Shift Lever Repair - From the Upper East Side to Long Island City and Back - PART I of III

No, I didn't forget about NYPIANOTUNER, and I definitely didn't stop being one - I just moved apartments and put a lot on hold.  Many noteworthy events transpired in the interim - it was tough to pick a favorite, but here it is. Several weeks ago I tuned an Aeolian baby grand on the Upper East Side - everything went smoothly, but just as I was about to pack up my tools and hit the door, I played a short piece to enjoy the fruits of my labors, reached for the una corda pedal during a soft section, and ran into an unexpected malfunction...the action didn't shift.

Naturally I had to dig deeper - I unfurled my tool roll, pulled the action, and quickly discovered the issue - this piano had a shift lever made from soft pine, the business end of which had worn down to a nub and no longer engaged with bottom of the key frame to shift it to the right. In the image below, the worn off edge is right around the 8 inch mark - depressing the left pedal causes a rod to push up on the left side of this lever, rotating the point on the right into a slot on the bottom of the key frame, thereby shifting the entire keyboard and hammer assembly slightly to the right so the hammers only strike 2 out of 3 strings, reducing the overall volume.


As you can see Ithis picture is looking up at the bottom of the key frame - those are the back ends of the keys), the slot was also worn down, although there was still plenty of edge for the shift lever to dig into if it had protruded further up.


I'd never seen a shift lever that wasn't made of metal, and wasn't surprised that this one had worn down.  I knew I had to remove this piece to fabricate a replacement - so I climbed under the piano to investigate.  I'll be honest - this was uncharted territory.  But I knew I could figure it out...with a little help from my friends. (more on that in a moment)

The first objective was fairly straightforward - figure out how this lever was held into the key bed and remove it.


Okay - those plates are going to have to come off.


Now what? Tiny wood wedges? Do they pry out? Yes.


Now I'll just slide it out...

But nothing is ever that easy. It wouldn't budge.  But there was nothing else holding it in - and from the gummed up residue on the axle (which I later learned was ancient lamb grease, a once common lubricant...) I surmised it was probably just stuck.

Repeated gentle, but firm, pounding with the the soft edge of my fist, further cushioned by a piece of spare felt, eventually loosed the stubborn component.

I wrapped the lever for safe transport and promised my client I'd return once I'd duplicated the worn out part.

Unfortunately, I had neither the know-how or equipment to do so - so I called up a contact of mine, a master Piano Restorer in Queens (specializing in high end Steinway grands...) to ask a favor.

And he delivered - the lead man there, A., agreed that it was strange to see a wooden shift lever.  He guessed that the original had been metal, and a former technician had replaced it with a wooden part, perhaps after having difficulties finding an original part.  After viewing the pictures, he also noted that in addition to the unfortunate choice of a soft wood, the grain on the replacement piece ran straight towards the impact point, leaving it prone to shearing off at the grain line.

And then some good news - A. could fashion a superior hardwood replacement part with proper grain orientation - and he'd do it as a favor just for me - what a guy.  It's all who you know - I'd had a number of conversations with A. at PTG meetings held on the premises, and had soon grown to love him as a master piano technician and a great guy with a lifetime of fascinating stories.  He didn't owe me anything, and I greatly appreciated him taking the time to do me this favor - in the next post I'll show you what it took to make the part...