We received a phone call from one of the many insurance companies that rely on us for our expertise. "Fire damage" was what they called it, but its never that simple. The fire had just about engulfed and destroyed the entire house. The ceiling was now on the ground, and the walls were merely skeletons. This meant that the piano was now also exposed to the elements and soaking wet from the battle that raged the night before. This piano had to be picked up, and in a hurry! Knowing the urgency to get the piano to a controlled environment, we loaded the truck with the necessary tools and sprung into action. When we arrived at the house the air was heavy with the smells of melted plastics, metals and charcoal. We knew that soon we would discover that not only had the ceiling come down, but that the only way for us to get to the piano was to shovel a pathway though the remains of the upper half of the building. When we finally did reach the piano it was hardly recognizable, seeing as how it was buried in sopping wet insulation, and drywall. It was at this moment, before the piano was even loaded into the truck, that we began the long process of restoring the piano to its former glory. Shortly after stabilizing the piano we sent out an appraisal as well as an estimate with our recommendation for restoring the piano, A few weeks went by and sure enough we got a call with an approval for the pianos restoration. The work was to begin right away! As always its first things first! The piano was badly water, and fire damaged and needed to be totaly rebuilt and refinished, We started by stripping the case, and all the parts of finish. We dont use a typical "dipping" tank when stripping parts, our system is state of the art, we wont be placing the pieces in a stagnant pool of stripping liquid, and walking away. Instead we use a flow over system, that requires someone to stand over all the parts to ensure the cleanest strip possible, our method also reduces if not eliminates the possibility of "stripper burn" or veneer coming loose. The parts and the case now being free of the ruined finish is ready to be sanded down to a clean unblemished surface. Before we did that though, we began the process of replacing the soundboard, all of the moisture that it had accumulated had actually began to turn the soft spruce board to mush. We order our soundboard
Now its the Pinblocks turn
"Dry and fast!" All of the sopping wet insulation had to be pulled off, and out of the piano. "Everything that can be reached without taking the piano apart!" I remember my father saying this as he rushed to gather the skid board and towels. The rest would have to wait until we arrived at a controlled environment. After giving the piano a quick wipe down with paper towels, using them to soak up as much of the water as possible, we removed the legs, lid and music desk. Then we lowered the piano onto a skid board, strapped it on, then moved all of it through the remains of the house, and into the truck. On the way back to the shop we recapped our methods to get the piano dry and stabilized. By the time we arrived back at the shop we had settled on a plan and called ahead to have the preparations made for a total disassembly. We had to put a stop to the damage that the moisture was causing as soon as possible. I remember the look of determination on everyones faces as we pulled the piano out of the truck and began to dissassemble the piano. At one point I chuckled as Tony, one of our technicians declared that "We will save this piano!" As he began to remove the strings. One of the guys remarked on how even though we havent gotten the go ahead from the insurance company for restoring the piano that were already getting ourselves "emotionaly involved". Its hard not to, so much goes into these pianos. At this point though, all we are realy allowed to do is stop anymore damage from being caused. Once that is done we communicate what needs to be done to restore the piano then wait for an approval.
The fire damaged piano.
blanks from Buldoc they come oversized with certificates of authenticity, so as to show where the wood came from. Several companies have begun to use lesser quality products that just don't have anywhere near the same tonal quality, that the Buldoc Spruce has, and as far as were concerned only the best will do! Every Rib is individualy made to match its predecesser perfectly using micrometers and dial calipers to measure and size them with incredible accuracy, then each rib is dried and fit to its specific notch in the case, after fitting the soundboard blank to the case we locate the ribs and place the parts to be dried into our box. During the drying process we sand and prepare the inside of the case, as well as shellac and finish the bottom half of the inside portion of the case, once the soundboard is installed this would be very difficult. Now that the soundboard is dry we proceed to glue the ribs to the soundboard on our crowning table, specialy made to with a gradual curve in the top to help give the soundboard its crown. One rib at a time we use "go bars" to press each to the board being sure to clean all of the excess glue. Once the glue has dried we then clean and preform final preporations to the bottom side of the soundboard in preparation for sealer, and clear. At this point we go over the soundboard one more time to check that all parts are exact and that the board will have the best fit possible.
Meanwhile, the case is undergoing an extensive process that began with stripping the destroyed finish off, and meticulously sanding out the old stain with varying grits of sandpaper starting at 100 working up to 320 all the while completely combing and repairing damage of all kinds, such as scratches, dents, dings, and even cracked or split veneer, this is not uncommon in fire damaged pianos. Krispy, due to its unfortunate/unlucky location in the house had to also be bleached with Oxilic acid which is a chemical grade crystal that when heated will pull out nearly all artificial color caused by the water damage mixing with the parts of the house such as the insulation. We do this just before our final sanding with 320 grit sandpaper. Krispy is now at the half way point for the refinishing portion of the restoration, and were only a month and a half into the job.
Now that the case is ready its time to take on the Pinblock. I have found over the years that almost all of our competitors have problems in this area because of how precise the replication has to be. Every time I think I've seen it all, we get another example from the competition of what not to do . The pinblock must fit the cast iron plate perfectly, no rocking, no gaps, no joke, if this is done incorectly it can actualy cause the cast iron plate in the piano to break! One of the things we tell people all the time is that if the plate is broken then that
piano has had its last supper. It is very rare that a piano can be brought back from a broken plate, because Cast Iron does not take to welding very well, so when we say perfect we mean it. Not to mention that all of the holes must line up centered where the tuning pins go through the plate. Now that the Soundboard and the Pinblock are ready to be glued into place we do one more final dry fitting into the the piano, lower the plate in on top, and check that everything (downbearing, speaking length, crown, hole placement, ect...) is perfect. We even take a piece of paper and try to
slide it between the plate and the pinblock! Once we are satisfied that everything is perfect we mortise and bolt it to the case using the same methods that the manufacturer used to ensure that no slippage is possible, and that the final placement is perfect.
The Action in this poor, poor piano was absolutely destroyed! Almost every part was warped or cracked. The Moisture and humidity had played a real number on this one. Lucky for them we don't settle for second best! The first thing we do is measure, calculate and figure out all of the dimensions necessary to replicate the original action. Once we have everything in hand we are set to order the new parts from Renner. Then its out with the old, and in with the new. Installed to the exact specs of the original, only now its Renner!!
It all sounds so simple but this process can take up to 3 weeks to finish, every part gets finely regulated to give the action that touch and feel that all high performance pianos have. Now that the action is ready its time to install the Plate, and begin to string the piano!
Before we installed the strings we finished the inside of the piano and installed the plate, which has been reguilded and lettered, and has had the serial number restamped on its serial plate. Then every string is investigated for flaws before they can be installed into the piano. One by one we check for oxidization, tarnishing dots, loose copper windings and flaws in the metal itself. Bass strings can be exceptionally fussy, and flaws can cause buzzing, tubby, horrible sounds.
With this piano we useed Blued Tuning Pins for their longevity, and quality. It is also helps that they will look beautiful with the color of this piano. When restringing pianos we always use new felts under the strings, and along the plate. It just doesn't make sense to reuse any string felts when High quality felts are so inexpensive. We also hand coil all of the beckets and pay extra attention to all of the strings termination and seating points to make sure that they are completely seated onto the pins and bridges. After stringing the piano we were finally ready to apply a Finish to Krispy!
It starts simply enough. With a stain to bring the wood to the tone that the customer desired, then a few light coats of sealer, to seal everything in and prepare the surface for our grain filler. Its a heavy bodied version of stain that is made to fill the grain in porous woods without taking from the woods character. In fact using a dark colored grain filler can add to the depth and character of the grain on most any piano. This process is very laborious and is probably one of the best ways to achieve that closed pore finish that is so highly sought after in pianos. Because once applied the filler must be completely wiped off of the surface, and left in the grain at the same time. Its almost like cleaning oil off of glass, only the glass has little holes that you are trying to fill with the oil... It take much practice, and a careful eye to apply properly. This is why most refinisher's will only do "open pore" finishes. Once the grain has been filled we will apply several more coats of sealer to close everything in.
Then we began the process of sanding once more. Only now, we are using 400 grit sandpaper. This is done until the finish is
smooth as glass, and all of the imperfections are gone. Now its time to touch up all of the visible repairs to blend them into the original wood. This is done by mixing special powdered colors, and hand painting grain onto joints where veneers have been repaired, and places where color did not take. Once that is done its time to apply a coat of clear, after which we will sand and touch up again. Now we are almost done! Its all about the clear. We applied several thick coats of clear finish sanding lightly between each coat, until finally the piano was ready to be hand rubbed to its finished satiny velvet sheen.
compared to the burnt out shell that we saw when we originally met Krispy. Thinking about how hard it must have been to go through a life changing event like this, and to still come out whole, and strong. Now Krispy, their Sohmer piano is with its family being loved and receiving plenty of attention as all great pianos should.
We are honored and proud to have the opportunity to bring such joy to our customers. More often than not our customers continue to use us for maintenance after a restoration, and we have become great friends with many of them. In fact most of our work comes from referral. On that note I will end this by saying...
Thank you to all of our customers,
without you we would not be here doing what we love,
and loving what we do!
It's not uncommon that our customers will shed a tear or two on the day of delivery, Not just at the joy of having their family piano back. But because often times after a devastating fire, the piano is one of the last things to be returned to the homeowner, and in this case the only thing. Its delivery is seen as a signal of closure. That things will finally be returning to "normal". The owners of Krispy were no exception to this, and as we unloaded the piano from the truck the whole family watch anxiously. First we brought in the legs, and the lyre, which the costumer stared at longingly, then the bench which then brought wonderment and glee. They were truly excited to see their piano! After all, it had been nearly six months since we had picked it up. Five of which the customer had spent in hotels, and motels. Those five months were probably some of the most trying times in their lives. Now as we bring the largest and last piece of their piano through the threshold, you can see the anxiety and stress wash from the owners faces as the tears began to flow. Not heavy sobbing tears but light happy tears of joy! at this point it was time for us to place the piano in the spot they had chosen. Attach the legs,, and lower the piano into place. I remember thinking clearly how amazing, and different the home is now
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