At The Piano

An initial assessment of how the action fits and performs presents a hierarchy of needs to be discussed with the customer. A full regulation includes filing hammers, adjusting hammer and rep lever friction, weighing off, tuning, and voicing. Replacing parts or restoration of existing parts can easily be added to this process. Or a trimmed down version might be needed to fit budget or time constraints.

Make sure hammer shanks are off rest cushions and that no excessive friction will interfere with sampling. Remove the action return spring to reduce stiffness and friction and look to see if the spring has embedded itself in the keyframe, sanding out any indentations. If backrail or frontrail have problems, follow the long form bedding procedures of the Grandwork Bedding Protocol. Otherwise, bed the balancerail with the WNG Keyframe Bedding Tool, pedals fully depressed.

Next, take bedding and strike samples (see the Grandwork Sampling Protocol), using Keysteps for the bedding samples and a WNG Dip Tool for weighted kissing samples of strike (not dip samples) and head to the bench!

The first steps at the piano could take just over an hour, with bedding and sampling accomplished or it could take all day with easing, full bedding, and some repairs on the way to sampling. But discuss, estimate, and get paid for such extras!

Setup On The Bench

You have one to two hours set up time on the bench, depending on whether you have a Regulation Station Deluxe or have to manually contrive positioning and shimming on your bench. To represent string heights along the strike line, set up the Regulating Rack, with a selection of Templates that match in width the sections of the action. Then set the stop collars on each leg so that all the way up is strike and all the way down is hammerline. On the profile edges of the Templates (at strike), record the hammer spacing scale to return hammers to when regulation steps undo spacing. And record the template heights at strike with the String Height Gauge Assembly, as regulating will change the samples you set up to. The record could be temporary (in Sharpie ink, erasable with alcohol) or permanent (with a center punch divot) to keep on file for facilitating a later setup.

If the regulation as found is very far from target, rough in hammer line (template rail all the way down), letoff and drop (template rail lowered from all the way up using Gauge Keys), and any other adjustments needed to get into working range. Then, fully regulate a natural and a sharp to validate specs, parts, and materials, to tweak geometry, or to make other changes while changes are still relatively inexpensive to make. If installing new parts, or new materials on existing parts, add an example of the new to regulate alongside your two samples of the old and compare aftertouch, weight, angles of address and so forth.

So you find out at the beginning what works well or needs shifting and proceed with the prescribed steps. File hammers and correct friction. Repetition levers may need repinning, particularly if jack return depends on spring tension. Remove hammers and whippens to an Action Tray, with screws stored in order along the edges. The flared hammers file up quickly with a Hammer Filing Jig - leave the straight-bored hammers to be gang-filed later when they're back on and vertical. Pin flared hammers to 9 half-swings and straight-bored hammers to 10 (since they will be lighter when filed). And after centering rep levers and jacks, pin the rep levers to 5 grams measured at the long end. With the parts back on, space hammers to the spacing scale and whippens to the hammers.

Make Hammers and Hammer Travel Vertical

Next, set up the Squaring Platform (see Grandwork Alignment Protocol) so that its sliding top just clears the backchecks at rest and all four corners are at the same height, i.e., the surface of the Squaring Platform is parallel to the plane of the action. From this surface, first travel hammershanks to vertical with the Shank Traveler, then make hammers vertical at strike with the Hammer Square (strike provided by the Regulating Rack), and finally space hammers to the hammer spacing scale (also provided by the Regulating Rack).

This takes a little time. All shank travel may be off and all hammers may not be vertical at strike. But think how getting it right simplifies things when you get to string-to-hammer mating! And consider the psychic and emotional energy savings: instead of having to decide who’s right enough to keep as-is and who’s wrong enough to have to change – a process that may take several passes and will certainly have a slightly compromised outcome – methodically go one-to-the-next with a yes or a no from the Shank Traveler making all the decisions. In the short term, trading a slightly frustrating headache for an empowering meditation improves job flow. In the longer term,  you avert complications that require voicing to mitigate problems only solved by correct traveling, squaring, and mating. Also, you will save a step in mating strings to vertical-at-strike hammers, combining string leveling and hammer mating into one operation.

Now, gang-file the straight-bored treble hammers. If tails are all the same length, they can sit on the Squaring Platform’s sliding top. If not (as was traditionally the case with Steinway tails), then lift all crowns to the same height with the support rail. Start with a wide sanding paddle to establish overall consistency of shape, especially at the crowns. Then flexible strips over two or three hammers at a time to finish the job.

Key Leveling and Regulation

Level keys next, squaring and spacing as you go. Keysteps support the leveling sample keys (which were pre-leveled with cut punchings to the right height in the piano). Two rounds gets you very close. Settle the keys quickly and thoroughly, blocking hammers with the Regulating Rack set at hammer line and applying firm glissandi to sharps and naturals (also to backs of keys). This stabilizes knuckles and whip cushions as well.

If needed, rough in any regulation elements that are very erratic or very out of spec (see the Regulation Protocol). Set dip to what the samples indicate, to refine later by aftertouch. Space backchecks and set naturals to check as high as possible without upswing tail-scraping when played against resistance supplied by your other hand and match sharps. Set spring tension. Set jack position samples and align section-by-section to a straightedge, under-lighting the whippens with a Lighting Rail. Place the Regulating Rack set at hammer line just behind the hammers (with its lights plugged in!) and wink the hammers (set rep height). Now you can set a stable hammer line, do letoff and drop (set up with the Gauge Keys), and proceed with refining aftertouch, dip, and backchecking, using the Regulating Rack.

For some jobs, you are now done. For others, you are ready to weigh off the action. This step adds consistency to action performance and simplicity to voicing. Remove a strategic amount of lead first, drilling out holes, plugging, and trimming plugs. This allows better weigh-off accuracy and ease of execution.

Match downweight and upweight key speeds, setting up downweights and upweights to provide clear, positive motion (no need for topstack tapping). 25 grams upweight in the treble and a minimum of 20 grams in the bass, with an easy, positive lift, result in a very responsive touch. Over 30 grams is too much, under 20 grams is too little. Apart from being fast, the matching-speeds method reveals any frictional irregularities, slower lift speeds indicating too much friction, faster, too little.

Flip punchings, paint sharps, and size balance holes while the action is apart. Dampp-chaser additive in the balance holes, left to dry overnight with the keys on their pins, resizes away loosening caused by regulating.

And then, perform a refinement pass as needed, fast and fun, a polishing of your work…

Back to the Piano

Now, the action goes back to the piano. If glide bolts were used to set balancerail height on the bench (the best procedure, if you don’t have a Regulation Station Deluxe), they need to return to correct in-piano positions, an easy matter using the WNG Keyframe Bedding Tool.

Then, reinstall the action return spring, checking that surfaces are perpendicular and shimming the spring with frontrail punchings as needed if they are not. If not yet accomplished, sand away any return spring indentations in the keyframe, as they can lock the treble height of the keyframe and obstruct bedding.

If sampling and setup worked correctly, you have nothing more to do to keys, keyframe, or topstack, with the exception of fine hammer spacing. But if during traveling and squaring the overall spacing of hammers over whippens and keys was improved by nudging the scale one way or the other, shim or trim the action rest rail to accommodate.

Next, settle wire, pitch-raise as needed, and mate strings to hammers. Since the resultant string leveling optimizes damper function, this work precedes the fine damper regulation, which is up next, followed by adjustments as needed to pedals and trapwork.

Not being bogged down by installation rework and not being overwhelmed with unknown variables of hammer address and fit makes the home stretch of voicing and fine-tuning a lot more fun. The general clarity and evenness of tone from the vertical-at-strike hammer fit way simplifies voicing. And knowing the action is correct reduces stress and confusion. Individual hammers have not been misfiled to fit, so soft pedal voicing becomes mostly a matter of adjusting the action stop.

The Results

For both technician and customer, the results exceed expectation. Consistently ending up in the best spot with best results grows confidence to sell the next job - and to sell it for more money!

Full regulations are under-sold today. Technicians find miscalculations of the traditional method expensive and its learning curve long, if not never-ending. The Grandwork tools and protocols reduce the experience needed to succeed at each step and the go-nogo methodology is fast and accurate.