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Ballistol for Voicing

  • 1.  Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-10-2016 22:02

    Has anyone used Ballistol for voicing hammers, as suggested in our latest Journal?  What has been your experience?

    Ron Bergeron, RPT
    Austin, Texas

  • 2.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-11-2016 21:22

    I was unable to log on last night. ( web site glitch? ) Thus I had to wait until my dead tree version of the Journal came in the mail today to read about Ballistol voicing.

    I am frankly stunned that this was allowed into our national publication. This is an idea so insipid that I could never have imagined that it would pass even the most cursory of editorial reviews.  Even in a publication that has over the years published descriptions of piano modifications that tread the line between "expression of genius" and "stunning act of vandalism"  this is truly shocking.  I found myself vainly looking at the date on the cover hoping to see that it was the April 1st edition but sadly this is no " April Fools" joke.

    Even if one can allow that adding oil to a piano hammer may have some efficacy, the idea that one would spray oil into the action cavity is sheer lunacy. It will contaminate the keys,keyframe, backchecks, keybed and damper action.

    But wait there's more!! Ballistol gradually darkens over time from almost clear to yellow to rust brown. How will you explain that to the owner of a $90,000 Steinway B in a year when they look inside their piano?

    Seriously?!?!  Have we as an organization no role at all as gatekeepers of acceptable professional practices?

    If you think I'm being too harsh here; re-read the article and replace the word Ballistol with WD-40 and see how you feel about it.

    John Parham, you're a smart guy. You can do better than this.

    Karl Roeder
    Pompano Beach FL

  • 3.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Posted 03-12-2016 00:09

    I was somewhat surprised to see that Ballistol was listed as a possible treatment on hammer felt . I had heard of it being used as an action center lubricant but never to help voicing. I would think it would attract dust and dirt and get sticky etc. and discolor eventually . There is a product that Pianotek sells that can be used to soften hammer felt and that at least in my view would be safer to use. All of the products that the piano supply companies sell have some research , testing and development to back up their use in pianos. At a recent jamboree in Winston Salem I learned about a simple mixture that can help the hammer fibers relax and it does not damage the felt.

    In all fairness to John P sometimes things can slip by or under the radar so to speak. Maybe someone with a good chemistry background could explain why certain products are good or bad for the various materials in a piano.  We are all pretty aware that WD-40 is a no-no and silicone as well .I read an article in one of the old technican journals that Paul Brown has scanned and it mentioned applying something like vaseline to strings to prevent rust. Not so sure I would try it . I have tried fabric softener to soften hard jack felts and it worked for a very short time and noises came back. The piano did smell good after.

    James Kelly
    Pawleys Island SC

  • 4.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Posted 03-12-2016 00:30
    The problem here is, who's belief is right? Everything I've ever had
    published in the Journal has been contrary to traditional teaching. If I
    had been judged negatively based on what we were taught, as happens
    regularly on the lists, I would have never had anything published. As it
    was, I was allowed to present my case based on evidence which anyone
    could verify. The line between professional validity and prejudicial
    censure is very thin and altogether too arbitrary. The Ballistol voicer
    has had his public say, as he should be allowed. Our job now is to
    individually judge it's validity rationally, based on real world facts.
    The Journal staff did it's job in not censuring submissions by their own
    criteria of validity. Now it's time for us to do ours.
    Ron N

  • 5.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-12-2016 01:19

    I would never dream of contaminating hammers with oil.

    If one wants the strike area softer and fluffier, a few drops of vodka will do anything needed, and it will evaporate leaving nothing behind except the fluffiness. Using more than a few drops is, I think, a mistake. When I've tried soaking the hammers down to about 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock to deal with a "gospel-damaged" piano with rock-hard hammers, the first time I tried it the voicing improved but then got bright again later (under continued pounding bombardment), and then after the second time I tried it, it got soft and stayed soft, forever. Plus, hammers treated with more than just a little vodka get taller but also more narrow, and then there's nothing to be done about it. Side needling or a gentle shoulder-mashing with vise grips can do anything more needed if a few drops of vodka aren't enough.

    As for the Downy, it's just putting smelly goop into the hammers which you can never get back out, while vodka will do the job a lot better and leave nothing behind.

    Spraying oil on bass hammers? And then they strike the bass strings, "bloom" and all, and what happens then? Oil contaminates the bass string windings, and also possibly the damper felt? And then they turn dead as door nails a few months later.

    To repeat something someone said to a pianist walking toward a concert instrument with a can of hairspray to make the keys less slippery, "not on my piano."

    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon

  • 6.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-12-2016 19:54
      |   view attached

    By way of substantiating my earlier statements regarding the color stability of Ballistol I sprayed some on the ends of a couple of Q-tips. I used the two year old can I have at home. I then dipped the other ends in the bottle of Ballistol I bought the same place and time I bought the spray.  The oil from the bottle was nearly clear two years ago when I opened it. The oil in the spray can has never been exposed to the atmosphere since it was filled at the factory.  The oil in the five year old bottle at my shop is darker still.  I going out on a limb and saying that Ballistol darkens with age when it is exposed to air.

    There is also the issue of fragrance. Ballistol has a strong odor vaguely similar to licorice.  There are reports that it works as a bait in mouse traps as well. Of course attracting mice to the hammers in your piano may be an unwanted feature.

    There may be some conceivable circumstance in which voicing hammers with mineral oil is useful and appropriate.  There are other mineral oils which do not darken over time and I would imagine them to be better suited to such a purpose.

    There is never a circumstance when spraying un-diluted oil directly into the action cavity of a grand piano with the action in place as described in the third paragraph, second sentence of the piece is appropriate.

    When something like this is published in the Journal with no disclaimer of any sort it harms the image of our organization and diminishes the credibility of our members as professionals.

    Karl Roeder
    Pompano Beach FL

  • 7.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-12-2016 21:10

    Some years ago I put a set of very dense "Asian" hammers on a piano we had in the shop. I'd had these hammers for quite a while. I bought them in a moment of weakness after being heavily influenced by a very good sales pitch. Once I had unpacked them and examined them I decided I didn't really want to use them. Finally I had the piano and the time to test them and see if my prediction was right. As I had predicted the piano sounded pretty bad -- about like you'd expect from a piano using granite for hammers.

    I then soaked the hammers -- yes, soaked! -- in a mixture of alcohol and water. Once they were thoroughly saturated I took them out of the tray and let them dry for a few days. They had physically grown in size so I sanded them back to their original size and shape and tried them in the piano.

    The results were somewhat less bad but nothing I'd want in any piano of mine. So, what the hell, let's try it again. This time with a little more water in the mix. Again, they grew some (though not as much) and, again, I sanded them back to their original size and shape. Another moderate improvement.

    I did it a third time with less dramatic results which indicated I'd reached the point of diminishing returns. After sanding them back to their original size and shape a third time we found the tone improved yet again but still I'd classify it simply as being "less bad" not really great.

    We ended up tossing the hammers but I did learn something about how the hammers had been pressed. Until then I had toyed with the notion that "Asian" hammers were chemically hardened as part of the manufacturing process. After this experience I was convinced that they had achieved their density by raising the moisture content of the felt to the point of saturation and then pressing them using quite high pressures and temperatures resulting in a very nicely shaped hammer that was incredibly dense.

    I also learned that, while I could reduce the density of the hammers, I could not give them the resilience that makes a piano hammer a piano hammer. I also learned that if one used vodka rather than drug store alcohol one could drink the leftovers. And it was cheaper.


    Delwin Fandrich
    Olympia WA

  • 8.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-13-2016 00:08

    Adding oil to hammers would increase the weight. There are not very many circumstances, (well, really I mean NONE) where I find adding weight to hammers productive to tone, touch and durability. So I am not curious to test the hypotheses.

    Edward McMorrow
    Edmonds WA

  • 9.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-13-2016 21:39
    Thank you all for your feedback about the Ballistic TT&T article by Doug
    Gregg. It's nice to know we have Journal readers.

    For three or four years I have been sitting on this tip. It was so
    unconventional I did not feel comfortable publishing it when I first
    received it. About a year and a half ago I had an occasion to test it on
    an older piano with very hard hammers: I liked the results. At the same
    time I also used it on a poorly rebuilt Steinway B: I liked the results
    again. A year or so later I still saw no negative side effects, so I
    contacted the author for an update about his experience with using
    Ballistol for voicing. He had no negative information. Only then did I
    decide to publish that tip.

    That was my protocol for deciding to publish this tip. If the efficacy
    of the article's claim is erroneous, I will gladly take responsibility.

    Karl, I'm very grateful you took the time to post. I'm also grateful for
    your recommendation to add a caveat when appropriate. I will take that
    consideration to heart.

    Thanks for sharing,
    John Parham

  • 10.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-14-2016 08:05

    Let me add my 2 cents on Balistol.

    I'm a Balistol fan.

    That being said, Balistol is a no-no with soft metals like gold and copper. It has been known to discolor, and in some cases, destroy some metals. And this is where one has to be very careful when applying Balistol to hammer heads. There are times when hard crusty hammers will benefit from a few drops of Balistrol directly on the strike area. But one should avoid  the bass section hammers as it will leave marks on the strings.  There are many excellent uses for Balistol in the piano service arena.  As with any chemical use, you have to be aware of the unintended consequences.

    Tom Servinsky

  • 11.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-14-2016 09:36

    My preference is for lanolin since that is what's missing.

    Larry Messerly, RPT
    Bringing Harmony to Homes

  • 12.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-14-2016 11:37

    My preference is for lanolin

    Larry Messerly,  2 hours ago

    Interesting. How do you apply it?

    Paul Klaus

  • 13.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-14-2016 13:50

    It was an older piano being fixed up by me. In trying to voice the hammers, I realized that no matter how many holes I put in the felt, it still was too harsh. Realized that it was like voicing cardboard, I could make it weaker but not resilient.

    I got anhydrous lanolin at a pharmacy, coated the surface and melted it in with a hair drier.  Helped a little so I then coated the sides also. Helped a little more. 

    Not a great result, but for the cost and effort, worth it

    Larry Messerly, RPT
    Bringing Harmony to Homes

  • 14.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-14-2016 21:40

    Larry: Thank you for explanation. Good to know but sounds impractical in the field. Ballistol voicing seems too odd/easy. Think I'll wait on that a while.

    Paul Klaus

  • 15.  RE: Ballistol for Voicing

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-15-2016 13:00


    Have you considered dissolving the anhydrous lanolin with denatured alcohol for penetrating into the hammer?  Would that be effective? Did this treatment color the hammers?  I only know of lanolin as an orange color.


    Joe Wiencek NYC

    Joe Wiencek
    New York NY