Every piano that enters our workshop is first subjected to a rigorous inspection to assess its condition, structural integrity, and musical potential.
We only purchase high-quality, dependable instruments which we are confident will provide many years of satisfaction to the new owners after they have been prepared in our workshop. We mostly buy our pianos from long-term customers, so we are usually already familiar with the instrument and its service history. We are only interested in stocking pianos that we know have been well-cared for and never subjected to any measure of abuse or neglect. Pianos that we have any doubts about don't make it through the door.
No instrument with live insect activity (such as woodworm and moths) and/or moulds/funguses (eg black mould and dry rot) is ever considered.
We could not possibly detail every single aspect in the craft of piano restoration here, nor can we provide a blanket list of work that is carried out on every piano that passes through our workshop, because every instrument is different, but you will find an overview of some (not all) of the most crucial elements of preparing our own stock here. We are more than happy to provide an itemised list of works done on any specific piano within our inventory upon request.
First Stage (cleaning)
Before any work commences, every piano undergoes our thorough 'clean out' process.
Our technicians use specialist, high-powered H-Class vacuums and compressed air, in a controlled environment, to remove dust and debris that may have accumulated in the piano over its lifetime. We take this stage very seriously because dust not only harbors moisture, which can promote the deterioration of the instrument but may also contain hazardous substances such as trace asbestos (from DIY work in older properties) and potential allergens, such as pet dander.
The keyboard is always removed from the piano in order to clean and attend to the keyframe underneath and each key is sanitised with the appropriate chemical (subject to varying key covering material).
The case components are cleaned down with a chemical, appropriate for the particular finish, not only for hygiene reasons but also to remove any wax or silicone-based polishes that can hinder the technician's work when they reach the cosmetic stage of the preparation process.
The soundboard is often referred to as 'the heart of the piano' because it amplifies the sound produced from the vibrations of the strings when they are struck by the hammers. In order to work correctly, with no buzzes, the soundboard must be in good overall condition.
The soundboard of a decent piano is usually constructed from spruce wood, as it is the optimal resonator.
As Antonio Stradivari (maker of the famous Stradivarius instruments) found out, spruce is the desired density for resonating the vibrations from the strings, whereas other types of conifers are either too dense or not dense enough.
The old-growth spruce forests of Northern Europe, North America and Canada have had the ideal growing conditions for hundreds - if not thousands - of years. This has allowed the trees to grow to great heights and widths, resulting in trees with very large interiors and lumber with very straight grains and minimal knots. Plus, such long and uninterrupted growing conditions produce very consistent growth rings; which makes the wood the desired strength and elasticity required for the all-important soundboard of the piano. Thanks to the adoption of sustainable forestry practices, manufacturers are still able to use spruce wood for their soundboards to deliver the famous sound which we all know and love.
Good manufacturers attach great importance to the selection of all their materials. The wood is always stringently checked for colour, grain, and growth rings before it is considered for soundboard construction. As a consequence, soundboards can last a very long time; but they are still subject to climatic and physical stressors. Soundboards can split and become otherwise defective, so our technicians always stringently check it over.
If they are in need of repair, then they are repaired. Soundboards are sometimes completely replaced if a new board would perform better than a repaired board. This is carefully assessed by specialists who consider many factors to determine the best course of action.
Cheap, mass-produced instruments which are imported from the Far East (that we don't stock) are often built to a cost, and can not afford to go to the same lengths of quality control as higher-end piano makers. These pianos often contain a laminated soundboard, which is similar to plywood. These types of soundboards lack the same resonance as a 'real' soundboard, made from the famous spruce.
The bridges are a very important component of a piano's construction as they are intrinsically linked to the piano's tonal quality, volume, and sustain. The bridges transmit vibrations from the strings into the soundboard and must be in good condition for optimal efficiency and to resist the tension of the strings.
Modern pianos typically have two bridges, namely the long bridge and the bass bridge. The long bridge spans the tenor and the treble sections and runs diagonally across the soundboard and the bass bridge sits in the bass section. Long bridges are usually comprised of two pieces of wood, the cap, and the root. The root of most bridges is usually constructed from vertically or horizontally laminated hardwood and the caps are generally made from solid hardwood such as maple or beech. Bass bridge construction varies tremendously between manufacturers as different methods of construction yield different results, which is a contributing factor in the range of different characteristics between makers.
Repairs to bridges range from regluing detached caps to repinning, recapping, and total replacement, all of which is undertaken here whenever necessary and is always carried out in a way that honors the original makers.
Generally speaking, modern pianos have approximately 230 strings, all of which need to be able to maintain the correct tension and produce a pleasant and 'healthy' sound. The strings generate vibrations when they are struck by the hammers, which are then transmitted into the soundboard through the all-important bridges. In the tenor and treble sections of modern instruments, there are three strings per note. These strings are usually made from polished, round music wire. The bass strings consist of a steel core which is wrapped in soft copper.
Every string must perform exactly as expected and if they don't then they are replaced.
We use high-quality industry-leading music wire and bespoke bass strings which are carefully crafted by master string makers in the UK and Germany, especially for the individual piano.
New strings initially lose tension when they are first installed, as the metal stretches and they require several adjustments before they begin to retain the correct pitch. In some workshops, newly fitted strings are pulled above their elastic limit to stabilise them quicker, which saves time (and therefore money) but this can permanently damage the strings and reduce their life expectancy.
At Sykes & Sons, we attend to new strings over many careful sittings, which takes longer but is better for the strings over the long term.
Wrest plank/pin block
The wrest plank is a block made from laminated hardwood, in which the tuning pins are inserted.
The wrest plank must provide adequate grip on the pins to keep the strings in tune.
Well-made wrest planks can last for generations but can fail when the laminations separate or the plank cracks.
There are several repairs that are well-practiced such as plugging the existing holes with hardwood dowels or injecting the wrest plank with epoxy resin, but these repairs might not last because they may fail to address the underlying issue of the whole plank deteriorating.
We believe that the best way to deal with a defective wrest plank is to replace it entirely.
The process of replacing a wrest plank sounds simple on paper, but achieving good results requires an enormous amount of complexity and the time-honed skills of a master craftsperson. The replacement of a wrest plank involves a technician in many hours of careful work, producing an exact replica of the original and ensuring that the replacement is perfectly mated to the flange.
We appreciate that a piano inevitebly becomes a part of the household, which is always on display.
Many of the manufacterers we choose to stock attached a great importance on selecting the finest quality materials for veneers and employed the skill of mastercraftsmen to graft them onto the exterior of the instruments.
The keyboard is always carefully inspected for any defects.
Our technicians inspect for cracked or warped keys, damaged key chasings, balance holes, and mortices.
The key bushings in pianos that enter the workshop seldom pass our assessment and are very frequently replaced.
Key-bushings are made from bearing cloth and sit within the mortises of the wooden keys, between the wood and the pins on the keyframe; which serve to keep the keys on track. Without key bushings, the keys would clatter against these pins.
Key-bushings wear down with use, harden with age and sometimes the glue fails prematurely and the bushings fall out completely.
This causes the keys to wobble and rattle, giving a piano that distinctive 'old feel'. For piano keys to perform correctly (and silently) these bushings must be in good condition and replaced if necessary. In our workshop, our technicians always replace key-bushings wherever necessary to give our instruments that 'new piano' feel under the fingers. New bushings also facilitate a more accurate leveling of the keys during the regulation process.
Each pin within the keyframe is always burnished by hand to remove rough spots or corrosion to eliminate friction and prolong the serviceable life of the replacement key bushings. Pins that are damaged beyond reasonable or economic repair are replaced.
Any felts in the keyframe are replaced where necessary, which is more often than not.
During the regulation process, careful attention is paid to the keyboard ensuring that each key is squared, evenly spaced, and level across every note. We check and regulate each key bushing individually to maintain the correct movement and evenness. Additionally, we ensure each key is offering the correct depth of touch and after-touch, giving the pianist optimum control in order to foster a refined touch.
Any groves present on the 'nose' of the hammers are removed, restoring their original ovoid shape and smooth surface.
Heavily worn hammers are replaced.
Full action check and regulation
The action is the mechanical part of the piano which transfers the motion of the fingers, from the keys, to the hammers that strike the strings. It is comprised of many moving parts which require fine adjustment to critical tolerances in order to respond to a pianist's every command, giving them the best dynamic range and ultimately inspiring them to play. This adjustment is called 'regulation'.
Professionals and beginners alike require an action which is sensitive to the touch.
Beginners, especially children, may have great difficulty achieving success if the action has not been properly prepared, and may even be discouraged from playing the piano altogether.
Music teachers observe that the main reason children drop out of piano lessons is the condition of their own instrument. The regulation our technicians carry out ensures that the player will not be disappointed by the performance of the piano.
Our technicians set the hammers at the appropriate distance from the strings when the hammer is in 'rest position', before 'casting' and 'travelling' to ensure their journey toward the strings, when the relative key is played, is straight and true. We go through the entire action setting the same level of accuracy of alignment and ensuring all springs are functioning at the appropriate strengths, centres are of proper tightness and moving parts are operating smoothly over all friction points.
After polishing the pedals to a high shine and replacing any worn bushings, springs and properly lubricating the bearing points to give the pedals a silent working mechanism.
We carefully regulate the dampers to the pedal, ensuring their operation is even, that all 60+ dampers lift from the strings as one, and properly 'damp' the relative strings effectively when the pedal is released. The una corda is regulated appropriately, as well as the celeste and/or the sostenuto pedal.
As the felt is subject to wear and compression from many years of use, the pedal box felt is always replaced as a standard measure on every piano.
Our experienced tuners/technicians skillfully tune each piano by setting every string at the correct pitch. All of our pianos are tuned to the essential A440htz; which is concert pitch.
Toning is one of the more rare and skillful elements of our work.
The tone which the piano produces is largely determined by the density and condition of the felt found on the hammerhead. Hammerheads undergo changes as a result of normal wear and climatic variations, which results in an audible unevenness of sound.
Our specialist technicians meticulously work through each individual hammer to ensure the quality of tone and volume each key produces is correct and even throughout the entire keyboard.
At Sykes & Sons Pianos, we carefully and meticulously voice/tone (terminology can vary) each individual hammer in every one of our reconditioned, restored and rebuilt pianos to ensure that the tone is not only pleasant but consistent across the entire keyboard and sympathetic to the characteristics of each individual brand.
The tone of the piano can be altered (within limits variable with each piano) to conform with the potential buyer's preference.