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#647034 - 11/03/07 12:15 AM Disconnected hammers
bobrunyan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 81
Loc: Marysville, California
I visited the 1910 Chickering upright that I posted about a few days ago (when I asked about tuning up to A440 from a piano designed to be tuned to A435). Everything looks to be in very good shape on this piano and it sounds great. There's a problem with the piano though. Nine or ten hammers, mostly in the low bass, have separated completely from the hammer butt flanges.

I'm not a technician so I didn't look to see what kind of flanges the piano has. Maybe someone here knows.

My question is whether reconnecting these hammer butts is going to be a huge job and whether the parts will be available. I'm looking in Reblitz, and it seems like it might be doable by a neophyte if the piano has standard flanges. But what if it has one of the non-standard flange types? I read that Chickering had a flair for doing things in a non-standard way.

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#647035 - 11/03/07 03:57 AM Re: Disconnected hammers
Cy Shuster, RPT Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/18/05
Posts: 3448
Loc: Albuquerque, NM
If parts have come apart on a hundred-year-old piano, I certainly wouldn't agree that "everything looks to be in very good shape". With a piano this old, there's very likely a great deal more work that's required.

If the flanges have come apart at the joint between flange and shank, it's probably because the bushing is completely missing and so is the center pin. Rebushing action centers is not a job for a neophyte.

If you're looking for a project piano to learn repairs on, and they want just a few hundred for it, go ahead. If you want an instrument to play, have a technician check it out to see if it's even tunable (looking for tuning pin torque, bridge separations, etc.).

--Cy--
_________________________
Cy Shuster, RPT
505-265-4234
www.shusterpiano.com
www.facebook.com/shusterpiano
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Registered Piano Technician
Dampp-Chaser Certified Installer
PianoDisc Certified Service Technician

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#647036 - 11/03/07 09:41 AM Re: Disconnected hammers
bobrunyan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 81
Loc: Marysville, California
Thanks for the reply, Cy. The sellers are only asking $150 for the piano. By "very good shape" I mean that there were no visible cracks in the plate, the playable notes were all pretty close to pitch, so it seemed likely the pin block is OK, the hammers looked barely worn, the hammers were nicely aligned and were hitting the strings evenly, as were the dampers, there was no visible rust or water damage (though the the bass strings are tarnished), the bridges didn't seemed to have any visible cracking, the tone in the bass was full and rich, so it seems the bass bridge is probably still attached and the soundboard is likely in good shape, the case was in good shape, the pedals all worked properly, etc.

Reblitz gives a pretty clear explanation with lots of pictures for rebushing action centers. While I agree it would be nice to have an expert helping out, everyone has to start somewhere. If I run into difficulties I'll ask here or at the local PTG meeting.

Any idea what kind of flanges this piano might have, from your experience? I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Bob

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#647037 - 11/03/07 01:22 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20749
Loc: Oakland
All bets are off on a Chickering. The most likely scenario for a bunch of hammer butts being loose is broken plates on a brass flange action, but they could be something completely different. I tuned an old Chickering upright the other day where I have replaced all the butts, which required replacing the rail and dampers as well. You could buy a new piano for less than what that would cost today. It would not be a job for a neophyte. Nor is replacing brass rails, which would cost as much as a sizable down payment on a new piano.

If you want a usable piano, get something made since WWII. If you want to learn to repair pianos, get something which is likely to be more off-the-shelf which someone will be glad to give you free for the moving.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#647038 - 11/03/07 01:37 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
tds Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/30/06
Posts: 446
Loc: Bastrop, Texas
It might be that the piano has brass flanges. If this is the case, the piano is repairable, but it might cost more than the piano is worth, IMO. The rail can be duplicated, but it is expensive. There are also repair clips available, but sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.

If a few flanges have broken, it's only a matter of time before many more will break.

The piano may or may not be worth buying and repairing. You would have to be the judge of that, since you've actually laid eyes (and ears) on it \:D

Edited comment - Whatever you do, please have a competent piano technician check the piano for you. It could save you time and money.

Good luck to you!
_________________________
Stay tuned.

Tom Seay, Recovering Piano Technician
Bastrop, Texas

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#647039 - 11/03/07 02:41 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
bellspiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 489
Loc: Boston, MA
I agree with Tom that the ten detached hammers are likely to be a symptom of more things wrong with the piano. In tech school, we were taught a rule of thumb that if as many as six of something were broken, the rest of those parts would be breaking very soon. This was useful for estimating jobs and estimating piano viability.

Are you sure that the "barely worn" hammers haven't been filed to remove grooves caused by previous wear?
_________________________
Dorrie Bell
retired piano technician
Boston, MA

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#647040 - 11/03/07 10:39 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
bobrunyan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 81
Loc: Marysville, California
I looked around the web and it seems a lot of old Chickerings did have brass flanges. Would these be the same or similar to the Billings flanges that one can buy for a couple of bucks apiece? Would the replacement Billings flanges work? What's involved in installing them?

Dorrie, the hammers, if they have been filed, have not lost their original size and shape by any appreciable amount as far as I could tell.

Thanks to all for your replies on this. I do take the point that the broken flanges are likely indicative of more to come. If the replacement flanges can be made to work without trouble, why don't I just address the breakages as they occur? The piano would be for my own use. If some kind of oddball flange would need to be fabricated by a machinist then I'll look for another piano to repair.

Bob

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#647041 - 11/03/07 11:14 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
Keith Roberts Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/04/04
Posts: 1984
Loc: Murphys, Ca
You can buy several different brass flange repair clips through Schaff. Some times they work. Depends on what is breaking. Bill Spurlock has a great method for converting brass rails to regular butts.
_________________________
Keith Roberts
Associate, PTG
Keith's Piano Service
Hathaway Pines,Ca

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#647042 - 11/04/07 05:59 AM Re: Disconnected hammers
tds Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/30/06
Posts: 446
Loc: Bastrop, Texas
 Quote:
I looked around the web and it seems a lot of old Chickerings did have brass flanges. Would these be the same or similar to the Billings flanges that one can buy for a couple of bucks apiece? Would the replacement Billings flanges work? What's involved in installing them?
Brass flanges and Billings flanges are not the same, I'm afraid.

A Billings flange is more like a normal wooden flange because it's pinned to the butt and mounted to the hammer rail with a screw. Brass flanges are different, in that a flange and plate capture the center pin and hold it in place. The plates are the pieces which often break because of age and being very brittle.

Although both hammer butts look the same, the method of attaching them to the rails makes switching the flanges impossible, unless the hammer rail is re-engineered to accept wooden or Billings hammer flanges. This is not for the faint of heart, by the way.
_________________________
Stay tuned.

Tom Seay, Recovering Piano Technician
Bastrop, Texas

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#647043 - 11/04/07 10:31 AM Re: Disconnected hammers
bobrunyan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 81
Loc: Marysville, California
Thanks, Tom. I've found the picture in Reblitz of the brass flange rail. If the piano does have this kind of hammer attachment mechanism, then it looks like the butt plates would be pretty easy for a machinist to create (I have a machinist friend). Is it possible that the butt plates have just worked lose? I see in Reblitz that they are held on by a machine screw. So maybe I'll just need to screw them back in?

Hope springs eternal. I'm going to buy the piano, despite the several ominous (and appreciated) warnings. I'll learn lessons whichever way this works out. I'll post an update when I actually have the piano here.

Bob

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#647044 - 11/04/07 10:37 AM Re: Disconnected hammers
bobrunyan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 81
Loc: Marysville, California
Looking more at Reblitz, I see that there are replacement butt plates available. So either way, Billings flanges or a brass flange rail, replacement parts seem to be available. Is there something that makes this repair difficult or expensive that I'm not getting?

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#647045 - 11/04/07 12:08 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20749
Loc: Oakland
Offer them $150 less than the asking price. That is a reasonable price for it as it is.

Keep in mind that if it is something strange like brass flanges with string loop springs, there are no parts available for it. The brass rail itself is not easy to replace, as besides the shaping, they must be drilled, pinned and tapped for each note. Replacement service is available, but it costs several hundred dollars each, and there are three of them.

I do not understand why you are fixated on this piano. It could be a pile of trouble. There are gobs of old pianos that people would be happy to have you haul away. Check the churches in your area. People dump old pianos at churches all the time.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#647046 - 11/04/07 12:19 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
tds Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/30/06
Posts: 446
Loc: Bastrop, Texas
 Quote:
Originally posted by bobrunyan:
Looking more at Reblitz, I see that there are replacement butt plates available. So either way, Billings flanges or a brass flange rail, replacement parts seem to be available. Is there something that makes this repair difficult or expensive that I'm not getting? [/b]
First of all, exact replacement parts are not available. Repair parts are, but you are repairing the original, broken parts, in most cases.

Secondly, the repair is both difficult and expensive, in my professional opinion. Only a very special piano with a family history and/or sentimental value would merit the kind of work that this piano is likely to need.

Additionally, you seem to have convinced yourself that Billings flanges will somehow work with this piano despite being told that they won't. They will not work unless you modify the hammer rail to accept them. Billings flanges are held in place by action screws which are mounted horizontally into the face of the hammer rail. Brass rail flange actions have no such holes. I hope this clarifies things for you.

The point I am trying to make to you is that although repair parts are available and even though you could theoretically patch this action back together, the amount of money you will spend will exceed the actual value of the piano by a substantial margin. Additionally, unless you choose to replace the old parts with new ones and re-engineer the hammer rail, you will continue to have the same kinds of problems occur with greater frequency, once the piano starts being played again.

So, if you are willing to either (1) put up with the action in it's present condition and do spot repairs to make it functional, or (2) spring for the hundreds and hundreds of dollars it would take to make this piano a viable musical instrument, then go for it!

As I understand it, the purpose of this forum is for experienced technicians to share some of our time, knowledge and advice with people who are willing to listen and learn from what we have to say. We're doing our part...
_________________________
Stay tuned.

Tom Seay, Recovering Piano Technician
Bastrop, Texas

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#647047 - 11/04/07 03:13 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
bobrunyan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 81
Loc: Marysville, California
Tom and BDB,

Thank you *very* much for laboring with me on this. There are still some things I am not understanding. Maybe I'm not being clear.

Tom, regarding the flange, is it true that, if the hammer butts are not attached to wooden flanges, that the hammers are attached either to a brass flange rail or to Billings flanges? Those seem like the only possibilities. If the piano has Billings flanges, only then would I use Billings flanges to replace the broken ones. If there is a brass flange rail, then it seems either the butt plates must have come lose or broken. If they've broken then there are replacement plates available from the various piano parts suppliers (see for example, parts 24495 and 24496 at www.stevespianoservice.com/actup.htm). These are cheap parts. If I have to replace 10 of them it will set me back $30. If 10 more give out in a year then I'm out another $30. Is the problem that these might not fit correctly?

I'm doing my best to listen and learn from what you are saying, Tom, but I'm not understanding yet, and I don't want to give up just because I don't understand.

BDB, I don't understand why the brass rail would need to be replaced and I don't understand what you are saying there are three of. I seem to be fixated on this piano because I still don't understand why I wouldn't be able to fix it cheaply and learn a lot from the exercise, it seems otherwise in uncannily condition, and Chickerings seemed to have a good reputation, from what I've read, from this period for sound quality if not for reliability.

You do have me worried about the return springs. If the piano does have the string-loop variety return springs, there seem to be replacements available on the same page I pointed to above (look for hammer butt return springs - flange-mounted) but who knows if they'd work? They only cost $24 for 100. Again, not a large investment.

Maybe what I am not understanding is that it is possible that none of the replacement parts I'm looking at will work in this piano? I'm hearing that I should give up without finding out.

Bob

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#647048 - 11/04/07 03:44 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
tds Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/30/06
Posts: 446
Loc: Bastrop, Texas
 Quote:
Maybe what I am not understanding is that it is possible that none of the replacement parts I'm looking at will work in this piano? I'm hearing that I should give up without finding out.
Why not do the prudent thing and pay a piano technician to evaluate the piano for you and eliminate all this guessing and uncertainty. We do this all the time. The advantage is that you will get professional advice from someone who has seen the piano.

Diagnosing a situation like this online without actually laying eyes on the piano in question is guesswork, at best.

If the flanges are the Billings type, of course you can replace them. But the fact that you described the hammers as being separated from the flanges leads me to believe that the action has brass flanges. Billings flanges normally don't come apart.

Hire a tech and get back to us with the results. After knowing what kind of action it is, we might be able to provide additional information that will be of more value to you.
_________________________
Stay tuned.

Tom Seay, Recovering Piano Technician
Bastrop, Texas

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#647049 - 11/04/07 04:21 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20749
Loc: Oakland
What you should be hearing is that you should find out before you make a commitment to this piano. One other thing you should hear is that if you just want a piano, you are likely to find something much less risky for not much more money. Like something made since WWII.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#647050 - 11/04/07 11:49 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Some folks ask for advice, but they have a specific answer in mind that they want to hear, and have a difficult time accepting a different one. I have seen it quite often here.
So I suggest to go ahead, pay $150 for the piano, get your $30 worth of parts and find out for yourself. No big deal. If all the experts o this forum end up being correct (heaven forbid!), it is not like you will end up on the streets.

Good Luck, and keep us posted of your findings.
_________________________
Jurgen Goering
Piano Forte Supply
www.pianofortesupply.com

Piattino Caster Cups distributor

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#647051 - 11/05/07 01:08 AM Re: Disconnected hammers
bobrunyan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 81
Loc: Marysville, California
Thanks, Jurgen, for wishing me good luck. In all fairness, if you look carefully at my postings in this thread, I was not looking for advice about whether or not to buy the piano, though that seems to be the advice everyone wants to give. I was trying to find out whether the hammers were likely to be easy to reconnect to their flanges. The answer, which makes sense to me, is that no one can tell me without looking at the piano. Fair enough.

Bob

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#647052 - 11/05/07 04:27 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Bob, you are right - all too often, a thread gets off onto a side track or even a different question.
I guess the answer to your question, which finally did come through, is that someone with a background on piano technology should best have a look at it. This is a very common answer given to lay persons on this forum. We can only deduce so much, based on the limited observations of a novice who has a question about a certain piano situation.

So, in those cases, the answer can be summed up in four words: "Call in a piano technican".

If it is possible to get this piano going again with reasonable means, it may indeed be an interesting instrument.
_________________________
Jurgen Goering
Piano Forte Supply
www.pianofortesupply.com

Piattino Caster Cups distributor

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#647053 - 11/06/07 02:28 PM Re: Disconnected hammers
Tom Tuner Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/08/06
Posts: 246
Loc: Bainbridge, OH
Chickering brass hammer flanges are not a bit like Billings flanges, they are a bit more like WN&G brass flanges except they are individual pieces instead of a continuous flange rail. The available replacements used to be pretty crude. I had better luck making my own. If you rework the replacements installation is not a big problem. I wouldn't condemn the piano merely on account of the flanges. The Chickering 'Quarter-grand' is a decent instrument for its size.

Tom Tuner

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