Pianos, like most furniture, collect dust – inside and out – and I’m often called upon (as is anyone in my profession) to clean them and fish things out of the many crevices and openings that are normally inaccessible to their users.  (see my blog post: A Victim of Ignorance).

Accumulations of dust and debris on the exposed plate and soundboard are the most obvious concerns for the owners who are about to present ther piano for public performance, such as those who have called for service after a long period because they’re entertaining and need the instrument to be the center-piece of the evening’s festivities (see my blog post: Cents & Sensibility).

More often, however, are situations wherein I hear complaints of strange noises coming from within the piano while being played, or that something feels odd when playing in a certain area of the keyboard.  Sometimes its a clicking noise that mysteriously moves around as they play or, (my favorite) that several notes play together when they press on one key.

With rare exception these problems are the result of foreign objects which have found their way into the pianos inner sanctum – the action cavity.  Most often, from descriptions I hear in correspondence with despondent piano owners, I can deduce almost instantly the cause of their complaint.

This is such a common occurrence that I’d like to share with you a glimpse of my perspective from under the hood (so to speak).  Some of the things that I’ve found inside of pianos are mundane, some are comical and some are bizarre.  Let us begin our journey through the belly of the beast.

Foreign Objects:

  • Dust:  One of the most astounding things I’ve seen in older, neglected pianos is the amount of accumulated dust inside the instrument; so much, in fact that the manufacturers soundboard decal was not even visible! On some of them, there had to have been over half an inch of the stuff.  When I see this kind of thing (and it’s not all that uncommon), I know that if I were to attempt to tune the instrument, without first cleaning it, that I would be chocking on a cloud of dust flying off of the hammers as they hit the strings.  One of my customers described this as “Death by Dust”. (I have another amusing story on this subject that I’ll write about in another post)
  • Pencils:  The other most common occlusive object that I find inside the action cavity (and the one that most often causes the ‘multiple-notes-per-key’ problem) is a pen or pencil that has dropped behind the fall board.   It happens all the time – especially in grand pianos – and I often find dozens of them inside of pianos when I’m tuning.
  • Toys:  Children have a propensity for playing with little do-dads while they’re experimenting with their piano.  The toys and trinkets that I’ve retrieved from the innards of pianos could fill a play room.
  • Treasures:  On one call about a “Sticky Key” I found a diamond ring lodged between two keys.  On another (this one about felling ‘resistance’ in one particular area of the keyboard) I found a gold watch.  Yet another example was the stack of un-circulated $2 dollar bills (bound w/ a paper band).
  • Utensils:  O.K. Someone was eating, probably during a party, at the piano and dropped a fork and knife behind the fall board.  The owner’s children complained about a “metallic” pinging noise when they played in that area of the keyboard.
  • Critters:  This is another of my favorites (and I have a few very funny stories to share later on).  Not  uncommonly, I find that rodents are, or have been, living inside of a piano.  They can cause lots of damage.  They chew up the wooden parts and build nests with the felt that they pull off of the action components. They leave droppings and piss all over the insides and make it not only smell bad but unsafe to work on (because of the bacteria and diseases they bare).   But there are other creatures that inhabit the dark enclaves of your house that can infect a piano more severely and cause even greater problems – namely, insects.  I once opened the bottom panel of an upright piano and a swarm of Cock-Roaches spilled out onto the floor in front of me!  This was in someones home, mind you.  The stench was overwhelming and I immediately left the premisses – never to return.
  • Un-speakables:  Now for the fun part.  If you have family members of a tender age looking over your shoulder you may want to disperse them elsewhere.  Viewer Excretion is Devised!  Some of the most bizarre and amazing things that I’ve found inside pianos were in places that I would never expect:

– Soiled women’s panties in the piano of an 80 year old woman.

– A used condom in a piano on the stage of a high school auditorium

– A crack pipe in an 8 year old girls practice piano

I think you get the idea.

These examples are a miniscule sampling of the strange and mystifying experiences that I want to share with you.  I hope that you will continue to follow my story, enjoy the ride and be entertained along the way.

The point of all this – the motivation behind writing about dirty pianos and the odd things that I find inside of them – is that I wanted to make you aware of how it affects you, your piano and me (your technician). 

Keep your eyes open for my up-coming post about the haunted piano.


Collections — 8 Comments

  1. Hey Jon…I’m thinking my piano is pristine (as you well know it does not exist). I really enjoyed that posting. I can fully imagine finding all of those items and more inside pianos. Keep building your collection.

    • I’m encouraged by your comments on this and other posts.

      Be assured that I will continue to write and keep you engaged with tales of my experience in the field.

      You have my deep felt thanks for maintaining your involvement in the conversation.

      I’ll do my best to keep you and the rest of my readers entertained.

      Thanks for your camaraderie and fellowship!

  2. Your job is sort of like mine, I do believe! Very enlightening. Now I am hesitant to have my piano tuner tune my piano before I had it cleaned. I seriously never actually thought about the dirt.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      Please don’t be shy. Register and sign in please.
      It’s helpful to know who I’m talking with.

      I really don’t want to restrict people from speaking their minds
      because I believe everyone should be heard and I value your opinion.

      If you’re not registered please do so and tell us a little about yourself.
      Nothing to fear. We’re all friends here.

  3. I got this reply from one of my LinkedIn contacts:

    I can add some anecdotes to your collection of stories: my daughter and her family lived in Egypt for a couple years, and I got to go, too. They shipped their beautiful Baldwin Hamilton, and we enjoyed it so much. Then we left, had to ship the piano back, and my Christmas present to them that first year back was to have their piano tuned, voiced, any unseen damage repaired, etc. (There was an obvious gash on one of the legs where the mover in Egypt had used his machete to cut tape off the paper wrapped around the piano!!) First thing the technician noticed was a fine layer of tan dust all over everything inside the piano; there is no escaping Egyptian dust, even if you’re in a nice apartment and keep it closed. Second thing was a little Lego girl inside on the bottom; my granddaughter must have thrown her in there when she was a year old, which was about a decade prior! The little Lego girl had gone across the ocean and back inside the piano. We all had a good laugh. And the end of the story is that there was nothing amiss with the piano, after all that moving. Great instrument!

  4. Heh Heh… today I pulled the keys out of a Baldwin Hamilton in a school. The keybed was LOADED with dust balls, pieces of paper, a short pencil, all sizes of paper clips, a penny and a Quarter with a date of 1980. It also looked that mice had built a little nest under the keys and there was a small pile of what looked like sunflower seeds. I have a large plastic pretzel jar of things I have pulled out of pianos including marbles, ball bearings, candy wrappers, little rubber balls, xylophone mallets, whiteboard markers, plastic recorder. I had a Petrof studio with hammer felts so chewed up by mice they were like marshmellows. The entire key bed was loaded with dry dog food and so packed it looked like a brick patio. I had another console piano that had a 6 foot snake skin on the bottom board inside the bottom piano. I left that in the piano

  5. I love the original Blog, and the reply re: things found in pianos. I , too, have found dry dog food, but IN the action! I had to pull the action out and turn it upside down. Also found loads of marble sized candies IN the action. On one piano, about 10 keys were not working. I opened it up, and found a gigantic souvenir glass ashtray sitting on the keys. The owners response: Oh, that’s where it was! We were there 20 years ago!! Chopsticks, part of a sandwich, an envelope containing a check sent to the snowplow man, but never mailed. He quit. Christmas cards, ancient photos, dead mice, and a pile of about 60 pistachios. No snake skin!

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences. I love to hear about the unusual objects that techs find in the instruments they work on. Let me know if you want to contribute new posts on this site. I know we’d all benefit from your stories. If you’re interested – send me a note through my contact page with your information and, if you have a web site of your own I’d be happy to link back to it. Let me know of any topics that you’d like me to write about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.