"I traded in my nearly brand new 2-year old Steinway B on a PianoCraft rebuilt Steinway B. The PianoCraft Steinway was just better in every way."

-Ken Luurs, Pianist

Dumbarton_Renee_Fleming-pianocraft

As featured in The New York Times: The great Renee Fleming during a Metropolitan Opera broadcast, at a Steinway D rebuilt by PianoCraft.

Piano Restoration and Rebuilding: the Heart and Soul PianoCraft

Piano restoration and rebuilding is at the heart and soul of PianoCraft.

Our restoration and rebuilding shop touches every aspect of PianoCraft and benefits and supports every PianoCraft piano and client. It gives us a depth of understanding that influences everything at PianoCraft from the choices of pianos we offer for sale to the way we help our clients maintain their pianos.

We do not simply compare our rebuild work with new examples or with other rebuilder’s work. We compare how our rebuilt pianos stack up against not only their new equivalents, but also how they perform compared with the very best and most expensive pianos from all over the world.

Restoration vs. Rebuilding

Generally speaking, restoring a piano refers to repairing existing parts with minimal replacement. Rebuilding a piano replaces critical parts with new parts to make the piano like new.

The two main reasons for selecting restoration over rebuilding are: 1) budget, or 2) historic value.

Although It is usually less expensive to restore a piano, there are exceptions. For instance, historic restoration can be quite costly as the hours required to restore existing parts can be significantly greater than simply replacing parts. Each project requires an individual approach based on many factors.

The Belly

PianoCraft has decades of experience rebuilding and restoring piano bellies including restoring original soundboards, crafting new soundboards, pinblocks, bridges, and restringing along with new hardware such as agraffes, tuning pins and even new hitch pins. The materials used are the finest available and include white spruce, sitka spruce and even red Adirondack spruce along with maple and beech pinblocks, maple bridges, German wire, and custom bass strings made for each specific instrument.

PianoCraft bellies can be created to be absolutely authentic to the design and materials of the original instrument and can also be custom designed for maximum performance, again, depending on the desires of the pianist.

The Plate

The piano’s plate plays two roles — structural and aesthetic.

With rebuilding and restoration work, the most important aspect of the plate is that it is structurally sound. PianoCraft thoroughly inspects every plate for any structural issue. Once a plate passes our stringent inspection, we include it in our 10-year rebuild/ restoration warranty — double the length of most factory warranties.

When the piano’s lid is up, the plate (the largest part of the piano’s structure) and the plate’s hardware are among the first thing people notice. They have to look great!

Our full time finishing crew devotes an enormous amount of care and attention to plate refinishing using our state of the art spray booth. We also use all new plate hardware and/or replate the existing hardware to look, function and last like new.

All work can be performed in-house and we take pride in offering the best looking plates in the business.

The Soundboard

When a piano key is engaged, it throws a felt hammer into a string causing the string to vibrate. That vibration is transferred by the piano’s soundboard into the air and is ultimately what we hear as the piano’s sound. The soundboard is the large sheet of light colored wood (sometimes yellow, white, or reddish) inside the piano under the strings, bridges, and plate. It is usually made of a series of panels 10-20 cm wide and ~10 mm thick jointed together.

The musical instrument-grade spruce chosen (red, white, sitka), its age, and its flexibility contribute to every aspect of the piano’s sound including the attack, the overtone balance to the fundamental, and the shape and duration of the tonal decay often called sustain. In addition to the materials chosen, the design of the piano’s soundboard along with the precision with which it is crafted and installed are critical parts of determining the overall quality of tone and expression available from a given instrument.

A piano’s soundboard may need to be replaced when it’s lost it’s tone because of age, environment, or damage. In some cases the original factory soundboard is in good condition but never sounded good to begin with. If the original soundboard isn’t too far gone, restoration rather than replacement can be an option. However, it is often the case the soundboard’s condition is beyond restoration and must be replaced.

PianoCraft has earned its expertise in the crafting and installation of soundboards through an intense study of soundboard design and practical application of crafting literally hundreds of soundboards over the course of decades. Pianos featuring our soundboard work can be heard in concert halls, recording studios, teaching studios, and living rooms throughout the world.

The Bridges

The energy from the strings is transferred through the piano’s bridges to the soundboard making the pitch audible.

There are generally two bridges (older pianos may have three) on a piano’s soundboard: the bass bridge, which transfers the energy from the bass strings to the soundboard, and the treble bridge, which transfers the energy from the tenor to the high treble to the soundboard. On some larger pianos the bass bridge and treble bridge are continuous and connected; smaller pianos will likely have separate bridges.

The bridges are made up of two parts — the trunk and the cap. The trunk is made up of a series of vertically laminated pieces of maple, bent into its characteristic shape, and attached to the soundboard. The cap is a solid piece of rock maple carved to fit perfectly on the bridge trunk. The cap is hand carved — or “notched” — to allow for each string to have a precision point of termination. It is important that this is done with the highest level of skill and craftsmanship. An imprecise notching will partially mute the string that runs over it.

As a side note, bridge notching is an area of pride for any manufacturer or restorer. An important part of what made the pianos of the Golden Age legendary was the quality of workmanship evidenced by the bridge notching. At PianoCraft, we craft bridges that match the workmanship of the master craftsmen of the piano’s Golden Age — a level of work and attention to detail no longer found on even the most expensive new pianos.

When a piano has an unsatisfying sound, the blame is often placed on the soundboard or hammers when the real issue may be the bridges. Depending on what is best for the given instrument, at PianoCraft we can restore the original bridges (re-etching the original carvings and repairing where necessary) or replace with brand new, perfectly carved and finished bridges.

The Pinblock

The pinblock, located under the front of the cast iron plate and not visible in most grand pianos, is a critical component whose job is to hold the tuning pins snuggly so that the piano holds its tune. Those tuning pins must also be able to be turned smoothly in the pinblock so that the piano can be tuned precisely. If the pinblock is crafted with the correct materials and fit perfectly, it will support the piano’s tone.

If the pinblock will no longer grip the tuning pins adequately, it may need to be replaced. If the piano is older and the strings need to be replaced, it is best practice to replace the pinblock at the same time.

The pinblock is made of several laminations of wood, either beech or maple. Over time, the holes in the pinblock that secure the tuning pins enlarge from repeated tunings and from the seasonal swelling and shrinking of the wood. As the pinblock itself ages, the wood can dry out and lose resilience and no longer grip the pins tightly. Glue joints can fail and the pinblock’s laminations can separate. The piano’s pinblock will need to be replaced at this point.

PianoCraft pinblock material is the same as that used by the most expensive new pianos and will generally be an improvement over what was in the piano originally, allowing for a better, more precise, more stable tuning.

The making of a new pinblock is a complicated operation requiring meticulous fitting and cabinetry skills. If it is not fit perfectly, the 20+ tons of tension exerted from the strings will move the pinblock resulting in the piano’s sound and tuning stability being compromised. Furthermore, the pinblock must also be drilled with great precision using specialized equipment.

PianoCraft’s precision drilling along with expert hand crafting, fitting and shaping of the pinblock to the plate is often an improvement — sometimes dramatically so — over what was done originally in the factory. A new pinblock from PianoCraft will support precise and stable tunings for a lifetime!

Strings, Stringing & Tuning Pins

A piano has approximately 240 strings. Treble strings are made of steel music wire graduated in thickness from the tenor section to the top of the treble; there are three strings for each note in the treble. Bass strings have a steel core wrapped with copper and are also graduated in thickness beginning with one string per note in the lowest section going on to two strings per note and then sometimes three.

On the keyboard end of the piano, the strings begin at the tuning pins; steel cylinders with squared off tops and threaded bottoms. The string is threaded through a hole in the top of the pin and wrapped around the tuning pin in tight coils. The tuning pins are driven into precisely drilled holes in the pinblock which holds them in place.

The string leaves the tuning pin passing over the front duplex bridge – a small bridge cast into the plate that raises the string. The bass, tenor, and treble strings travel through agraffes (metal guides that space the strings). The high treble strings go under the capo d’astro (a metal bar cast into the plate) the point of termination that defines one end of the string’s speaking length. The other end of the string’s speaking length is defined on the far end of the piano by the soundboard bridges. The string is guided over the bridge by copper bridge pins, and then goes beyond the bridge to the hitch pins (metal pins driven into the far end of the plate). The lengths of the strings that are beyond the string’s speaking length that are not intended to sound are muted by felt and cloth stringing braid. In order for a piano to sound its best, each one of these termination points must be precise.

PianoCraft uses the world’s highest quality stringing wire sourced from Roslau (Germany) and Paulello (France) and the world’s best tuning pins made by Klinke (Germany). PianoCraft only uses custom made bass strings manufactured with the very best German Degen copper. Careful measurements are made of each individual piano before bass strings are crafted for that specific instrument. This makes a noticeable improvement over generic factory bass strings that are made in bulk and strung off the shelf rather than custom made for each instrument.

A piano strung by PianoCraft benefits from world class craftsmanship and the finest materials resulting in a pure, singing tone with an unrivaled bass response.

The Action

The piano’s action is the pianist’s connection to the piano’s sound. It is an ingenious and highly complex mechanism that when perfectly designed, balanced, and regulated allows the pianist’s most subtle and expressive playing.

Because of the inconsistencies found in handmade pianos (especially American pianos), a rebuilder who simply attempts to recreate what came from the factory will produce an action that is inferior regardless of parts chosen or quality of workmanship. PianoCraft acquired our expertise by rebuilding countless piano actions, following up on them in the field, and listening to our clients. Years of analyzing, customizing, and perfecting actions in new and used pianos has given PianoCraft a unique and superior set of skills and insights into how to make a piano’s action ideal.

Casework & Refinishing

Nothing increases the value of a piano more than having it refinished to look better than new. A great looking grand piano dramatically enhances any room and more importantly, all pianists get more enjoyment when playing a piano that looks as beautiful as it sounds.

PianoCraft offers the best in factory quality finish work in natural hand rubbed lacquer as well as high gloss polyester. In fact, PianoCraft’s state of the art spray booth is from the same manufacturer used by BMW.

PianoCraft offers finishes ranging from hand rubbed satin to semi gloss to high gloss in both natural lacquer as well as high gloss polyester. In addition to completely refinishing a piano, it is also possible for PianoCraft to restore the existing finish of a piano depending on the condition of the piano’s current finish.

Preparation & Tonal Finishing

Whether brand new from the manufacturer or newly rebuilt, at PianoCraft much of the important work regarding a piano’s touch and sound is about to begin. This is known as Prep and Tonal Finishing and it is what allows the piano’s true essence to be discovered.

A fully rebuilt piano — or even a brand new piano freshly uncrated — should have its action (playing mechanism) regulated. Basically, this means the thousands of moving parts are adjusted and balanced. To assist in this process, we use a robotic key pounding machine that is much more thorough and precise than any human. It matures and stabilizes the action and helps us find any lurking problems that otherwise might not show up.

The regulation is then further refined to support the next steps of tone building, tonal finishing and voicing.

While voicing is an art and a science, what most dealers mean by voicing is simply needling the hammers to soften the sound of the hammers that are brighter than their neighbors. While important, this is only one small part of the overall tonal finishing process offered by PianoCraft. For example, we match the ideal hammer weight to each piano’s specific belly system (soundboard, bridges, strings, pinblock). Additionally, each hammer must be specially set up to hit the string at the ideal strike point. When hammers have the ideal weight and strike point, they sound richer, have the widest dynamic range, and they really sing.

PianoCraft’s tonal finishing process brings out piano’s expressive potential. It is a major part of why even the more affordable pianos at PianoCraft outperform pianos elsewhere that cost significantly more. Once pianos from PianoCraft have undergone our tonal finishing, they truly are the world’s best.