and

MAX KEENLYSIDE

PIANIST  and  COMPOSER

the Jones' piano
G.W. Bucklin (~1875) Piano Restoration

This piano is the single greatest mystery I have ever worked on; it seems almost impossible to assign any brand name to it. There are precisely two names written on it, both internally: S.S. Lord and G.W. Bucklin.  Since the former's name was stamped into the keyboard (which was often built separately by another company) and the latter's was pencilled on the side of the top key, we must assume that "Bucklin" is the closest brand we can ascribe to the piano.


According to my piano-technician mentor, it was common practice for individuals in the piano industry to partner up temporarily, produce a limited number of pianos, and then move on before ever establishing a company name.  These pianos were usually sold under "stencil" names by music stores.  Their quality varied wildly, depending on a number of factors including who the people were, what materials they had access to, and what their experience was.


For instance: a worker from the Chickering factory may have decided to venture out as an independent manufacturer, only to return to factory work for Steinway a year later.  Alternatively, a new, inexperienced piano craftsman might have independently churned out a few mediocre or exceptional pianos before landing a job at a larger firm.


In the case of this Bucklin piano, we have a high-quality, durable instrument that was given some improper treatment by a technician at some point a few decades ago.  It has an especially mellow tone, and the lumber used in its case and soundboard are top-drawer; close-grained spruce and an unusually-blond rosewood.  Whatever name used to be written on this piano has since been rubbed off, forever obscuring the identity it was sold under.

As with most Victorian instruments, an enormous amount of dust and grime had accumulated on the action.  After all, these pianos were around for the Industrial Revolution!  The below pictures illustrate both the cleaning and re-shaping of the hammer heads.  After decades of hitting metal strings, the felt hammers went from having soft, round surfaces to having flat, hard ones.  Carefully filing the felt returns the piano to its expressive dynamic capabilities:

Age and moisture had deteriorated the surface of the keysticks.  To prevent further rot, I carefully sanded the surfaces, avoiding the areas where there was writing.  Note how worn the leathers on the backchecks are.

Undoubtedly the most critical repair I performed on this piano was to the "jacks".  The jacks are little spring-mounted levers that are mounted on each key, and they are what push the hammers toward the strings.  Basically: when you press the key, the jack lifts with it, pushing the hammer up.  After a certain point, the jack comes in contact with a button that pushes it out from under the hammer, letting the hammer bounce back down.  When the key is released, a small spring that is mounted below the jack returns it to its original position below the hammer.


Unfortunately, it was an industry-standard practice for these little jack springs to be secured by a silk thread mounted in the back of the jack.  Over the course of a century, these threads simply disintegrate, and thus the keys stop working:

Several decades ago, some well-meaning piano technician repaired these keys in a woefully ill-advised way, by tacking a large spring from the top of the jack to the keystick.  This resulted in a heavy, springy feeling in the keys--wildly inconsistent from note to note.  When I showed this to a piano tech colleague, he said, "That technician will spend decades in piano hell for that one once he dies!"

To remedy this, I first removed the wires, screws, and tacks from the last technician's attempted fix.  I then drilled holes through each of the offending jacks, before threading dental floss through the tiny springs.  After feeding the dental floss through the drilled holes, toothpicks were inserted, glue applied, and the materials trimmed down flush to the surface of the jack:

Here is the stamped name of the fellow who probably built this piano's action.  Not pictured: "G.W. Bucklin", pencilled in cursive on the left side of the top key.

The felt strips on the keyframe and hammer rest rail had all but been eaten up by moths, so I took the opportunity to replace them.  The new felts match the old ones to one hundredth of an inch. Not pictured: replaced hammer rail felt.

I *so* wish that I took a "Before" photo of these dampers; the felt and wood were both truly blackened from accumulated dust and soot.  I carefully wire-brushed their surfaces and replaced the screws.  Believe it or not, that's the original red felt:

After repairing the jacks, I took the opportunity to replace the leather on the backchecks (as well as to replace all the rusted metal screws).  Genuine soft buckskin was used.  Also, note the new action bolt and washer in the last picture; I replaced all three action struts with these so as to make them adjustable and durable.

To arrange for me to work on your piano, or to get a quote on the work, please get in touch through the Contact page!

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