Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 65 –Saturday, December 11 – Dealing with antiques:

Goals: Install the soft board, re-start the restringing

Music: Grant Green’s “The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark” (both discs); Vince Guaraldi’s “Greatest Hits”; Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters” and “Maiden Voyage”; Roy Hargrove’s Big Band’s “Emergence”.

I had an opportunity while in New Orleans this past week to actually learn a little about antiques. Mrs. S likes to visit all the places we can only dream of ever buying something from, and so, we tour those places just like a tourist would: with our eyes and mouths wide open. But usually, the shop owners are friendly and helpful, and you can talk to them about the pieces and the Saints and shrimp po-boys, and antiques in general, and they will indulge you.

So at one of the places, I’m noticing how furniture that is as old as my piano looks shiny and new. I asked the guy what they used on their furniture to make the finish look so bright and lustrous, and he gives me some BS line about “special wax imported from Wales – we use it on all our pieces”. I asked him about some of the things I’ve been using on my piano, mainly lemon and orange oil, and he explained those products cause the wood to soak it up, but eventually it evaporates and you’re left with the same old dried wood. As we’re walking around the store as we’re talking, there are three cans of what turns out to be this "wax imported from Wales", sitting on a table, with a price tag of $35 (each) on them. Is this it? I ask. Oh yes, he says. (Why he didn’t grab one up and try to sell it to me right away, I have no idea.) So anyway, the best thing to come out of our recent trip to New Orleans for me is an antique preservative product to try on my piano and a couple of blog entries that I will write later this week.

One more thing about the antiques store guy: we were commenting on a less than well kept piece and how it looked a little rough, and he says, "Well, it’s old." That’s the bottom line with my piano. Things that are 130 years old don’t look new, and that’s that. Yes, I’ve made some mistakes, and yes, the veneer on the back is a bit bubbly, but overall, the piece is in much better shape for all the work I’ve put in, and if anyone is expecting something different, well that will be their tough luck.

Yesterday, I set out to install the soft board, having bought the screws necessary for the job right before leaving for NOLA. Right away, I put one screw in, and it split the wood. I had to glue it, wait for it to dry, and while that was going on, I cleaned the hammer assembly and shanks and heads, cleaned the support frame, pulled off the old felt and washed it, cleaned off the old glue, and cleaned the wood of both of the support pieces. During those processes, one of the stop buttons split, so I had to repair that too.

After all that, I put a support screw in the soft board where it split, cleaned and polished the swivel support (you can see what 130 years’ worth of patina/dirt looks like in the before and after photos, below), and put the board in. Of course, the screws I bought were just a little different than the ones that came out, and they extended through and were scratching the soundboard, not to mention not allowing the soft arm to move freely, so I took the screws out and cut them. I also put some felt pads under the soft board for better support.
Swivel tab - before

Swivel tab - after
By this time, the felt that I removed from the hammer support frame was washed and dried, so I used my contact cement to stick it to the bottom of my sock when I stepped on it accidentally while trying out the lock in the lock slot. After I got the felt off my sock, I put it back on the support frame to avoid any further problems with it. I filled the lock slot with acrylic filler because (of course) the lock I purchased doesn’t fit quite right. I used bamboo to fill the extra wide hole to fit the new escutcheon, and then I had to wait for all that to dry.

It was time to do some stringing, again.

It took me a long time to get to actual stringing. I had to count how many spaces were left, which string widths went where, and because I didn’t know quite what I was doing back when I was taking off the strings, the numbers weren’t working out quite right. All I really knew was that I had 33 custom strings for the low end, and five different widths for the high, and that was it. Try as I might, I couldn’t make the numbers come out, but, I had one note that I wrote down that made it come together. It said “0.8 mm that side of frame, 0.86 this side of frame”. By using the numbers I had for the four string widths on this side of the frame, I was able to find the correct positions for all the width ranges.

Now I really was ready to string.

I could only do two more strings over the next 45 minutes, because the pins were all under the support arm and I have 47 year old eyes. I had to shine a flashlight, take my glasses off, put them back on, check the wire position, remove my glasses, recheck, replace, put my glasses back on, move the light, hold the wire, insert it in the pin, remove my glasses, check the wire position, move the light, replace my glasses, ... like that. Did I mention I was working with 0.86mm wire? You know, where if you let go of it, or it slips, it springs and snaps backs, and if you’re holding you head right over it with your glasses off, it’s really dangerous? I did mention that? You get the idea. Here's what it looks like now:

Seriously: Stringing antique square pianos is not for the timid.

But I finished the two really hard ones yesterday, so now I’m set to keep stringing all day tomorrow. Wish me luck. I'm going to do that while baking a chocolate Cajun-spiced rum cake to keep the house (and me and Mrs. S) warm.

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