So here’s a question with a not-so-obvious answer:
Who made this piano?
Answer: John Broadwood & Sons of England (C:1865)
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.
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:
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.
I reinforced the original feet so that the were much stronger than the original mounts.
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.
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.
Because the old lid was shorter than the new piano, a black-accented frame was added underneath to hide the gap.
I removed the original ebony sharps and glued them onto the new key-sticks.
I also preserved the old ivory by cutting them off of the original keys, and gluing them onto the new key sticks.
The “New” Piano has 88 notes, whereas the “Old” piano had 85. I found matching old ivory to make the difference up.
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.
Inside of the frame is another frame which is removable. The original piano had a similar frame which was covered in black gauze.
The final step was to regulate and tune it, then put everything together, and touch up and polish the case.
The world’s only (as far as I know) Young Chang upright with a hand-made Rosewood case, and Ivory and ebony keys!
Boring the new hammers.
Coving the tails.
Coving removes the excess wood from the underside of the tails, reducing the weight of the hammers, which reduces the touch weight.
Trimming the ends of the tails.
Tapering the tails.
The new hammers installed, and the action reassembled.
The original Ivories are long gone. Someone replaced them with plastic, but installed them incorrectly, using the wrong glue.
In the above picture you can see that not only do the fronts overhang the key (WRONG!), but he didn’t remove the original celluloid fronts (WRONG!), and they’re not even glued on!
This video shows how poorly these keytops were attached!
After “Popping off” the old keytops, this is what the key bodies looked like. The previous “Technician” not only didn’t remove the fronts, he didn’t even clean the wood, or fill the gaps and tears he made!
Here, you see the key bodies properly prepared, with the new top blanks beside them.
The new keytops glued on, using the CORRECT glue.
This is what the keytop looks like on the key without shaping. Notice the overhang on the front, the sides, and the cut-out where the black key fits.
Here’s the same keytop after shaping.
This video shows the shaping process.
Evening out, and beveling the cut-out.
Here’s closeups of the keys before:
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