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#1418492 - 04/16/10 01:31 PM Replacing Ivory Keytops
Copake Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/27/08
Posts: 257
Loc: Columbia/Westchester Counties ...
I have a Steinway M that is about 55 years old. Several years ago the ivory keytops started falling off--a few at first but then more and more of them. I followed the advice of a Steinway technician and used airplane cement to reattach them. They would stay on for a while and then start coming loose again. I finally gave up on reattaching them and by now the piano is unplayable. I have decided to have all the keytops replaced with plastic keytops.

Can any piano technician do this work or is it considered a specialty since I assume it doesn't come up very frequently? Would it be reasonable to ask a prospective technician if they have done this kind of work before? I want a good outcome.

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#1418496 - 04/16/10 01:34 PM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Copake]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 22460
Loc: Oakland
It is a specialty. Many techs will farm out this work. You should ask about it, and even ask to see a completed job.
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Semipro Tech

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#1418520 - 04/16/10 02:09 PM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: BDB]
Mitchell Piano Svc Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/17/09
Posts: 41
Loc: SF Bay Area
I've done this job myself a couple of times. Although I was happy with the outcome, it was far more work than I felt I could charge for. The plastic is thicker than ivory. To avoid serious regulation issues, you need to mill off the top of the key so that the final key height ends up being the same. Now I send them out.

Are you sure the ivories aren't salvageable? If you have a complete set in good condition, a qualified tech should be able to more permanently attach them (airplane cement -- REALLY??? NOT!)


Edited by Mitchell Piano Svc (04/16/10 02:11 PM)
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#1418640 - 04/16/10 06:14 PM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Mitchell Piano Svc]
Emmery Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/08
Posts: 2481
Loc: Niagara Region, On. Canada
Thick gel CA glue will do the ivories, or better yet rabbit glue, or the proper glue wafers if you have the time. Only thing the airplane cement will glue is plastic and its pretty weak at that. I find the real issue with poorly re-glued ivory is the fact that people will play on the bare key for a while and get it dirty and greasy from their fingers. This needs to be removed with TSP or other appropriate cleaner or even scraped before putting on the whitener and new ivory or they will never stay on for the duration.
_________________________
Piano Technician
George Brown College /85
Niagara Region

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#1418651 - 04/16/10 06:28 PM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Emmery]
Piano Guy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/01/03
Posts: 402
Loc: Southern Ontario,Canada
If the tech has the right equipment...replacing keys with plastic is not hard.
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Richard, the"Piano Guy"
Piano Moving Tuning & Repair
From London ON to Fort Erie ON

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#1419366 - 04/18/10 10:01 AM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Piano Guy]
Chuck Behm Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/10
Posts: 764
Loc: Boone, Iowa, USA
Quote:
If the tech has the right equipment...replacing keys with plastic is not hard.
-The piano guy.

What piano guy says is true to an extent. It's not nearly as difficult of work as say, replacing a pinblock, but it is a job which someone who doesn't know what they're doing can really manage to do a bad job of. It's important to have good tools, but it's more important that the technician take pride in his work, and is experienced in keytop replacement.

If the original ivories are still available, I would vote for replacing those correctly. Done right, they shouldn't come off in your lifetime. I favor the gluing wafers sold by Schaff and others. Again, however, having someone experienced and who takes pride is important, in that there is a right way and a wrong way to replace ivories. Chuck Behm
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#1419406 - 04/18/10 11:34 AM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Chuck Behm]
Emmery Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/08
Posts: 2481
Loc: Niagara Region, On. Canada
The job of replacing keytops with plastic is pretty routine and is taught in most any piano tech school or course. Even though its not part of the PTG testing, I'm sure the the proper information is availble to members through seminars or their training manuals.

The choice of glue, properly prepping the key to accomodate a thicker/thinner top and having good clamps is essential for the job to be done correctly. Using machinery that is designed for this work can speed things up, but is not mandatory. A table saw and a file can be used to trim and notch the key as well as many other machines. If instructions are followed carefully and a person is not a klutz, even first time efforts can come off looking nice.

I really see no reason why any tech would shy away from this work other than the fact that they may be busy enough with other parts of their business to not have time for it. Ivory work is trickier and for that it is important to get someone with lots of experience. I would rather look at new plastic tops than a poorly matched set of ivory replacements on a piano.
_________________________
Piano Technician
George Brown College /85
Niagara Region

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#1419412 - 04/18/10 11:44 AM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Chuck Behm]
Piano Guy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/01/03
Posts: 402
Loc: Southern Ontario,Canada
Chuck....I say they aren't hard ...as you say, compared to pin blocks etc. I have great tools, and jigs set up that make it easy. Mind you the first half dozen I did for myself, I am not proud of, but after hundreds, I got her down.
_________________________
Richard, the"Piano Guy"
Piano Moving Tuning & Repair
From London ON to Fort Erie ON

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#1419443 - 04/18/10 12:43 PM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Piano Guy]
Chuck Behm Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/10
Posts: 764
Loc: Boone, Iowa, USA
Quote:
A table saw and a file can be used to trim and notch the key as well as many other machines.. .I really see no reason why any tech would shy away from this work other than the fact that they may be busy enough with other parts of their business to not have time for it. - Emmery from Canada


Emmery - I agree 100%. I use a table saw to trim the tops, and nothing more than a straight-edge, a scribe and 2 hand files to finish the edges and the notches (oh, and a good Craftsman wood vise). I prefer the doing the filing by hand. I believe technicians who farm out keytop work are missing out on a rewarding job.

For any technicians who are not members of the PTG, who are interested in learning a simple, effective approach to applying keytops, I'm writing a 3 segment series for the Piano Technician Journal, which began in the March issue and will end with the May issue. Let me know if you're interested, and I'll send you a copy of the articles later this summer (after my 90 day contract with the Journal for the article has run its course). I love doing keytop work, but I hate seeing a badly done set of plastic keys done by someone who doesn't know (or care) about what they were doing. Chuck

P.S. Just to be clear, I'm not at all against the use of machines and jigs to finish off a set of keytops - I've got a set-up in my shop that works well, and that I will use if time is a huge factor. I just enjoy the relaxing nature of filing the keys by hand. I ordinarily finish my day by going out to the shop, turning on a DVD or putting on a CD and filing an octaves worth of keytops. A good way to wind-down.
_________________________
Tuner/Technician/Rebuilder/Technical Writer
www.pianopromoproductions.com
515-212-9220

"The act of destruction is infinitely easier than the act of creation" - Arthur C. Clarke

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#1419466 - 04/18/10 01:49 PM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Chuck Behm]
Piano Guy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/01/03
Posts: 402
Loc: Southern Ontario,Canada
Chuck..the "machines and jigs" do all he bulk work, the last step is hand filing an smoothing....total 2.5-3 hours....they look as good as those that come on new pianos. One of the many shop jobs I really enjoy.
_________________________
Richard, the"Piano Guy"
Piano Moving Tuning & Repair
From London ON to Fort Erie ON

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#1419795 - 04/19/10 02:48 AM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Copake]
Olek Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7929
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: Copake
I have a Steinway M that is about 55 years old. Several years ago the ivory keytops started falling off--a few at first but then more and more of them. I followed the advice of a Steinway technician and used airplane cement to reattach them.


Seem to me that "Steinway technican " mean "someone that tuned a Steinway (at last) !

The term have avery differnt meaning depending if the tech is an educated Steiwnay technician or not !

I would use the original ivories they may be thick and good quality. if some are missing or chipped they can be changed.
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#1419848 - 04/19/10 07:01 AM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Olek]
Chuck Behm Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/10
Posts: 764
Loc: Boone, Iowa, USA
Quote:
I would use the original ivories they may be thick and good quality. if some are missing or chipped they can be changed.- Kamin


If the original ivories are available, and they are not chipped or cracked, I agree. If a lot of the originals are missing, or chipped up, finding closely matching replacements can be a real problem for the technician, unless he possesses a large collection of used ivory.

Even then, replacing old ivory so that it blends in with the original set is a much more difficult proposition than substituting plastic keytops.

Either way, if the work is done well it can look great. If done poorly, it can make the piano look really bad. Chuck
_________________________
Tuner/Technician/Rebuilder/Technical Writer
www.pianopromoproductions.com
515-212-9220

"The act of destruction is infinitely easier than the act of creation" - Arthur C. Clarke

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#1419975 - 04/19/10 11:51 AM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Chuck Behm]
Emmery Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/08
Posts: 2481
Loc: Niagara Region, On. Canada
There was a product in the past called AcryliKey II available in the UK for fixing chipped ivories but I'm not sure if it is still available now. Some techs have also used a UV light activated resin that is used for surfboard repairs to do the same repair. A key is notched into the front of the ivory for better grip and the material is applied proud of the required finished surface. After it hardens, it is shaped, filed and sanded to complete the repair. Tints of yellow can be added to match aged ivory better. I have not used the product but it may be a cheaper alternative on less quality pianos that still have ivory on them.

A good repair with a properly matched ivory replacement is painstaking and quite expensive because of the hand fitting, matching and time involved....anything less than quality workmanship looks worse than a new set of plastic replacement tops in my opinion.
_________________________
Piano Technician
George Brown College /85
Niagara Region

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#1420000 - 04/19/10 12:25 PM Re: Replacing Ivory Keytops [Re: Emmery]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 22460
Loc: Oakland
The problem with trying to repair the ivories is that the reason they are popping off is because the ivory is expanding at a different rate than the wood of the keys. You can see this as the tails become longer than the space for them: the back of them, where they were clamped hard, stays glued, and the front is kept from moving forward, being constrained by the head. So everything comes loose in the middle and the tail comes up in the middle. This is going to happen to a lot of the keys, and it will become a constant problem.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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