Major Repairs, Reconditioning & Rebuilding

There is no general agreement among technicians as to what constitutes a reconditioning as opposed to a rebuilding. Reconditioning is a less thorough process using a minimum of new parts, and working largely with original parts, whereas rebuilding involves using whatever new parts are necessary to make the piano function at its maximum potential. However, the dividing line between these two procedures is not clearly defined. In some instances reconditioning can involve using several new parts; seldom does a rebuilding include using all new parts

Generally, a reconditioning is called for when a piano has been allowed to go for several years without regular complete piano service. There is still enough hammer left to file, and the piano is tunable. The piano is thoroughly cleaned; the action tightened, freed, and regulated; the hammers reshaped, fitted to the strings and voiced; the pedals and dampers are adjusted; and whatever else is necessary is done to restore the piano to its best playing condition. The action centers may be so worn that they need to be re-pinned or even re-bushed. If the existing parts are not too worn, and if the work is done thoroughly the piano may give several years of satisfactory service before needing major attention again.

Rebuilding can refer to most any operation, ranging from just adding new hammers to replacing almost everything but the original piano shell. It can include restringing and new tuning pins, a new pinblock, a new soundboard or repairing the old one, new hammers, new hammer shanks, new whippens, new white key coverings, new black keys, new key buttons, keys rebushed, new backchecks, all action felt replaced, new damper felt, pedal assembly overhauled, plate, soundboard, the entire piano refinished, hardware replated, and whatever else may be necessary to make the piano look, sound, and perform like a new instrument.

Just how much should be replaced in a rebuilding is the difficult question. Should a minimum of replacements be made using as many of the original parts as possible, or should everything be replaced so that it is practically a new piano, or should it be something between these two extremes? The cost, the condition of the existing parts, and the quality of the new parts available will all be important factors in the decision. Generally, the more thorough the rebuilding the greater the cost, and the longer one can expect trouble-free performance. There will be parts that must be replaced, and other parts whose replacement will be optional. If the parts are in good condition and seem to have many years of wear left it would seem advisable not to replace them. It is important when comparing estimates to also compare the amount of work needed, including the number and quality of parts being replaced.

Pianos are precision engineered musical instruments consisting of 9,000 parts. There are no shortcuts to rebuilding a piano properly. No matter how regularly and expertly a piano is serviced there will come a time when it can no longer function satisfactorily without major repairs. It is necessary to recondition or rebuild when there is no more felt left on the hammers to file and voice, or the tuning pins are so loose that the piano can no longer be tuned.

Probably more important than what is to be done in a rebuilding is who is to do the rebuilding. Just as in the other phase of piano technology there is a vast difference in the knowledge and workmanship of those who do rebuilding. It can not be assumed that a rebuilder can execute each operation in a rebuilding process as skillfully as it was originally done in the factory where the worker does one operation over and over again day after day. It is generally considered that a good rebuilder can at best restore the piano to 90% of its original quality, although one or two rebuilders do have the reputation of doing work superior to that done in the factory.

Experience is an important factor in rebuilding. It is highly unlikely that a regular technician who only rebuilds one or two pianos a year will have the same expertise as one whose main work is rebuilding. It does not necessarily follow that one who is a fine tuner, very conscientious and highly trustworthy, is also a good rebuilder. The results of a rebuilding are somewhat unpredictable, and often there is little recourse if it does not turn out satisfactory. Sometimes the only solution to a poor rebuilding is to do the complete job over again which can prove very costly. It is important to know your rebuilder, and to know the quality of work he does.

When a piano is completely rebuilt it may look, sound, and feel like a new piano, and can be expected to give many years of quality performance if properly serviced. A discussion of the various phases of rebuilding is designed to give help in coping with the many decisions necessary regarding rebuilding.

A More Complete Restoration includes the following according to the needs of the individual piano:

Action Reconditioning
Set hammer rest rail
Lost motion regulation
Level and dip keys and change needed under key felt
Back check regulation
Regulate let-off
Tighten pedal screws
Lube pedal rods
Touch up damper regulation
Check for clicks, bobbles, broken parts and fix them
Various tasks
Clean tuning pins, strings
Vacuum inside & back side of piano
Blow out action with compressed air
Clean keys Glue down loose ivories
Replace missing ivory with matching vintage ivory
If keyboard more than 15 ivories missing replace with plastics.
Fill chipped ivory with matching acrylic
Replace rubber buttons
Replace name board felt


Loose tuning pins are usually the first sign that restringing should be considered, although in some cases the tone may seriously degenerate before loose pins occur. Strings begin to lose their elasticity and best tone quality after about twenty years, although the deterioration can be so gradual that the tone is acceptable for several more years. Only when the piano is restrung is one made aware of the difference between the new and the old strings.

Only on rare occasions will one repin with oyersized pins without restringing, since under normal conditions pins stay tight for longer than twenty years. It may be possible and advisable to delay restringing a few years by driving the pins slightly further into the pinblock, but generally when the pins are loose it is time to restring. But there are times when it must be done.

When restringing there is always the decision as to whether to use the old pinblock or install a new one. There are five tuning pin sizes ranging from #2 to #6, 50 that the old block can be used with over-sized pins if it can be determined that it is sound. If a chemical pin tightener has been used, or if there is any doubt about the condition of the present block, it is advisable to install a new one. However, the successful installation of a new pinblock requires much skill and experience on the part of the rebuilder. The fit must be exact, and the holes drilled evenly at just the right angle to insure an even, tight pin throughout.

The use of a chemical to tighten loose pins by swelling the wood in the pinblock is often successful, but somewhat controversial. Its use may be acceptable on an inexpensive piano to give it a few more years of life when the quality of the instrument hardly justifies the cost of restringing, but to use it on a quality piano is questionable. Chemicals can so destroy the wood fibers around the tuning pins that it is necessary to replace the pinblock. Since the strings have lost much of their life by the time the tuning pins become loose, it hardly seems advisable to risk ruining the pinblock just to use the dead strings for a few more years. New strings will improve the tone of the piano immensely.

Some may feel that frequent tunings may lead to premature loosening of the pins. This could be true if a poor tuning technic is used which bends the pins or involves several large up and down motions for tuning each pin. But it is not a significant factor when a correct tuning hammer technic is used that involves one or two tiny movements for tuning each pin. A piano used in concert work may be tuned more times in one year than the ordinary piano tuned regularly would be tuned in fifty years, yet without showing significant change in the tightness of the pins. In addition to poor tuning hammer technic the other factor that leads to premature loose tuning pins is repeated drastic humidity changes from season to season.

Full Action Rebuild and Restringing
New hammers
Or new hammers and shanks with reconditioned butts (Possibly on new hammer flanges)
Or new hammers, shanks and butts
If brass butt flanges are present remove the rail and anneal the rail and replace all brass butt
Replace hammer springs plates
Replace hammer rail felt
Replace hammer springs rail felt
Replace damper lever felt
Remove and re felt damper lever felt
Replace damper springs
Re pin damper flanges or replace flanges
Rework bridges
Change key pins or buff
Detail of spacing and timing.

Piano Restoration Price List:

Below is a general price list for piano restoration.
These prices are based on instruments in average, un-restored condition,
and are subject to change depending on the degree of deterioration of your instrument.

Complete upright piano rebuilding, including refinishing & restringing

$3,500.00 - 5,500.00

Upright piano refinishing only $2,500.00 - 3,500.00
Upright player piano rebuilding, including refinishing & restringing $7,500.00 - 8,500.00
Square grand piano restoration, including refinishing & restringing $9,500.00 - 10,500.00
Parlor organ restoration, including refinishing $2,500.00 - 3,500.00
Baby grand piano restoration, including refinishing, restringing, & restoring original soundboard $6,500.00 - 8,500.00
Large grand piano restoration, including refinishing, restringing, & restoring original soundboard $7,500.00 - 12,000.00
Large grand piano restoration, including refinishing, restringing, & installing a NEW soundboard $12,000.00 - 15,000.00
Baby grand and large grand piano refinishing only $4,500.00 - 7,500.00
Computerized player mechanism installation (upright and grand pianos only) $5,800.00
Computerized player mechanism installation (square grand pianos only) $6,800.00



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