Kurtzmann Restoration

Downbearing…. What’s That?

Downbearing is the pressure that the stings push down on the soundboard. We control this by adjusting the height of the bridge on the soundboard to the plane of the piano string.  First, the plate is lowered in the piano, then measurements with a thread are taken often as we move through the lenth of the bridge. 

In the pictures below, you will see references created by making knotches in the bridge. This is done slowly for each reference to acheive the proper distance between the top of the reference and the bottom of the string. 

Once the reference are created, the bridge is planed down smooth. Graphite is put on top of the bridge, then the bridge is punched, knotted, and drilled. New bridge pins are then installed.

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The Plate is now going to be re-bronzed and the pinblock is fitted and drilled. Once that is complete, the next step will be to secure the plate to the piano and prepare to install new strings.

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Let’s Glue It All Together

It is now time to glue it all together.


Above, you will see pictures of the bass bridge and the cap of the treble bridge being glued together.

Below is a picture of a new hybrid pinblock gluing together. What makes this a hybrid, is a mixture of a very dense pinblock material called Delignit, glued to a traditional maple pinblock. The 6mm of Delignit help give extra support to the pin as it enters the pin block, resulting in less flagpole and an excellent consistency. These are an absolute pleasure to tune for the technician. For the customer, the tunings produce great results.

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Now we need to glue the bridges to the soundboard


Now that we have te bridges glued to the soundboard, we are going to refinish the bottom side of the soundboard with the ribs. Then, we are going to glue the soundboard to the inside rim of the piano.


Bridge Work

Once all of the old bridge pins are taken out, the old bridge cap is removed. This leaves the bridge root and holes from all the old bridge pins. These holes are filled to prevent problems while drilling in the new bridge cap.

The short bass bridge had a damaged apron. This was duplicated..

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Now time to Glue the Ribs to the Soundboard

The next step in our restoration will be to glue the ribs to the soundboard. The trick is to have constant pressure throughout the entire length of the rib. We use air through a fire hose to accomplish this task with about 45psi.

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Rib Selection and Design

After removing the old soundboard and cleaning all the old glue off the mortises, It’s time to fit the ribs. In this piano, we selected sugar pine in the bass end of the piano for flexibility and Spruce ribs in the treble to drive the higher frequencies.

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The ribs are then cut to support the crown of the soundboard and fitted to the piano. Flatter radii is used in the bass to promote flexibility and progresses to tighter radii as the ribs reach the treble. To recap, everything selected here is to promote flexibility in the bass and stiffness in the treble. 

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The soundboard panel is roughly cut, using the old panel as a guide. Then, the panel is fitted to the case of the piano. Once that is achieved, the long side of the soundboard to around the nose is diaphramed. (tapered thinning on the the outside edge) This again, helps promote more flexibility in the bass. The panel is placed in the piano and the rib positions are marked. 

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Soundboard Removal

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Further inspection of Pin Block and Bass Bridge

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Looking closely at the pin block, we can see that there was defiantly some time of moisture issues in it’s life.We can also see that the laminations in the block are starting to separate. This is a HUGE problem. Without having complete integrity of the laminations, there would be no way to keep the tension of the strings. This was the main cause of the piano not staying in tune.

To the right,, the bass section was missing laminations. This could have been caused during an attempted repair, without proper support below the pin block while driving in the extra large pins.

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The bass bridge is seperating from the soundboard. This causes a huge loss of power in the bass. 

The treble bridge has apparently had issues of seperating in the past. The glue on the bottom is  newer. It does not come out the back side, so at this time, I’m assuming the glue was put in the crack in attempt for it to seep in.

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Removal of Cast Iron Plate

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A quick look at the top of this piano and it almost looks like a normal, dirty, old piano.

After taking out the action, we can see that the pin block is definately damaged. This was caused by

someone replacing loose pins with oversized pins. The pin block was probably not properly supported during the procedure, or the hole was too small for the the size pin that was inserted.

First thing we do is take out the dampers, while numbering them to help keep them in order.


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This picture shows an old repair that was used in attempt to fix some tonal problems. 

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The picture on the right is showing a process to record the old string scale. The clipped wires are the ones that were measured and recorded for duplication. 

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The bass strings are removed and measured. We then record the speaking length of each string, along with the distance from the front bridge pin to the hitch pin in the back. These measurements alow us to examine the current stringing scale and permit us to examine changes during the restoration that will help improve the “sound” of the piano.

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All the tuning pins come out and the hieght of the cast iron plate is measured. It’s common for us to make a new pin block in complete restorations, so the pin size meaurements are not neccessary. 

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All the screws of the cast iron plate are taken out and kept in order. This is important since there are different lengths and sizes. Also, it helps to use the same screw in the same hold in order to not damage the threads in the wood.

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AFter the bolts are removed, it is time for the cast iron plate to come out. Since I’m usually by myself, the chain hoist is a life saver.

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Finally, the plate is out of the piano. Now it will be time to examine the pinblock by removing it from the plate.

Cheap Rebuilds?

You may ask the question, “why do people do this?” The answer ranges from a mutitude of opinions. Sometimes, the buyer assumes the piano has been restored when the strings look new and shiny. Some people have major work performed on their old piano, then mistakenly sell it as refurbished to a buyer. I’ve seen this when only a re-finishing job was performed on the case of the piano. I believe it boils a lot down to business and demand. As consumers, we usually tend to want the best price. As business owners, we usually want to make the most profit. For both of these to occur, something has to give. Usually, it ends up being the quality of the work that suffers. Over time, it becomes worse and worse.

Purchase a rebuilt piano for $4,000? This would be an awesome deal if the piano is in fact rebuilt properly. I’ve seen prices of restorations range from $5,000 - $40,000. That leaves a lot of wiggle room for lack of quality. Just to a couple of random prices out for comparison; (prices are just random estimates)

Re-finish of small baby grand - $1,500 - $5,000 (This is only the exterior case work)

New bass strings  $300 - $900 (strings themselves, not installation)

Bass strings alone can very so much, depending on the quality of wire and quantity of strings. Price in the refinishing of the piano can vary on whether the old finish is removed to the wood before new finish is sprayed on, or whether new finish is put on top of the old one. 

These are just 2 examples of price differences based on quality. So to answer the question of the $4000 rebuild…what are you getting? Other factors start to get complicated. Is there crown in the soundboard? Does it need to be replaced? Does the pinblock need to be replaced? Quality of piano wire? Quality of felt? etc, etc, the list will go on.

This should help paint a picture of why pianos can sometimes be misleading. A great technician has the ability to take just about any life-conditioned piano and turn it into a true work of art. An artist should enjoy sitting down at the piano with no limitations caused by mechanical means.

Kurtzmann - Restoration

This is a story about a 1921 Kurtzmann grand. The history that I understand, it’s hard and unfortunate life, and it’s transformation. This Grand was purchased close to my area and sold as a refurbished grand about 15-20 years ago. Our client became unhappy with it lack of tonal quality and had several techs try to get it up to par. I think the total ended up being 4 different tuners and techs over the years. Our client just felt like the piano never sounded or felt “right.” She had it tuned regularly, just to be able to stand it’s condition. The piano was used to teach their children how to play.

Our client finally had enough. They were so disgusted by the piano’s performance that they decided to call me for the first time, not to fix the piano, but to give the piano away. She was convienced to purchase a cheap newer grand. I’ve done my best to talk her out of it and to assure her this piano can still be part of her family. 

Upon inspecting the piano, this is the absolute worst restoration I’ve ever seen. Because of this, I’ve decided to properly restore this and do my best to log it’s restoration. This will be a good chance to show and educate our customers what to look for, what can be done, and some interesting proceedures that take place.This piano will also be used to create and share technical classes with my chapter in the Piano Technician’s Guild.

Before I start with pictures, I would like to state that no matter where you live, you should always have a technician you trust inspect the piano that you and your family are about to invest in. In this case, the client invested in a used piano from a store, with the impression that the piano was rebuilt. At the time, the piano looked pretty and seemed to be a good investment. In the long run, the piano was something that the client had to “endure.” The cost of hiring a technician to inspect the piano before makeing the purchase, would have saved a lot of money and aggrevation over their years with a piano.

Stories like this break my heart for more than several reasons. I believe the most important aspect of someone learning how to play the piano, is to have a piano that is regularly maintained  to play properly. Also, the piano needs to sound good. This gives much more enjoyment to the artist, especially as they learn. I understand keyboards are neccessary for some people, but for sake of a long winded opinion I’ll keep it short. If you want to learn to play properly and want to progress technique quicker, purchase a piano as soon as you are able to.

Another reason this story breaks my heart, is the fact that a “used piano” now has a bad taste in the mouth of our client, their children, and probably everyone close to them. My preference is always an older piano for several reasons. The wood in an early 1900’s piano is much higher quality than we have access to now. Think about it, 2x4’s used to be 2” by 4”. Now they are actually 1 5/8” x 3 5/8” and still sold as 2x4’s. The age and quality of the trees today do not compare to the trees wood came from in these older pianos. Unless you spend top dollar for a newer grand (more than 35,40k) I don’t believe the quality is close to a properly restored older piano. 

Unfortunately,  stories of purchasing older pianos have spread in a negative way. Pianos get labeled as being “rebuilt” or “restored” when only the strings have been replaced and maybe the cast iron plate re-painted. In more than several of these cases, upon removing the action, or keyboard, I find 100 year old dust, original moth eaten felt, lack of regulation, etc. 

© Joel Klar 2013