Fragile Parts on Upper West Side Petrof Upright

I've always enjoyed this shout-out to NY piano techs in the 14th St transfer from the F to 2 train - the first time I saw it I did a double take - "Really!? Is that a golden backcheck regulating tool on the subway wall?" - yes indeed.  Also a regulating screwdriver, recognizable by the narrow neck and wide head, a stringing hook, and other specialty piano tools. I can only assume this piece of art is a tribute to once massive but still great NYC piano industry - one customer, a descendent of the founder of Janssen pianos, told me that at one point 1 in 5 New Yorkers was employed by the piano industry in some capacity.  Even taken loosely this seems unlikely, but the point is well taken - before smart phones, before computers, before radios, before records - the piano was the dominant form of in-home musical entertainment, and a major focal point of American culture.

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I make my way to a "luxury residence" on the Upper West Side...

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...and find a Petrof upright that hasn't been tuned in 7 years.  Everything tunes up fairly nicely - although I run into the awful false beats in the upper register I expected, the rest of the register has a nice warm full tone and the action feels solid.

However - some of the parts on this piano have a strange fragility.  Two bass strings snapped at the slightest touch, and I noticed two other forms of structural weakness I haven't seen before - when coiling one of the bass strings to take home for precise measuring and ordering of a duplicate, the tail end of the string that loops around a hitch pin in the cast iron plate snapped with a light bend at the beginning of the copper coils...this is steel wire, meant to take an average of 165 lbs of tension - I barely bent it and it cracked.

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That never happens - usually bass strings break at the top end near the upper bearing pin (in this case the piano had agraffes, brass fittings screwed into the plate through which the string passes) or by the tuning pin.  My best guess is that the sharp angles in the string at its bearing points combined with the fact that the piano was untuned for 7 years meant that a solid bend set into the wire and weakened it.  When I started to move the steel it got grumpy and couldn't take the change.

The other strange damage was these cuts in the practice felt...

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That also never happens - practice felt is usually pretty thick and durable, and for the hammers to wear on it enough to cut holes over the strings is unusual.  Best guess - the felt lowering mechanism was dis-attached when I arrived, meaning that the hammers were always hitting it.  Perhaps this had been the case for many years exposing it to an unusual amount of wear, although the felt still must have been weak in the first place....I plan to replace the felt as well as the two strings as soon as possible.

In addition to the pitch raise and tuning, I removed this excessive "lost motion" (wasted space in a sequence of mechanical events) in the quiet pedal.  When the player depressed the left pedal this dowel had to move through a centimeter of empty space before taking lifting the hammer rail and moving the hammers closer to the strings to lessen their blow distance and thereby reduce volume.

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A simple fix - I removed the bottom panel by releasing the catch, then tightened the pedal nut.  You can do this yourself at home to increase pedal tension, i.e. if a pedal isn't responsive enough.

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