Originally Published on Jan. 8, 2015 on NYPIANOTUNER.com
As opposed to the infamous stereotype of the grumpy old man piano tuner, I enjoy appointments with little children - sure, they can be distracting, but they're almost always fascinated by the inner workings of the family piano - as they should be. It's not every day the front panels come off and they can see all the moving machinery that goes into producing tone when a key is depressed. One estimate I've heard gives the average number of individual components in an upright piano at above 12,000. Of course, for the most part the same parts are repeated 88 times for each key, but at first glance a piano's interior presents as delightful and mind-boggling complexity. It's said that pianists know the least about their instrument of any musicians - they know their preferences in terms of touch and tone, but quiz them on the mechanics that go into producing said phenomena and you'll usually get a blank stare. Children's curiosity is not only amusing, but it reinvigorates my own enthusiasm for the marvel of musical technology that is the piano. I enjoy answering questions and explaining the basics of piano mechanics. And today I had plenty of explaining to do - this 4 year old was climbing all around me, pointing out various aspects of the piano's innards with exclamations of (half the time correct) understanding - "Oooh! So THAT piece moves THIS one. I get it!" A future piano technician? Mechanic? Inventor? Definitely a smart and engaging kid. He presented me with a broken hammer head - "This one doesn't work - can you fix it?"
Challenge accepted. The trick here was the type of break - a diagonal break across the hammer shank is a fairly simple repair with wood glue and thread - but if the shank breaks off flush at the butt or head you must replace it. The potentially difficult part is removing the end that has broken off flush. Without a shank to grab onto, one must either try to drill out the shank left in the hole (thereby risking incorrect boring and throwing off the alignment - too hard to do in the field) or, as I prefer, remove the plug by inserting a tall drywall screw to serve as a replacement shank for the extractor to grab ahold of.
Hopefully the remaining shank left in the butt comes out in one neat piece like this...
Unfortunately that picture is from the next days appointment where I faced the exact same situation, with less pain.
Today I the shank wouldn't come out, so I had to dissolve the glue and wood as much as possible with wallpaper remover, then painstakingly chip and pull the shank splinters out until the hole is clean and ready for the replacement. Fortunately I had an epic view to enjoy while doing so.
After a bit more effort than expected the notes function was restored - I then tuned the piano, answered a thousand more curious questions, and headed out through this surreal lobby which reminded me of Where the Wild Things Are...
...and then passed a musical landmark I'd never seen before. In case you can't read that sign - Hungarian Composer Bela Bartok lived here during the last year of his life. It's a beautiful world as a NYPIANOTUNER - and a great start to the best year of our lives yet.