So I decided to CA an on-site cap.
The patient: August Forester 15yr old 190cm grand. Nice piano. I've been working on this piano for about 6 years. Excellent customer, regular full service appointments. Customer serious classical chops. Customer has serious ears, and performs. All the piano's systems in excellent condition, with the exception of the bridge.
Bridge is not up to the rest of the instrument…long bridge from D5 (or so) down is solid flat sawn European something like maple-ish, no cap. Scarf jointed in the fifth octave, where it incorporates a very weird cap, glued up edge to edge pieces 1.5" wide perpendicular to the center line of the bridge. All these edge glued pieces have very fine hairline cracks forming. Its not falling apart, and pins are not visually looking compromised, but boy what a racket.
False beats from #36-88. Tenor notes, the entire flat sawn part, where I don't usually hear false beating, exhibited a slow moan…each string having a slightly different speed, slow moan in the attack. Screwdriver test proved the pins as culprit. Doesn't look bad, but the moan was there and defining the tone of the instrument in that area as quite nasty in the attack. Hard to tune. This section was tonally suffering from the untuneable attacks, and is the section that drove my decision to do this treatment.
False beats on every string in the treble. Faster classic treble beating giving the treble a shimmering poorly defined pitch – Responded to the screwdriver test also. I could have lived with this section, as I could tune it, and it has a shimmery, though slightly harsh tone. But the tenor needed fixing.
Since I don't usually do triage CA work, I read up on various CA treatment protocols; Ron's article, numerous posts to lists. Decided on the strings in place, at tension, water thin CA approach. All noted the quick nature of the "fix"…Priced it as such.
There have been some reports of "tone dulling" in this treatment. Responses mostly finger Ca creeping onto the speaking parts of the termination. I did ask, during one of these threads whether the apparently "dulled tone" was caused by the false-ness going away, but never got any traction on that idea. Still suspected this was a serious potential problem, ie completely changing the tonal profile of the piano, by significantly changing the attack.
Though somewhat hesitant to try the treatment, especially given a client with serious ears and a hard to tune and stabilize piano, I did the treatment. Piano lost its voice big time, dull, lifeless, short sustain…customers very worried…I knew how to get it back, as I realized, after this happened, that the hammers and all the tone regulating prior to this had been based on the attack profile defined by the falseness.
I knew how to fix it, but had not factored that amount of time it would take to let down tension, remove and clean strings from the pins, clean cap, bring up pitch, lift coils, chip 3 times, fine tune twice, shape hammers, re-voice, and assure my client that is everything would be fine, into my bid.
The piano is sounding quite nice now. The falseness is completely gone, but it is definitely a different piano. This different-ness may or may not drive my customer nuts…we shall see.
If I ever do this again ("if" factors highly here), it will be a $2500 job, to get the falseness corrected, voiced and tuning stabilized. It ain't no quick fix, as a compass wide application, at least in my experience. If this is undertaken on a decent piano, serious tone regulating chops will be required.
Glue did stabilize the pins nicely, as advertised. However, applied at tension, glue crept under the strings on top of the bridge cap. CA under the strings, adheres the strings to cap, such that after it is tuned in this condition, the string/cap bond will let go, with the tuning failing over-night. Also CA at the termination had to be scraped away, as there were weird string noises from the imprecise terminations.
Removing the strings from the pins and cap is the only way I would ever do this again.
<who wanted to do the repair in the first place? Complicated...Since I have been able to create for her what others had not been able to create, this client basically requests my input, opinion, etc., and gives me free reign. So, given the relationship, and my understanding of her tastes, it was my suggestion. On the other hand, since I know how particular she is, (I should add, she is always on the mark, rather than just hard to please), I often avoid suggesting things I know need doing because turning up her tonal acuity takes time to resolve. This one I went back and forth for a while before broaching the subject. Mentioned it 6 months ago, and got the go ahead before the fall tuning. Its interesting...some good pianists get comfortable in the "usual" sound of their instrument, even though that "usual" tone is degrading, sometimes seriously. When sound is the "usual" , the actual sound is not as present as when they are paying attention to it. For example, I spent a fair amount of time, re-voicing parts of the scale where no CA had been applied. These areas exhibited the same tonal profile they had exhibited before the CA treatment. They had not been an issue to her before the CA treatment, but she was now listening and looking for unevenness and attack stridency, they were present and required attention. So as someone a client puts trust in, I feel its my duty to point out deficiencies that are becoming more present. The decision to "turn on" a client's tonal acuity is not one I make lightly. That said, I brought the subject up 6 months ago. <Did your experience of the false beats and unfocused attack with the resulting difficulties in tuning lead you to the conclusion that the piano "must" be fixed?
again, complicated. I told her it was making tuning this piano, which is already quite difficult to tune with stability, even harder to tune. But I also said it did not have to be done, and I would be happy to tune it with or without the treatment. That said, with each subsequent tuning, the sound of the instrument was departing more and more significantly from a place which she, in previous tone regulation sessions, clearly expressed she wanted it to be. To cover my ass, my instinct was to keep my mouth shut. To support her as the pro she values, both financially and verbally, and as a regular and committed customer, I felt it was increasingly "necessary". I chose not to cover my ass…I think correctly…but time will tell.
<how did the hammers come to be in the condition they were in?
Acquired this customer after another tech "reshaped" the hammers. With what I now know about shaping, I would have reshaped on the spot the first time I saw the piano, but, back then, I was able to get what she wanted with regulation and needles, and dead nuts tuning. Its interesting, the more I understand about the effect of shape on the tone and attack, the less I find myself needling these days…and sometimes just really nailing unisons gets the job done without either.
<The more important question is whether you have done the same for your client.
Again complicated. You are right in one sense. But there's more to the picture. During the "recovery" of the tone, she was elated that the sound was coming back. Came into the room every time an improvement happened. Then, at the end, a cloud seemed to settle over her.
I saw this cloud descend. As a musician, very acutely aware of my own tendencies to behave like a drug addict when I'm around music, as I watched her on this occasion and on others descend into this nether world of expectations which cannot be satisfied, at least temporarily, we talked about the destructiveness of excessive expectations…we talk about stuff…As I was making my points about realistic expectations, she described the experience of going over the expectations deep end as, in her words, "exhausting"…so she knows well what the game is.
I am actually becoming more and more comfortable setting parameters of expectations with my good clients, as without a clear discussion of what is reasonable, given unrealistic expectations which are the stock and trade of high price piano land, neither I or my clients will be happy. This may seem presumptive, but I would argue it is not presumptive…merely honest in a way that allows reality to offer its comforting presence. Pianos are far from perfect or perfectible. I strive to get them pretty damn good, but am clear with myself and my clients that the notion of perfection destroys.
Karl, from your comments, you must have traversed this landscape too…no?
Grand - August Foerester 170, 1996 manufacture. Regularly serviced by me, tunings twice a year, 2 day regulation a couple of years ago, original hammers, heavily played, hammers to be replaced next time shaping is required, if not before, Renner hammers - dense. Excellent condition all around except for the bridge which was constructed very poorly. Solid european hardwood bridge root, no cap in the agrafffes sections, flat sawn, scarf jointed, scarfed in the capo area. Capo area of bridge capped in a very odd fashion that I still can't quite figure out. As I mentioned in the OP 1.5" pieces of some quarted stock, the 1'5" pieces edge glued perpendicular to the center line of the bridge. These cap glue joints are opening, but not cracking away from the root, just opening. Condition of cap and pins – actually looks okay. No obvious visual distortions of the holes in the tenor, and very slight widening of the holes in the capo. Only one pin at the capo strut with a visually widened hole. However, despite reasonable visual condition, every string from C4-C8 was false and responded to the screwdriver test.
Tenor agraffe area slow moaning beats in the attack made for a noisy attack, with an indistinct pitch. Capo, classic fast shimmering beats.
Board still good with sustain, but is showing signs of a lowering of impedance. The lower impedance of the board is asking for a softer hammer at this point, as given the filed hard Renner hammers, it is a bit too easy to drive the notes to break up earlier than one would like, despite voicing.
No dag on the cap, as is common on European pianos.
CA, dryburgh red (water viscosity), fresh…just bought it from dryburgh this past week.
Application, strings on, up to tension. Pipette application. Since the pin holes, as I said, were not seriously elongated, at least visually, application of CA went under the strings on the cap and into the hole at about an equal rate, adhering the strings to the bridge cap. This as opposed to more elongated holes in really beat caps, which allow the CA to be drawn first and exclusively into the holes. Because of this pin/string equal capillary action the strings adhered to the flat of the bridge cap, and built up some CA at the pin termination, mostly on the right string. There was a small CA build up at the pins in general.
Application rate may have been a bit generous, but on the other hand, I did have to repeat apply a fair number of pins to kill the beats. All CA applied in the same 1.5hr initial session. Left it overnight and came back the next day to work on it.When I came back the next day, there were some isolated string termination noises. I cleaned the obvious termination noises with a dental pick, and tuned. Came back the next day, to see the fresh tuning was history. The adhered strings on the cap flat let go helter skelter. When I heard the failed tuning is when I let the tension down and got further into it.