Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

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Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 01 Aug 2016, 17:20

Hi,

I'm new to this forum (and relatively new to piano playing!) but wanted to ask some advice.

Me and my wife have been considering an acoustic piano (currently using a Clavinova). A family member has offered us her 1890s Bluthner upright. It's an overdamper, overstrung model. We both like the sound and feel of it (and we've spent a few weeks trawling music shops, trying different pianos) but there are a couple of points I'd like some advice on.

Firstly, should we consider getting the hammer felts attended to, due to the grooves:
Hammers.jpg
Grooves in hammer felt.

Secondly, having read a lot about overdamper pianos, it would seem that the Bluthner damping should be decent enough (as much as any overdamper can be). However, some of the higher dampers seem to have absolutely no effect whatsoever. Looking at the position of the dampers, it is almost as if they are acting too high on the strings, directly on or above the point where the strings pass over the top bridge:
Dampers.jpg
Dampers on higher strings.

Thanks in advance for any advice (I should add that we would get the piano professionally assessed once we've got it).

Ivan.

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by vernon » 01 Aug 2016, 22:18

The grooved hammers are of no consequence.
The dampers appear to be too high though why they all seem in line is problematic.
Anyway, it is the job of a moment for a competent technician to crank them down a bit. I bet you will notice little difference tho'!
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Colin Nicholson » 02 Aug 2016, 00:21

As Vernon says, hammers look OK, and grooves are normal. Perhaps a re-face at some stage.

Remember that this piano is over 120 years old, so there will always be issues with over dampers, even after adjustments are made - they can be "improved" though. Problem is not so much the damper head position, it's down to the condition of the hard felt. Also general warping of wooden parts, and the occasional hammer head top scraping against the damper.... so they are sometimes adjusted up to improve damping and/or prevent them from collisions.

One of the main things that people overlook is the condition of the bridle tapes - if many are broken, or if any on the brink of breaking, then the piano cannot be tuned. Tuning stability is always an issue for old pianos/ spongy tuning pins/ odd loose pin / tuning just lasting a couple of weeks (wrest plank issues). Dampers and hammers can be adjusted if needed and best person to ask is your piano tuner. Tuning stability will even be unknown to the tuner during a spot piano tuning, and the only person to detect notes going quickly out of tune will be yourself.

When I hear about pianos 1. offered 2. given away 3. free to a good home 4. £10 bargain etc etc.... on my tuning rounds, there are always problems, particularly with over-damped pianos, and if ringing-on is an issue - the piano cannot be tuned 100% successfully - more money needed to be spent to get it into a state ready for tuning.
Bluthner is by far no exception to the rule!
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 02 Aug 2016, 23:43

Hi,

Thanks for the replies, some good points, particularly about it being over 120 years old - something that is easy to forget! Bridle tapes all appear intact.

It is actually my mother-in-law's piano, who bought it in 2004. So we know it has been regularly tuned until quite recently, and it does stay in tune (and did move house with her a few years ago so has been tuned by a couple of different piano tuners over the last ten years, neither of which had difficulty with it). Hopefully that means we won't have tuning issues but if we do, we'll have to decide on the best course of action at that point.

Anyway I'll be collecting it with a local-ish piano tuner/repairer next week, and he'll be assessing it before delivering it.

One thing I could also do with some advice on is, with it having the Bluthner patent mechanism, should I really be looking for someone with experience of that mechanism if anything other than basic work ever needs doing to it? Or is it just a variation that any competent piano technician would deal with?

Thanks again.
Ivan.

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Colin Nicholson » 03 Aug 2016, 12:08

Any decent piano tuner will be able to tackle the odd repair if needed.
Some technicians may walk away, some may take on the job.... 50/50 chance. Ask your tuner.

There is nothing special about the Bluthner over-damped action - perhaps a hindrance if anything!
I believe the only "patent" they have for this action is the tubular damper rail which is a long tubular wooden rail encased in metal tubing - to reduce the risk of warping. Steinway adopt this tubular rail system for most of the action framework on grand pianos. The Bluthner rails are often in gold gilt and nicely patterned with black scroll lines and decals. However, anything from the 1890s is a risk to repair.

As there are over 6,000 parts in there, without photos, it is a pure guess about the jack spring arrangement if they fail.
If the conventional spiral spring, then an easy job.... but if the jack returns by a "spring & loop" system (the eye of the loop protrudes through a opening hole in the jack).... then a different ball game. Loops can be replaced in a workshop environment, but often is the case springs have to be hand-made from brass wire or by re-profiling a modern damper leaf spring.... so the word "Patent" has nothing to do with the action mechanism - it's just the overall design of the damper lift rail.... and they are a pain in the neck to remove and relocate if needed.

Tubular action rails do make a difference to some extent for weather changes, and many standard over-damped pianos simply have bare raw wood that has been offered a taj of polish at the top.... however, even on Bluthner, the long adjustment screws with eyelets (look like very long net curtain hooks).... are screwed and tapped through a box-standard length of wooden dowel!! .... so where is the patent there??

It sounds like you may have struck gold re the tuning.... so good luck there, but as a word of warning, ALL over-damped pianos have issues (e.g. ringing on/ seized lift rods / warped top rail moving dampers away from the strings etc.) .... if they work OK, then great.... but if they don't work properly.... then spin a coin which technician will work on them.

If I am paid handsomely for working on one / repairs / regulation / hammer re-facing etc / good servicing work etc.... I will always come back to the piano with a spring in my step. However, knowing their piano was virtually free, sweat on over £50 / no knowledge whatsoever / moaning about the price.... then I am never seen again! .... so a lot of this piano work - is down to price.... this is the bottom line.
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 03 Aug 2016, 13:49

I took lots of pictures :-) Here are a few for interests sake:

The springs can be seen towards the back:
image.jpeg
Mechanism Detail

I see what you mean about the dowels and curtain eyelets :-)
image.jpeg
Hammers and Dampers

Damper rail:
image.jpeg
Damper Rail

Thanks for the points about the costs. Even though we're being given it, we do understand that we may need to spend a fair amount, which we are prepared to do if the piano tech thinks it would be worth it. Already costing a few hundred pounds for transporting it :-)

Cheers,
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Colin Nicholson » 03 Aug 2016, 23:55

Looks really good from here, and some money has been spent on it. Hammers look incredibly clean, tapes good and replaced. but can't see the hammer balance leathers (directly in front of the back checks with olive coloured felt).... but I suspect this piano may have had a refurb at some stage.

(edited in)....the bridle tapes seem recent? .... perhaps replaced a few years ago. Bluthner tapes are darker red with age, leather tipped and spear headed.... these seem to be plastic tipped and broad headed.... do the same job, so nothing to worry about.

Good.... also spiral jack springs. Still available if one broke. If they are the original springs, then likely to be copper, and if replaced will be mild steel.

Also for anyone else out there with an over-damped piano, in photo 1, note the gap between the little round wooden dolly (with round red felt under it) and the undercarriage blue felt squares.... this gap is a must. Possibly the eighth dolly along has no or little gap? If there is no gap or the dolly is resting on/ nearly resting on the undercarriage blue felt at rest, this can cause the damper to ring on, or mute the string AFTER you've let go of the note.... press each note down slowly, hammer/ undercarriage should move first, then the damper moves afterwards.... perfect! ....as the undercarriage connects with the lift wire. This kind of work comes under "regulation" - and separate to tuning.
If any have no gaps, then tuning can be very distracting with over-tones or odd strings "humming" in sympathy.. because damper not fully resting on the string. All these dampers have lead weights, so purely rely on gravity to fall back to rest. If the felts are seated fine, the piano will play and sound nicely.

3rd photo .... yes, there is that tubular rail towering over the dampers! .... great invention in those days, and even a middle alloy action bracket, so hopefully little or no movement when the sustain pedal is operated. Dampers should work OK.... 2nd photo shows the slightly "churned" grub screws & slots, so probably been adjusted to death!! .... so remember what I said.... always issues with over-damped pianos, but once working properly, will give you years of pleasure.

The left pedal is just like a box standard 1900s piano.... pity really.... has a celeste rail that rises and the hammers hit felt between the hammer & string.... gives off a muted/ muffled sound, so only really like the middle pedal on a modern upright - practise pedal. Quite a long story about left pedal variables, so if you are a newby pianist, just think of it as a "keeping the neighbours happy" pedal :)

Colin

Looks very tidy inside & impressed.
BTW.... bass should sound good/ tall piano?, as the undercarriages have long (ish) wooden stickers going down to the keys, attached under the undercarriages with butt plates & pins.... good quality through & through.
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 04 Aug 2016, 19:41

Hi Colin,

I think the bridle tapes are indeed plastic from the way they looked. They were all a pretty even colour except the very first, on bottom A, which looked much whiter/newer:
Tapes.jpg
I guess if someone had gone to the effort they would probably have replaced all of them, although that first tip looks like it is splitting apart - or is it some sort of sandwich arrangement? It also looks like there is quite a bit bigger gap than the others, in fact here is a view from the front which shows the variation:
FrontView.jpg
The springs were grey so probably mild steel as suggested. I don't think I've got a photo that would show the hammer balance leathers and, to be honest I'm not entirely sure where they are, even from your description :? I need to find a diagram!

{edit} I found a diagram so can see what you were referring to - this is a still from a video I took along the length of the piano, so not great but the best I've got (I'd post the video but it is 50MB :? )
HammerButt.jpg
Do the embossed numbers on the them imply they are the original hammers? The key levers also have embossed numbers on them plus someone has also written numbers on them in pencil:
KeyLevers.jpg
But they must have been distracted when writing the numbers because they missed out 66 and ended up at 89!

Size-wise, it is just under 144cm tall. Wish it wasn't 150 miles away :(

Cheers,
Ivan.

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by vernon » 04 Aug 2016, 21:09

As I tell all my slaves, the first job on removing keys is to re-number them so that when they all fall on the floor it doesn't take a day to sort them so two sets of numbers is usual tho'it helps if they add up to 85/88
It all looks pretty good and well looked after.
BUT-- you must get a technician to check it because if the wrest pins are defective then all else will be for nought. Hopefully, you should have a fine old piano back in action ,excuse the pun.
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 04 Aug 2016, 21:51

Will do Vernon - plan is to collect it and then leave it with the technician to assess any immediate issues.

This is what the pins look like close up - something I read said to "check for cracks in the plank around the pins" but that seems impossible with the brass plates :shock:
TuningPinGroup1.jpg
TuningPinGroup2.jpg
TuningPinGroup3.jpg
TuningPinGroup4.jpg

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Colin Nicholson » 04 Aug 2016, 23:45

All looking good.
Yes, the punched numbers on the hammer butts & keys are all original.... can never be replaced, and would be like hen's teeth trying to get a spare hammer butt. Sometimes the sides of the hammer heads are also numbered, but not as reliable because new hammers have various spares, so it could start with 03, 04 etc.

The split bridle tape.... well, few reasons. Removing one (to get a hammer or lever off) involves lifting & twisting, and so often they can 'weld' themselves to the bridle wires, so they sometimes split. The large gap at A1 could be the threads have partially stripped in the damper block or the key capstan locking screw is loose.... those lift wires have threads at the top, but if the grub screw is loose, then it might be screwed in further to self tap. Usually find the gaps are like a Mexican wave due to lack of servicing, or slipping threads. To a good pianist, this would be a nightmare for the correct touch control. Always issues!!

serial number #50678 .... just looked it up, and dated 1898 (if you didn't know).

The tuning pins look good & original, and angled up about 7 degrees. The rear coils look about right, about 5mm gap from the brass plating. If any coils are very close to the plating suggests a loose pin driven in. I noticed a bass string replacement - one of the bi-chords (about D#?) .... hopefully will tune in unison to the other, but sometimes old and new don't tune well. Whoever put the new string on though wants shooting!! ... coils all uneven, and string not at correct angle.... might need addressing.

Rough guess here.... photo 1.... looks like damper felts have been replaced in the bass, and upgraded using under-damped felt (clip & wedge) .... WOW!! .... I did this to an old Mand piano and took ages to fit extra backing felt, but worked much better. Clip felt is concave - for the bass singles. Usually bass felts are flat and the same as treble, just a bit longer. Looks fairly new felt. Your tuner will be able to see closer.

Hammer balance leathers look fine.... nice and chunky - about 1.8mm thickness.. could have been replaced. Usually wear near the top as they catch the back checks, but I reckon should be OK.

Vernon.... keep off the whisky when numbering keys !!! ...... I've done that before, easy to lose track. :?

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by NewAge » 05 Aug 2016, 16:58

I love reading Colin's detailed comments, and must confess have picked up a lot since joining this forum a few years ago.
I even spotted the bi-chord string replacement and the uneven coils before having read Colin's comments, so I'm certainly improving too. That particular string also looks to be of a different gauge (larger) than it's neighbours. Is that of any potential concern?
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by vernon » 05 Aug 2016, 21:35

the larger apparent string will let you know immediately if it has any concern---like you may not be able to tune the two together.
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Colin Nicholson » 06 Aug 2016, 00:36

Well done NewAge for spotting that! .... I'm becoming redundant now!

I must say though that throughout this post, I want to congratulate Ivan on not only providing good quality and clear photos - a great example!, but they have been taken in such a way to progressively move onto various subjects we have mentioned in a good orderly manner, and not just randomly taken. I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing some of my experience, but only because I can see every small detail in the photos, so well done there..... you must be a good photographer and/or have a good camera? Taken everything on-board what we have said - so nice one.

We are all waiting for the drum roll now and the Grand Arrival of the piano!!

NewAge.... I have a brown paper rubbing/ pattern returned to me last year from the Erard grand bass strings (all of them).... not sure why I asked for the rubbing back, but possibly because I wanted every detail on file about the piano I restored. Well.... the rubbing is now like a page of advanced physics, it is mind boggling! If I get the chance, I will pop it on here.... the string maker said "an upgrade" ?? !! .... so they must have some kind of equivalent of Windows 10 when I originally send a rubbing in Windows 95 style! .... the Bechstein was the same, strings had different positions and amounts of double coils.... but hey, strung up and tuned perfectly :)
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 08 Aug 2016, 08:22

Hi Colin (and others),

Thanks for pinpointing the exact year, nice to know that rather than just the decade :D

I did take a couple of pictures of that newer string since it stuck out like a sore thumb! Looking back at them, I think it looks similar to its neighbours:
NewStringTop.jpg

Pity the dampers are out of focus but I can see what you were saying about the wedges.

That string also isn't as neatly finished at the bottom as the others:
NewStringBottom.jpg

I guess it is the person who fits the string that does the twisting?

I actually forgot to take a normal camera before, and so these are all taken on my "ancient" iPhone5, which seems to do a fairly good job as long as there is a decent amount of light :)

Will be interesting to hear what the tuner makes of it all later today!

Cheers,
Ivan.

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by vernon » 08 Aug 2016, 22:04

The string looks like an emergency "hexacore" that one cuts to measure. However, you're supposed to chose one as near to the original as possible. Also, you need to turn off the copper winding properly otherwise it will BUZZ
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 09 Aug 2016, 13:34

Funny you should say than Vernon — that's exactly what the piano tuner said!

Finally got it back to my house yesterday evening, the tuner decided there wasn't much that needed doing and would be best to get it to its final destination :)

Jeez, it was HEAVY!!! But back all safe and sound. He'll look at that string and the non-damping dampers when he returns to tune it in a couple of weeks :D

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Colin Nicholson » 10 Aug 2016, 00:15

Good luck with the tuning etc .... glad it got there ok.

Remember how old your piano is.... ? I think we keep forgetting! .... rather than smash the car window each time, the keys are usually under the sun visor.... yes, the typical scene from Terminator 2 !! .... you might wonder what I'm on about?

.... if the dodgy / DIY bass string 'works' and tunes up OK, leave it alone.
Can cause problems if the wrest plank hole for that pin/ string is disturbed yet again. First time fix is usually OK, but by unwinding the coils and loosening the pin, then fitting a new string which involves more wear & tear on a 120 years old piano.... you are asking for trouble.... ! If it tunes, LEAVE WELL ALONE!!

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 11 Aug 2016, 20:58

If it tunes, LEAVE WELL ALONE!!
Understood Colin :D I'll make sure there is a very convincing argument to do anything with it. To be fair, I think he was just pointing out that it looked like a hexacore (not a term I'd ever heard before) and he only used them for "emergencies".

Anyway, I've been hammering away at a Grade 2 piece and my son has been hammering away at a Grade 3 piece and we're loving having it :D

My mother-in-law on the other hand, no sooner had she given us the piano, surprised us by revealing that she has bought another :shock: A small 6-octave affair that she hopes will a) be quieter, and b) fit in a particular space in the room. You really couldn't make it up... :?

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Colin Nicholson » 12 Aug 2016, 08:42

All bass strings (old/ new/ emergency) have an inner hexacore.... this is the six sided shape of the inner high tensile steel for the copper winding to wrap around - if you look very (VERY!) closely, as the "round" steel starts from the tuning pin coil, then enters the bass windings, and leaves the windings at the bottom, the steel is hex shaped.... otherwise the copper windings would just slip off. I'm not sure of the term "hexacore" myself referring to an emergency hand-tailored bass string, and/or if the hexacore is different to the other standard bass strings. :?

Also not sure if the hex part is just at the top & bottom.... round in the middle?
I just pack them off to be made!!
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by vernon » 12 Aug 2016, 21:45

Colin
old bass strings were certainly not hex core but just plain steel wire.
Obviously you are a youngster and probably less than seventy years old!
You will have come across old Bech and Bluthner bass strings that ere SOLDERED at the ends to stop them buzzing. I'm doing one at the present(1909 Blut) and the soldered strings are as good as new and are going back tomorrow.
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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Barrie Heaton » 13 Aug 2016, 09:58

Handmade strings were round and still are with some makers. Ken Rusell who use to make mine where Hexacore unless you told him not to use which I did. Moden Robot made strings tend to have a crimped end start or full Hexacore to help hem get started. but I am with Vernon some of the old strings are far better and round strings are better

I have just received some replacement strings for a Damon piano and I am disappointed with them as they are Hexacore they were not cheap but we will see when they are on the piano

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Ivan » 05 Sep 2016, 23:12

Hello again,

Well the piano technician has been today, done some regulation and tuned it, and I must say it sounds and feels even better than before :D

One thing he looked at though was that the bottom key had a lot of lost motion in it. On investigation, it seemed like it wasn't sitting at the same/right level relative to the other keys. In fact, all of the black keys seem a little high relative to the white keys, to the extent that the edges of the black keys below the polished tops are visible.

Removing the keys, there are a lot of paper shims under the red felt discs, and at the front of the keys, only those in the middle section of the keyboard seemed to have the green discs:

Keybed.jpg

The strips of green felt along the front really don't seem to be doing much at all. So then it was a puzzle as to what was setting the depth of touch, as there isn't really anything for the front of the keys to stop at. He removed the action and then it was obvious - there is a wooden rail with green felt underneath, running across the back of the keys. I forgot to take a photo of it in this state, but you can see it in these photos where there are gaps between groups of keys:
Rear1.jpg
Rear2.jpg
So when a key is pressed, the rear end rises until it is stopped by this rail. The height of the rail is adjustable on four vertical threaded studs evenly spaced along its length.

The piano technician hadn't seen this arrangement before. I wondered if anyone here has experience of it? The pictures above seem to indicate that either there are missing felt discs under to front of the keys, or that they aren't really necessary anyway with this arrangement unless one really needs to fine-tune things. I guess that would depend on how well matched everything was.

Any thoughts appreciated!

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Ivan.

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Re: Bluthner 1890s Upright Dampers

Post by Colin Nicholson » 06 Sep 2016, 09:44

Hi Ivan
Some interesting photos there.
I think the grey/faun strip of felt is original (or way back in time) as both front rail pins would have had this arrangement for black & white keys. One long length of each, uncut, not nailed and holes punched out for the pins.
Quite common on some Schiedmayer pianos for this "carpet" arrangement.

Not sure why there is a grey strip AND green baize washers for the sharps.... perhaps all replaced at some stage.
Yes, the green strip is all wrong, so the key dip may reach its destination prematurely as the keys are sloped.
Would be better to rip out the old and fit green washers throughout only - possibly 6 or 7mm. Green baize washers are the norm and just pushed onto the front pins, like the sharps. Then to finely adjust the dip, add paper or card washers (larger ones) under the baize washers.

The centre rail washers (red) also could have been replaced.... the norm here is Bluthner blue (royal blue) round or square cut felt washers. This is where the keys are levelled, so if replaced with thinner red felt (about 1mm?).... will explain the abundance of paper washers underneath.... keys must be set at the correct height before dip adjustments.

The back stop rail is quite common on old German pianos.... saw one the other day on a Gors & Kallmann. Regulated with (what looks like) large tuning pins. This rail is some kind of compensator for the front dip, so if the front washers flatten.... they maintain a level playing field. A pain in the neck though for regulating, and sometimes I remove these rails altogether..... depends on the job done.

Colin
AA Piano Tuners UK

Colin Nicholson Dip. Mus. CMIT CLCM PTLLS
Piano tuning & repairs. Full UK restoration service
http://www.aatuners.com
Tuition ~ Accompaniment ~ Weddings
http://www.pianotime1964.com
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