Restoration of Eavestaff Upright Piano
The purpose of this page is to give you an insight into what is involved in the “average” restoration of a piano. We say average, as sometimes there is a bit less work needed, but more often than not, quite a lot more.
We are not going to study each technical process in depth, as that would be far more information than the average person would need and want to know. Instead, in an attempt to keep you interested, we will explain and show in pictures the main bits we have to do...
This piano typifies what we usually need to do to return one of our pianos to its former glory...
We'll start with a little bit of history. William Glen Eavestaff started building pianos in 1823. W.G.Eavestaff, as he would be known as on his early pianos, was a music publisher, but decided that piano building was the way forward. As happened with many other piano makers, once their instruments became better known to both public and trade,
he dropped his initials and simply became Eavestaff. Around 1924, The company was taken over by the Brasted Brothers, who were building pianos at that time, but were relatively unknown, so the purchase of the Eavestaff name was a sensible business move. The introduction of their Eavestaff Minipiano in 1934 would ensure that the Eavestaff name would be well known to the piano buying public until the company finally closed its doors in 1983. The name has appeared on pianos since 1983. In 2004, the Yantai Perzina Company in China took control of the brand and started manufacturing pianos with the Eavestaff name on them, in the same way the Brasted Brothers did 80 years earlier....
Let's get to onto our piano. It was manufactured around the late part of 1938. We know this from the information we can get from a small label that can be found on many British pianos of this era. This label is stuck onto the keyframe, underneath the first few bass keys. Although the piano was built by Brasted, they outsourced the major components. The frame would have been cast at a foundry to their specification, the piano action was supplied by Herrburger Brooks, and the keys from Shenstone. Because Shenstone made keys for many of the makers at this time, they attached this label so they knew which keyframe went with which piano. Although sometimes the date is obscured for a number of reasons, more often than not it can be made out. The date can be clearly seen in the top right of the picture. The other information on this label is the size of the key - that is the overall length of the key, followed by the measurement from the front of the key to the balance pin hole – the pivot point of the key. The "DB" signifies double bushings, the cloth bushings fitted in the keys to minimise side movement,and the slightly illegible print at the bottom right actually reads "CELL". This is an abreviation for celluloid, which was a material used for the key coverings.
The first stage is to strip down the piano. All case parts are removed and taken apart. The pedals and the pedal mechanism is removed and in this case, although it's not always possible depending on construction methods used, the keybed too. You can clearly make out the copper covered bass strings crossing the steel strings when the piano is in this stage of restoration. This is from where the term "overstrung" originates. On the right of the frame, you can also make out the patent numbers cast into the frame, along with the word "MINIPIANO". No mistaking this piano as a Brasted built instrument then.
At this stage, we also clean all the strings, frame and soundboard, getting as much 80 year old dust and grime out of the piano as we can.
All the brass work is removed from the caseparts. This includes the main hinges, lid stay, lock, key escutcheon, music desk hinges and countless other items. All these are labelled and placed in a container and put away until needed.
At this point, we also take a photograph of the name of the piano on the fall (that's the bit of that folds down and covers the keys).
Many of these names were inlaid in brass. This means that when the old shellac is removed, the name remains, as it is set into the veneer. It has often been said that an inlaid brass name denotes a quality piano. That is not entirely true. John Broadwood and Sons, who were one of the top makers, had many of their instruments with inlaid names, but also had many with a transfer applied during the french polishing stage. There are also many pianos of questionable quality with inlaid brass names....
This photo is then sent to a graphic designer in Bangladesh
an exact copy of the original decal on gold vinyl for fitting once
(we kid you not) who sends us back a file that we can use to cut out the piano has been repolished. We do like to go that little bit
For this piano, we are using a mix of dark walnut and rich mahogany NGR stain. We find the rich mahogany on it's own to be a little too red, so the dark walnut reigns it in just enough. The stain is then left for a minimum of 12 hours to dry.
We then mask of the piano before the application of the lacquer.
The reason that we use a lacquer rather than a shellac finish, is that modern lacquers, once cured, are far more resilient than the traditional french polish finishes. They don't mark as easily, are far more scratch resistant and have UV protection, so are much better at keeping their colour too.
We use a chemical paint stripper on the case parts to remove the old shellac finish. (The reason we're not saying french polish, is that french polishing is the term given to the process of applying the shellac, not the finish itself). As nearly all pianos are veneered, removing the old finish with a cabinet scraper or using a hot air paint gun would risk damaging this. Although the chemical stripper gets to work on the shellac as soon as it's applied, it doesn't do any harm to the actual veneer.
Once the old finish is removed, we can then properly assess the case parts and repair any damage that we need to.
The next process is applying the stain.
We use a non grain raising stain, which keeps the veneer nice and smooth, and it is also colourfast, meaning it will retain its colour too. This is something that the old shellac finish didn't manage to do. You will see many older pianos that have faded - really badly if in direct sunlight. Grand pianos are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon, especially those placed in one's bay window....
While we leave the new finish to cure, we move onto the restoration of the keys.
Although you would assume that the keys just need a wipe over with a damp cloth, there is a lot more work needed than that!
As you can see below, these keys, like many we see, had the note written on them in permanent marker pen....
It could be seen that a previous owner had tried to remove this through various methods, but they call it permanent for a reason!
On some occasions, replacing the key coverings is the only option, but luckily, on this piano, we can remove it with sanding of the keys tops through grades of silicone carbide paper, and final polishing with Vonax cutting compound on the buffing wheel.
It's not only the tops of the keys that we have to clean. We also have to thoroughly clean the sides of the keys too. It's amazing and quite disgusting how much dirt and grime can be found on the edges of the keys. All this has come from unwashed hands! We clean the key woods with steel wool to ensure all this grime is removed.
There is even more dirt and dust to be found underneath the keys too, on the keybed. This is all the dust and debris that has fallen between the keys over the last 80 years.
You can see the front touch baizes (the green washers at the front), the balance rail felts too (the white washers in the middle) and the backtouch baize (the long strip at the back).
Unless these have been chewed by moths or spiders, we don't replace these, we just clean them. There is nothing to be gained by changing these items unless damaged, as they are bedded in perfectly and will last for many years again. As we are sure we will mention again when we get to the action restoration section, the term "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies in many situations...
The sharps are also polished on the buffing wheel, and the sides of the key woods are stained black.
The finished keys are then placed back on the keyframe.
The piano action is certainly one of the most important components in your piano. It is made up of over 2000 individual parts, made of wood, cloth, felt and leather, along with small springs and metal centre pina.
Over many decades of use and attack from insects and differing humidities, it is inevitable that certain parts in the action need replacing and adjusting. The photo on the left shows the action on the bench ready for taking apart. The next few photos show the process of dismantling the action. This particular piano has a 7 octave compass, meaning it has 85 notes. Each note has 3 sections in the action. The lever is the section that sits on the back of the piano key. The jack, which is one of the components on the lever, sits just underneath the notch of the hammer section. The hammer section is the part that strikes the string. The third section is the damper. This is the part that lifts off the string when the key is struck, and then goes back against the string to stop it sounding when the key is released.
The diagram underneath shows these sections and all the parts on these sections. Multiply all that by 85 times and you can clearly see why action work is so time consuming....
As mentioned before, Herrburger Brooks made many of the piano actions used in British pianos for most of the 20th century. As well as usually having a label attached to the hammer rest rail, they also stamped the beam rail with their name too.
Liquid graphite is applied to any wooden part that comes into contact with felt or leather, to reduce friction and noise. This clearly needs reapplying.
Numbering the sections, (with a pencil, not a pen!...) is an important aspect of action work. Although the different sections look the same, subtle differences in the shapes of the jacks and hammer head size means they're not, and accidental dropping of the parts tray, which can occur, means this practice is essential.....
The hammer and lever sections, once removed from the action are placed onto trays to facilitate working on each individual section. Both hammer and lever sections are individually cleaned and brushed as they are taken off the action, and the bridle tapes and jack repetition springs are also removed at this stage.
The speed at which the hammer strikes the string, returns back to where it started from and then strike the string again, is of utmost importance in the design of the piano action. This is known as repetition. The bridle tapes, which can be seen in their sorry state above, attach the hammer section to the lever section and aid in repetition. These original tapes are made of cloth and leather and need to be replaced, as the leather tape ends have started to break up and the cloth tape is weak.The photo on the right shows the removing of the cotton cord that secures the butt spring. (You at the back, stop sniggering!) It's fitted to the hammer butt, so butt spring it is.... Again, like the bridle tape, this is to aid
replace the springs, as the 80 year old originals have lost most of their "spring"...
with repetition. Although not broken, we tend to
The next thing we do is the refacing of the hammers. Over the years of them striking the strings, the felt hammer heads get indented with grooves, as well as get impregnated with dust. Refacing is the process of sanding and reshaping the felt to remove both the dents and the dust.
On some pianos, if the wear is too severe, the complete head would have to replaced, or the old felt removed and the head recovered. Both of these options would add a considerable cost to the restoration work, so luckily, in most instances, refacing is still possible.
Once the refacing is completed, it's time to fit the new butt springs.
The old springs are made of either brass, or in the case of the old ones fitted on this action, steel. On many pianos, these springs would have already started to break. Although there are no broken springs on this action, it will only be a matter of time until this starts to happen. As previously mentioned, repetition is the name of the game, so fitting new springs will ensure this action performs to the best of its ability.
The new springs fitted are made of phosphor bronze, which is both strong and also resistant to corrosion.
They are fitted using a cotton spring cord, (not a cocktail stick!) which is the traditional method.
While we're on the subject of tradition, below is a photo of the glue we use for the restoration of the action parts. It is pearl glue, or hot glue. Many have switched to PVA glue or contact adhesives, but we prefer to use the traditional glue used during the original manufacture. If work were ever needed on the action again in future years, pearl glue can be removed with steam, whereas modern glues would need a hammer and chisel, or a sharp blade at the very least...
Once the glue is heated up, we can also do a few repairs to a few broken parts that appear along the way.
This is a snapped loop cord. Luckily, it is only the one that has broken, and the remaining cords are nice and strong, as replacing the whole set is a particularly tedious job!
You can also see the new butt spring fitted on this hammer section too.
Right - time for a cup of tea (note, a proper cup of tea) and a chocolate hobnob, and make sure that quality control aren't snoozing on the job....
The bridle tapes are the next job.
It is possible to get new tapes with genuine leather tape ends.
The issue we tend to find with these though, is that the leather is so thick, that it becomes a problem when reattaching them to the tape wire on the lever, particularly on John Broadwoods.
These are a petro chemical version, that certainly look the part, and give no issues like the aforementioned variety. The cotton tape is also a nice weave and strong too, so this is our current bridle tape of choice.
A couple of the old tapes are kept to ensure that the new tapes can be cut to the correct length. These are then glued to the back of the balance hammer using the pearl glue.
Now it's time to work on the lever sections. They don't have as many parts as the hammer sections, so are a bit quicker to work on. As mentioned before, wherever the wood comes into
contact with felt or leather, graphite is applied to reduce both noise and friction. New graphite is applied with a small paintbrush and left to dry before buffing.
We are also going to replace the jack springs. This will ensure that the jack returns to the notch quickly, meaning it is ready to lift the hammer to the string again.
The photos below show the last job we do on the sections before we start putting them back on the action.
The centre pins are small metal rods that (about 1.5mm diameter) that the flange swivels on. Basically, it's the joint that the sections pivot on. If you have a sticking or sluggish note, chances are this joint has gone tight and is the cause of the problem.
The tightness needs to be just right. It can't be too stiff, neither can it be too loose.
The process in the photos shows the removal of the old pin, reaming out the cloth bushing, and the fitting of the new centre pin.
Once the sections are back on, we then have to regulate everything to ensure that the piano action performs as it should. This involves levelling the keys, as pictured below, as well as adjusting the action too. The jack has to sit very slightly below the notch (this is known as lost motion), when the key is depressed slowly, the hammer doesn't actually hit the string, but stops just short of it (known as set off) and when the key is pressed as normal and the hammer hits the string, it then has to go "into check" to stop it bouncing against the string again. All these adjustments have to made to each individual section.
There are actually more things that will be checked and adjusted than the list above, but, to be honest, it makes for dull reading and pictures wouldn' t make it much more interesting either....
Once the regulation is completed, the rest of the casework is put back together again. During this stage of the restoration, all the brasswork and hinge screws are polished, a new nameboard felt is fitted and the new name decal is cut and applied. Finally, the completed piano, once tuned, is ready for its new home.
We hope this has been a useful guide as to what goes into the restoration of one of our pianos.
We take pride in the quality of our work, and hope that you , the customer, can see that too in the finished instrument....