Janet G. of Hilton Head, SC, had always dreamed of owning a Steinway grand piano. Several years ago she had the opportunity to purchase a vintage mahogany Steinway Model M baby grand and enjoyed playing it for her own pleasure. “Steinway is like the Rolls-Royce of pianos,” said Janet. “I love the romance, the history, and the wonderful sound.”
She knew her piano was older, but after a couple of years noticed it would not hold its tune. Piano Tuners told her the pin block in the bass notes had cracks that were not repairable. A little investigation revealed the piano was made in 1911, and at that point, she realized her treasured piano needed a restoration.
She researched piano restoration on the Internet and talked to a couple of different shops, deciding on Chupp’s Piano Service after discussing her grand piano with owner and master piano technician Dennis Chupp. “I just had a very good feeling about them,” she said. “They sounded like they knew what they were doing. I could feel the love and the passion they have for the pianos.”
Chupp’s Pianos arranged to have the piano removed from the second story of her stilted island home – no easy feat – and moved across the nation to their rebuilding facility. All of this went smoothly and Janet waved goodbye to her treasured piano for the next several months.
The Restoration Process
“Our initial assessment was the piano needed a complete restoration,” said Daniel Chupp, one of the Chupp’s Pianos craftsmen. “The tuning pins were loose and the pin block needed to be replaced. The cabinet needed to be refinished and the action parts were quite worn out. Luckily the soundboard was in good structural condition and needed only small structural repairs for a few hairline cracks.”
Chupp’s Piano Technicians went to work, starting with taking a myriad of precise measurements, including the down bearing, plate height, action and key measurements. The piano was then disassembled and the cabinet was refinished in a closed pore, hand rubbed semi-satin lacquer. The pin block and soundboard were carefully restored while the action and cast iron plate restoration work began.
Pin block restoration
Saving the Sound Board
Despite yellowed varnish, water stains, and a few other minor defects, the original soundboard was structurally sound and had a very good crown. A few hairline cracks were repairable, and the ribs on the bottom of the soundboard were still in good condition and attached to the soundboard.
“We were able to restore this soundboard because the crown was still present,” said Daniel. “There were not a large number of cracks and the ribs were still attached to the bottom of the soundboard. We’re able to re-attach them if they’re loose, but when you have multiple loose ribs, there are often other structural problems. Thankfully this was not the case for this piano.”
Once the sound board was restored, Chupp’s installed the new pin block, re-bronzed the plate and set it in the piano. Next was the stringing process, the damper work, and the new action was aligned and adjusted in the piano. Truly the heart of the piano, the action was restored utilizing the finest parts. This was followed by final tunings, adjustment, and final tone regulation.
Lettering the plate
The original ivory keys came in soiled, yellowed, and with grooves worn from years of playing. Some key tops were loose from the wooden keysticks and a few had small chips and cracks in them. The key tops were glued back down to the key sticks an the cracks and chips were repaired. The ivory was sanded flat to remove dirt, yellowing, and indentations. The ivory was then buffed to a high polish so the ivory would again have its legendary luster and distinctive feel.
Ivory key restoration
The Final Results
It was a thorough restoration and took several months, but when her Steinway & Sons Model M was returned to her, Janet was thrilled. “I was blown away!” she said. “After my piano was delivered and set up, I hit those first keys and it just filled my heart! It was unbelievable. It’s like a new baby – she looks and sounds gorgeous.”
She says her lovely old Steinway piano is a very personal, emotional piece of property. Since the restoration she’s been playing so much her hands are sore. “I need to get back into shape,” she said with a chuckle. “Prior to the restoration, if I made a mistake the piano wasn’t sounding so great, maybe people didn’t notice – but now this piano holds me to a higher standard!”