First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions.

Posted by: SimpleSeybold

First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 12:27 AM

Wow, so much to learn.

I've read about 100 threads on this forum now, and I'm a little awed by the level of knowledge and expertise here. I'm a software/hardware engineer specializing in acoustics and digital signal processing. I've written lots of commercial-grade audio-related Windows and Win-Mobile apps and have full understanding of acoustics and harmonics and vibrations and waves. And I have a strong background in physics and math. So I follow the discussions easily from a theoretical standpoint, even the really techical ones. But my practical standpoint in the musical instrument universe has been limited to one Fender Stratocaster Guitar, which I pick at with moderate ability at best but truly enjoy flailing away at it anyway. I can mentally make the leap from the guitar's workings to a piano's workings (at least where strings and bridges and tuners are concerned) so I'm grasping the concepts, but learning your terminology and techniques from scratch, so bear with me.

So a friend of mine took pity on a 80+ year old Seybold upright piano that seems pretty solid from outward appearances. Lovely Birds-eye maple cabinetry inside, looks like a walnut exterior, under an 80-year-old varnish that's seen better days. The price was right, free, off of a Cragslist ad in middle Indiana (USA). The only identifying marks are "Seybold Piano - Elgin Ill", and a serial number of 20866. Research says that Seybold went out of business in 1930 due to the Great Depression, so the piano is from the 1920's at the latest. It needs some refinishing work to shine again, which is one of my hobbies and should be no big deal. But it's ghastly out of tune, so discordant that it makes your eyes water and ears bleed to hear it. The owner has extremely limited finances and can't realistically consider hiring a tuner or having it professionally restored, but she loves the piano and has several children who would benefit from having one in the house. So I volunteered to bring it back to playability, if at all possible.

So I learned from this forum what a tuning hammer is, and what it does. I wrote my own electronic tuner which is commercial grade and runs on a smartphone. I know exactly which keys should sound what note, I know what beat frequencies are and how to hear them. I learned even about "stretch tuning" and why it's important, but step one for me will just be to get each key tuned to the exact frequency for that particular note, and stretch later when I'm more comfortable with what I'm doing.

I was going to tune it cold with just my working knowledge of physics and acoustics, but ran into my first snag in that plan immediately. Lack of tools. I plan on buying a #2 star-shaped tuning hammer ASAP. Why it's called a hammer and not a wrench sort of escapes me, but that's neither here nor there I guess.

Soon as the hammer arrives, the first easy question is simply this: How hard should one turn a tuning pin before concluding it's "stuck". I tried a few of them with a simple Craftsman 1/4-inch hand wrench but was unwilling to put more than moderate force on them without knowing exactly what I'm doing. They seemed VERY reluctant to want to turn. Is there a secret method that escapes me? Do they rust up? If so, is there a proper method for freeing them? I won't try it again without a proper hammer tool, but I'd simply like to get a "feel" from you experts on how hard the pins are to turn. Comparing it to my Strat, which is almost zero effort, they seem rather impossible at present. A rough guesstimate, in Foot-Lbs would be nice.

Hopefully with some sage advice from you masters, we can make a family happy and bring music into a few kids' lives for little or no cost except time spent doing a good deed. Among other things I'm a pretty accomplished motorcycle mechanic, so I know tools and how to use them. Seems like I can do this, with a little guidance.

Thoughts? Thanks in advance.
Posted by: David Jenson

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 07:59 AM

Those tuning pins are tight as you discovered. If you could have moved them with the 1/4" wrench, it's likely that they would have been too loose to hold pitch. The pins typically start life at 200ftlbs of torque (or somewhere in that ballpark), and settle down to 160 to 150 ftlbs for a working torque. That's why the tuning "hammer" has a long handle and a pretty tight fit on the pins, and that's why all of us tuners look so darned muscle-bound and good-looking. smirk
Posted by: RonTuner

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 08:38 AM

Suggestion: Turn in the direction to lower the pitch first...

Ron Koval
Posted by: Mark Cerisano, RPT

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 09:19 AM

Please see my private message to you.
Posted by: Ed Foote

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 09:25 AM

Greetings,
I suspect that is a "Stencil Piano", a generic instrument made with no name on it so it could be sold by retail stores that put their own name on it with a stencil. If the name is cast into the plate, it is not usually a stencil.
Tuning pins will hold pitch with 80 in/lbs or torque. If it is lower than that, on the flattening direction, you may want to tip it back and treat it with CA glue.
As Ron said, there is often a bond that has formed between strings and bearing points, so loosen the strings enough to hear the pitch change before you pull it sharp.Or, learn to replace wire.

<<Among other things I'm a pretty accomplished motorcycle mechanic, so I know tools and how to use them. Seems like I can do this, with a little guidance.>>

If you are accustomed to working on bikes with brittle leather, old hide glue, and dried out fabric, this should be no problem. I think you should get a tech to tell you first whether the piano can ever be a dependable instrument. Don't get blinded by the cabinet work, it is the machine inside that might have gone past the point of diminishing returns.
good luck,



It is called a hammer because originally the harpsichord tool was often used to tap the pins in while tuning them.
Regards,
Posted by: Zeno Wood

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 10:22 AM

I think that should read inch pounds.
Posted by: rysowers

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 11:59 AM

I dunno, Zeno. Have you felt how tight those pins are in Maine? Have you seen the tuning hammers they use up there??
Posted by: SimpleSeybold

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 12:05 PM

Excellent replies so far, in just one overnight. Great forum and community.

The piano in question is not unlike this one:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/140880701679
except it has a pair of sliding doors in the front facade, presumably to let more sound out. Admittedly it's rather "Plain Jane" but I think it deserves a little respect.

If you look at the 2nd-to-last photo in the ebay ad, you see the same "Seybold Piano Elgin Ill" which appears to be cast in the metal. My piano in question seems to be identical on the inside. I didn't have a camera with me when I inspected it, but I hope to offer photographs later.

The warranty decal shown in the final ebay photo must be on the back side of the piano, which I did not examine, in my case. Without knowing how many pianos they made per year, it's still hard to exactly date this one, but if the lady's piano on eBay was built in 1917, I would think the one I'm describing was made only a little later (18215 vs 20866).

We've established that the tuners are tight and that a 1/4" Craftsman is inadequate for the job. Good to know. I will plan on loosening a few strings after obtaining a hammer and we'll see how it goes from there.

200 Ft-Lbs is tighter than the massive cylinder head bolts on a Ford tractor, which is higher than my automotive torque wrench's highest setting, and more than I can pull with both hands and both feet. I'll teke Mr. Wood's advice and say we meant 200 inch-lbs which is still a fair tug but is within the bounds of a small tool and one hand.

I have several trophy bikes that started out as utter basket cases. I could have taken them to any reputable motorcycle repair/service establishment and would have been laughed out of town, told they were all beyond repair, and "buy a new one" instead. I take great pride in bringing things back from the dead, so I'm not (yet) daunted by this beat-up old relic.

Thanks much for all the input so far.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 12:16 PM

Originally Posted By: David Jenson
Those tuning pins are tight as you discovered. If you could have moved them with the 1/4" wrench, it's likely that they would have been too loose to hold pitch. The pins typically start life at 200ftlbs of torque (or somewhere in that ballpark), and settle down to 160 to 150 ftlbs for a working torque. That's why the tuning "hammer" has a long handle and a pretty tight fit on the pins, and that's why all of us tuners look so darned muscle-bound and good-looking. smirk


Ah just a second here;
Tuning pins are measured in inch pounds of torque not ft lbs. If tuning pins were 200 ft lbs of resistance none of us would be able to tune at all…. without the assistance of Arnold……

The minimum requirement to keep tuning pins in place from season to season is around the 60 inch lb. mark. New blocks and freshly installed tuning pins should have no more than 100- 120 max inch lbs otherwise when driving the tuning pins into place the walls of the hole are fractured, and this could damage the laminations if you are installing that kind of block product.


Originally Posted By: SimpleSeybold
…….except it has a pair of sliding doors in the front facade, presumably to let more sound out.(snip)


Or to install another player roll to the spool and collector roll.


Posted by: SimpleSeybold

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 01:13 PM

Originally Posted By: Silverwood Pianos
Or to install another player roll to the spool and collector roll.


I will get photos soon. It didn't appear to be a player piano, but I'm no expert (obviously). It would be a nice bonus. Thanks for clarifying the inch-lbs measurements.
Posted by: David Jenson

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 04:26 PM

Originally Posted By: rysowers
I dunno, Zeno. Have you felt how tight those pins are in Maine? Have you seen the tuning hammers they use up there??
OK, OK, OK. It should have been inch pounds. I was writing with a coffee starved brain. Gimme a break, just don't break my favorite four foot long tuning hammer. 'Didn't know there was a picture anywhere of Paul Bunyons' "Maine Tuning Hammer"!

('Good one Ryan! For all my shenanigans on this forum, I deserved that.)
Posted by: Chuck Behm

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 09:47 PM

Nice to hear from someone embarking on their first adventure with a vintage upright. Be careful, or you might really get "the bug" and find yourself spending a lot of time with these jewels from the past.

If you would like to follow an upright restoration in progress, click on the following link, (Schiller Restoration, photo set 1) to see the first set of photos of a 1900 Schiller upright that we're just getting started on here at our shop in Iowa.

If you (or anyone else) enjoy looking through this first photo set, send me a PM with your email address and I'll add you to my list. Tomorrow, we're pulling the plate for a bit of soundboard repair. Every day is a new adventure!

Best of luck with your (relatively young) Seybold upright. I'm thinking you're going to have fun with your project! Chuck Behm
Posted by: SimpleSeybold

Re: First Post, Ancient Piano, Basic questions. - 11/18/12 11:03 PM

Originally Posted By: Chuck Behm
Nice to hear from someone embarking on their first adventure with a vintage upright. Be careful, or you might really get "the bug" and find yourself spending a lot of time with these jewels from the past.


I can envision tackling one of these in earnest -- catching "the bug" as it were... but right now I'm simply helping out a friend who hasn't the means for a full restoration. So I'm focusing on tuning only, crossing my fingers that there are no severe structural problems with the piano.

Originally Posted By: Chuck Behm
If you would like to follow an upright restoration in progress, click on the following link, (Schiller Restoration, photo set 1) to see the first set of photos of a 1900 Schiller upright that we're just getting started on here at our shop in Iowa.

Outstanding. I'm not unaccustomed to this level of destruction/reconstruction while restoring my vintage motorcycles. I am familiar with one vintage item spread out across an entire shop -- been there. Looks like you enjoy your work, I hope it's profitable for you as well.

Originally Posted By: Chuck Behm
If you (or anyone else) enjoy looking through this first photo set, send me a PM with your email address and I'll add you to my list. Tomorrow, we're pulling the plate for a bit of soundboard repair. Every day is a new adventure!

Will do -- lots to learn here and I find it interesting. Perhaps I'll apply what I learn later, for a project of my own. Free or dirt cheap turn-of-the-century uprights seem fairly plentiful around here.

Originally Posted By: Chuck Behm
Best of luck with your (relatively young) Seybold upright. I'm thinking you're going to have fun with your project! Chuck Behm

Thanks, I'll keep this thread up to date with any progress.