Bread and Butter Tuning in Mill Basin, Resuscitation in Windsor Terrace

The first tuning of the day was a breeze - a loyal customer I've tuned for several times now.  It's a long trip down to Mill Basin in southern Brooklyn, but I enjoy seeing a different world full of oddities like this abandoned Chinese restaurant - 20141124_121718

....and helping out a very dear family - lifelong Brooklynites, with wonderfully thick accents.  This piano will always go down in my personal history as the piano that taught me to double check practice felts upon reinstallation, before leaving the house!  The first time I tuned here I got a call back the next day that some keys were sluggish - I was flummoxed, but after some brain racking surmised that perhaps the practice felt was brushing the tops of the hammers and slowing their return?  I was doubly glad to be able to walk M. through a solution on the phone - both for their sake and mine - I didn't want to have to take that hour long bus ride for free!  And there have been a few times I've had to bite the bullet and donate an evening or an afternoon to customer satisfaction - it's the right thing to do.

In this case, all that was required was opening the piano lid and pressing the felt forwards towards the strings - I cautioned them not to engage the felt in the midst of playing, as it can get caught on moving hammers (this may in fact have been what happened initially...), and at each subsequent appointment (both for this client and others) I double check the felt, and if possible have the player sit down and try turning the mute on and off to make sure no problems arise.

For those looking to remove practice felts to access the pins for tuning - perhaps this will be obvious to you, but I wasted time and effort the first few times I removed these by taking the entire spring apparatus off to remove the felt - many can be removed simply by loosening this screw on the left and slipping out the main bar and felt.


While waiting for the bus back, I had a chuckle at this store sign - another strange apparition from the wastelands of southern Brooklyn...


You should be able to click on the image to zoom in, but in case you can't see it, this video store "Captain Video" makes a big deal on its sign in at least three places about being "Fully Computerized" - not sure how well this "computerized" video store is doing today - I'm guessing  "The Beer Store" right behind it has and will continue to have a more devoted clientele.

My afternoon appointment was in Windsor Terrace - an old Baldwin upright with extremely sluggish keys - actually, although this is how my customer described the issue, the real culprit was sluggish action centers (pins sheathed in felt in holes in wooden flanges serving as "axles"), especially in the hammer flanges.

In this picture you can see the results a second after I push all the hammers forward at once via the hammer rest rail - many are still slowly falling back to their rest positions.


The full and proper solution to this issue is to re-bush the hammer flanges - install new bushing cloth and insert new center pins.  But this customer wanted to do the minimum to get the piano working, so we opted for removing and lubricating each hammer flange center pin with ProTek oil, meant for use on pianos.

These were standard wooden hammer flanges - there are other options out there, but this is how to remove most hammer flanges...

1. Slide a regulating screwdriver in from the side to loosen the hammer flange screw behind the jack - be careful not to bend the jack excessively as you may damage it.


2. Before fully removing the hammer, you'll have to undo the bridle straps from the bridle wires - most pianos have a curly bend in the top of the bridle wires upon which the bridle strap must be threaded, but this is the first time I've seen a simpler design with just a small kink in the wire to hold the strap - easier to remove and install without breaking, and seemed to work just fine...


3. Removing the hammer and butt can be tricky - push adjacent hammers forward, and twist hammer to side to pull up without snagging catcher on hammer rail, etc.


4. You'll see here the shoddy workmanship that led to this problem - the hammer flanges are sloppily bushed, with extra felt and glue gumming things up - they probably started with excessive resistance, and age and disuse exacerbated this condition to the point of unplayability. Applying ProTek to the center pins and working it in by vigorously whipping the shank back and forth totally solved the problem - for now.  This is not as permanent a fix as re-bushing the flanges.  I made sure my customer understood this, and instructed him to call me if the problem returns.


We were a bit mystified as to why the problem got worse as one moved towards the treble - one factor is definitely the weight of the hammer heads - the large bass hammers were better able to overcome the inertia of these sloppy bushings - but this doesn't totally account for the situation, and I wonder if a factory worker on a bad day just got more tired as they worked from left to right installing these pins, and cared less and less about doing it right...nonetheless, I'm shocked that Baldwin didn't have better quality control!

5.  Don't forget to reinsert the hammer butt return springs in their slots after reinstalling the hammers - here is a very simple but handy tool I picked up for this exact purpose - a thin metal rod with a slot in the end that allows one to reach into tight spaces and manipulate the tiny hammer springs.  I used to do this with a long flathead screwdriver, and the springs would always pop from my grasp - the tiny slot makes all the difference.


One other curious issue with this piano - the bridge under two of the strings for the first unison above the treble break was chewed away - I've never seen this before and am not sure how it occurred, but it resulted in the strings having an atrocious dead, tubby, out of tune "thunking" tone that jumped out every time one played this note.  As bridge cap replacement wasn't in the plans for this customer, we simply removed these strings.  A former technician had left a note in chalk on the plate above these pins, and placed felt in between these strings to mute them out - however, this still left a dull thud in the sound.


I warned my client that only having one string would add stress to the hammer over time and potentially cause it to break or become loose due to the torquing effect of hitting an uneven surface - instead of hitting an even plane of three strings, only the right edge of this hammer will hit the single remaining string, causing it to twist to the right upon each impact.  He was willing to take this risk to get rid of the sound of the dead strings, so I clipped them and pulled them out.


The appointment took an extra two hours than planned, as treating "Just the worst hammers" turned to "you might as well do every one that's sluggish while you're here" but it was satisfying to do something out of the norm, and get good results!