In Search of the Lost Cord

If you’re looking for a trustworthy, well-performing piano, I would always say you can’t go wrong with a Yamaha. In my opinion they’re the best of the Japanese pianos; far superior to any from the Chinese manufacturers and at least equal to, if not better than many European makes; apart from the very top-notch instruments. And it’s not just me: they’re big players on the concert stage – along with very few other makes – and they’re endorsed by musicians worldwide.

Yes I know they use some plastic parts, but at least they work, work well and keep working – and what piano doesn’t use plastic somewhere, either on the keys or the shiny casing?

They are extremely well designed, are eminently playable and represent excellent value for money. They are also plentiful both new and second-hand.

Generally there aren’t many Yamaha instruments much older than 1970 in the UK and even the older specimens are still relatively okay. Nevertheless, buyers should still be wary if purchasing used – as a lot depends on how the piano has been treated in the past.

However, there is one specific problem that affects the older used uprights – particularly the flagship U-series instruments and this is what the pictures here relate to. I know of four affected pianos on my patch, all in different locations, so nationwide there could be quite a number. As it can cost a few hundred pounds to sort out I thought it worth mentioning. This, after all is a problem that affects all pianos eventually, but usually at a much later stage in their lives.

The top picture shows a hammer butt held up in front of a Yamaha U1. (Note – wooden flange).

To the RH side of the butt, a small, hooked spring (the butt spring) bends down to where it hooks onto a small loop of cord which is glued onto the flange forks. This is as it should be. The spring helps the hammer to return swiftly to rest after striking the string.

In this next picture you will see the spring is jutting out horizontally. The cord loop is broken – and this is the problem.

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For some reason these cord loops, and so far only apparent on 1970s instruments, seem to perish and break. This is quite odd, because all the other perishable parts: felts; leather pads; tapes; springs etc. remain in good condition, but for some reason this cord just crumbles. Not all pianos are affected though and the source of the instrument may well be to blame.

Many used Yamahas are imported from Japan for resale in the UK. I would recommend Mark Goodwin Pianos if you’re looking for a used instrument as they use reliable sources and check and restore them. I would also recommend Chris Venables Pianos for new Yamahas. Their prices are highly competitive – and no, I’m not on commission!

The cord loop problem is a bit hard to spot if you’re not a technician. The subsequent pictures (below the text) show little glinting copper lines where you can just see the springs jutting out if you look down into the action.

Although the hammer will still rebound off the string and will be tugged back by a bridle tape, without the spring the repetition and performance is impaired. Also the protruding horizontal spring can snag on the dampers and cause notes to stick.

So yes, buy a Yamaha by all means, but don’t assume they’re all very much as good as each other. Best to check them out, or get someone who can, or buy from someone who does.

(If you zoom in on these pictures you can see how the jutting butt springs could easily interfere with the dampers)
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