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Stringing an Upright Piano
Subject: Stringing an Upright Player Piano without Removing the Keybed.

Hi All,

Although some may strongly disagree, I know from firsthand experience that it is not necessary to remove the keybed of an upright player piano just to lay in new strings. In fact, I will go one step further and say that removing the bed is not even desirable.

The amount of time it takes to remove and then later install the key slip, the cheek blocks, the legs, all of the linkage under the keybed, the keys and the keybed, plus all of the time it takes to regulate everything once the stringing job is done, is greater than the few moments that it takes per string to walk around the side of the piano and hook the string to the hitch pin. (Naturally, I use a piano cradle so the piano is horizontally oriented.) Also, in a reproducing upright there are numerous pieces of tubing which are routed either through the keybed or through a cutout section of the keybed, between the keybed and the side of the instrument. When you think about the time that can be saved by leaving the keybed in place, it is a wonder that anyone would consider removing it unless doing so is absolutely necessary.

Figuring that there are an average of 138-140 pieces of piano wire (including the bass strings) and that it takes 15-20 seconds to hook each wire to a hitch pin, the total time spent hooking the wires to the hitch pins is less than one hour. Of course, with the steel strings I (a) pre-size the wire, (b) bend the wire in the middle, (c) hook it to the hitch pin, and (d) guide it through the bridge pins before I (e) trim the wire to length, (f) connect it to the tuning pin, (g) wind it 4 turns, and (h) drive it into the block. Then I repeat steps 'e-h' for the other half of the wire. If you have trouble keeping the wire on the hitch pin, you can add another step between 'c' and 'd' and secure the wire in place at the hitch pin with a set of mini vise grips. (I only mention the steps because they are quite different from those used if you start the process by (a) connecting the tuning pin to the end of the wire, which is still attached to the spool, and then (b) hammering the pin into the block.)

Naturally, the above method assumes that you're not worried about the few inches of piano wire that will be lost when each half of the string gets trimmed to the correct length. Also, it's my opinion the above method helps reduce the possibility of accidentally twisting the wire. This is because the wire isn't being forced around the hitch pin once one end has already been anchored in place.

To get the job of stringing the piano done in even less time, I modified a simple telescoping device so that the keys can also stay in the piano. (see picture below) The device was originally a telescoping rod with a hook on one end, like the device used by boaters to pull a boat next to the dock. I removed the hook and some of the rod and replaced the hook with a soft rubber end cap. This gives the ends the small amount of 'compressibility' necessary to secure the 'key-holding' rod between the inside sides of the piano. The rod is placed directly over the middle of the keys, at the key pins, preventing them from falling out while the new tuning pins are banged into the block.

Device to Hold the Key in Place

I suppose I'm probably one of a very few technicians who will restring an upright piano in the customer's home. As long as the instrument isn't too far away from my home, the cost of traveling back and forth is typically far less than the cost of moving the instrument. This is especially true when the instrument is located anywhere but on the ground floor of the home. Also, working on the instrument in the customer's home eliminates the possibility of damaging the instrument during the two moves. Obviously, the customer has to endure the banging noises and the loss of a 10' x 10' area of their home during the course of the job, but I find that they are usually more than happy to make these small sacrifices if they can save hundreds of dollars. Besides, most people really enjoy watching me work, and they are usually fascinated to learn how much detail goes into the stringing of a piano. They often take numerous pictures.

Also, I should also mention that I routinely remove the bottom and the top of the piano before starting the job. I also tighten all of the plate bolts and/or screws, service the casters, lightly tap in the bridge pins, replace all of the felt on the plate, and give the inside of the piano a good general cleaning. Also, repairing the soundboard is quite easy once all of the strings are removed.

John A. Tuttle (03-24-02)

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