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A mystery

  • 1.  A mystery

    Posted 01-28-2019 16:10
    Edited by Steven Rosenthal 01-28-2019 16:17

    The circumstances:
    1961 Stnwy M, single owner been in the same room since new.
    Has not been used in a generation.
    Seems to be original stringing.
    16 out of 26 strings in the top section are broken, almost all of them at the hitch pins. Exactly when this happened is unknown.
    No other strings in the rest of the piano are broken or seem to have ever been replaced.
    Owner thinks it unlikely that the piano could have been vandalized. Based upon the position of the string flags, the pins don't seem to have been turned to the point of string breakage and there are no marks on the pins indicating anything other than a tuning lever was ever used.
    I am assuming that they are the correct size wires but haven't yet checked.
    A cursory check with a straight edge indicates that the bridge in that section is tilted back towards the hitch pins.
    Note: this is in the tropics and the rust on the strings is fairly moderate and not untypical, not to the point where strings break.

    The question:
    What the heck???

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    Steven Rosenthal
    Honolulu HI

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  • 2.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-28-2019 16:19
    Any mouse signs? Especially around the hitch pin area? Any chance something corrosive could have dropped into the piano near the hitch pins? Coca Cola would do it, and even if cleaned up, the remnants of it (containing phosphoric acid) could have remained between the wire and the  hitch pins where they emerged from the plate.

    Heat could do it, but it seems unlikely that heat would have been applied to a whole section. Ted Sambell once said that if a live cigarette were flicked into a piano, the heat could break a string.

    P.S. If restringing up there, clean the whole area extremely carefully. If you can figure out whether an acid or a base was to blame, you could try to neutralize it before putting on fresh wire.

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    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 3.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-28-2019 16:56
    The one time I saw this on a piano, the lady had many cats in the house. A cat had peed on that section of strings, causing the treble wires to  break in the same way. Same section also. ;)

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    John Formsma, RPT
    New Albany MS
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  • 4.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-28-2019 16:19
      |   view attached
    One more pic.

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    Steven Rosenthal
    Honolulu HI
    808-521-7129
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  • 5.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-28-2019 16:23
    I just looked at the photos. The area of the plate around the hitch pins seems a little bit lighter than the rest. I think I'd take a piece of pH paper wet with neutral water, and rub it against the plate. See whether the area shows exposure to an acid or a base.  Heck, it has to be SOMETHING. If not heat, then something corrosive seems the most likely.

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    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 6.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-28-2019 16:33
    Hi Steve

    i agree with Susan.  It looks like someone (a generation ago) cleaner the plate up to the hitchpins with a wet cloth, not realizing that the dampness transferred to the strings.  20 - 30 years later the rust finally broke the strings.

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    Willem "Wim" Blees, RPT
    Mililani, HI 96789
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  • 7.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-28-2019 21:08
    Mr. Rosenthal,

    I've seen this several times here in S. Florida. The strings in that section are pretty thin and it doesn't take that much rust for them to break where they are the most stressed. This tends to be at the hitch pin although sometimes at the capo bar. Your pictures look pretty much like the unfortunate result of years of neglect combined with a high humidity high salt environment.

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    Karl Roeder
    Pompano Beach FL
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  • 8.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-28-2019 21:12
    I had a piano here that was located in a home located on the river with the same type of issue. Because the doors and windows had been opened to get the cool night breezes in humidity also came in creating havoc on the strings at least 6 strings in the high end had broken at the hitch pins. Strings completely eaten through at the hitch pin loops . The high tension in this area helped the strings pop off the hitch pins. The understring felt appeared to have absorbed moisture and i think there were small felts on the hitch pins. It looks like this Steinway had the same type of environmental issues. If there was cat pee involved i think the smell would be a dead giveaway. Looks like a need for a full restringing, damp chaser, string cover and undercover package as well as a better room environment,,,

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    James Kelly
    Pawleys Island SC
    843-325-4357
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  • 9.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-29-2019 07:35
    James K. wrote: "Looks like a need for a full restringing..."

    And don't forget to tip that treble bridge back to horizontal.....

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    Terry Farrell
    Farrell Piano Service, Inc.
    Brandon, Florida
    terry@farrellpiano.com
    813-684-3505
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  • 10.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-30-2019 10:07
    And if it was exposed to extreme humidity, those strings may have found themselves a full semitone sharp from time to time increasing the strain dramatically, and accelerating their demise.

    Pwg

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    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH
    603-686-2395
    pianodoctor57@gmail.com
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  • 11.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-30-2019 11:09
    Peter,
    A slight error in logic? If the piano lived in extreme humidity, the strings would have the same tension as any other piano, assuming tuned to standard pitch.
    Roger





  • 12.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-30-2019 14:37
    Edited by Peter Grey 01-30-2019 14:40
    I could be wrong. But I have seen pianos go seriously sharp under extreme conditions. If so, the tension will be higher than 440hz.

      The thing still needs restringing though. 

    Pwg

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    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH
    603-686-2395
    pianodoctor57@gmail.com
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  • 13.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-30-2019 15:55
    Thanks for all your replies. I hadn't seen a whole section go like that so it's good to hear that others have. Wim's posit seems most likely but I will take measures to neutralize anything corrosive that might be there. The owners are not going to go for complete restringing at this time, they just restored the house from the basement to the roof. No one in the family plays at all.
    Actually the temperatures and humidity are fairly moderate here considering. Temperatures rarely get over 90º and the RH mostly varies from 50 to 80%. The RH can get down into the high 40's briefly-a few hours-, high 30's is extremely rare, this is true even in most climate controlled rooms.
    This is a digression but since it's come up, my understanding is that a soundboard becomes saturated at 50% but I'm not sure 50% of what. If this is true, does it become saturated at 50% RH? And if so, does that mean that the board won't absorb any more after that point?
    Tunings in this environment are quite stable with no significant seasonal changes. I've always assumed that this is largely because the soundboards are not going to be affected much by moisture increases over 50%. Is this correct or a false assumption?
    Thanks again for your input.

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    Steven Rosenthal
    Honolulu HI

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  • 14.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-31-2019 05:39
    The wood will continue expanding and you will see pitch rising all the way to 100% rh.

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    Mario Igrec, RPT
    http://www.pianosinsideout.com
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  • 15.  RE: A mystery

    Posted 01-31-2019 03:27
    Rodent urine seems to be quite corrosive and isn't as odorous as cat pee.

    Since piano strings are at between 40% to 70% of breaking point (for fresh uncorroded strings) a bit sharp shouldn't bring the tension up to near breaking.  Next time you have a junker piano try pulling a string up over pitch and see when they actually break.

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    Blaine Hebert
    Duarte CA
    626-795-5170
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