Which Parts and Materials Should be Used in a Rebuild?

There is a great disagreement between piano rebuilders, pianists, technicians, and piano manufacturers over which replacement parts, materials and procedures are appropriate for rebuilding a vintage piano. There are many different companies that make replacement and repair parts for a given brand of piano, and the controversy among technicians over choice of repair parts is quite lively.

One might assume that the manufacturer of a given piano would be the best and most logical place to obtain parts. Not always. Some manufacturers of pianos being rebuilt today are no longer in business. Others no longer make parts for certain models not currently in production.

One factor that tends to complicate the issue is that manufacturers, creators that they are, are constantly changing the design of their pianos, trying to make improvements, either to the piano itself, or to the manufacturing process. Sometimes the “improvements” are simply to make it easier for the manufacturer to build the piano, and to make money. But as older designs are replaced by newer ones, complications often arise in the area of replacement parts. Replacement parts supplied to you by the manufacturer when it’s time for repairs or a rebuild, 20, 30, 50, 70 or more years after your piano was originally manufactured, may be quite different than what originally came with your piano: specifically, they may fit the newer pianos far better than they do the older ones. To be sure, the replacement parts can usually be made to fit, (and manufacturers often supply instructions on how to adapt the new replacements parts to your older piano) but the new replacements may not match or fit into the overall system as well as what was originally there.

To make a long story short, the piano manufacturers, just like the auto makers, will usually encourage you to buy “genuine factory replacement parts” with their brand label on them, because among other things, they make a good deal of money selling replacement parts. But many manufacturers have also changed the design and specifications of their replacement parts over the years in order to accommodate their latest models, factory procedures, or even budgets. It’s not cost-effective for manufacturers to keep replacement parts on hand for every execution of piano model they ever did, and so they don’t. Usually they just stock replacement parts for the most recent pianos. So in many cases, if you install “genuine factory parts”, they may not be anything like what was originally installed in the piano, and the piano may not sound or feel the same (or as good) as a result. Pianists and piano owners, after having had their instruments repaired with new “factory replacement” hammers, for example, often complain that the touch has suddenly become much heavier than before, or very uneven and hard to control, or that the sound has suddenly become very “muted” and/or “mushy.” New “factory replacement” bass strings may not sound as good as the old ones, or may have a completely different tonal character than what the piano’s owner has become accustomed to. Technicians often complain that they have to do major alterations of the “genuine replacement parts” in order to make them fit or work like the originals did.

Piano manufacturers constantly make changes in their pianos’ designs in an effort to “improve” them. It must be understood, however, that this initially can mean any sort of improvement including cutting manufacturing costs or the amount of labor required to build the piano, or changes necessitated from having to accomodate new sources of materials or parts. Frequently the manufacturer’s marketing department is given the task of translating these so-called “improvements” into apparent benefits for the piano buyer. For example, at one time one piano maker started producing grand lids from very dense form of multilaminate plywood that was also very heavy. Making the lids this way cut down on the amount of labor required to make the lid, for it became a matter of simply cutting the lid out of one premade plywood panel, instead of having to glue up several smaller pieces of wood, as was done in the past. The manufacturer did not at the time mention the fact that, because of the weight and density of the new material the lid had become almost impossible for anyone to lift. Instead, they focused on the fact that they had made a new type of lid prop, anchored to the cast-iron plate of the grand instead of the usual place on the piano’s rim. This new heavy duty lid prop and pivot was needed in order to support the heavier lid, and attaching it to the plate was necessary because it probably would have deformed the rim, or torn out of the wood if attached in the usual manner as on other grands. However the marketing department touted it as an improvement over other manufacturers’ lid props, because it was “stronger.”

To counter the objections that their new replacement parts are not similar to the original ones used when the piano was originally built, piano manufacturers often assert their parts, although different, are now “improved” or “better than original.” But many technicians and pianists think otherwise, especially those who have had to go to a great deal of extra work trying to get “genuine brand X replacement parts” to sound or feel good, or even work properly, in the older pianos; or who have had to make major modifications to the instrument to get the “factory replacements” to fit. In consequence of this fact, and the demand for more “authentic” or “dimensionally correct” replacement parts, a number of “authentic replacement parts” suppliers have sprung up in recent years, whose expressed intent is to provide replacement parts “just like the originals.”

Piano companies will go to all sorts of extremes, however, to promote the sale of their “genuine factory replacement parts”. One piano maker recently made the assertion in its parts ads that “if it doesn’t have 100% genuine Brand X replacement parts it’s not a Brand X piano.” This is tantamount to saying if you put Michelin tires on a Ford it’s no longer a Ford, or if you put an aftermarket part or accessory on your Chevy it’s no longer a Chevy. Experienced piano technicians and rebuilders often roll on the floor laughing when they see marketing dept. efforts like these. For one thing, they know that for the last several decades this piano company, just like the car makers, has not made, itself, many of the parts it uses in its pianos, but has purchased them from third party manufacturers. For another thing, most all piano rebuilders and technicians have direct connections to these third party parts manufacturers, who freely sell to any piano technician the exact same parts they provide to the piano manufacturer. I once asked one of these third party manufacturers if there was any difference between the parts I got directly from him and the ones that he supplied to the piano company which they subsequently sold to me and others as “genuine brand x replacement parts”. He said, “no difference, except you pay twice as much for the genuine factory parts, and they come in a box with a “genuine brand x part” label on them.”

For the last word on why a piano technician or rebuilder chooses one part over another, it’s probably wisest to ask them, as they generally have had experience with a large number of different brands. Some technicians will offer you a choice of different brands or makes of replacement parts; others may insist on using certain particular brands if you want the work to be done by them. If their pianos sound and feel good, though, and they have satisfied customers and references they can point you to, that’s the bottom line.

Article Source: http://www.pianofinders.com/educational/shortguide.htm