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What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

  • 1.  What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-22-2019 13:14
    Hey All!

    I know I'm new here, but I am far from being new to keyboards.  My short-short-short bio is that I've studied piano since age 7 (am 43 now), went to college for a music degree with major instruments of Pipe Organ and Harpsichord, then changed my career and degree during my senior year to I.T.  I'm not afraid of anything technical and have dabbled in automotive restoration, minor furniture restoration etc.

    So since I have a somewhat professional background, I've done things like repaired an old Neupert Spinet harpsichord in college (all new plectra and re-voiced) and built a digital Hauptwerk Pipe Organ.  Recently I purched an old Roland C-80, but as you all know, its not 'real.'  I've put off buying a real harpsichord because I know the horror that can come with buying an older kit put together by someone else.  Broken sound board, bad jacks, etc.  That changed yesterday.

    While making my weekly rounds at the local Goodwill stores, I stopped off at a mom/pop goodwill store and was confronted with a 6' long harpsichord.  Took me a few minutes to realize it was 'probably a Zuckermann' and was floored by the asking price of $80.  It was missing a few pieces, but it wasn't your typical 1950's Z-box either.  I left with a 'I hope it finds a good home.'

    It did.  After I left I Realized what an idiot I was being.  So what If we live in a one bedroom apartment!?  That sucker is mine!

    So home it came.

    This morning I began the task of finding out what I have.  It looks like its a Zuckermann Flemish I-III (53 note).  All the strings were loose, rusty, so they came off (detune - then snip).  Next came out all the old plastic derlin jacks.  They are warped from age, and some are missing the adjustment screws.  Being that this is a 8' 4' instrument, thats going to be a lot of work to revoice!  The good part - the soundboard looks pretty good - no major cracks, only minor surface crack near the 8' tuning pegs.  Its missing the jack rail and keyback as well, but I'll call Zuckermann and see if they can make / have extras to sell.  There were two things that concern me however.  One is the upper guide for the jacks - the 8's one.  Where the stop screw goes in on the left, it's cracked (see picture).  The second is the lower guide raill has holes that look like they were put in by a 10 year old with daddy's hand drill. They're not really centered.  The last thing that only minorly concerns me is the legs.  I've seen other Zuckerman Flemish models with the hefty stand Zuckerman offers.  I may opt for one in the future, or have one made.  Last minot minor thing is the keyboard was not mounted, just set in the instrument, so I'll have to properly get it set in.

    All in all I think it will make a nice winter project.  What do you think?  Am I totally mad for attempting this?  



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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA

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  • 2.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-22-2019 14:23
    I would have bought it (probably - even though I don't have any space for yet another harpsichord). Looks like a very doable project. The upper register can be repaired by removing the split portion and gluing in replacement wood. Or you could buy a new one (same design they use today).

    Not sure how easy it would be to remove the existing lower guide, but it isn't a particularly hard thing to make. Just a line of holes spaced probably 1/2" apart (measure from the top string to the bottom and divide to confirm the spacing). It is nice if you bevel the tops of the holes a bit for ease of inserting jacks. It can be installed with 90 degree angle brackets if the existing method is too difficult to duplicate (often screw holes are drilled on the bottom of the belly rail before the structure is put together, but I'm not sure about that particular year). The challenge is lining the holes up vertically with the string spacing, but that isn't rocket science, just being careful. Drop a few vertical lines from the centers between strings, and use them to find the best compromise.

    Note that Zuckermann jacks are no longer made that way, but new Zuckermann tongues will fit in the slots, so you can use them. Their current jack rail would probably work as a replacement with minor fitting operations.

    ------------------------------
    Fred Sturm
    University of New Mexico
    fssturm@unm.edu
    http://fredsturm.net
    http://www.artoftuning.com
    "We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same." - Carlos Casteneda
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-22-2019 16:21
    Fantastic.

    You lucky devil!

    This may be one of the most enjoyable springs you've ever had.

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    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 4.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-22-2019 17:42
    "Or you could buy a new one (same design they use today)"

    This is my thought.  Considering my skill level with wood (minor to medium) I could give it a shot, but I'd probably screw it up.  Going new would probably be better.

    "Not sure how easy it would be to remove the existing lower guide, but it isn't a particularly hard thing to make."

    Doesn't look like its going to be too hard.  Its nailed in from the bottom, and it doesn't feel like glue was used.  I agree angle brackets would probably work fine.

    "Note that Zuckermann jacks are no longer made that way, but new Zuckermann tongues will fit in the slots, so you can use them. Their current jack rail would probably work as a replacement with minor fitting operations."

    Yeah, and the original design wasn't great.  From what I understand the design works but it flawed and not as 'strong' as it should be.  I've already looked at the conversion kits for this model (they are about $350 per choir) and think I may just go that route.

    I think I got pretty lucky overall.  There are minor build issues, too much glue in some spots.  Also the finish is - kinda 1970's antiqued'.  Not exactly high-end.  I COULD re-finish it - or have it re-finished, but for me playability is far more important than fashion.  Considering I paid a whopping $80, I think I can live with the original finish that was applied.

    The soundboard has some staining on it.  To me it looks like someone spilled some tea on it. and it dripped in from the crack on the case.  I'll know more once I get the soundboard cleaned up.  This being the holidays, I have Tuesday through Sunday off and will tackle the cleaning then.

    The sound that came from the few notes that did work was pretty loud and clear.  I think with the proper strings and voicing it should sound pretty good for a bodged together kit.

    Lastly, the keyboard is good except one key sticks a little.  I'm amazed it isn't all wonky with warping or with bad construction.  Whoever worked on this did some OK work at times, and at others, not so much.

    I just have to keep reminding myself --- it was only $80.  As long as I'm not in more than 2 or 3k, this was a steal.




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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA

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  • 5.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-22-2019 17:43
    Heh - thanks.  I hope I don't regret your words.  I don't think I will.  I'm pretty confident that I can remedy what was done wrong.  The last time I maintained a harpsichord was in college almost 21 years ago, and that was a Neupert Spinet.  This is pretty much the same thing only longer and with twice as many jacks!

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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA

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  • 6.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-23-2019 09:37
    Hey all!

    So I did a lot of research yesterday and this morning.  I think I've narrowed down that this is a Zuckermann Flemish II.  Identical to this one:

    https://www.zhi.net/showroom/ZHIFlemishSingle3.shtml

    I don't expect this to be a 6k+ Instrument like a lot seen for sale, but I do expect it to give me what I need out of it:

    1.  A nice useable harpsichord
    2.  A project to work on and to become familiar with
    3.  A re-education in harpsichords

    Also after more research I think I'll try my hand at repairing the top register.  That doesn't look too hard to do, and considering its not a load bearing element (i.e. not something that holds the instrument together) I think I should be able to fix it well enough on my own.

    I placed a call with Zuckermann this morning to see what they have as far as replacement parts.  I'm pretty certain the keyback and jack rail are easily replaceable.

    The one thing I am now concerned about is a crack along the tuning pegs (closest to the keyboard).  It doesn't look wide or deep, but it does run horizonally across the pegs.  Any advice from you kind folks on how to fill or stabilize this crack (see pics).



    Also the soundboard is FILTHY.  Now that I have the strings off and can see it, wow.  Something dripped / spilled onto the wood.  I'm worries about the stains.  I had just planned on gently sanding the surface and coating / sealing the wood.  Thoughts on how I should proceed on this as well?  Keep in mind I do not have a shop and am doing this in an apartment.  Using a belt sander is a no-go.  LOL.  Not only would the sound bother the neighbors, but the dust would make one hell of a mess.  All repairs will have to be done 'by hand'.


    Thankfully the keyboard is just peachy with no warping, excessive play, or rubbing (just a smidge on one note).  I did note that there are ZERO weights added to the keys.  None in the front, OR back.  Wouldn't that make the keys WAY too light?  I don't mind a bit of a light touch, harpsichords are not pianos, but zero weight seems like it might be an issue with being able to play repeated notes.



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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA

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  • 7.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-23-2019 12:58
    I have one of these in the basement I'm not going to get to very soon. I corresponded w/Zuckerman years
    ago. You can buy their more modern jacks/plectra set up (lighter weight plastic)...and probably everything
    else you need. I believe at the time you could buy the snap in plectra/spring (all in one piece). They may
    still have those. Mine was missing one. They were all in a jar. My soundboard was also not very nice looking.
    I thought of using some decorations to disquise it. If you're crafty or have a relative who is, after thoroughly
    cleaning the board you can ad flowers, or whatever. I thought of using stencils. That will cover up the variations.
    Sound board painting was common back in those days. The case could be painted if you like that, or you can
    buy papers for the interior. Sounds like a great holiday project. Way to go. (I purchased mine off Craigslist for $100).
    Unfortunately I've got too much piano work to do and have not gotten to the harpsichord (yet)!

    ------------------------------
    Richard Adkins
    Piano Technician
    Coe College
    Cedar Rapids, IA
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  • 8.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-23-2019 13:33
    Typically a layer of spruce, matching the soundboard, is glued on the top of the pin block. Assuming this is the case, a crack in it is purely cosmetic.

    To clean the soundboard, I would start with a cabinet scraper - rectangle of steel sharpened to have a wire edge (curled bit of steel that extends beyond the flat surface of the scraper). This can remove very thin layers of wood, and won't rub the dirty dust into the pores as sandpaper will. It is possible that applying a thin coat of orange shellac will make it look quite a bit better.

    The keys have been undercut for balance - wood removed under the fronts of the keys so that the back is heavier than the front. That is a normal way to accomplish what is needed. Typically one wants minimal mass, and just enough difference in weight that the back of the key will float down to the back rail. 20th century modern design harpsichords (like Neupert, Sperrhake, etc.) have​ bushed keys and key leads. At this point Zuckermann was still bushing keys (which adds friction), but was trying to be more historically accurate and avoiding lead weights. The mass of the jacks is enough to assure return and repetition.

    ------------------------------
    Fred Sturm
    University of New Mexico
    fssturm@unm.edu
    http://fredsturm.net
    http://www.artoftuning.com
    "We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same." - Carlos Casteneda
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-23-2019 14:22
    French Polish -- very pleasing to work with, very non-toxic assuming you make up the shellac using 190 proof ethanol. It is very dry and makes a superb shellac. You can get any color and tone you wish by adding powdered aniline dye. A very forgiving rich looking finish which can have new layers added as desired. No waiting for long drying time, either.

    I had very good luck with this brand:
    https://www.amazon.com/J-Mosers-Finishes-Soluble-Aniline/dp/B008L2Q8MS/ref=sr_1_28?crid=N8PMF87NTWN0&keywords=powdered+dye+for+wood&qid=1577127873&sprefix=powdered+dye%2Caps%2C223&sr=8-28

    Just how the world would view a shiny rich colored soundboard I dare not guess, but the outer case could look very good.

    I'm enclosing a few photos of a battered celesta case I retrieved with French Polish, getting a ton of social approval from the orchestra members.

    ------------------------------
    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 10.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-23-2019 14:01
    Hey Fred!

    Thanks for the info on the keys.  After I posted that I realized that I thought I had read something in college about floating keys and balance.  That makes sense now.

    I studied under Tom Flowers of Prescott Arizona, and he let me play on his "real" harpsichord, which was a custom made English spinet. I remember it had a pretty 'rich' sound.  Especially compared to the Z-Boxes I've played since.  To the point, I remember how 'light' the keys felt on Mr. Flower's harpsichord and how you could feel the 'pluck' of the string.  The Z-boxes I've plays felt rather mushy.  This one felt like a cross between the two before I pulled the six working jacks.  Once the jacks were off, the keys seemed very light, hence my question.

    Fred - I also followed your post about re-doing a Zuckermann with new jacks and plectra some time back, which is actually what caused me to join this group and post about my experience.  On the Hubbard jacks, did you have to trim them?  I.e. the bottom of my jacks are pretty thin.  I think they may be Burton jacks?  Is that correct?  Or do I have the original Zuckermann style?  I may ask Zuckerman to see if they can send me a couple jacks so I can see how they will fit and to see what modification (if any) is needed.

    I've also been doing a lot of reading up on the Zuckermann Flemish.  So does anyone know what models are what?  I know it's a Flemish I, II, or III based on what I can find online.  I'm pretty sure it's either a II or a III, but I don't know what differences mark each one.  It also seems to me you could order them with any combination of choirs.  Say an 8x8''.  8, x 8 + buf, 8x4+buf, 8x2 etc.  I am pretty certain this is an 8x4 with the lute/buf.  Correct?

    I've also found this:
    https://www.claviersbaroques.com/CBExpertSSLFlemishSngl.htm

    For when I'm ready to go with new strings.

    So there is just a thin bit of birch on there?  Makes sense.  I may 'fill' the small crack if I can just for reference.  I doubt it goes deeper than that.  I can see the laying of wood on the edge of the pinboard.

    If I recall right shellac smells a bit doesn't it?  Lol...thats OK, as long as I don't just slap some polyurethane on there I'm fine right?  I had a friend back in Arizona who was a real woodworker and about fainted when I told him I used poly on a VERY old floor (of course the wood was SOOO dry and in bad shape ANYTHING was better than nothing and after seeing it he forgave me.  So yeah, no 'plastics' on this.

    Sorry if I'm asking a million questions here, but can you tell I'm pretty stoked?  I have almost six full days off coming up and am thinking of various things I can get a start on.



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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA
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  • 11.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-23-2019 17:05
    Those jacks are original Zuckermann. The later ones are an I-beam in cross section, and so you need a slot instead of a round hole for the bottom guide. Hubbard jacks have a square bottom, but it is in line with one edge of the upper body, rather than being centered. As far as I know, nobody is making a jack with a centered square bottom at this point (though they can be made from wood, and there are people who will do that for you).

    I experimented, and found that the Hubbard jack would work fine in my Zuckermann Flemish, without replacing the bottom guide. They slant a bit, but function just fine. Any jack you purchase, you will need to trim it to size, often both bottom and top. This isn't a problem if you have a band saw, but it more time consuming otherwise. You will also need to install screws top and bottom (if the design uses screws), and possibly drill for the bottom screw. Current Zuckermann jacks have no screw, but you do need to cut the bottom to match the size you need - and since there is no bottom adjustment screw, you need to do that very carefully, as it will permanently set where the plectrum is relative to the string. That needs to be consistent, or the feel and control will be lousy. 

    I don't know Zuckermann's model numbers, but it is 8 X 4 with "lute" stop. Another source for wire and parts is the Instrument Workshop, along with Zuckermann. 

    Shellac is dissolved in alcohol, so yes, it is smelly. You can purchase shellac flakes and dissolve your own. Shellac.net sells it that way, with many colors. You can apply it either with a brush or using a French polish method - which will create far less fumes. 






  • 12.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-23-2019 18:05
    I found that French Polish had tremendous advantages. No trying to work in a totally dust-free environment. Surfaces which can be handled within a half minute. The control of the color, not just by choice of shellac but by adding powdered aniline dye, which dissolves instantly and is never muddy looking. The high gloss finish which comes up so quickly, and the capacity to add layers at will. And while it is not waterproof like polyurethane, if anyone puts down a wet vase and leaves a white ring, one could just dissolve the area with alcohol, and then lay down another batch, which would blend perfectly with the rest.

    And no worry about shellac going bad because moisture got into it at some point. The 190 proof ethanol from the liquor store made perfect shellac, and if kept in a tightly sealed mason jar, it remains good for months. Aside the aniline dye, nothing is in the slightest toxic.

    I used a few drops of filbert oil as needed, but almost any oil will do fine. Those little plastic pipettes are really handy, for laying on a few drops of oil, and also for charging the rubbing wad with more shellac.

    ------------------------------
    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 13.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-24-2019 14:34
    So just FYI.  Cleaned the soundboard with damp paper towel. 


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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA
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  • 14.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-25-2019 13:58
    Well,Susan, it looks as though you got truly shellac'd over Christmas! A Happy One.  Michael UK

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    Michael Gamble
    semi retired
    Brighton
    01273813612
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  • 15.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-25-2019 22:47
    Good little lac bug, friend of man.

    My work was intensive but very intermittent.

    There are still some aspects I need to figure out, such as how to mend dents and battered edges in a way which isn't instantly obvious.

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    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 16.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-30-2019 17:18
    So I ended up sanding the soundboard and part of the pegboard as I am not comfortable with any other tools.  The badly done stencil was easy to remove, and the shellac matched the rest of the finish quite well!  You can still see a little staining, but a nicer stencil will fix that - maybe - we shall see!


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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA
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  • 17.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-30-2019 18:13
    Two words: Cabinet Scraper  (leaves a smoother surface than sandpaper if done right). :-)


    --
     Richard Adkins 
     Keyboard Tuning and Maintenance
     Curator of Instruments 
             
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  • 18.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-30-2019 19:16
    Looks very nice! I would extend the shellac to the rest of the pin block, myself (go ahead and put it around the tuning pins).

    I notice there is a bit of separation between the hitch pin rail and the bent side at the top treble (at least it looks that way). That might be no problem, just a matter of the kit maker not getting it to match the curve of the bent side. But you should take a look while you have it unstrung, and ensure that the hitch rail is solidly attached.

    ------------------------------
    Fred Sturm
    University of New Mexico
    fssturm@unm.edu
    http://fredsturm.net
    http://www.artoftuning.com
    "We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same." - Carlos Casteneda
    ------------------------------



  • 19.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 12-31-2019 11:56
    Hey Fred!

    The gap was part of the construction.  The gap has glue down inside of it where the soundboard and outter case had a gap, then was filled in.  It's actually quite solid.  It just doesn't look good match.  That was an early concern of mine but I did google and fine a few posts about people not getting this right.  The biggest take away I got from it was that 'as long as it's solid, its OK.'


    I do plan on putting shellac down around the rest of the tuning pins, but I do want to remove the buff stop and do it properly.

    This is by far not a high-quality build for sure.  I can see why someone may have gotten discouraged.  There are just a lot of little things here and there that weren't exactly right.  I.e. - someone got in a hurry.  There's the gap at the hitch pin, a missing tuning peg, a few of the string pegs are not leveled correctly.  There is evidence on the soundboard that the inner 4' hitch pin rail was removed, re positioned, and then attached with some filler used on the previous holes to cover up the blunder.  However, they did get most things right.  The strings lined up correctly.  All of them sounded (the ones that had quills remaining on the jacks anyway), but the broken register rail is probably why the kit was abandoned entirely.  I have a feeling they didn't pre-drill the hole before putting in the set screw, or they over tightened it.  Either way, the screw was missing or removed and meant that the jacks didn't meet the strings properly. I did slide the register over and make certain I got sound on most of the board, and I did.  It also looks like someone just totally gave up as some of the quills look way too thick (the ones remaining) on some and all but cut away on others - i.e. someone had zero clue about voicing and stopped in the middle.  Ironically the middle range of the strings were in tune and somewhat voiced, so I know someone at least tried.

    I'm kind of considering this a 'folk' harpsichord because of the general lack of finesse and the 'heavy handed style' of finish.  The uneven stain on the keys, the bulky 'trim' used under the keybaord, and the staining on the soundboard all give it an 'aged' and 'well loved' feeling.  I may keep with that with some minimal stencils, or a clever turn of phrase in latin.  Perhaps:

    "Conductor hominis pauperis."

    Or:

    Factus est particeps expers est


    I've been trying to get in touch with someone at Zuckermann the last week or so with no luck, I'm assuming they are closed for the holidays despite the voicemail saying they are available.

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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA
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  • 20.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Posted 01-06-2020 12:03
    I just spoke to the folks at Zuckerman.  They've offered to take a look at the instrument since I live nearby, and are willing to make replacement parts for the instrument.  Also in their jack conversions the kit includes both upper and lower registers.  Also for a 'nominal fee' they will  help me work on the instrument at their shop under their direction.  That sounds amazing!  Will keep you all updated.  For now I've sent off pictures of what I have / don't have, and am awaiting word on parts availability / options.

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    Ryan Price
    Arlington VA
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  • 21.  RE: What have I done? The $80 Flemish Zuckermann

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 01-07-2020 21:21
    Great opportunity! I look forward to hearing about your experience. Please post what they recommend for the string schedule when you have the chance. I just finished stringing a Z-box from the mid 60's. I do not like the tonal change from the yellow brass to the iron wire. I do not have time to experiment and the owner will most likely not notice.

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    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
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