Cookies and Coffee in Sheepshead Bay to a Crooked Jack in Bay Ridge

First tuning of the day is in deep Brooklyn - an old "Brahms" piano - there's a saying in my world that pianos named after composers are usually inferior - although generally true, this one wasn't so bad, just very old and neglected - 3 half steps flat.  Miraculously no strings broke during the double pitch raise (1) I gave the piano.  I couldn't find any information on this brand online - apparently some of these obscure brands are stickers slapped onto pianos by piano stores to sell pianos under their "own" brand. I deeply appreciated the hospitality shown to me by the elderly Italian couple who hosted most of my stay - the actual client had to work as a crossing guard all day and only stopped by briefly for a cup of noodles lunch to check in with me and drop a check...her parents-in-law provided me with a tray of cookies, creamer, sugar, and a plug-in coffee pot - that's a first!  As he set the tray on the table the gentleman said "Now you not complain about nothing."

No I can't - I love this life.  The piano turned out delightfully playable, despite the grim prognosis at the tuning's start - high quality steel.

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I stopped by McDonald's for lunch and was blessed again - ordered a 5 dollar wrap to stay "healthy" - the lady handed me a bag saying "you ordered the wrap and mozarella sticks right?" - when I told her I hadn't ordered the sticks but I'd take them anyway, instead of removing them she stepped back, added a large fries, and handed the massive bundle to me with a "You enjoy this sweetie."

Good times - but I felt pretty grimy eating that on the bus as I rolled towards my next appointment...

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This one got involved.  A shiny baby grand in Bay Ridge - what kept  me there until 6.30pm wasn't the tuning, which was a breeze despite pervasive false beats(2) in the high end...it was two notes with repetition problems.  Sometimes they'd play, sometimes not...I had to "pull" (remove) the action.

To pull a grand action - remove cheek block (3) screws - this piano had a nice design which allows you to avoid screwdrivers and finger tighten the cheek block screws - another component of this style is a key slip (4) held in place by a notch in the front of the cheek blocks that slips over the key slip.  Therefore one removes the fall board (5), then cheek blocks, then key slip to pull the action.

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After removing the aforementioned components, I discovered that a former technician had wedged felt between the front of the key frame (6) and the key slip to keep key fronts from binding on key slip when depressed.  However, this installation isn't optimal - when the key frame shifts right and left with the una corda pedal the felt could move, and it wasn't affixed with adhesive.  When I put the piano back together, I affixed the felt to the front of the cheek blocks with a dab of wood glue - held firmly in place to a non-moving part, it still accomplishes the goal of increasing distance between the key slip and key fronts permitting free key movement.

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I pulled the action and took a closer look - both stuck notes were D#'s, one in the high treble and one in the low mid-range - the higher note was no big deal - the felt in the front key bushing (a hole in the front of the key that fits over a front rail guide pin to keep it moving straight up and down) was binding on the pin - I used my key easing pliers to loose the fit and provide free motion.

To remove the key and access the key bushings, I had to remove the action stack, everything in the action except the keys on their frame, which comes off separately (hammers and other action components).

Action and stack assembled...

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and disassembled...

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The next note was a more fickle fiend - the jack (piece that transfers key motion to hammer and gets out the way at the last motion so hammer can hit string and rebound freely on its own momentum) was crooked and rubbing on the edges of the slot in the repetition lever as you can see below on the fourth note over with the camera glare...What tipped me off to the location of the friction was the jack tender (the toe that points forward and contacts the let-off button to force it to rotate out from under the hammer butt) was pointed further down than its neighbors - this implies that the top of the L shaped jack was getting hung up on something.

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This meant that after playing the note the jack would scrape along the inside edge of the rep lever and return slowly - you could only play the note again after about 7 seconds, rather than immediately as intended.

To fix this I had to remove the wippen, a piece with a number of components, all with specific functions governing the process of transferring key motion to hammer throw towards string, contact, and rebound.

In order to remove the wippen, I had to remove the hammer rest rail...and this is why I was there well into the dinner hour. One thing led to another - thanks for the coffee V. !

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It was visually obvious that the wood of the jack itself was warped.  The best solution would be to replace the jack, but this would have taken more money and time and I wanted to leave with the problem solved for my client.  This is the only place in a piano action that it's okay to slightly bend a center pin - by setting the edge of the wippen on a firm surface and tapping the top of the jack, you can create a slight bend in the pin upon which the jack rotates and realign the top of the jack.  I wasn't happy with the results so I removed the pin to check out much of the problem resided there, I wanted to see if a new pin would help - you can see the slight bend below.

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The new pin didn't help, confirming that the problem was entirely the warped jack.  So I bent the new pin slightly as before, and was able to get just enough clearance between the top of the jack and rep lever for it to move freely.  A little dry lube sprayed on the surfaces that may come back into contact if things warp back to their former position, and the note was working perfectly.  I warned her that with time and humidity fluctuation the sluggishness had a chance of reappearing, although I was reasonably confident that the realignment via pin bend would solve the problem.  If this happens we'll replace the warped jack - if not, we saved time and money - the piano is tuned and plays beautifully, and it's time for V. to resume piano lessons in retirement!

(1) pitch raise - A rough tuning overshooting concert pitch in the opposite direction from the piano's deviation – sharp if flat and vice versa – to compensate for the piano's tendency to fall back towards its original pitch level due to the addition or release of string pressure on the bridges which affects adjacent string tension. In other words, if you tune a piano that is 1/10th of a half step or more flat directly to concert pitch, it will be universally flat by the time you're done because the additional pressure of 200+ strings you've tightened presses down on the soundboard via the bridges and ends up decreasing tension on the rest of the strings.a rough tuning overshooting concert pitch in the opposite direction from the piano's deviation – sharp if flat and vice versa – to compensate for the piano's tendency to fall back towards its original pitch level due to the addition or release of string pressure on the bridges which affects adjacent string tension. In other words, if you tune a piano that is 1/10th of a half step or more flat directly to concert pitch, it will be universally flat by the time you're done because the additional pressure of 200+ strings you've tightened presses down on the soundboard via the bridges and ends up decreasing tension on the rest of the strings.

(2) false beats – A pulsating oscillation in the tone produced by a single string, much like the “beats” heard between two strings of different frequencies. Results from irregularities in the vibrating portion of the string that occur in various ways – including; from kinks produced by large pitch raises bringing a portion of the string that has developed a bend from contact with a bearing point (bridge pins, pressure bar, etc. - any contact point on string) being brought into the speaking length of the string (the portion that vibrates to produce sound); from uneven contact of string in the right angle produced by bridge pin and bridge wood – a simplified explanation is to imagine the string vibrating in just an x and y axis – if the contact point of the string against the pin creates a shorter speaking length than where the string contacts the bridge, you have two different string lengths and therefore pitches sounding essentially simultaneously, producing a sound like two out of tune strings.

(3) cheek block – on grand pianos, the blocks at the far left (bass) and right (treble) ends of the action that hold it in position, especially when shifted by the una corda pedal.

(4) key slip – the strip of wood that runs the front length of a piano and covers the bottom of the key fronts.

(5) fall board - board that folds down to cover keys when piano is not in use – protects from spills and dust.

(6) key frame – supports the action in a grand piano – rests on key bed.