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.
- 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.