An overview image of the piano before the rebuild was started
Please note that the above image was taken before the piano was pulled apart for its rebuild.
This grand piano was built originally as a Beale BG7 grand piano. It is currently undergoing an extensive rebuild during which most aspects of the instrument's design is being revised. This work does not include, for this piano, the replacement or modification of the soundboard. It is rare for a piano of this age to have a soundbaord which still has an adequate level of stiffness, but in this case, the soundboard was fitted with ribs which are much larger in sectional size than is conventional.
Design aspects which are being revised include;* A revised bass string scale
* Design of a new tenor bridge for the lowest six notes on the treble bridge - including the repositioning of the six agraffes for these notes to keep the hammer strike ratio correct.
* A revision of the top treble section string scale. The original design had a tension which was too close to the breaking strain of the wire. The original capo bar termination was made from a round-brass extrude - an inferior design which always result in string noise as the piano wire cuts into the bar. Since the treble bridge remained in good condition, a decision was made to build a new hardened V bar for the capo sections, to similataneously correct the string scale and the poor quality capo termination.
* A revision of the counterbearing system for the top two string sections. The original design was a copy of the 1872 Steinway front duplex design, but with brass counterbearing bars - again a very poor choice of materials which deteriorate, producing string noise. The entire duplex system was removed and a new short-lenth counterbearing system with hardened carbon-steel V bars was manufactured and fitted. This modifiction has been undertaken many times previously and the result is most satisfactory.
* A revision of the agraffe design. The original agraffes, made from free-machining brass, were changed with a new Overs designed agraffe, made from SAE 4140 alloy steel. These agraffes, with a smaller string hole termination-radius and are made from harder material which can better withstand piano wire deformation. The new agraffes are EN plated to prevent corrosion and to provide a low friction surface for the wire. This modification results in cleaner tone and a longer service life.
* The addition of a set bolt at the cross-strut X, where they was none on the original piano (very likley to cut costs). The ommission of this set bolt is a poor decision since structural stiffness of the plate/case assembly is important for tonal length. A new set bolt was manufactured and a set-bolt hole drilled into the soundboard panel.
* The iron plate was refinished, while addresseing several cosmetic blemishes. Web areas were flattened and plate struts were filled to improve their profile uniformity and radii.
* The entire case was cut flat, with miscellaneous polyester damage areas repaired, and the entire case buffed and polished to the equivalent standards of a new instrument.
* The original bridge pins were removed, the bridge notching was re-cut and the bridges repinned after the soundboard and bridges were refinished.
* All brass fittings were repaired, cut, buffed and lacquered.
* The iron plate was refinished.
* The keyboard was cleaned, rebushed, the balance and front pins changed.
* The action was overhauled with work which included recentering the wippens centres, replacement of all regulating buttons, replacement of hammer shanks with a graded-stiffness set, and the replacement of hammers with cold pressed premuim felt. The hammer and shank assemblies were balanced before the keyboard weigh-off.
While this piano is stylistically somewhat different to the Steinway model B, the treble scale is quite similar with a shortening of the treble scale as it decends down to the break. However, the iron plate is much heavier than the model B plate and as such, will almost certainly allow for the modified grand to be tonally superior to a similarly rebuilt model B. Since this piano originally had the same scaling problem as the model B with its lowering tension towards the bass/treble break, it has been fitted with a specially designed six note tenor bridge for notes G23 to C28. The six agraffes for these notes have been repositioned on the iron plate to keep the hammer strike ratio correct with the shortened tenor scale - see image below.
Set up work including the fitting of the new tenor bridge
Marking out for the additional set bolt, at the bass-side strut "X"
Some manufacturers seem to think that its OK to leave out the set bolt at the strut X (presumably as a cost saving measure). Fortunately the back beam was located in the appropriate position for the X set-bolt omission to be reversed, so we decided to fit one. A custom set bolt was machined to be threaded into the bottom 20 mm of the "X", and to minimise any weakening of the iron-plate strut junction.
The new tenor bridge is fitted - the new wood (Canadian Rock Maple) is lighter in colour
The hole for the X-set-bolt was machine before the soundboard was refinished. Note also that low end of the new tenor bridge finishes about the same distance from the rim as the high end of the bass bridge. This is something that I like to see in a design, since it helps to achieve a similar tonal quality at the crossover between the bass bridge and next bridge up, whether it be a treble or tenor bridge. The equalisation of the bridge-end distance from the rim is often given litle or no consideration in many design studios (we invite you check this when you are evaluating other pianos - note particularly the frequent tonal inequality evident across the bass/treble break - a chromatic run across the break will show up a poor cross-over). Furthermore, the current trend of designing wider bodied cases can result in outcomes which make a bad situation worse. In this instance, we were able to come up with a tenor transition bridge which really helped to equalise the relative bridge location distances from the rim.
Normally, when fitting a tenor bridge, we would run a connecting-piece between the long bridge and the tenor bridge. But in this case, a soundboard rib runs directly underneath the high end of the tenor bridge. Since this piano's ribs are quite large (and therefore strong), we will wait until the piano is strung before deciding whether to fit a connecting 'strap'. It mostly likley won't be necessary, but if it is required we will run it underneath the soundboard from bridge to bridge.
Close view of the new tenor bridge
The medullary ray of the rock maple can be seen in the bridge notch in front of this note. Some may be wondering why we use round topped bridge pins. I don't see the utility in wasting valuable time filing the bridge pins flat. There are operations aplenty within our rebuilding programme to spend plenty of hours on the project without filing bridge pins to make it look like a politically correct 'class' piano bridge top. Furthermore, I don't like using unplated pins because they rust, and if we are going to use nickel plated pins (our preference) then it makes sense to fit them without filing the tops, because a nickel plated pin with a filed top wouldn't be a good look. The same goes for our preference not to finish the bridge caps black between the pins. There are two reason why we prefer to simply seal the bridge over with clear before the bridges are pinned. Firstly, the application of black is another operation which adds to the cost and, secondly, the black top is prone to encouraging bridge cap splitting should the piano be placed under lights on full stick - the black will act like an energy reciever and cook the bridge cap. Since about 2000 all Overs finished bridges have been clear.
A new soundboard water transfer is created for each rebuild
A footnote to the soundboard transfer. It pays to double check everything. This model of piano was thought to be a 210 cm piano, and the spelling of "premium" was normally spelt that way, before I typed up the transfer without paying attention. But when measuring the case (after the soundboard transfer was applied - unfortunately), the case was found to be 212 cm in length (not including the over-hang of the top lid).
Relocation of tenor bridge agraffes
The first six agraffes in the treble section, adjacent to the break, are repositioned to allow for the correct hammer strike ratio to be retained with the shorter speaking lengths of the new tenor bridge covered-bichord string section.
Body filler is applied and shaped to create a new counterbearing support for the relocatd tenor agraffes.
This photo was taken when Wal Sullivan was checking the string line with the new tenor bridge counterbearing system. The centre unison tuning pin holes have been masked around, ready for filling in. These holes won't be used in the modified piano since the tenor notes will become 2 unison bichords. The agraffes in this image are the original-eqiupment agraffes which came with this piano. Brass agraffes, and their propensity for string deformation and consequent string noise, has been a major problem for decades. Piano wire is much harder than free-machining brass. When the string hole gets deformed by the piano wire bearing up against the upper edge of the hole, it is not uncommon to find a couple or several agraffes producing string noise, sometimes even before a rebuilt or new grand piano leaves the workshop. When Overs Pianos rebuilt an ABC Steinway D just before 2000 we hand-built a custom set of agraffes from alloy steel (yes - it took a whole week on the lathe), to see how it might improve the service life of agraffes. The custom agraffes have been in service for over ten years and they still produce clean tone. Recently, Ron Overs designed a new agraffe, based on the former prototype set, and had them machined from SAE 4140 alloy steel. This material is considerably harder than brass, and the new shape is designed to ensure that the string only contacts the agraffes at the central radius of the string hole. Below is an image of one of the new SAE 4140 agraffes.
A new Overs designed agraffe - made from SAE 4140 alloy steel
Note that the centre of each string hole has a profile which looks like the inside hole section of a "doughnut". This profile will form the string bearing point for each string hole. The profile is designed so that the string will remain clear of the body of the agraffe for all string approach angles up to and including twenty degrees. This piano, and the Steinway concert grand we are rebuilding for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at present, will be the first two grand pianos to be fitted with these high performance agraffes. Expect these agraffes to remain serviceable for decades. So often concert instruments in performance venues are upgraded before ten years of age, due to various tonal deterioration factors, of which agraffe string noise is one of many.
Undercoated and ready for topcoat gold
The centre unison of each trichord string group has been filled with body filler, and the whole modified area is primed ready for top coat gold.
Entire plate is primed and ready for top coat - Wal Sullivan is blending the strut radius
The entire plate was cut back to the original filler, and the many irregular surfaces, including serveral poorly profiled plate struts, were rectified before the plate was primed.
An overview of under side
As can be seen in the above image, this piano has a real bass corner cut-off. This soundboard has generously proportioned soundboard ribs which are larger and stronger than 'industry standard' ribs and, as a consequence, the board still has very good stiffness despite the fact the piano was built in the early 1980s.
A closer view of the soundboard
The soundboard ribs for this design have very good depth, which is one reason why the board still has a high degree of stiffness. This board will allow a fine sounding piano to result from the rebuild, once the scale is sorted, the capo and counterbearing bars are hardened and a quality set of Abel cold pressed hammers fitted.
An internal view, showing the heavier plate design - image taken before rebuild commenced
The heavier sectioned plate fitted to this piano will allow for a good sustaining tonal quality to be realised. Furthermore, the iron-plate web under the strings, immediately in front the first few treble agraffes in the second string section, made it easy to shift the agraffe position of the bottom six notes on the long bridge. Some pianos, the model B is an example, don't have a sufficiently wide web to enable the repositioning of the agraffes when fitting a tenor bridge.
The original action
The action is a standard Schwander design. The key sticks have a good depth to have satisfactory stiffness (thereby avoiding key saturation during heavy playing). The shanks and flanges will be replaced, along with the hammers. The lousy hammer-tail shape alone is enough to condemn these hammers, if we are serious about building a decent piano. The original 'shell value' of of this piano is A$8,000 and the rebuilding work will be approx. $50,000. At a sale price of $62,000, it will represent excellent value when compared to the cost of buying a standard model B Steinway. When the rebuild is complete, we will encourage prospective buyers to try this piano and to compare it directly to a new Steinway model B (the local Steinway agent's sales rooms are a short car trip from Overs Pianos' workshop).
An image of the balanced Abel hammer set on the Overs rebuilt the 1992 Steinway D at St Marys Chapter House in Sydney
The Overs Beale 212 grand will have the same hammer balancing work done as shown in the above image. The hammers are always bored to suit the individual action setup/string height relationship. After the hammers are bored, the bass section hammers have their cove-radius increased to remove some of the tail weight, which reduces the hammer weight deviation at the bass/treble break. As supplied, the last bass hammer (with rock maple core wood in this instance), will generally be about 0.6 grams heavier than the first hammer in the treble section. The bass hammer coving work reduces this deviation before undertaking the full balance. The image above shows the break notes between the bass and treble string sections. The hammers standing are the last two bass notes, and the first note in the treble section. The hammer in the forground (note D#19) has a 0.25 mm hole drilled in the moulding wood, which reduces the hammer weight by 0.1 grams. The fist note in the treble section (note F21) has two 1.6 mm lead wires inserted into its mounlding wood, which increased the hammer weight by 0.4 grams. This detailed work reduces the note to note interia deviation and intitial voicing variation, before any key weights are applied for final key balancing. This attention to detail yields action dynamics which are noticeably smoother when compared to standard factory-set-up actions.
An image of the recent Overs rebuild of the 1992 Steinway D at St Marys Chapter House in Sydney
After fifteen years service in a tertiary institution, this circa 1992 concert grand (rebuilt by Overs Pianos in 2007) was in a much poorer condition than the Beale BG7, which was quite tidy for its age. The rebuilt Beale (which is to be renamed "OVERS - BEALE") will be returned to the same showroom condition.
First published 28 June 2011
Last modified June 19 2011
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