The rebuild of Stieff (Serial number 28334) commenced in my shop in March of 2015. The piano was originally manufactured by the Charles Stieff Company of Baltimore in 1911. The rebuild project will be complete: including stringing, pinblock, soundboard and action.
Rebuild of Stieff 28334
Quality is a collection of small details. And for every piano, the first thing the pianist encounters is the keyboard. For a high-end piano, the look and feel must be superb. Inviting.
I enjoyed taking the time to ensure that the replacement sharps for this keyboard were second-to-none in fit and finish.
The new sharps are made of natural ebony and supplied by PianoTek Supply. I was thrilled with the craftsmanship and uniformity of the product. Fitting the the new sharps to the old key sticks proceeded as follows:
- Remove old sharps with steam and leverage.
- Scrape old keystick as needed (the old hide glue joint made this effort minimal).
- Glue new sharps, centered on old keystick.
- Bolster old keysticks with veneer applied with hot hide glue to allow the nice uniform sharps to be the ruling dimension (the old keysticks are not of uniform dimension).
- Sand veneer flush with the new keytop (this assures that pianist cannot ever feel a rough edge).
- Dye keystick sides black.
- Clean and polish new sharps (I used Howard’s Feed and Wax for a light wax finish)
The picture below shows bolstering the keysticks with veneer, prior to final sanding and finish.
Installed on keyframe:
The soundboard was tapered (diaphramized in Steinway terminology). First contour lines were routed into the board, and then the board was sanded to the contour lines on the stroke sander.
Profile of countour lines tapers the board from 0.26″ to 0.33″
The video shows use of the stroke sander to achieve the taper by sanding to the contour lines.
Ribs were shaped to a radius of 60 feet, then glued to the soundboard using cauls and compressed air clamping pressure. The photo below shows the last rib in the cauls. Typically I clamped 3 or 4 at a time.
After the ribs were glued, a radius was planed onto the ribs. This is a craftsman touch. Few will ever crawl under the piano to inspect this detail.
An update on the Rebuild of Stieff 28334 has been a long time in coming. I’ve been disappointed with my inability to focus energy on the project! But progress has been made.
Cauls for gluing ribs to soundboard. Note the concave or convex shape for top and bottom cauls. These are sixty foot radiuses.
Prior to working with the actual ($$) new sound board, a sound board mockup was prepared using inexpensive quarter-inch plywood. This step was taken to work out the bugs in the system before working with the new spruce board.
For the mockup, I used some clear fir as ribs that was available at no cost. The picture below shows a jig with a 60 foot radius for shaping the topside of the ribs.
Below, the mockup progressed with the ribs fitted to the frame.
The mockup continued by gluing “ribs” to “sound board”. A few issues were noticed, and I was glad that I did this mockup, so I could proceed with confidence. The cauls use mill hose pressurized at 30 psi. I’m doing four at a time, and progressively moving cauls to a new position as glue dries.
Below is the completed “trial soundboard” which fit well when placed back in the frame.
I expect to have more time for the rebuild in November, after I finish the rebuild of a fine, old Emerson upright. Customers come first! In the meantime, with the sub-contracted finishing, work does continue! Below, I’m doing the solo work of loading the plate (200+ pounds of iron) into my trailer. It’s going to Heritage restorations for re-guilding.
The return trip brought home the case of the piano. The case has received a factory new (or better) hand rubbed lacquer finish. A work of art! The picture below doesn’t quite do it justice, but you’ll get the idea!
I am grateful for my customers, and they are taking my time! The Stieff Rebuild is not moving along, but the soundboard has arrived. The custom made soundboard was built by Erwin’s Piano Restorations. I asked the Erwins to make three identical boards, as I have two more Stieff pianos of the same model. With this level of commitment, progress will continue!
The Sitka Spruce soundboard panels are beautiful, and one is just stunning with impressive flare in the grain.
The piano was prepared for its trip to the refinishing shop. It’s there now. I anticipate its return late in August. New Wessel Nickel and Gross leg plates were installed. This makes the piano more predictable for movers, and certainly safer for everyone. One of the original leg plates was broken.
Some photos of interest:
Week 15? Yes. I made no progress on the project for the past 10 weeks. Oh my. Interruptions were a lot of customer work, a week at Renner Academy, and reconditioning of a Yamaha P22 for resale.
But on with the story:
I had the time this week to do the major tear down of the piano in preparation for case refinishing, soundboard replacement, and pin block replacement.
Here are photos of interest:
It was a vacation week! Terri and I enjoyed a few days in sunny California, and since we were near Modesto, we paid a visit to the shop of Dale Erwin. Dale was a gracious host, who shared his knowledge and enthusiasm for rebuilding and belly work. It’s great to have him as a collaborator. Dale will be supplying the soundboard panel for the Stieff. I plan to do the ribbing. Here’s Dale with a soundboard he made for a Steinway D:
While we were on vacation, FedEx was not. A package of handmade tools was waiting for me on my return:
These tools were made by Dana Mazzaglia. All are used in piano belly work. You go to the head of the class if you can name each and its function.
Despite the vacation, I did squeeze in some time to do work on the key-side resurfacing jig. It’s quite the jig. If these photos do not reveal the ultimate plan … hang on. All secrets of my conniving mind will be revealed. But basically the jig will allow re-dimensioning the width of the white keys to a uniform width with a uniform spacing. A significant step forward in obsessiveness (which I think is justified: the keyboard is the interface for the musician, and these details build success).
Shown below are a few photos of progress on the key side resurfacing jig: