Restoring old pianos is one of our many expertise, due in no small part to our expert French polisher, Phil. Having worked with pianos and antique furniture for over 40 years, Phil harbours an unparalleled wealth of knowledge, experience and skill.
A piano can only be truly restored if it’s deemed from the outset to be of suitable quality. This means Phil must examine the case to make sure its panels are worthy of restoration. Once he’s happy, the technicians can get to work and check the technical aspects of the instrument’s interior. This is when its key bed, strings and hammers get replaced, to make its inner workings feel like new. The piano is then dismantled altogether, so that Phil can work his magic with the polish.
In order to achieve the glass-like finish of a traditional French polish piano, the wood must first be stripped bare of all existing polish and wax. Phil applies a liquid wood stripper, the acid from which achieves this end. Once the surface has bubbled up, it must be carefully scraped off until all residue is gone. Then the wood is sanded down until the finish is velvety smooth.
As you might imagine, this stage is very dusty. Phil must wear a mask and air the room to protect himself. The dust also means a lot of cleaning is required before the all-important liquid shellac can be applied to a pristine surface.
Everything I do is by hand, no buffing wheels or compounds.
It’s a case of building it up and up to get to that finish you require, to get that polish on there coat after coat until the grain is full and you can begin to bring the glass out.
It’s a combination of skill with the rubber and experience in the eye, a standard that takes decades to achieve.
After the repeated application of shellac, the panels are left to dry at room temperature. It takes several hours and perhaps even days for the surface to normalise in readiness for finishing touches.
Once dry, the components can be matched, the metal fixtures can be fitted, and the interior (thus far protected from the dust) can be revealed. Then the case is reassembled and left for seven days to harden, an important stage as, in these early days, the panels may be spoiled during handling or moving.
Now the exterior is suitably tough, technicians can tune and regulate the piano and return it to its former glory. In fact, advancements in technology mean it will likely be returned a glory even greater than its former: the strings, felt and components of today are more sophisticated than those of the original date of manufacture.
Watch this short video to see Phil in action, restoring a 1909 rosewood Bluthner upright, which pianist Nurry Lee tests out at the end, to demonstrate its better-than-new status.
I’ve played a lot of pianos in my time. I’m amazed that such an old piano could sound so new.