Welcome!

Like my father and grandfather before me, I am a Piano Tuner, Technician and Rebuilder, and I have worked in the Piano Industry since 1976.

e-mail me:torontopianotuning@gmail.com

Call: 647-287-2989

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Reconditioning a 1911 Heintzman Grand Action

Here’s a fun little project I did recently:

Very old, VERY dirty, and a few surprises.

First, I cleaned everything, as usual.

The worst problem is that a previous technician had used graphite to lubricate everything.

It got everywhere!

So, I cleaned it.

He also had reglued over half of the old ivories on top of dirt, and didn’t use a clamp.

Oi.

So, I removed all of the bad ones, and reglued them – two at a time – using my grandfathers old clamps.

The keys with masking tape are all the finished ones.

I did a bunch of other things to the action, but let’s cut to the good stuff…

The “After” Picture!

Compare it to the before!

An open letter to all those in the piano “business”…

Dear Piano Retailers, Technicians, Teachers, and all those who are actively trying to promote owning and playing a piano:

I am about to tell you something that might literally change how you think about your profession. It may cause you to change how you do business, how you advertise, and how you sell your services. The beautiful thing about this revelation is that it is a paradigm shift that is profoundly simple.

But, before I tell you it, let me first quote “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.

“…one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.”

Well then. Let’s hope nothing bad happens before I finish these next few paragraphs.

When I was young, my father was a piano technician who tuned for the Calgary Philharmonic, and my mother owned a music store and was the executive secretary for the (then) Kiwanis Music festival. When they weren’t working, they enjoyed music of all sorts, sang in choirs, and had a lot of fun playing, and listening to music. Notice please, that I have emboldened the word fun. Even though both my parents (and later, most of their kids) made their living in a music-related field, for them, music was fun.

My mother would play the piano with oven mitts. My brothers would (and still do) burst forth with songs by Tom Leher, or Flanders and Swan. I personally played the piano for Victor Borge, and made the “Great Dane” laugh. Yes, we were a fun-loving family, but mostly, we were a music-loving family. Thinking about this the other day, I You-Tubed all the funny piano-related videos I could find, and suddenly, I realized what was inherently different between then and now.

Pianos used to be fun. Pianos used to be seen in movies and on television being played by people having fun: Chico Marx using Harpo’s orange to play, and executing crazy glissandi that ended with a pointed finger, firing off the last note like a gun.

Owning a piano in the sixties was as common as owning a computer is now. Think of this: In 1988, when I told my wife I was going to buy a computer, she asked “Why? What do we need it for?” Today, if you said, “I’m going to buy a piano”, you would hear, “Why? Do you play? Are your kids taking lessons?” If you answered, “Just for fun”, very few would understand. But, the fact is, Pianos are fun. Playing the piano is fun. Watching others playing the piano is fun. Not can be, not could be – is.

Yes, buying a piano is an investment, but we spend more, and waste more, on things that are far more expensive, and that have an extremely short life-span – cars, computers, vacations, etc. Yes, it takes practice to learn how to play, but no one ever regrets learning how to play. Everyone regrets having given it up.

We need to make pianos fun once more.

Enough with the stuffed-shirt $100-a-ticket concerts! Bring on the piano-playing jesters, the entertainers, the you-tubers, the modern-day Liberaces. Forget telling the kids to practice hard, tell them to have fun! Make your store a destination, your studio a playground, your concert venue the place to hear and be heard!

And this is how we do it…

Stop being so serious for Pete’s sake. Stop being so competitive with one another, stop bemoaning the downturn in sales or in students, and be pro-active. Call each other up, and talk about crazy ways to have crazy piano-related fun. Promote owning a piano, playing a piano, and listening to the piano as something other than a chore, or a commitment, or as work.

We “PLAY” the piano, not “work” the piano.

A few suggestions. Feel free to use them, share them, or add to them:

  • Start a piano festival with an emphasis on “play”, with special prizes for originality, improvisation, and audience appreciation.
  • Have an outdoor free concert in the town square featuring piano “entertainers”, rather than just “performers”.
  • Put a piano outside your store on the street, point a camera on it, and a sign that says: “See yourself on our website!”
  • Film an “On the street” video where you take a passer-by, and in fifteen minutes teach them how to play their favourite song as a duet.
  • Create an “Event” with the other retailers, and hold a lottery for a “Fun” piano.
  • Host a “You Tube Video Contest”. The best submissions win fame, and prizes such as free lessons, or free tunings.
  • Change your advertising strategy from “classy” to “funny”.
  • Cultivate a relationship with the media. Let them know each time something fun is happening, or about to happen.
  • Use every possible means that you can to say the same thing, over and over: Piano = Pleasure.

Everybody can write a long list of why something can’t be done, but can they write the same list of why something shouldn’t be done? Keep in mind that for every barrier in the road, there’s someone with a Hummer who is aching to bash through it. Be the Hummer.

Above all, remember these three things:

  1. Life is short – Make it a fun life filled with music.
  2. Don’t work for a living, play.
  3. Get to your modern equivalent of a phone and tell everyone about this before the world is destroyed by the Vogons.

- Jamie

Re-imagining an 1865 John Broadwood & Sons Upright – Part 1

So here’s a question with a not-so-obvious answer:

Who made this piano?

Answer: John Broadwood & Sons of England (C:1865)

and

Young Chang of Korea (C:2005)

What you are about to see is the creation of a hybrid piano – a cross between the old and the new.

 

But first, a little background:

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation I had with my father when I was but a wee lad, as quoted in my book “Dear Mr. Musselwhite…”

“Back in England, when your grandfather first started working on pianos and pipe organs, they used a glue made from raw chalk and cottage cheese,” my father said.

“You’re kidding me!” I exclaimed.

“It’s true. Many old English pianos that people brought over here are falling apart, because without high humidity, the glue crystallizes and turns into dust.”

“So how do you fix them?”

“Unfortunately it’s not worth it to fix them and most of the time they are taken to the landfill. Sometimes, if the owner has a strong attachment to the piano, they will pay me to take them all apart and reglue them. But, on the whole, the English made very few decent pianos back then, so aside from the historical value, they are usually not worth fixing.”

And such was the case with this piano. It had been in the family for generations, and they were unwilling to throw it out. In addition, they had a young child who wanted to play. I gave them three options: 1. A full historical restoration (which would give them a working piano, but not working as a modern piano.) 2. a modern action with the original back and belly (which would play well, but not sound well, and would be difficult and expensive, and lastly, option 3. Keep the original case and keys, but put a modern piano inside.

They went with option 3.

There are some of you who may be horrified by what I did, but let me explain. There are already MANY examples of birdcage action pianos still hanging around – many of them restored and in museums. They are interesting from an historical standpoint, but – they are not playable instruments as we understand the term playable today. Most importantly, they are not suitable instruments on which to learn.

This is a valid way of saving a piece of history, (not to mention hand-crafted artistry with rare rosewood and ivory), and ensuring that it will not end up in the dump where thousands have gone before.

The piano as it arrived at the shop

The original "insides"

Removing the Action and Keys

The original "Harp" and keybed.

Next – Part 2 ->

Re-imagining an 1865 John Broadwood & Sons Upright – Part 2

After finding a piano with the suitable dimensions, I removed the casework of both pianos, and step by step, carefully put the two together – making sure that I kept the geometry of the new piano’s action correct, yet preserving the look of the old case:

Gluing on the Right Gable

Using a specially-made jig for keeping the new keyboard in the perfect alignment, I attached the sides of the old piano onto the new back so that the keybed would line up properly with the old case parts.

Gluing on the Feet

Gluing on the support structure for the Toe-Blocks

I reinforced the original feet so that the were much stronger than the original mounts.

Gluing on the stretcher and the keybed support panels.

The new Bottom Board with the new pedal trapwork.

This new bottom board has cutouts specially placed so that not only can the new castors attach directly to the back of the piano (where it’s the strongest), put it also has a reinforced are so that the pedal action can’t bend the board under stress.

The Bottom Board installed

Because the new piano is wider by a little over two inches, spacer had to be added so that the old case parts would fit properly between the sides. The original case had black cheek blocks, so the spacers were finished to mimic their look.

The action and keyframe installed

Left-hand filler blocks and cheek blocks

Right hand filler blocks and cheek blocks

Because the old lid was shorter than the new piano, a black-accented frame was added underneath to hide the gap.

The lid installed

The finished case

I removed the original ebony sharps and glued them onto the new key-sticks.

The "New" Ebonies

I also preserved the old ivory by cutting them off of the original keys, and gluing them onto the new key sticks.

Installing the "New" Ivories

The completed Keyboard and action

The “New” Piano has 88 notes, whereas the “Old” piano had 85. I found matching old ivory to make the difference up.

<- Back to part 1 | Next to Part 3 ->

 

Re-imagining an 1865 John Broadwood & Sons Upright – Part 3

The original case was deeper than the new piano, so I made a tongue and groove frame out of poplar that filled the gap. Bolted to the new back, and glued to the old sides it further strengthened the piano.

Gluing the centre post on the new removable frame.

Inside of the frame is another frame which is removable. The original piano had a similar frame which was covered in black gauze.

The new back frame, painted, without the removable frame.

Both frames, painted.

The completed back

The final step was to regulate and tune it, then put everything together, and touch up and polish the case.

Finished, front closed.

Finished, key cover open, side view.

All done.

The world’s only (as far as I know) Young Chang upright with a hand-made Rosewood case, and Ivory and ebony keys!

<- Back to part 1

 

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Jamie Says:

 

"Always keep your piano in tune! All Piano Manufacturers will tell you the same thing: Every Piano should be tuned at least twice a year. This is especially important in Canada where we experience drastic changes in temperature and humidity between summer and winter." If your piano was last tuned six months or more, book a tuning appointment today! torontopianotuning@gmail.com