Surrounded by History

Wherever you go in the British Isles you’re surrounded by history. The parts of Yorkshire I travel are no exception – and it’s not just the major heritage sites.

There are many historic villages and tucked-away places of interest at every turn. Even not-so-tucked-away; like this commemorative obelisk to the Battle of Marston Moor on the roadside just out of the village of Long Marston near York.

Here you can gaze across the fields where in 1644 the Royalist army encountered Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. Still in existence is a small group of trees known as Cromwell’s Clump. Amazing!



Piano strings in the treble are normally arranged in sets of three. (Except – see last post)

Here’s a Zender piano where you can’t tune the very top string because the action fixings get in the way of the tuning lever. The only thing to do is unfasten the action and ease it forward, out of the way. But then you can’t play the note!

This is just the sort of thing that made British piano making grate.WP_000537

Making a 4tune?

Tuning the bass end of a piano is comparatively easier and quicker than tuning the treble because in the bass there are fewer strings.

As if tuning the treble section wasn’t laborious enough, this German maker decided three strings per note weren’t adequate and added a fourth for the top two-and-a-half octaves! How tedious is that? not to mention the irritating combination of tuning wedges required.

Am I moaning again? I actually do enjoy my job. Still, I rather hope whoever patented this masterpiece didn’t make a four-tune!

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.


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)

Sound Structure

Some pianos are solidly built with strongly glued joints, whereas others, like this cheap and cheerful Chinese offering are held together with angle-iron mending plates and tubular steel bars under the keys. These are fine so long as the screws fastening them to the woodwork remain tight.

Unfortunately they often don’t – especially if the piano is moved about – and the whole keyboard can move out of regulation. Quite a bit of work! Often screws that have worked loose in this way don’t simply tighten up again – if you can even get to them easily.

What’s in a Name?

Often, inside a piano, you find a different name to the one on the ‘fall,’ or front lid. This is usually because the mechanism or ‘action’ and keyboard were made by a separate specialist company.

In a great number of British pianos you find the names, Herrburger Brooks or Schwander.
The company was founded in 1810 in London by Henry Brooks and in 1844 Jean Schwander founded the famous Schwander plant in Paris.

Later the Paris branch took the name of Schwander’s son-in-law Josef Herrburger and both the London and Paris companies soon became world leaders in quality piano actions.

In 1920 the companies amalgamated under the name of Herrburger Brooks and in 1953 the English company absorbed the Paris operation to become the largest manufacturer of piano actions in Europe. At one point they were making actions for Steinway USA and held a leading position in this highly specialised field.

Sadly they are no longer in existence, but the inside workings of countless British pianos bear their name – sometimes almost hidden: see picture below.