by Craig Brougher

There is some confusion regarding the difference between rebuilding or restoration, and the most common sort of reconditioning which we call repairing. We do either in our shop, but you should know what the correct terminology is with us.

Restoration or rebuilding of an instrument-- in our shop at least-- refers to a complete overhaul with veneering and finish restoration. If the instrument has been repaired before, it is ignored and removed, and everything is put back to original specifications-- or as accurately as possible. The player mechanism, when restored, has been completely renovated with select original materials.

The restoration of the piano action is itemized since the condition and types of various wooden action parts vary widely. We consider the piano action a component which, when it meets factory regulation settings with new hammers, dampers, and fully regulated (the minimum) then we call that restored on an originally good action. That doesn't restore all actions, however.

Piano restorations always include a new pin plank, full restringing and repinning, soundboard rebuilding with bridge work, and totally refinished, inside and out. Action parts and other mechanical parts that need to be replaced must be done, including the soundboard and bridges whenever necessary. Plating is often requested and happily accommodated. In short, a restoration puts the completed instrument back to factory-like performance and, practically speaking, very close to show room appearance - depending a bit on it's original condition of course.

Several times I have received instruments which have supposedly been "restored" or "completely rebuilt" or "overhauled" according to the owners, and which need attention again. It should be realized that a true restoration done with quality materials in a professionally tested way should not require another restoration 20 years later. Regular maintenance is very minimal in a home environment for a restored pneumatic instrument-- tuning being the main outlay-- with occasional vacuuming of the tracker bar and polishing of the case about all that's required, normally. There is very little trouble experienced in a well-designed pneumatic player. Wear is greatly minimized and almost eliminated when certain pneumatic cloths and other materials are treated or used in a certain way, and other special proprietary precautions taken during the rebuild. That is a major consideration, assuming performance standards are factory equivalent.

Repairs to an old pneumatic instrument today always include all new hose and tubing, pneumatic and bellows covers, outside valve leather facings, and often gaskets and other selected items. From there you will often find the refinishing of the player parts, new screws and other new hardware often used, and all the cosmetic amenities utilized to imply a full restoration in certain cases, and while appearance is nice, what's really important to the player isn't appearance, but all the things you cannot see. To us, it is these parts which are our first priority.

If a player is anything, it is valves, and you can't see valves when you look inside the instrument. You must take it apart. So if your "fully restored" (but actually "repaired") player has stopped working, it may NOT be just some simple little thing, despite the fact that the rest of the player looks brand new. When old valve leather gives up the ghost, it does so suddenly, and the instrument has played its last, until the valves are thoroughly restored.

What is equally important in a pneumatic player is both the selection of materials and the thoroughness and experience with which the valves are rebuilt and tested. Notwithstanding all the pretty covers and hoses and finish on new-looking parts, what you can't see takes the rebuilder twice as long to accomplish as all the rest, combined, so don't be taken in. When the invisible all-important details have been neglected, the player has been selectively "repaired", according to us. And in every case, repairs will require additional repairs later on, long before the new covers and tubing has timed out.

You should expect a full restoration to last at least 40 years. The original instruments 80 years ago didn't begin their life in air-conditioned, humidity-controlled, air-filtered comfort, and yet they lasted for the most part, 40-45 years. I see no reason why a conscientious, well-tested and thorough restoration / rebuild should not last at least as long as that with just a little extra maintenance required in perhaps the last 10 years of its life. Pneumatics are the most reliable mechanical systems ever invented. Keep the tracker bar clean with a vacuum occasionally, and your maintenance is usually accomplished.

Craig Brougher

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This page was last revised on March 15, 2014

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