FAQs about Piano Restoration, Rebuilding, and Repairs

Can any piano be restored?

Almost any piano can be brought back to life and due to the improved qualities of today's felts, strings, leathers, and finishes, most pianos can be made to sound and look better than when they were new.  Economically, complete restoration makes sense for high-quality pianos like Steinway grands and verticals, Mason & Hamlin grands, Knabe grands, Chickering grands, Baldwin grands, and a few others, or for pianos with sentimental value.  It rarely makes economic sense to rebuild or restore an antique upright piano or any other vertical piano except a Steinway.  However, some other pianos might not need complete restoration; some need just partial restoration or simple repairs to make them serviceable again.

What work is typically involved in a piano restoration?

Depending on the condition of the piano, restoration often includes refinishing the piano's cabinet, soundboard, and plate, replacing the tuning pin block and tuning pins, replacing the strings, and refurbishing the action (the moving parts inside).  Occasionally repairs are needed to the soundboard, the bridge, or the plate.

Why would a piano need a new tuning pinblock and tuning pins?

Most problems with tuning stability are caused by deterioration of the tuning pinblock.  Time and exposure to fluctuations of humidity can cause laminated pinblocks to separate, losing their ability to hold the tuning pins tightly.  Often replacement of the pinblock is the proper repair, but occasionally the piano can be repaired adequately with lesser measures.

The pinblock in many older pianos simply can't hold the tuning pins tightly enough to hold pitch at A440.  Some older pianos have rusty or otherwise compromised strings that are likely to break when the technician increases tension on them in the process of tuning and raising the pitch. 

Why replace hammers? When is it necessary?

Piano hammers are the felts that strike the strings to make a sound; continuous striking subjects them to wear, much like the tires on a car.  After years of use, hammers wear out and need to be replaced.   Pianos in higher usage situations, such as in practice rooms, recording studios, or teaching studios may need hammer replacement as often as every 5 to 10 years.

If hammers are simply grooved and there is still sufficient felt remaining, they may be filed and shaped back to the proper shape and hardness.  

When hammers are replaced, several other technical operations need to be performed to bring the piano back to original factory specifications.  Parts connected to the hammers (called shanks, flanges, and knuckles) typically need to be replaced at the same time.  And when a piano gets a new set of hammers, it needs to be re-regulated and re-voiced.

What is restringing and when is it needed?

Restringing is the replacement of the piano's strings, usually as a complete set of bass and treble strings. A piano generally needs restringing when the strings lose their tone quality and resilience. 

The point at which this happens varies from piano to piano and depends on a variety of factors, including how much the piano is played, the environment in which it is housed, the quality of the strings themselves, and how they were handled in installation and maintenance.

Essentially, when your piano stops sounding as deep, rich, and resonant as it once did, when bass strings start to sound dead or muffled, and the overall sound becomes tinny and thin, then it is probably time to consider restringing.

Strings can become stretch-hardened from heavy use or repeated tunings, or they can become rusty or oxidized from exposure to excessive humidity or moisture.  Airborne dust can lodge in the windings of bass strings and cause them to go dead or muffled over time.  The copper windings of bass strings frequently come loose.  Careless handling at the factory or a rebuilder's shop can cause strings to have twists or kinks in them that cause unnatural tension.

Strings are also typically replaced when a piano's tuning pins become loose, requiring the tuning pins and/or the tuning pin block to be replaced.  And strings are usually replaced whenever work is done on any part of the piano (such as the soundboard or the bridges) that cannot be accessed without removing the strings.

For more information or to schedule services, please contact Tracy Rappel at (901) 302-3361, use the form below, or e-mail Tracy here.