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1909 Steinway upright - buzz

  • 1.  1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-13-2019 21:24
    Oh Great and Wise Piano Colleagues!! Send me your insights!

    I was asked by a cellist friend to fix a buzz on the 1909 Steinway upright in her home. Even tho buzzes are one of my least favorite things, I wanted to impress her with what a great tech I am. She lives 4 hours away from me in a "piano tech wasteland" (very very few techs anywhere near her), but I was playing in her orchestra for the week so said I'd take a look. I don't know who her local tech is. He recently, brought back and put in a pedal that had broken off quite awhile ago and tuned the piano. I didn't check the tuning rigorously, but what I did check (aurally) was well in tune - a good sign! However, he did not notice the buzzing. She noticed it after he left. The piano was obviously reconditioned or maybe even rebuilt at some point. Hammers replaced and still like new, etc. Piano is in excellent condition. No soundboard cracks or repairs. Dampers are not crunchy.

    I checked to see if it was something vibrating sympathetically in or around the piano, including down in the back where things fall. Couldn't find anything and I don't think that's it. Sounds like it is coming from inside the piano. Bass bridge has cracks between bridge pins but the buzzing also happens on some tenor strings and no cracks in treble bridge, so gave up on that theory. No indication the bass bridge itself had shifted. Saw no indication of ribs separating from soundboard. I tightened all the lid hinge screws and put lube between the hinge parts. Buzzing didn't stop when I blocked all the bass strings with my forearm and played some buzzy tenor notes.

    Tried to take fallboard lock out and try the "spring fix" but can't figure out how to get the lock out of the cabinet. Years of crud are probably holding it in and I was afraid I'd damage the cabinet trying to pry it out. I'd have tried some lubricant around the edge of the lock, but I'd already spent way too much time dinking around and we have a concert tonight (not with her home piano!) so I left.

    Buzz happens immediately after hammer strike on hard blow on most bass notes and some in tenor section (plain wire). Buzz stops abruptly after a few seconds.

    Any suggestions for other things to look at?

    I did notice something odd, but I don't think it could be causing this problem that just started. Near the very end of the treble bridge, where the longest strings are, it looks like the very edge of the bridge is slightly carved out. I took a photo if anyone wants to see it. A feature or a glitch?

    What am I missing? (having to do with this situation - not in general - that list would be long)


    Barbara Barasa
    Ashland OR

  • 2.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-13-2019 21:55
    Sounds to me like something has fallen in to the piano and is resting against the soundboard. Had a similar thing happen to me just the other day. Pretty much every note for about an octave above and below the treble break, when played caused a buzz that stopped after about a second. I found a clay christmas tree decoration. about 2" square, in the back of the piano, at the bottom and resting against the soundboard. Removed it and the buzz was gone. This was an easy one. I've had buzzes like this that were a LOT harder to find, but as described they were inevitably something foreign on or against the soundboard.

    Geoff Sykes, RPT
    Los Angeles CA

  • 3.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-14-2019 01:14
    Barbara, one question, is this a new buzz or has it been there for a while?
    Geoff's idea could be a good one, perhaps something slid down between the plate and the soundboard.
    Was the piano tipped back for the pedal installation? maybe some loose bit fell in during that, or maybe the bottom board isn't well secured.
    Would like to see the picture.
    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Steven Rosenthal
    Honolulu HI

  • 4.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 08:46
    HI Barbara,

    I feel your pain, I've been there.

    When faced with these situations I try to determine if the buzz sound like wood, or if it sounds metallic.  The next thing I want to know is it in the piano, something sitting on the piano, or something in the vicinity of the piano.  

    If after 10 minutes or so I am unsuccessful, I then have a conversation with the client.  I want bring them into the process and manage their expectations.  I tell them I can usually solve these problems in less than 10 minutes, but this one is proving to be elusive and will require more time.  I want them to know that I am doing best but the meter is running.  Also I can be more methodical when I know that they have realistic expectations and that I will be paid for my time.

    When you go back for your next attempt bring a check list, and any tools that could help.  For example a stethoscope, a bright light, something to allow you to reach into hard places, have a way to move the piano from the wall, etc.  If you are still not able to figure it out schedule one more appointment and find another technician to go with you.  Two can do a lot better than one.  If you find someone to go with you pay them for their time.

    Good luck, and please keep us posted.  

  • 5.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-14-2019 08:31
    Barbara -

    Just this past week I had a similar scenario and it turned out that the front left caster had no weight bearing on it. 
    It was barely touching the floor, but could be moved easily by hand. 
    The caster stem was buzzing in the socket, although the buzz seemed to be coming from elsewhere.
    A small shim eliminated the buzz.

    Mark Potter
    West Jefferson, OH

  • 6.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-14-2019 12:14
           Who knows'. But check sound board buttons for tightness. Must determine if wood to wood sound metal to metal etc.

    Sent from my iPhone

  • 7.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 11:50
    The buzz in a loose castor is common. On a small grand in a school practice room, we checked every light fixture and wall hanging. Something was loose in one legs. 

  • 8.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 12:05

    You didn't explicitly say it, but are we to conclude that BEFORE the pedal replacement there was no buzz, but only AFTER this was done the buzz appeared?   Yes/no?

    Someone else asked if he put the piano on its back to replace the pedal or if it was somehow done without a tilter. Can you find out? Coukd be very important.


    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH

  • 9.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-14-2019 10:51
    Just because he was a good tuner doesn't mean he's a good mechanic. Tighten every screw you can see. 
    If he didn't notice the buzz,, then he might have tuned it and then put in the pedal. I do that. Tuning first gets the routine out of the way and clues you in to other problems. I never use the pedals while tuning. I do stop and play it hard before the final pass. 
    Then the important thing is to play the piano after you put the case parts on. 
    Maybe a pedal screw didn't tighten up and he left it because the pedal doesn't get used much or a piece of felt got left out and the pedal is touching wood.

  • 10.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-14-2019 13:45

    As a process of elimination you can call her and ask her to physically touch and try to turn each caster to see if one is loose (which us actually quite common). If so, she sticks a folded piece of cardboard under it till tight and then play the offending notes for possible elimination.

    If this still does not stop it, I have a similar Steinway Upright (actually three)...these originally had felt, leather, or rubber cushions between all the movable case parts. Why? To prevent buzzing. By now they are either dried up and shrunken hard, or missing entirely due to a refinishing in which they were not replaced. The top front board (on which the key cover often rests) can be a top contender for an annoying buzz that seems to move around. I had this on one of mine and it took me quite a while to figure it out. Thin felt disks glued to one surface, cushioned the mating between these parts and solved the problem. ANY case parts that hinge or can be removed are candidates and should be cushioned. In addition, the top board cams that hold it in should have slight resistance as they are turned into their slots (or whatever restraint mechanism is there).  Don't forget that screen thing on the back if it still has it!

    Have her tap lightly around on all these parts (top board, bottom board, fallboard, etc. to see if there is ANY rattle whatsoever. If so, she can press on it with knee or hand or both while playing offending notes. If the sound CHANGES you know you're on to something.

    The point is that you don't have to go there to find out. She can do it herself (and often people like this).

    If this routine (or any of the previous suggestions) does not reveal anything, I have one other possibility (except that it doesn't directly fit with the symptom cluster that you mentioned.


    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH

  • 11.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-14-2019 15:30
    > Tighten every screw you can see.

    I would like to stress EVERY. I had a case where this upright had a buzz in it that had persisted for years. Long before I started servicing the piano. It wasn't always there, and it tended to move around when it was. Lubrication, isolating contacting surfaces, shims between potential points all worked, but only temporarily. The customer was ready to trade the piano in on a different one. I tackled this problem on every visit, and after every visit we thought the problem was gone. Until, a couple of days later when it wasn't. Then one day, while taking off the hinged fallboard, I felt an ever so slight looseness between the back and top parts which were connected by a piano hinge, so it had a whole lot of tiny screws holding the two parts together. Tightening up all those little screws, none of them more than perhaps 1/4 turn loose, but all of them needing that 1/4 turn, and the problem was solved. It has not returned and the customer is now so happy with this piano that trading it in is no longer being thought of.

    Geoff Sykes, RPT
    Los Angeles CA

  • 12.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-14-2019 23:49
    Thanks to all you guys for your suggestions!

    To clarify what I DID assess: checked all screws I could find: plate bolts, cabinet screws (very few on this piano), soundboard buttons, piano hinge on the top (also dripped lubricant into the hinge joints), pedal screws. Only ones that needed tightening were the tiny ones in the lid hinge.

    The front, fallboard and kneeboard were all removed when we were testing the buzzing.

    The room is carpeted. Piano was very hard to slide even a few inches, so I don't think there are any loose casters.

    The piano is on the northern California coast, so dryness is not an issue. Don't think Arizona. Think 90+% humidity and daytime temps between 50-65. Wood stove does dry the inside of the house out some, but the piano is not anywhere near the actual stove.

    I'm planning to go back to the piano Monday since I'm staying till Wed. morning. I will check the hinge on the fallboard (altho as I said, the fallboard was off and sitting on the carpet and still there was a buzz in the piano), double check the pedals, see if I can take the lid completely off, push against cabinet parts to see if it's actually that that's the problem. Peter, I'm not sure what in the actual cabinet (minus removable parts) could be buzzing. You mean like the sides and bottom board? Do the glue joints actually fail? On what looks like a very good refinishing and reconditioning or rebuilding?

    Is this how all these models are? Serial no. 137415. I didn't see a model letter, but on the plate down low where the knee board is it says


    I did try to feel around with my "antenna magnet" for any small objects behind the bottom of the plate. And guess what? The space between the plate and soundboard is VERY narrow on this piano. The tip of the antenna barely made it behind the plate, and then when I tried to pull it out, the tip got stuck on a molded part of the back of the plate. (Ya. I know. Magnet, cast iron. That didn't help.) I tried everything I could think of, to tried to slide it this way and that, push it with a long thin screwdriver ... but finally wound up pulling hard on the free end, and the tip and probably the last section of the "antenna" are still back there. So I may have made the buzz WORSE.

    Mama mia. One of my mottos is "Above all do no harm."

    Barbara Barasa
    Ashland OR

  • 13.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 13:30
    First, answers to questions.

    The buzz was noticed when she played it after the tech who replaced the pedal left. So of course I, too, figure the buzz is probably related to something that changed when the pedal got put in. But what? Altho my friend is a cellist, she uses the piano to accompany her students and (when we get rid of the buzz) to rehearse with her piano trio. So she is not going to be OK with any buzz.

    It was already on my list to ask her if he tipped the piano on its back, or brought in a big tubular steel contraption.

    I didn't take the pedal rod out, but I turned it around a bit since I've had noises from that in other pianos. But the dowel is tight in its hole and would probably squeak if anything, not buzz. But I plan to look a lot closer at everything having to do with the pedal.

    I'm taking a list with me today of all the suggestions that I haven't already tried that I can accomplish under the current circumstances.

    Current circumstances: remember (or maybe I didn't state it), right now I am not anywhere near home. I live a 4 hour drive from the piano! So no helper. I'm really here to help out my friend's community orchestra (by playing viola) and after Tues night won't be back for four weeks when they're ready for their next concerts. So I have no tipping dolly with me or brawny lad to help me unless we call her handyman guy. (Not the James Taylor kind - a real handyman.) And even when I come back in a month, I no longer even have a station wagon to put a tipping dolly in since I'm cruising toward piano tech (mostly) retirement. On my home turf, I hand off all work that requires a bigger car to the trusty protege. (Hi, Scott!)

    If I can't solve the problem while I'm here this time, I'll probably suggest we get the local piano tuner who last worked on it to work with me when I come back in a month. Maybe he has a tipping dolly, maybe not. Or just dump the whole thing back in his lap.

    I'll take some photos. Especially if I DO find something! Thanks for all the help.

    Barbara Barasa
    Ashland OR

  • 14.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 00:00
    For inquiring minds ...

    Seems like this is still part of the same topic.

    Here is a photo of the part of the bridge I thought looked strange. I am 99.999% sure it has nothing to do with the buzz. But someone requested a photo. It's pretty blurry.

    Basically, the first few inches of the bridge (starting at the bottom/left end of it) are glued "normally" to the soundboard - the part of the bridge to the left of the first set of strings. Then there is a stretch of maybe 5" where just the edge of the bridge that would be against the soundboard is carved away a bit (behind the next few sets of strings), and then it's flush against the soundboard again.

    I know manufacturers were always experimenting, but I can't figure out what the point would be.

    sY6a9pQrgzK8Yp1gvw6F_Steinway upright tenor section of bridge.JPG

    Barbara Barasa
    Ashland OR

  • 15.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 02:36
    Hi Barbara,

    What happens when you remove the action, pedal dowels, removable case parts, and old style metronome if it is near the piano and pluck one of the offending notes?

    If the buzz is still there, have the customer pluck one of the same offending notes as you push on different areas of the soundboard from behind the piano. If the sound disappears, you'll know what the problem is.

    Any brass or glass near the piano? You might try moving the piano around (even a few inches if possible) to see if the buzz is still there.


    Paul Brown, RPT
    Piano Technicians Guild
    Vancouver, BC Canada
    Email: pres@ptg.org

  • 16.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 03:51
    Barbara, If you do elect to remove the entire lid, my recollection is that the back piece is held on with keyhole fasteners; this is a keyhole shaped plate that receives the head of a screw at the big end and then slides into the slot. If this is the case, you would want to slide the lid towards the back of the piano probably about 1/2" to get it to release. A rubber mallet would be in order. Not liking to take even a rubber mallet to an old cabinet, I think I might save this as possibly a last resort.

    If you do isolate the sound to the bottom corner of the soundboard, where your magnet head rests, you might think about coming prepared to tip the piano on its back and removing the bottom board, that would probably be quicker than crouching down on your knees trying to fish something out of a crevice you can't see down. With the bottom board removed you will be able to see clearly between the plate and the board. It will give you a view of the board on the rim as well, there are probably some perimeter bolts partially covered by the bottom board also. Even though it seems like a major pain, if it was me, I'd come with my tilt truck and screw gun just in case, it's somewhat strenuous but, in the long run more efficient and definitive. Or, if you have one of those endoscopes that hook up to a smart phone, that could save some trouble by peeking behind the plate, I don't have one but it would sure be handy in a case like this.

    Steven Rosenthal
    Honolulu HI

  • 17.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 07:04
    Probably not but the most difficult I found was a ceramic plaque in the next room on the shared wall. The piano sound waves vibrated the wall enough to cause the buzz.

    Larry Messerly, RPT
    Bringing Harmony to Homes

  • 18.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 08:33
    You don't tell us your testing method. You can spend a lot of time tightening screws.
    A very useful test is just tapping around the piano, listening for the buzz.
    The late, magnificent Jim Ellis suggested making a little felt tipped hardwood hammer for tapping around the soundboard and case.
    But even tapping with a knuckle may do the job.
    Tapping this way I recently found a loose joint between the soundboard and the upper case beam in a little vertical.
    Pushing on it made the buzz go away and the customer said "Don't worry about it, it comes and goes with the weather."
    I wish I'd tried slipping in a piece of card.

    Ed Sutton
    (980) 254-7413

  • 19.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-15-2019 09:39
    I can recall two instances (there were probably more than this but only two currently stand out in my "memory") where a HAIRLINE (REPEAT HAIRLINE) separation at the rim/edge caused the most annoying little buzz and was absolutely impossible to detect visually. Only by pressing around on the soundboard while the owner played the offending note(s) did I find these and fix them.

    One of these was an AIII that I had done belly work on and restrung. I had missed it in the shop, and it did not actually become evident until sometime after going back into the home. (Now you know why it stands out in my memory!).  The section was only about a handswidth wide but I was sure relieved to find it. Fixed with CA glue.


    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH

  • 20.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-16-2019 19:26
    I did go back to the piano yesterday. Spent a lot of time and got some excellent photos, but no solution.

    Just now I spent probably a couple of hours getting the photos I took ready and then typing a detailed post about what I found. But working without my usual two monitors and with stupid laptop keyboard and mouse pad, I managed to lose the whole post. And I need to get ready for a rehearsal.

    When I get home (to my real home) tomorrow I'll recreate it all. For now - no solution, but yes, the previous guy tilted the piano over twice while he was there. So stuff could have fallen behind the plate and be causing the buzz.

    I told my friend since I can't bring a tilter when I come back next month, we should get that guy and me to work on it together. I think that's the plan.

    To be continued ...

    Barbara Barasa
    Ashland OR

  • 21.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-18-2019 11:34
    As others have noted, you can't always count on being able to see the problem.   I carry a some wooden wedges with me.  If you can localize the area the buzz seems to be coming from, try firmly tapping a wedge between the nearest rib and one of the beams in the back of the piano.  It's hit and miss, but but it doesn't take a lot of time.

    Cecil Snyder
    Torrance CA

  • 22.  RE: 1909 Steinway upright - buzz

    Posted 04-24-2019 15:05
    I am finally re-entering the forum to put the photos of some things on this Steinway that I was surprised to find, mainly because I have tuned some in the past but never done any work that would cause me to look at the design of the bridge and plate.

    Maybe this should be a separate thread, but since it COULD be related to a buzz I'm posting it here.

    I thought from the start that it sounded like a sympathetic buzz from something in the piano, and that's what I think now. I even determined that it seems to be louder at the bottom of the piano and possibly near the tenor section of the bridge. (I know these sounds can be deceiving, so I can't say for sure.) But what it is and where it is is still a mystery that I'm hoping will be solved when I go back in mid-May and the local (to the piano) tuner and I tip the piano over and take the bottom board off so we can see if there's anything behind the plate that would cause this. (Of course one thing that is probably causing it now is the end of my antenna magnet back there. So at least I can pry that loose and get it out of there.)

    To recap - the buzz happens on some bass notes and several of the first tenor notes (plain steel strings) when played on a moderately hard or hard blow. It starts right after the hammer hits, buzzes for a few seconds, then abruptly stops. It started happening after a local tuner put the repaired sustain pedal back in. I believe I have ruled out all the usual suspects and those suggested by you folks, altho I will thoroughly revisit those when there are two of us at the piano and I can do better testing.

    The second time I was at the piano no one else was home. Here was what I was dealing with logistically:

    The same kind of situation on the other side of the piano - a big bookcase. When the piano is pushed all the way back, there would only be about 2" on either side of it. Casters (original it looked like) were dug way down into the carpet. I was finally able to pull one end of the piano forward enough to slide in behind. I found one of those long shoe horns in an umbrella stand and wrapped a micro rag around the end of it so I could hit one of the offending notes while standing behind the piano and press against the ribs/soundboard with a foot. Not ideal.

    So, the "interesting" design.

    Here is my crude drawing of how the end of the tenor section of the bridge and that area of the plate are designed.
    KXQGwLCWSaySI7nsCFWT_Drawing - Steinway 1909 uprt tenor bridge design.jpg
    This seems like such a terrible idea to me, but 1) I am not an acoustic engineer and 2) Steinway has done some dumb things over time. I labeled the "V" of the plate and the "J" of the bridge just to make it easier to talk about.

    The part of the bridge with strings is cut way down right before it meets the V of the plate. I assumed the bridge stopped there until I looked closer. What's that jutting out from behind the left side of the V? Thought it was something someone wedged in there to stop a buzz. But no. The bridge continues behind the V of the plate, altho only about 1/8" high, to sort of form a J.

    9CD7Jfc2Saa6FLVNg20Y_Steinway 1909 uprt - end of J.jpg

    That wouldn't be too weird I guess, but compounding the fact that you can't get to that stuff back there is that there are two places where the underside of the bridge is cut out - like trimmed back from the soundboard.

    One place is on the J extension that's behind the V of the plate. I couldn't actually see it because I couldn't get my head close enough to the soundboard to look down there. But I could slide a metal ruler behind the wood. So weird! I put the end of my phone right up against the soundboard and snapped a photo:

    6ee2dj8Q9qZUXCqwE9XH_Steinway 1909 uprt - behind V.jpg

    The other bridge cut out starts about an inch or two from where the strings start and runs about 5".

    qrrLCnHlS5apl0XQ7qMH_Steinway 1909 uprt - bridge base cut out.jpg

    The plate is "buried" in the bottom board. A trough is chiseled out and the plate is in that, with very little clearance. No way to get to any screws that might be down there to tighten them (until the bottom board is off).

    RhM3N5F2RlKih17Rrmaj_Steinway 1909 uprt - plate sunk in bottom board.jpg

    Two curiosities that I don't think have anything to do with the buzz.

    While re-examining the back of the soundboard looking for rib separation, etc., I saw this:

    6ERfl0e6TXK3fh96PggD_Steinway 1909 uprt - bridge backing.jpg

    I think they are about where the J extension is on the other side. I really didn't care enough to measure exactly from the front and back to see. They are not loose, and there are no screws, just what looks like a plug in the center of each one (possibly covering a screw?).

    Also, my friend told me that this came from the piano:

    cKR8VFs0Q3ijzrlUoNFR_Steinway 1909 uprt - strange stick.jpg

    A thin stick of wood with three nails in it, rounded edges on one side. I looked all around the piano for some place it could possibly have come from. The piano was designed with only two pedals, so it's not a muffler rail. I couldn't find nail holes anywhere. Hmmm. Just now I'm wondering whether it was something that held a cloth over the back of the piano - like when the back is facing people instead of a wall. I didn't look up there on the back for nail holes, but I will. But what are the rub marks?

    Like all of you, I really hate not being able to figure things out. And the only thing that mitigated my self loathing about breaking off that antenna behind the plate was remembering the Squirrel Cop segment from This American Life. I have it on my phone but I didn't need to re-listen to it because I pretty much know it by heart. If you want to feel like it's a good day when you don't set somebody's couch on fire in an effort to "help" them, listen to that. Just google "Squirrel Cop." It's one of their most famous (true) stories.

    Barbara Barasa
    Ashland OR