Piano refinishing is more complex than furniture refinishing as the entire piano needs to be disassembled before the refinishing process begins. A good knowledge of the mechanical workings of a piano is critical to avoiding unanticipated problems. I spent 8 years working for the Steinway dealership in Honolulu from 1974 to 1982.
Grand Piano Refinishing
"I thought it was black"
Another garage sale find, this small (4'8") Stroud baby grand had lots of wear and tear and suffered a rough trip home without the aid of professional piano movers. Yet under the rough exterior was a great little piano that at some time had a major action rebuild which was still in great shape, except for some required regulation. Built in 1905, this small piano has great sound with an unusually strong bass, in spite of one broken string. So, like always, starting with complete disassembly of the case, stripping the faded and damaged finish was the place to begin. Then repairing the scratches, gouges and missing veneer was done to prep it for refinishing.
To the right is the initial fill and final refinish of the underside of the lid, where a broken lid hinge allowed it to come loose and be deeply gouged by the broken hinge. After the fill, the background colors and grain had to be painted in to simulate the original grain.
Above, the cast iron plate is cleaned, the strings are cleaned of corrosion and all brass is polished to look new again. Back to the original rich mahogany color, with all the damage repaired, touched up and refinished, the broken string replaced, the action regulated, and a new bench provided and finished to match, this piano is ready to start it's new life in it's new home.
This Francis Bacon baby grand was built in the 1920's, and likely has never been refinished, although it was obviously mechanically maintained, as the action and strings were in good condition. It looked to be an ebony (black) finish, but that wasn't the case, as the deteriorated finish completely obscured the original mahogany finish. Further, the ivory keytops were badly chipped, making this piano look like it lost in a bar fight! Completely disassembling the case, repairing the dents, using a quality aniline dye stain to bring out the exceptional grain patterns and maintain the clarity and translucence of the grain, and finishing in high-gloss lacquer bring this piano back to a level it hasn't seen in quite a long time. Although a hand-polished finish was not within the budget, extra work building up coats of clear and sanding between coats created quite a nice effect, while saving the owner quite a bit of money. As always, all brass hardware was cleaned and polished, the cast iron plate was cleaned, and the strings were polished to eliminate surface rust to extend their life and make them look sharp. Overall, this turned out to be a great little piano and was done within a tight budget.
"A worthy project"
Although not in terrible shape, the finish on this 50 year old Sohmer 6' grand was tired and starting to show it's age. Musically this piano is just getting broken in. With rich vibrant tone and a responsive action, this piano was obviously well cared for, and it was time to let it's appearance live up to it's musical qualities. The owner wanted to stay with the same color palette, but requested a gloss finish rather than the traditional rubbed satin finish. We decided to go beyond the factory level finish, using expensive dye-type stain for added translucence, and filling the pores of the grain with a black grain filler for a dramatic contrast. This brings out and emphasizes the natural colors of the wood, and helps the natural beauty of these veneers become an inherent part of the design. Below, you can see the black grain filler before being removed from the flake (raised portion) of the wood. A total of 11 coats of sealer, stain, filler and lacquer were applied, sanding and rubbing between many of the steps to achieve the result you see below. Finally, cleaning the interior of the piano, polishing the oxidation from the strings, polishing all brass hardware, replacing exterior felt, and applying a new fallboard decal finishes this project.
"All you need is love"
This Hallet Davis & Co. grand started life as a fine, expensive piano, and obviously had a rich history making lots of music. It also must have enjoyed a lot of cocktail parties in the days when people would entertain around the piano, singing and drinking, and oops, another drink spilled in the piano! It's also been refinished at least once before, as someone painted the plate without removing the strings. Notice the gold paint on portions of the strings! By now, with numerous broken strings and lots of rust on all the strings, it's time for a proper refinish and restringing. The owner requested changing the finish to a hand rubbed satin black (ebonized) finish. In this case, the project starts by removing the strings and tuning pins and taking the cast iron plate out of the piano to access the soundboard. After cleaning the soundboard and bridges, it was sanded and refinished before beginning on the case itself.
Below you can see the stages of finishing and stringing the piano.The soundboard and bridges were refinished, then the case was ebonized, then the iron plate was refinished and instlled back in the piano, and finally, the piano was restrung. Hidden under the dirt and stains was a soundboard decal that I was able to save.
A good stringing job consists of nice, tight, uniform coils wrapped around the tuning pins. Here we went with modern, nickel plated tuning pins to avoid future corrosion. Also, carefully cut felt goes between the iron plate and the strings to avoid false harmonics and unwanted resonance.
The hammers of this piano were grooved, but not bad enough to justify replacement, so reshaping the hammers by filing through the grooves and reprofiling them removes the "brassy" sound that comes with compacted felt. This creates a warmer, richer sound, and you can see the first 2 hammers reshaped.
This shows the first stages of repairing dents and gouges, and filling the pores of the wood to create the smooth surface required for an ebonized finish.
And finally, it all comes together as a finished piano. The old, worn keytops were replaced with new ones. A new fallboard decal was installed to identify the piano. All brass was disassembled and polished to bring it back to like-new. And the case was hand-rubbed with careful, straight strokes to give a brushed, satin finish. With superb, rich tone and a beautiful finish, this piano has a new lease on life to start it's next hundred years. No drinking around the piano, please!
This 1936 Baldwin grand was just passed on to the next generation of family musician. While lightly used and not in terrible condition, the finish was checked (alligator cracking), which indicated that the finish had dried out and was breaking down. There were numerous nicks and scratches, and the ivory keys were badly worn, with the sharps and flats needing refinishing. This piano has exceptionally beautiful walnut grain, and deserved a proper refinish.
The old finish is completely stripped, and ready for stain and finishing.
The hammers were grooved, so they were ultimately reshaped and voiced for a brighter tone that the owner requested.
The case is finished after being masked off to protect the strings and soundboard.
With new keytops and black keys refinished, and a new decal on the fallboard. things are looking fresh and new.
Although the interior was not rebuilt, cleaning the strings and soundboard makes everything look new.
Back together with a factory quality hand-rubbed finish, the spectacular grain of this piano really stands out.
Back home where it belongs, this piano offers the best of all worlds; a rich family history with strong sentimental value, plus the appearance and performance of a new piano.
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This Wurlitzer butterfly grand was made in very small numbers in the 1930's, during the depression, and apparently has quite a following, making it a rather valuable piano. This one seems to have never been restored, and had almost 80 years of use and abuse. Veneer is missing from the music rack, the finish is completely shot, and numerous dents and gouges necessitated extensive repairs. As you can see from the above right photo, the lower left corner of the case had been knocked off, and the photo to the left shows the soundboard with cracks at almost every board joint, and the soundboard decal completely faded.
Above you can see just a small number of the case repairs needed to bring the piano back to where it could be refinished. The large dents and gouges needed to be filled with a strong epoxy filler that can withstand normal use without chipping out. After that, the repairs need to be colored to match the surrounding wood, and the grain drawn in to create a nearly invisible repair. The upper left photo shows loose veneer glued and clamped back in position before being touched up. With the iron plate removed from the piano, the photo to the left shows the initial repairs to the soundboard with shims to fill the cracks, eliminating possible harmonic vibrations when being played.
Above left you can see the soundboard completely repaired, refinished and a new soundboard decal in place. Further, the iron plate was refinished and the piano restrung. The other photos show the completed refinishing with the cabinet damage repaired, including the music rack, which needed extensive veneer repair and color matching.