21 June 2018
By Ellie Palmer
Robert Herzig talks to us about how his piano restoration company took a 1933 German piano and restored it from the inside out.
In 1935, when this beautiful piano was built, rock legend Elvis Presley had just been born. Fast forward 83 years and a lot has changed. For one, the piano has outlived the legendary singer by some 41 years. But what hasn't changed?
The withstanding language of music.
When Robert Herzig - along with his family-owned piano company Piano Herzig AG - was presented with this 0-180 Grand Piano, he felt he had to restore it.
'In a world where everything has such a short life, especially electronic music equipment which usually gets thrown in the bin after 2-3 years due to lack of value, I just had to restore this one. The piano is around 83 years old and needed to be restored after these many, many years of use. It was built in Hamburg, Germany in 1935-1936. It was family owned its whole life. If you imagine that the piano has been passed through multiple generations, it is just fantastic to bring it back to life and getting it ready for another 60-70 years or maybe more.'
It's quite remarkable that pianos can indeed last for centuries if they are well looked after. PianoHerzig aim to extend the lives of pianos for as long as possible, allowing them to be enjoyed by multiple generations. But there is one question that many of us don't specifically know the answer to.
What exactly is involved in the process of restoring a piano?
'With this particular piano,' explains Robert, 'over 150 hours of work went into its restoration. First, we inspected the piano at the costumer's house before transportation directly to our workshop. Before we start to disassemble the piano, we have to take lots of measurements. There are many important dimensions that need to be exactly the same after the restoration.'
'After that, we can start to disassemble the piano. First of all, the piano lid gets removed and stored. The dampers and the strings are then removed. The cast iron plate, which holds the tension of the strings, is also removed. The pin block and the soundboard can then be inspected for damage.'
The restoration process itself
'The restoration process can now begin! The first two parts to be replaced are the bridge and the pinblock. After that, any cracks in the soundboard are repaired with spruce shims, which are simply thin wedges of wood or plastic that fill the cracks. The old, brittle paint on the soundboard gets removed and the soundboard then gets repainted. Next up, the iron plate is restored. It gets a complete respray, and the agraffes and the hitch pins are replaced with new parts.'
'The iron plate then goes back into the piano. The pin block holes are then drilled and the iron plate gets mounted into the piano again. The iron plate needs to be set extremely exact in order to get the right amount of pressure from the strings to the soundboard! This is very important. The piano then gets a set of new strings with new tuning pins and new felts. The piano is then shipped to a specialist for the complete repainting of the case with a high gloss polyester finish.'
An incredibly complex process for sure. There is one last part to the restoration process, however.
Restoring the piano action
'First, the keys get new felt bushings and the keys are polished,' explains Robert. 'The hammer shanks, hammerheads the back checks and all the felts underneath the keyboard are replaced with original parts from the Steinway factory in Hamburg. When this is rebuilt, the regulation process begins. Every part of the piano has to be balanced and levelled very precisely to achieve a perfectly working piano. Finally, the piano gets tuned and voiced!'
What was the hardest part of the restoration process?
'The replacement of the pin block is always a challenge because it's a long process. There are many steps involved and you really want to avoid mistakes because it takes a lot of time to redo everything of course.'
And Robert was right. In total, over just shy of 200 hours of work went into the restoration of this brilliant piano.
You can watch the full 8-minute video of the 0-180 Grand Piano Restoration below.