Piano Keys Before & After

Piano Keys Before & After

This photo shows worn, damaged, and broken key tops (bottom) in contrast to their replacements.

What Can Piano Key Repair and Restoration Do for My Piano?

Piano Keytops or ivories may be missing/broken/chipped/damaged. Maybe the keys are uneven and not level? Perhaps they wiggle from side-to-side? Or they rock back and forth? Maybe some keys press down more or less that others do?

Restoring the keyboard on a vintage piano can involve a couple different approaches or a combination of two or more of the following (this list is not inclusive):

1. Key Top Replacement – Key top replacement always adds new life to an older piano–or on any piano that has worn or broken keytops. This is fairly straightforward as long as everything else in the key bed system is in working order. See additional information below on Characteristics of an Awesome Key Top Replacement.

2. The Key Bed – The key bed includes multiple components that can be addressed during restoration: the key buttons, the key bushings, balance pins, the front rail pins, capstans, and two sets of felt punchings. The key levers themselves could also become a restoration target if they are badly damaged/warped.

Piano Key Balance Rail

A piano key balance rail where the keys pivot. The balance rail pins show signs of oxidation and corrosion.

3. Balance Rail Pins – As the name implies, the balance rail pins are what each key lever “balance” on when pressed to activate a hammer. Typically the issue with these is that they become corroded and rusted beyond repair. When this occurs, replacement pins are necessary. (see photo at below right, which also shows one of the two sets of felt punchings).

4. Front Rail Pins – Similar to balance rail pins, but these are located towards the front of the key in the key bed, and hold the key in position at the front. Same issues can occur with front rail pins.

5. Key Bushings (front and center) – The holes where the front and balance rail pins enter the key levers is bushed with special piano felt. Over time, this felt can wear and compress, resulting in wobbling or rocking keys.

Capstans on Piano Key Levers

Capstans on piano key levers. Capstans are the direct contact point between the piano key and the rest of the piano’s action.

6. Capstans – Capstans are screw-like in that they are screwed into the key lever somewhere in its back half (see photo below). The capstan is the actual connection between the key lever and the rest of the piano action. These can also become oxidized beyond repair, and require replacement for smooth action of the piano.

7. Key buttons – These are pieces of wood glued to the tops of each key lever that help balance it on the balance rail pin. These can easily become cracked and damaged over time due to their relatively thin nature compared to the key lever itself. This issue can also be the cause of rocking keys on your piano, Replacement is recommended when this becomes the case.

Characteristics of an Awesome Key Top Replacement

Frequently, we encounter pianos that have had piano keytop replacement work done in the past. Unfortunately, what we usually find is less than satisfactory workmanship. If you are considering piano keytop replacement, consider these characteristics as you “set your standards” for the finished product.

Lesser cost (and lesser quality) providers often do not offer the “factory-installed look” when performing a piano keytop replacement. Hence, the reason for the lesser cost. Our standard with piano keytops is to provide a professional quality and “factory-installed” appearance to you.

Piano Key Notches around the Sharps

Piano Keytop Notches

Properly crafted piano keytop notches are square, that is they form a 90° angle.

The notches of the white keys where they wrap around the sharps is, unfortunately, usually a very poorly done part of a key top replacement.

The notches should be square and form a 90° angle. They should also form a straight line across the keyboard when you look down.

Poorly crafted piano keytop notches actually stick out like a sore thumb when looking at your piano’s keyboard. Also, when the notches are not properly cut, the white keys can rub and/or click against the sharps.

Piano Key Edges and Sides

Characteristic of An Awesome Piano Keytop Replacement

Notice the sides of the piano key as shown by the black arrows. They have been cleaned up and appear like-new.

With any quality piano keytop replacement, the sides of the piano keys should be cleaned up. That is, dirt and buildup and any evidence of spills (yes it is very common) should be removed as a part of the process. The edge of the new keytop should be flush with the side edge of key. There should not be keytop material hanging over the side of the key.

Video Overview of Piano Key Top Replacement

The three video clips below will show you a bit more about the process we use for installing a new set of piano keytops. Keep in mind that not all specific steps in the process are shown.

The video clip above shows the early stages of the process where we ensure the tops of the wooden key levers are smooth and level. Basically, after removing the old keytop material, we mill the tops of the wooden levers which accomplishes two things for us. First, it removes any dried glue or other debris and levels and smooths the top surface. A smooth and level surface is essential in this process if we expect the new keytop material to actually remain on the wooden levers. Second, since newly manufactured keytop material is almost always thicker that the original keytops, milling allows us to reduce the height of the wooden key lever an amount equal to the difference in the thickness of the old and new key top material. So, in the end, the original height of the keys are unchanged.

In our second video clip, we show you the new keytop material in place on the wooden key levers. There is quite a bit more to the process between the two clips. The job is not complete yet. As you will see in the video, there is still more to do.

In the final video clip, you will see the finished product!