Here’s something I’m often asked on my Sheffield piano tuning ventures, particularly when a piano has moved from one place to another and the movers haven’t shown due caution, or if a piano has not been tuned/serviced in many years. Dampers don’t damp. Notes ring out when the sustain pedal is lifted. This issue has many causes and several solutions:
- The action is not seated properly in the piano. If every key sustains even when the sustain pedal is off, then this is probably the case (commonly occurring after a move). It takes 10 seconds to fix this, assuming nothing is broken and the action is simply loose or unscrewed. Overdamped pianos have a middle screw that allows one to move the whole action closer to the strings (this can be used prudently in order to improve the effectiveness of the dampers, although even altering it by less than a mm will have an effect on the pianos touch).
- The damper felt is worn or missing. Depending on the severity I might suggest a full replacement of damper felt – however, a quicker solution on a piano with more pressing concerns could be to move the damper so that a new section of the felt is now touching the string (giving it new life). I have many different sized felts in stock for uprights, grands, spinets and console pianos.
- Damper springs have lost tension – if it’s only one or two notes ringing out this can be a common issue on an older piano. In this case I replace the springs (I have a full set of upright and spinet upright damper springs in stock). I’ve never been asked for a full replacement of damper springs as a piano in such a state would likely not be worth such extensive repair. Occasionally springs can be re-tensioned manually by pulling them, but I usually err on the side of replacement.
- On Grand Pianos only: the damper wire is stuck in the damper guide rail. Bushings can be compressed, replaced or lubricated with PTFE depending on the severity.
- On Grand Pianos only: The damper lever or damper wire block needs repair or adjustment.
- The damper spoons are out of regulation. This is the least common reason for a damper not working properly, as typically damper soon regulation is a task usually related to touch or how the key ‘feels’ rather than the effectiveness of the damper. In my piano tuner’s tool case I carry a special tool for regulating the damper spoons which is often a preliminary step in a piano regulation procedure.
On many of my travels tuning and repairing pianos is Sheffield and elsewhere, I may have encountered other reasons for dampers not working, but these are the most common that come to mind.
Noises of various kinds (clicks, rattles, buzzes and squeaks) can be one of the most unbearable annoyances for the pianist and must be fixed. If a piano has been stored in a very dry environment (next to a fire place for example), the felts in the action and keys can dry out and disintegrate over time. This not only causes regulation problems but can also lead to annoying clicks that make playing the piano unbearable.
If you’re piano clicks loudly on every note, it’s possible that hammer butt felts in the action have disintegrated. The causes the jack to slam against the wood of the hammer butt rather than felt after a note after a note has been played. This can be an intensive job to fix due to the time consuming nature of re-felting 88 hammer butts. If it’s the only issue with an otherwise good quality piano it’s very much worth doing – with the price of felt included I would charge £250 for a full replacement of every hammer butt felt (although it would be much cheaper if only a few have disintegrated)
However, If the hammer butt felts have dried out and disintegrated it’s very likely that the balance rail punchings and the back rail cloth have also dried out and crumbled away to various degrees. If the keys are different heights then this is likely to be the case. Replacing the balance rail punchings/washers and the back rail cloth – and cleaning the entire key bed – is also important as any dry crumbs from the disintegrated felts can be catastrophic to the pianos performace and cause different key heights and sticking keys. In the case of the back rail cloth, if you can imagine the very back of the key resting on a collection of cloth debris rather than a clean, even strip of cloth you can see why even a slight difference in how the back of the key sits can cause the front of a key to be raised or lowered.
Another possibility for clicks on every note is that the hammer rest rail is either loose or has come off. This would cause the hammer shanks to click against the wood of the rail (rather than felt) after a key is player and the hammer falls back into resting position.
In the key bed, a cause for clicks is the key bushings being worn out causing the loose key to rattle against the front and balance rail pins, although this is lesson common cause of clicking.
One issue I’ve occasionally seen on older uprights, is the capstan screw being exposed and clicking against the wippen when a key is played – this is an easy fix as a thin layer of felt (with minor re-regulation) over the capstan can fix the issue within minutes.
The common theme here is of wood hitting wood where it should be hitting felt or cloth. If the humidity of the room is kept at reasonable levels (40-50% is the sweet spot) this can be avoided long term as of the felts and cloths in the piano action are designed to withstand years of aggressive piano playing. I’ve seen instances of pianos kept next to fires where the felts dried out on the side that was closest to the fire and the other side was fine. Very dry air destroys pianos, so please be careful where you keep your piano!
- – Richard Lidster, Sheffield Piano Tuner