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#2289622 - 06/14/14 12:29 PM Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed
BillJZ Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/14
Posts: 20
I have a 1946 Chickering Console in the famiy, that while it has sentimental value and is a beautiful piece of furniture, has not been played in 25 years. It probably only had 5-7 years of heavy use during it life.

I was looking to restore it. I called 3 restorers, the first told me he could get it working, polished and moved for $4500 sight unseen and I would have a 10-12K piano when done. Needless to say, I looked at other options.

The second local restorer referred me to a RPT through his guild (the piano was about 2 hours away from his shop at my parents). This restorer said that he would strongly advise against restoring it after he heard the results of the inspection, he refused to do it himself because it would be a money pit.

1) Pin block in superb shape. Casting without cracks and in good shape. Soundboard in good shape based on sound of the piano and visual inspection.
2) Needs to replace strings to get it to sound good.
3) Hammers are hard from aging but not that worn.
4) Approximately 1/2 the keys have some verdigris in their actions causing sticky keys. He advised getting them replaced.
5) Cabinet in great shape, he considered the quality of the wood

The RPT who examined it said this was beyond the scope of his skills...he was semi-retired and did do action overhauls anymore. He thought that while it would not be a good move financially, he thought that I would probably get a better piano for the money if I restored this one instead of buying a new one.

The out of state restorer who does a very high volume quoted me 7-8K for the job, including repining and rebushing of the action parts that had verdigris, refinishing, restringing, regulation, voicing, and transport. They did not feel that the actions in all likelihood needed to be replaced and offer a 20 year warranty/trade-in.

The first restorer quoted me a simular price for a similar scope of work but felt things like restringing and replacing agraffes were probably necessary which the out of state restorer recommended. He did not offer a warranty.

My two main concerns are:

1) Verdigris - this can come back from what I read after repining. I would hate to dumpy 4K into an action and have it fail. I'd rather hold off on refinishing and get the actions replaced.

2) Hammers - can old hammers that have light use be refurbished? Or should they be replaced, especially if I get new actions?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Thanks,

Bill
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#2289873 - 06/15/14 12:12 AM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 2077
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
I have never seen a Chickering from this era with verdigris in the action flanges. It must have been infected after it left the factory. It is usually best to replace the flanges to deal with the problem permanently. I do so little vertical piano work I am unsure if replacement flanges are available.

Heating the flanges with a heat gun to "burn" the oil out of them, removing flanges, rinsing them in acetone, and then repining them a couple days later will probably return them to serviceability. The action would need to be disassembled for this.

Hammers do not deteriorate from time unless the air is full of clothes moths and free radicals, (ozone).

Maybe first getting the action reconditioned and regulated, and the piano cleaned and tuned would be enough to return it to an enjoyable state.
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#2290007 - 06/15/14 07:15 AM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
Olek Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7554
Loc: France
if not too much specific new flanges are ideal an not so expensive.

Brass centers are not use anymore I think.

the products to clean brass are uneffective ? (with some acid within, fluoride something I think )

I suppose it will return if the centers are still there anyway.

Changing all the cloth and centers is more cost (time) than a new flange set. with 2 major flanges sets in a vertical why not but not cheap repair.

I have seen flanges that had verdigris, because some oil have been used (probably) and oils are acid, anyway there was a greenish greasy looking ring around the cloth.

When Ballistol oil is old it look like paraffin gunk, or thick Vaseline. Repin in those conditions gives unpredictable results, gunk on reamers, friction change after a few days, just horrible.
Gluing new cloth on an oiled flange is also not as easy (the same may happen with Teflon, as a molding agent it cannot help gluing)
I am not that fast with cloth replacement, but full set should be feasible in a half day. 4 sets of 20-25 flanges on a 1mm wire for glue setting, then adjusting to a new center by moisture and burnishing.
The results are day and night with standard new center in old cloth so I regret not biting the bullet more often.






Edited by Olek (06/15/14 02:23 PM)
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#2290064 - 06/15/14 11:36 AM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
BillJZ Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/14
Posts: 20
Thanks to you both. I do now question whether it is verdigris. I had my father look at the actions and to his untrained eye he could see nothing greenish around the hinges. The piano has been sitting in a house on Lake Erie, and I am sure it's a humid environment.....perhaps it's just swollen wood causing the hinges to stick.

Regardless, both of the restorers who are willing to do the job suggest repinning over replacement. I suppose it depends on the extent of the damage and the experience of the technician refurbishing actions.

So the replacement pins are not made of brass and therefore can't get verdigris?

The main problem is that neither restorer can actually see the piano. So I have to ship it to them before they can give me a definitive answer.

I have some thinking to do. Financially it would probably make more sense to get a new Japanese studio piano or a gently used Charles Walter if I could find one, but we love this piano as a piece of furniture and it has a fair amount of sentimental value for my family. I doubt I could turn around and sell this Chickering for much more than 3K after I spend 7-8K to get it refurbished.
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#2290087 - 06/15/14 12:45 PM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
Olek Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7554
Loc: France
My advice in that case is that you and your father read/document and think about the given method to free the centers. I have done it on an action that was totally stuck by moisture and 3passes Where just needed to make the action free. Indeed you may have also keys that are slow or had swollen, but with an old keyboard that should be limited and you certainly could manage that yourself.

Then also take a lot of pictures, restoring a piano involves always costs that does not mean the piano will be superb in the end.


So do the economic route for your piano, then have a tech doing a little care on it, and buy another. If your piano play it will be easier to sell.

Good luck

PS a piano technician cannot use the "moistening" technique as 8 hours are necessary between passes

Moistening the centers is not difficult, a brush or a syringe to put some drops of the mix between flanges. (good light, good eyes, but there is no risk if some drops fall.

The parts do not need to be moved, just wait for drying and test. Do not hesitate to ask details, there are 4 series of centers, 3 are more important.

As you said, refurbishing is not "rebuilding" . the proposals done for a ertical are generally a little limited if we look at all the possible rejuvenation, cloth and spring changes , that could be one. despite that, you hardly can resell the instrument for the cost of the job, and a real total rebuild implies much more things, .
With luck and a good quality action originally, the job can be somehow limited particularly if the piano di not play much) so that can be a chance for you.
But beliee me, fining a tech that know enough piano rebuiling to make an efficient restoration while keeping the "charm" of the piano of those eras is not at all easy.

Just because of the scaling choices some points have to be evaluated correctly before mounting the usual modern strings.

A certain idea of the tone those ^pianos had is necessary. A certain level of musicality, playing piano with some "finesse" is necessary to be a complete "rebuilder" (hopefully that is not so rare)

BUt, if the piano have some small weaknesses and a general quality that mean those is worth correcting those (for instance a little loss in pressure in a part of the sounboard, while the panel is basically in good condition) Most technicians will not propose to recap the bridge to good height so the sound will not suffer from a "hole " in the melodic region.

If not the one that work on hammers , install new ones or oice the originals, nee to be a real expert and to unerstan what possibilities exists.
Those sort of technicians rarely work on vertical pianos, many even do not make rebuilding at all.
So very often old pianos are repaired in a "basic" way, an it will be enough for people without too much exigence, but I have seen numerous "restored" pianos that finished on craiglists, or people desperate because all the charm of their old instrument have been traded for a strong metallic ringing, not very appealing , or the action was totally unresponsive, unbalanced; it is very easy to make small mistakes that have large effects if one have not be trained in ancient pianos repairs/rebuild correctly when learning.

On the other hand I am sure there are precise , intelligent and giftedd restorers, some of them being een able to work on site for some of the things done in the shop usually.

Before deciding for a tech in any case I suggest to go to the workshop, see the work done, listen to finished instruments.
Ore use referrals from real professional musicians, not on tuning but on repairs and maintenance/regulation , voicing.
Creentials can be good as training in factories, in places reputed for quality, etc.

BTW 1945 is old without being extreme, but immediate after war production can mean some material problems, in France it was the case anyway, I had trouble with brass parts of mediocre quality for instance.

Sorry I am always long winding, trying to help.
If you where able to look at pivots it is not difficult to moisten them with alcohol and water, wait and see. As I said no tech will do that on site, The result can be goo in one pass, sometime too efficient also so a test on one or 2 pivot is done prior to moisten them all - 70% water 30% alcohol is basic mix)

Goo luck







Edited by Olek (06/15/14 02:15 PM)
_________________________
It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2290089 - 06/15/14 12:57 PM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
Olek Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7554
Loc: France
Old un played hammers that took moisture should be "repaired" but the felt itself loose some tension by itself in time (with some huge advantage sometime on old high quality instruments, first grade felt retain some elasticity, anyway the tone will be on the soft side.

Changing strings may be more important if rust and corrosion are there. Here also, some strings quality where better than now, anyway for old pianos.
You may be able to hear some of that yourself once the piano play and is tuned

Bass strings are generally "dead"


Edited by Olek (06/15/14 12:58 PM)
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It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2290114 - 06/15/14 02:43 PM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
Olek Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7554
Loc: France
to check centers at large a simple test :

Open the piano case

With one hand on the back of the key so the keys o not move, Push on the left pedal or push on the hammer rest rail with a hand so all hammers travel 1 inch +- then release and look at the way the hammers go back. despite their assist spring if centers are stiff some will stay vertical, some will return very slowly.

To check the keys, they are usually leaded on their back so the rise alone to rest position without the help of the action parts weight. So if you lift a few parts (the part that sit on the keys an push the hammer toward the string) and press the keys, they should rise even a little slowly but they should go back to their normal position. With a tactile hand you may even feel if the keys are free or no.
To check the axis of the "whippen" (intermeiate part) push the hammer (s) towar the strings (lightly) with one hand, press the sustain peal with your foot (!), then rise by hand the whippen an release, it must go own clearly, not slowly.

You also can feel if the part is free or grip a little.

Make a video, take pics, sen that all there an you will have a lot of help.

Regards

PS I am basically incline to salvage most pianos build since 1930 glorious era for French/European pianos. Then actually the cost of work (an parts) hae been raised much and large jobs are more and more sen outside in subcontractors workshops that specialised , in countries with less expensive hourly rates (could be 40% of the cost.
As all things we do not have total control on there can be surprises and even an "in deep" work can be done cheaply , but I know many colleagues that sen that way pianos when the case have to be refinished and soundboard refinished + strings changed along with pinblock, new bridge top etc... As long as the piano is yet in "modern" standards and that we ask specifically for some quality parts, that can be a solution, but I did not o that yet.
And I have seen the results on French pianos, treated as a German instrument of the same era, an that was not sounding as good as if other strings have been choose, scaling revised, etc ect ("details").
If a 1945 Chickering vertical is a "modern" instrument , restoration is not very difficult.

But with strange choices, specific action, this mean a lot of trouble, or installing a new action sometime. nothing cheap.

Pics neeed

best regars
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It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2290414 - 06/16/14 09:54 AM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
BillJZ Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/14
Posts: 20
Thanks. I am a musician (played trombone in college and guitar now), but pianos are completely new to me. This piano will be primarily for my daughters, although I am sure I will not be able to resist learning along with them.

I will be traveling up to my parents in a few weeks to take a good look and some pictures of the piano as well as check the centers/keys as you describe. I will be having the action regulated regardless.

I really appreciate the advice, its allowed me to ask some good questions and find a restorer who has refurbished several 1940s Chickering consoles and does refurbishment frequently on uprights. No easy to find, but I found one.

Unless he feels the hammer butt flanges look really good when he inspects the piano, I will probably have them replaced and get the other less critical action parts repinned as necessary.

I did talk to the tech again that looked over the piano and he definitely felt there was some mild verdigris, mostly in the whippens from what he could tell. He did say the hammer butt/flange joint was sluggish in a lot of the actions.



Edited by BillJZ (06/16/14 09:57 AM)
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#2290622 - 06/16/14 05:06 PM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
Olek Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7554
Loc: France
Hello, yes sound reasonable to change the flange even for a "refurbishing," if the good ones can be find.
Better result +- same cost (not much more anyway)

Good for you to find someone that worked on similar instruments.

Lets get in touch when you will take the pics etc.

A few questions for the technician, for instance if he evaluates the scales before changing the strings (not all o that, on a modern design it is not so important but it is always better to know what we are working on). Who makes the wound strings, there are others.

Regards
_________________________
It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2303949 - 07/19/14 07:40 AM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
BillJZ Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/14
Posts: 20
I got to travel to my grandparents house and take a good look at it. It was in REALLY rough shape. A lot worse than my dad or the tech described. (I had not seen the piano in 3 years myself and couldn't remember.) The hammer looked lightly used but the finish was chipped and cracked in several places. The ivories were chipped in about a third of the keys, and all various shades of yellow. The keys were all sticking to some degree and the strings were rusty. I did sound good, esp in the bass, relative to other used pianos I have tried.

My wife also did not like the style and we probably want a taller piano.

I had learned a tremendous amount in the process and am committed to buying a piano and feel comfortable about refurbishing/rebuilding pianos now......but despite the sentimental value of this piano, it just isn't worth it. Too much uncertainty, esp in the action work.

Just wanted to give a conclusion to the story. Thanks to everyone for their time.
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#2303978 - 07/19/14 09:54 AM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
Ed Foote Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 1162
Loc: Tennessee
Greetings,
It is natural for an upright piano to come to the end of its service life. As techs we see it all the time. However, the musical public thinks these instruments are eternal. This may be the case for a violin or trumpet, but not for a piano. The cost of keeping them running continually increases as their performance diminishes. However, when sentimental value steers the decisions, the usual result is a lot of money spent on a piano that will never be like new, again.


Old pianos usually turn into money pits. Actually, most of them are. Rebuildable name instruments aside, 90 year old pianos are RARELY good investments. If all you need is a party room keyboard, maybe that 1925 Haynes upright will be fine, but don't expect children to learn anything about expression on it, and understand that it may be so unresponsive that an otherwise budding musical talent will find some other instrument to bond with.

One of the saddest parts of the job has been to tell a customer that they have spent all their money on a piano that still needs twice as much spent to play as it should. At this point, they realize that the money is gone and they still don't have a dependable instrument. This happens often, as there are so many charlatans in this field and fraud is being committed daily. People with only rudimentary knowledge and low standards can always find a few hundred dollars worth of "repair" in an old upright. The needs of these beasts are inexhaustible. There are some old uprights that, with some care from a tech that cares, will play properly, but they are rare.

It is unrealistic to expect 6,000 moving parts, made of wood, untreated felt and leather, glued together with animal protein glue, to be intact after 90 years of having everything from the "Old Rugged Cross" to the years of Czerny and the kegs' worth of "The Entertainer" pounded out on it. They were never designed to last this long, and there comes a time when we have to let them go..
Regards,


Edited by Ed Foote (07/19/14 09:56 AM)

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#2304014 - 07/19/14 01:10 PM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
gynnis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/14
Posts: 122
Loc: Florida, Connecticut
I have a 1927 Chickering grand in Florida with a few of the same problems. Chickerings from the post war era are not going to be the best. Rather than spending a lot of money on the piano, I'd try to dry it out (I assume you live in Ohio, if you are on Lake Erie) by leaving it in a heated area of the house. The hard hammers can be softened without much expense. Try playing in the sticky keys after you dry out the piano. Sometimes this will wipe enough of the junk out so they play properly. If the strings are rusty, there is a simple tool for cleaning the strings in place, although it's a pain to use on an upright, and won't get everything. This slight TLC might be enough to get the piano to be playable and enjoyable.
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#2304129 - 07/19/14 05:41 PM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
Ed Foote Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 1162
Loc: Tennessee
If the sticking keys are from tight action centers, it isn't a big deal to basically wet the action down with Pro-tek. It has never harmed anything I have spilled it on, and it doesn't stain wood, so you may want to discuss with the tech just being extremely liberal with it on all centers. You don't even have to disassemble the action, but with a needle nose dropper, just soak both sides of every flange. this will sometimes do nothing, other times, a complete change of action. It is a cheap way to find out whether you want to put any more effort in the piano via adjustments or voicing. rust on strings is of no consequence in this situation.
Regards,

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#2304933 - 07/21/14 04:18 PM Re: Old Chickering with Verdigris Advice Needed [Re: BillJZ]
BillJZ Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/14
Posts: 20
Thanks to you both. The same thoughts about moisture did cross my mind. I know from my experience with acoustic guitars that moisture can ruin the sound and the action and simply drying things out can improve both dramatically. Maybe drying it out and cleaning it up would be the next logical step.
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