a dry, stable environment for up to a month.

Soundboard

Minor Repair – Unfortunately, even minor damage to the soundboard will be difficult to address. The best course of action here is preventative maintenance, ensuring that humidity and temperature remain constant and avoiding physical damage (like that received while in the back of a moving truck).

Major Repair – Damage to the soundboard most often requires replacement.

Strings

Minor Repair – Strings that appear dull or rusty are indicative of a high-humidity environment, and these must be replaced. A technician should be called for this type of repair, as replacing strings can be dangerous due to string tension. Also, tuning after replacing strings may require several passes.

Major Repair – If the entire piano needs to be restrung, prepare for a long-term project. A specialist will remove the existing strings, which must be completed in steps to avoid damaging the tuning pegs. Then, new strings will be attached. If the piano is an older model, the tuning pegs may have lost their grip. In this case, tuning pegs of a larger size must be installed. After installation and several tightenings, the piano will be ready to be officially tuned.

Keyboard Appearance

Minor Repair – Cleaning the keys is easy, using a dry cloth to wipe away dust and residue. Do not use harsh cleaning agents!

Major Repair – Are the keys yellow or faded? Older pianos might have genuine ivory keys, for which there is no true replacement. Maintaining a piano's original condition might require leaving a few defects. However, if the keys are broken, chipped, or missing, there are modern ivory substitutes that can be used.

Keyboard Function

Minor Repair – After inspecting the action, a professional can recondition or replace worn hammer felts. This can drastically improve the sound and consistency of even antique pianos. A technician can also adjust key height if it is inconsistent across the keyboard.

Major Repair – Missing or damaged hammers require a professional touch. As they are such integral parts of a piano's action, a high degree of accuracy is needed. Any keys that are unresponsive or immobile need to have their actions analyzed. With so many moving parts, even determining the problem can be problematic.

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Deciding to restore or repair a piano is an individual choice. An heirloom piano, while not particularly valuable in terms of money, might have genuine familial value. It might then be worth restoring. In contrast, older high-end grand pianos maintain their value quite well, and might be worth restoring.

The piano experts at Houston Piano Company can help you make this decision.

PIANO FACT
Did you know that the ever-meticulous Joseph Brodmann "did not put serial numbers on his pianos?"
Marvin Ward, Yi-Heng Yang Débuts the Frederick’s Brodmann
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