Help with Upright Steinway Sostenuto (Very Long)

Fri Aug 8 22:02 MDT 1997

Dear Friends,

I was called by a small private college 60 miles away from home to check
out their 4 year old Steinway 45 Upright.  There have been many complaints
about this piano with some people thinking that the piano was untunable,
and others complaining about the dampers.  The piano has been used very
little because of these problems.  In fact, last fall, the college wanted
to use this piano on stage during the production of a play, and was unable
to use it because of these problems.

The piano was purchased from a very reputable Steinway dealer, who sent the
manager to come and check out the piano.  He left notes with the
administration to have the tuning pins checked for tightness, to have the
piano tuned and to have the dampers regulated.  I was recommended by the
dealer to come and fix the problem.  

The administrator in charge of the piano called me, and I agreed to come up
and work on the piano.  I did explain that I charge  $XX.XX for a tuning,
and $XX.XX an hour for labor.  When I arrived today, I talked with the
person in charge about what I do and what I thought would be involved in
making the piano playable again.  She was very nice, and explained that
they wanted the piano to be right, so that it could be used again.

The piano was considerably out of tune, and at A-437 (Which was surprising
because of the high humidity).  The pin torque was fine, about 80-100 inch
pounds, measured with a Craftsman torque wrench.  The dampers lifted very
unevenly, and there were strange marks in ink (various letters, numbers,
and other assorted marks) all over the damper barrels.  These marks had
caused the manager from the Steinway dealership to think that perhaps this
piano was used to play prepared music.  Unfortunately, no one at the
college will confess to having done so.  The sostenuto pedal was not
functioning well with less than half of the dampers lifting with the
sostenuto pedal depressed after playing note by note.  When the sustain
pedal was depressed, and then the sostenuto pedal depressed, the sostenuto
lifted no dampers.  The temperature was 78 Fahrenheit, and the humidity was
63% RH.  

The plate screws were all tight (surprise, I usually expect to find them
loose.  The second sostenuto rod bracket had a screw that was sticking out
far enough to buzz on the bass strings, so I adjusted the rod bracket
forward enough so that it wouldn't buzz.  Pitch raise the piano with SAT,
then tune, then remove action and seat strings on bridges gently to try to
eliminate very bad false beats in treble.  Then the hammers were spaced to
the strings (very minimal wear on hammers, just faint string marks  and no
real string cuts).  Then all action screws were tightened to prepare for
regulation.  All of the dampers were adjusted to seat correctly on the
strings.  The sostenuto tabs were catching on the lip of the sostenuto
pedal so that the dampers were prevented from lifting fully, so I removed
the action, and carefully measured the height of the lip, and lowered the
rod by 1/16 of an inch, and reinstalled the action.  The dampers were now
lifting fully, so I adjusted all of the dampers to lift with the sustain
pedal and then to lift with the key for correct timing.   

So far so good.

Now, the sostenuto.  I have only worked on grand sostenuto systems, and
never on an upright sostenuto system.  The system looks straight forward
enough, with a rod that has a lip on it that will catch a tab connected to
the tail of the damper levers.  Unfortunately, it is hidden behind the
action and keys so I can't see what I am doing, and have to estimate how
far to make adjustments.  I found several sample dampers that would lift
with the sostenuto rod as they were played and the pedal depressed.  I
began at the top of the damper section, and began adjusting the tabs in or
out to catch the rod lip.  Each time I would take the action out, adjust
the tab, put the action back in and check the note.  Back in and out about
40 times to make corrections.  However some of the tabs wouldn't catch no
matter how far in or out the tab was adjusted.  I would set the tab of a
non-working note to match the position of a working note, and yet the rod
would not catch it.  I therefore took the action out again and raised the
sostenuto rod until it would just catch all of the tabs in the treble
section.  However, now some of the tabs were catching on the rod even when
the sostenuto pedal wasn't depressed.  Obviously that was not the correct
position for the rod.  I adjusted the rod carefully at each of the four rod
brackets until a majority of the felt tabs were catching when the sostenuto
pedal was depressed and none of the tabs were catching when the pedal
wasn't depressed.  I presumed that this was the correct position for the rod.

I could find no way to adjust some of the tabs, because they needed to be
adjusted further down.  Some of the felt tabs were a little bit loose ( the
glue was a bit loose) so I slid the felt tab down just a bit and the tab
would now catch on the rod lip.  However, I think that there should be
something more substantial than felt catching the rod lip.  I would think
that the metal of the tab should also catch the rod lip.  Now I can't think
of any good way to adjust the rod higher without causing problems with the
dampers, and I can't think of any way to adjust some of the offending tabs
down further so that they will catch.

Also, the sostenuto rod has developed a bad squeak at one or two of the rod
brackets, and the squeak irritates me.  The rod is held by teflon (at least
it looks like teflon) bushings, and I thought teflon shouldn't squeak?
Also, the rod seems to be turning correctly in the treble and tenor
sections.  However, in the bass section, the rod is binding and barely
turning.  Also, the sostenuto pedal won't return all of the way back up to
the rest position, and I can't figure out how to make it come all the way
back up.  The spring for the trapwork seems to be working fine.

The piano tuned up fine, with a very sweet and full voice and good sustain.
 But the last one and a half octaves seem very thin and with little
sustain.  I worked with the strings for quite a while to see if the sustain
would improve, but it didn't.  I am wondering what could cause the change
in tone?  Hard hammers?  I don't have a bubble gauge to check downbearing,
so I didn't check that.

So, to recap.  The pitch raise and tuning went well, the administrator was
very pleased with the tuning and the dampers now functioning correctly.
But I went ahead and pointed out the problems that the sostenuto pedal
still has, including not picking up all of the tabs and also the bad
squeak, and I even admitted that this was my first experience with upright
sostenuto systems.  I did explain that I would like the opportunity to come
back adn correct the problems.

Here are my questions.

1.  Will the individual who had the video about guidelines for prepared
piano music please contact me so that I may purchase a copy of the video?
(Sorry, I deleted your message.)  If this person is not on this list,
please let me know who to contact.

2.  Can anything else be done to eliminate the bad false beats in the top
two octaves?  I lightly seated the strings on the bridge and also used the
false beat supressing tool, but with little success.  Any other suggestions?

3.  How does one determine the proper height and angle of the sostenuto rod
lip?  I know it is supposed to be 1/16th of an inch below the felt tabs,
but how does one determine this when the sostenuto system is not visible?

4.  I think that some of the tabs need to be adjusted downward so that they
will catch the rod lip.  How does one make height adjustments to the tabs,
or am I going about this the wrong way?

5.  How can I eliminate the squeak in the rod brackets?  Is Protek MPL good
for this?  How can I eliminate the binding in the rod that won't allow the
rod to turn all of the way in the bass?  Is the rod bent, perhaps?  Did my
adjustment of the rod bracket inward (to prevent the screw buzzing on the
bass strings) have anything to do with it?  How can I adjust the sostenuto
pedal so that it will return all of the way to the rest position?  (I do
know how to adjust the sostenuto pedal trapwork - at least I think I do.)

6.  What should I check, or what can I do to increase the sustain and tone
in the top two octaves?

7.  Should I perhaps refer this to a competent technician with the proviso
that I be allowed to help and learn how to do the correct adjustments? 

8.  Because I was not able to correct the problem with the sostenuto pedal,
I feel uneasy billing for my time to learn on the job.  Everything else was
satisfactory except the sostenuto.  How is this for a sample bill? 

Sample Bill
(x equals tuning fee, y equals hourly fee)

$y  - Pitch raise
$x  - tuning 
$3y - tightening all action screws, space hammers to strings, space dampers
to strings, adjust dampers to lift with pedal, adjust dampers to lift with
the key
$2y - adjust sostenuto system 
$x + $6y - Sub-Total  
- minus $2y Adjustment   (because of lack of success with sostenuto system
$x + $4y - Total 

This is my first contact with this college, and I want to do more business
with them in the future, as they have a nice Steinway D with new hammers,
shanks and flanges by Greg Hulme.  What is a fair amount to charge?  How
would you bill for this work?

Sorry for the long winded post, flame if you must, but help would be more
appreciated!  I have so many questions, and no close by Technician to ask
for help.  (Can't attend PTG chapter meetings because of schedule conflict).
Thanks for help, public or private.  

Missouri Southern State College
Cottey College

David A. Vanderhoofven       
Registered Piano Technician
Joplin, Missouri, USA        

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