Restoring a bluthner

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marctilly
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Restoring a bluthner

Post by marctilly » 24 Feb 2013, 21:39

Hi there,

Just looking for some advice re. the wisdom or not of undertaking a piano restoration project (for enjoyment, and to end up with the sort of piano I want but could probably not afford to buy in the normal way of things).

I am a cabinet maker by profession and have a well-equipped workshop, and have a very high level of hand and machine woodworking skills. I also play piano to a fairly high standard.

If I was to arm myself with a copy of, say, 'Piano Servicing, Tuning and Rebuilding: For the Professional, the Student and the Hobbyist' by Arthur A. Reblitz, and put aside a considerable amount of time over a year or two, do you think it would be a reasonable proposition to buy an old but good quality grand (have always wanted a Bluthner) and rebuild it myself. If so would it be worth doing? Are there any obvious pitfalls?

Thanks in advance for any views on this.

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Barrie Heaton
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Re: Restoring a bluthner

Post by Barrie Heaton » 25 Feb 2013, 00:26

Each era of Bluthner pianos has some pit falls

Patent actions: are light and responsive when done well, but more information is about on regulating a standard Roller action and since your knowledge will limited I would avoid if you can. If you do go for a Patent action I would recommend having the hammers re-coved rather than replacing them as modern hammer heads are too heavy and muck up the intra of the action

Metal Actions standards: tend to need replacing on older models as they swell up if this is the case then all the regulating will have to be done form scratch as tuners ten to adjust rather than replace

Frame(plate): be careful when removing Bluthner frames as they are thinners than other makes if you have it power coated remove the agraphs (takes a bit of Bottle) you will need to make note of the brass washes under each agraph, use a pipe cleaner in a drill with Brasso to clean out the holes in the agraph but don't over do it

Wrest planks: (pin Blocks ) on Bluthners with the old aliquot string system need a lot of shaping with a router to get them to fit to the frame and the brass plates to fit, if you need to replace and you will. That should be no problem to a cabinet maker the pin holes are about 6 degrees please use blue pins Chrome ones look so naf on old pianos

Bridge pins: when I done Bluthners in the passed I replaced all the bridges pins or removed them and swabbed the holes with Cyano-acetate then put the old ones back you do tend to get very fine hair line cracks on the bridges the Cyano-acetate is good for that. Tip for taking them out if you intend to reuse them use mole grips and make a polystyrene copy of the bridge and put the pins in there so the same pins go back to the same hole

Restringing: they are all eye strings which is time consuming but well worth it, so you will need to get them very consistent. one as they are on show and two the sound and stability.


Have fun

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Colin Nicholson
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Re: Restoring a bluthner

Post by Colin Nicholson » 25 Feb 2013, 12:57

Barrie's comments are spot-on, and it may have "knocked you for six" - and you then wondering what the heck an agraffe is, bridge pin, action standard, etc.? (and there is tons more terminology to learn)!

The forum welcomes giving general advice - but are restricted to giving out specific details in order to protect the trade - by all means though have a bash!

A piano restoration is highly specialised, and should only be done by an experienced piano restorer/technician (yeh yeh you say!) - like building a yacht. boat, rebuilding a cuckoo clock or even your family grand father clock. All pianos require specialist tools & equipment for re-stringing, mechanism & regulation work - so you need to completely start a fresh page - forget about your workshop tools & years of experience playing a piano.... this is a different ball game. All piano 'hardware' like screws, pins etc. are NOTHING like what you buy in a local DIY store - and ordering them requires you having an account with a piano parts company.

To gain access to information like this, you may need to register with the trade. Not many piano parts companies accept DIY enthusiasts. You may also be advised to contact a local piano technician, who may be willing to share his/her experience with you. I myself charge an annual rate for customers who wish to take on their own pianos and seek my help - it entitles them to around 10 hours of private tuition - whenever they like, one per month, or all in one day!

Piano 'restoration' falls into many different categories such as:
1. Mechanism/ hammers/ whippens/ springs
2. Strings & dampers
3. Keyboard/ keyframe/ ivories/ celluloid etc
4. Pedals and lyre/ trap mechanisms etc
5. Casework
6. Set-up/ regulating/ tuning

However.... the one thing I haven't mentioned is the several thousand parts consisting of felt, box cloth, leather and baize, washers, backing cloth etc..... where do you start?.... what bits need to be replaced? .... what is causing the piano not to work properly? ...... none of this info is readily at hand.

Reblitz is a very good book - but its not really an "Instruction manual" for a novice DIY piano restorer. The book is in black & white for a start - so no colour pictures! - and when you look at the 10,000 + parts inside a grand, you will never know the names of each material component, and how to order/cut/ glue new parts to it.

I would recommend though you start with an old upright piano - and purchase the Haynes Piano Manual by John Bishop. This is a good book - fully illustrated in colour, and may give you a good overview of piano work. The book (nor any book) will not specifically cover any kind of detail for Bluthner - which some have a unique mechanism. You will also need to learn about certain gaps/ distances/ special measurements prior to any stripdown - or when you put the piano back together, it will just play as though it was filled with bubble-wrap! ......

All pianos are worth restoring if they done WELL! .... if you are just at the 'tinkering' stages - then its not a good idea to play around with a Bluthner machinery - or you will never hear it being played again!

However - if you are just planning on a casework refurb & tidy up - no problem.
We hear often.... "for enjoyment" .... but its not! .... its only enjoyable when things are going ok.... when you then have to draft a tech. guy in to undo all your mistakes (with respect) .... your pocket will be far from enjoyable....

Hope that helps....
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Re: Restoring a bluthner

Post by Withindale » 25 Feb 2013, 13:59

From the other side of the fence I'd say Barrie's and Colin's advice is spot on. Get yourself a good old upright (or grand if you must) in reasonable condition. It might be out of regulation and out of tune so no one wants it. Then try putting it back to what it was, as best you can, before you do anything else. You will be amazed what can be done with screwdrivers and few simple tools. That will give you an idea of what you can achieve by replacing centre pins, felts, strings and so on. You will never know if you wade in with Reblitz and start replacing everything in sight.

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Re: Restoring a bluthner

Post by joseph » 25 Feb 2013, 15:05

The other thing about Bluthner pianos is, although many of them are quite worn out, there are many 120 year old Bluthner grands out there, in totally original condition, still producing a remarkable sound. The patent action can be really beautiful to play on, very fast and light and responsive, when set up properly. You may find when you get your old Bluthner grand that you simply want to enjoy it! Then, if the plank or soundboard fails, or the action needs completely rebuilt, and you find yourself with some money, you contact PianoRestorations in Twyford who will rebuild the whole thing to as new condition.

Get yourself an old upright! You can pick up any old over strung piano for next to nothing these days, and see what you can produce.

And you may find that you want to learn the art of rebuilding pianos, installing soundboards, and might consider an apprenticeship somewhere?

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Re: Restoring a bluthner

Post by marctilly » 26 Feb 2013, 00:31

Many thanks for these suggestions. I think the idea of starting with a cheap upright is a very good one; I will have a go with one and see how I get on. Also I will see if I can find a local technician who can be persuaded to offer advice on some basis or other!

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Colin Nicholson
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Re: Restoring a bluthner

Post by Colin Nicholson » 26 Feb 2013, 18:18

If you get an upright first (for tinkering) - make sure you check the name, model, and action design. It won't matter if its overstrung/ straightstrung (overstrung better) - and if its 3/4 or full iron frame. However, avoid the following:-

1. Overdamped pianos (even Bluthner!)
2. Spring & loop actions
3. Mini Eavestaff (1930's art deco) - mechanism at the back or a drop action.
4. Drop actions (or sloping) eg Eavestaff 1950's
5. Lindner upright pianos (from Ireland) 60's - 70's

Hope that helps....
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
Member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen

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