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Your Piano Related Questions answered by the Experts

01 February 2012

Your Piano Related Questions answered by the ExpertsThe words ‘reconditioning’ and ‘refurbishing’ are not really accurate terms. Both words are widely used, but the most accurate term is ‘rebuilding’. You can also use the word ‘restoring’.
There are two different types of rebuilding:
Part rebuild.This involves minor replacements to the piano, such as change of action parts or changing the complete action, replacing the damper felts and restoring the damper mechanism, the replacement of strings, agraffes (square brass studs with one to three holes on top, where the strings run through) and felts on the plate (the red felt that you see on top of the cast iron frame, over which the strings run).
Complete rebuild. This involves major replacement of the action, strings, damper felts, casework, and possible work on the soundboard – such as shimming the splits. Splits have to be shimmed when a soundboard, which is made up of several boards of spruce put together, has a split due to the piano having been exposed to drastic temperature fluctuation. The technician will put pre-cut triangular shaped spruce shims into the existing splits.
A complete rebuild is basically a replacement or restoration of all the moving parts in the piano. It’s almost like having a brand-new instrument without having changed vital constructional elements. Rarely, however, it is necessary to replace the whole soundboard of a piano, including the bridges. And with historical pianofortes, one should not replace the soundboard, for preservation purposes.
As far as parts are concerned, I always use new parts that are intended for each particular make, as it helps to maintain the uniqueness of each instrument – for example, I don’t use parts on a Yamaha that are meant for a Bechstein. The aim should be always to rebuild or restore a piano as close to the original one as possible. We technicians can provide a tailor-made rebuild for whatever the budget a customer has. Even if a piano is only partly rebuilt, it can be very improved, with the revived action and the touch up to its full potential once more.

Dietmar Assimis-Kohls is a piano and concert technician who has worked with such artists as Cristina Ortiz, Keith Jarrett and Marc-André Hamelin. He specialises in the restoration of grands and uprights and is also an experienced tuner for concerts, recording sessions and domestic pianos.

You can send your piano-related questions such as this to Pianist magazine's editor Erica Worth, and we will try to answer these questions within the magazine and online.
 

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