The Restoration Process
1. Decision to go forward
Our excellent customer service begins with a follow up to a request by phone or e mail to consider piano restoration or repair. Options for more information include: a home or on site visit or review of detailed digital images sent. If the piano is out of town arrangements for an RPT (Registered Piano Technician) from the Piano Technicians Guild to come and inspect the piano for us is a possibility. Potential customers are welcome to visit the Piano Renaissance workshop and finishing center to see all processes prior to making a decision.
2. Transport to workshop
We offer our services locally and as a nationwide piano restoration company. When the decision to go forward is reached, recommended movers/shippers are offered to the piano owner. Piano Renaissance uses the services of select movers in the Chicago area. Customers may opt to use their own mover as well. To obtain an estimate for a move, you may wish to contact the following for local movers:
Long distance shipping is quite easily arranged by any major carrier. It is important to insure any piano being moved for full replacement value. For such information the piano can be appraised prior to shipping. We strongly urge customers not to accept the customary insured by pound figure that movers offer. Full replacement value is the suggested option.
3. Notation and breakdown
A complete set of technical notes is taken, documenting the original condition of the piano. Technical measurements useful in the rebuilding of the instrument include:
- String height
- Key height and dip
- Down and up weight of keys
- Friction and action ratio
- Plate orientation and many other important details
- Original finish samples are carefully saved for reference
These notes are used for reference in the rebuilding process.
4. Belly repair and restoration
The belly includes the piano soundboard and ribs, pin block, strings, tuning pins, belly rail and plate (iron frame) and damper system. The belly system is of great importance to the piano. The soundboard is sometimes called the “soul” of the piano. As such we consider soundboard repair and conservation of great importance and relevance to our process. Two options are offered in belly restoration.
The first of which is to restore the existing soundboard. The second is to replace the board with a custom duplicate made by a prominent soundboard manufacturer. Determination of soundboard repairs is based on the existing “crown” (forward shape of the board…a diaphragmatic condition which allows the board to adequately move air in responce to string vibration and frequency transfer appropriately) and the amount of repair in terms of cracks, loose or flattened ribs, or other negative conditions. Many soundboards can be successfully repaired and remain effective following restoration.
Soundboard replacement is offered when there is a lack of crown causing a condition of negative bearing. We offer custom made soundboards from Nicholas Gravagne.
5. The Finishing Process
After the piano has been carefully disassembled, each cabinet part is stamped with the piano serial number for secure identification. All cabinet parts are hand stripped, i.e., finishes are removed by application of a non-flammable finish remover. Our process does not ever include “dipping” of finishes for stripping purposes. We feel that the dipping method, while faster and more economical, causes problems--fine woods swell, veneers come loose and rich wood tones can distort and bleach.
Piano rims are made of several layers of solid wood sheaths that are laminated together during a rim forming process when the piano is first made. Following construction of the rim a veneer surface is applied. This surface may be of mahogany, walnut, rosewood or other fine wood type and gives the piano its wood tone and appearance. Although some pieces or cabinet parts may be of solid wood construction, most parts of the piano are veneered. Sometimes veneers come loose or are damaged. All wood surfaces are carefully checked for proper adhesion and any possible damage prior to the staining and sealing process. Loose edges, chips, burns, water or other damage are repaired and the piano cabinet is made ready for the finishing process to follow.
Grain filling: Grain filling is the first step in the finishing process. Grain filler is a thick paste intended to backfill wood pores, which will be the first step in a smooth and flush closed-pore final finish. Ultimately this finish became known as a "piano" finish in the wood finishing industry.
Staining: Wood surfaces are stained to a custom wood tone or the classic ebony finish. Stains are sometimes applied in stages to allow for the desired wood tone and texture.
Lacquer Sealer: Lacquer sealer coats are applied to seal the filler and stain and act as bond and barrier to the lacquer finish coats to follow.
Lacquer Finish Coats: Final finish coats are applied. Renaissance piano lacquers are extremely high quality and custom blended for a fine piano finish.
Finish Burnishing: Burnishing or “rubbing” of the final finish completes the refinishing process. After final curing, the final sprayed finish is meticulously hand sanded to a 2000 grit abrasive number. This process takes two to three days while finishers sand by hand from 600 grit to 2000 grit levels by hand and rub the fully sanded cabinet parts to their final luster with oils, pumice, rottenstone and ultrafine steel wools. This classic piano finish is only attainable by this method. A beautiful, softly glowing patina is the final result of the finishing process.
6. Keyboard Restoration
Piano keys rest upon a keyframe. The frame consists of a series of three rails and two complete sets of keypins. Piano keys pivot at the center rail keypin and travel to the bottom of their travel at the front rail keypin. The frame is the base for the keyset and as such is responsible for key level and shift during una corda play. It is the basis for power transfer and a desirable piano touch. The keyframe is carefully “bedded” to the keybed in a process of keyframe glide regulation and
fitting of wood surfaces between the underside of the keyframe and the keybed.
Cleaning and Re-felting of the Keyframe: The keyframe is cleaned and checked for proper integrity of all components including the slats and rails, glides and keypins. Keypins are made of metal and are a typical source in older pianos of unnecessary friction. Pins are polished to remove corrosion and dirt in a two stage process.
High quality balance rail and front rail felts are installed. New keyfelts rest upon a series of paper and cardboard regulating punching.
New backrail cloth is also installed at this time.
Piano Keys: Piano keys are made of conifer or soft wood varieties; typical is sugar pine and some are spruce. The piano key is the vital link between pianist and piano. Although from the outside not much meets the eye beside the appearance of the keytop surface, inside the piano the key is acting as a long lever arm, balancing at the center rail (also known as balance rail) and engaging the piano action. Key travel is guided by the key button and front mortise, both of which have felt bushings installed. Key bushings are replaced and regulated as part of the rebuilding process. At the end of the key are the capstan and backcheck. Capstans are polished to reduce friction and backchecks are either re-conditioned or replaced.
Keytops: These may be original ivory. If desired, Piano Renaissance can restore original ivory keytops, repairing chips as needed and re-gluing ivory surfaces. If too many flaws exist in the ivory keytops we may recommend replacement with new quality synthetic coverings. Ebony or “sharp” keys are refinished in our custom ebony lacquer.
7. The Action:
The piano action consists of hammers, hammer shanks and flanges, repetitions or wippens and wippen flanges. These parts work together to bring the hammer to the string. Piano hammers are a major component of the sound of the piano. As such we use only the finest piano hammers including Steinway, Abel and Renner. There are other excellent choices. The repetition or wippen is a small but complex mechanism which act as the mechanical link between the key (brought into play by the capstan) and the hammer (engaged by the knuckle). Once the action parts have been installed they must be regulated.
Action Regulation: Piano regulation is a lengthy process which includes many adjustments. All regulation adjustments are intended to optimize the touch or feel and response of the piano. Included in the regulation process are key easing, squaring, spacing, level and dip, alignment of wippen cushion to capstan, jack spacing and alignment of jack tender to let-off button and jack top surface to knuckle. Repetition lever height, repetition spring tension, hammer alignment to strings and hammer travel are adjusted.
Blow distance and key dip are regulated for best aftertouch. The regulation process includes work with the keybed and keyframe, keys, repetitions or wippens, hammers and the damper system. The entire process is one which is refined and repeated until the complex mechanisms of piano operate at peak efficiency.
A Piano Renaissance Technician inspects jack alignment to the knuckle and repetition spring tension for precise escapment and repetition. Each piano action is bench regulated and fully checked inside the piano cavity. Every regulation procedure must pass inspection for pp-ff dynamic expression and precise repetition.
Hammer Shaping and Voicing: New piano hammers require shaping and voicing. Shaping is a process of filing surface felts which are under tremendous pressure to remove the cupping shape which is a result of the manufacturing process. Shape contributes to sound. Voicing is a process of adjusting the tension of the hammer felts in order to allow the hammer to produce a full dynamic range and pleasing sound quality. This is done by needling, filing, ironing or lacquering the hammer felts. Successful voicing requires expertise.
8. Final Prep
Completion of the piano restoration process involves looking carefully at everything that has been done to date. This includes finishers checking the finish and performing a final burnishing and rub of the finish and polishing. Details of importance include a smooth and even finish and solid edges.
Final assembly: A technician re-assembles all cabinet parts and installs beautifully re-plated brass or nickel hardware. Legs and pedal lyre are attached, pedals are regulated to the damper system. The name or “fall” board is carefully installed and all functions of the piano are fully tested. Tuning completes the process.
9. Return to Client
Piano Renaissance LLC suggests preferred movers to safely return the client’s piano safely. We strongly suggest that only insured and bonded movers are used for piano moves. Our shop foreman supervises packing of the piano and we follow-up with the re-installation of the piano. Local return shipping can be arranged with Renaissance crews and we are also able to recommend preferred piano movers.
We are keenly interested in the pianos that have been restored at Piano Renaissance. Piano Technicians from our shop are available to our clients for follow-up tunings and regularly scheduled maintenance. Follow-up tuning and regular check-ups are suggested as good maintenance as recommended by Piano Renaissance for the continued health of these fine instruments.