Piano Keys » White Piano Key Top Replacement
White Piano Key Top Replacement
Open the piano, and take all the white keys out. If the numbers which are stamped into the key wood are hard to read, and you cannot tell "8"s from "3"s, mark them again with a felt pen before taking them out. If spinets keys have only two lines to match the keys, number them with a pen anyway.
If you have a Grand Piano. Once you have the action removed and on a work area, locate the three, four, or five metal brackets which hold the hammer rail. The brackets will stand vertically and have two feet, front and rear. Really old pianos may have wooden vertical mounting brackets. In each foot of each bracket is a screw holding it in place. Remove all the screws in these brackets. Lift the whole hammer rail and brackets off and store it in a very safe place where no one can play with it. It is VERY vulnerable to damage. Now, the key levers can be removed according to the following instructions.
You should have a full set of new white key tops that you ordered through your tuner or my Online Catalogue at the back of this book. I strongly encourage you to buy the key tops with the front molded onto the top. This "L" effect will help hold it on better. There is the proper amount of overhang included on these keys.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NEW IVORY. International law forbids the killing of elephants. Furthermore; real ivory is now very undesirable since new type plastics have been invented. So, you need to get the old ivory off of the white keys if it is in suspect condition. Find a thin blade to slide under the ivories from the front, or start in the rear of the narrow part of the key tops. Try to avoid going downward into the grain of the wood. If you do, you can fill the lost wood with Weldwood wood filler from a local hardware store and file and sand it smooth again.
I will buy all the good ivories that are not chipped or broken at $5 per dozen if you mail them to me-- even discolored ones. Only send the wide front ends, not the narrow shank pieces. Don't try to clean them up. They break easily, and I have a way to clean them up. They have NO collector's value as some folks imagine. They are only useful to piano owners who want to replace one or two real ivories.
Next, clean all the white filler and cloth off of the key tops. If you leave it on, it will make the new tops cock eyed, and the key tops will not be lever. Scrape the sides of the key fronts to get all the finger crud off. This is cosmetic, but it will be much more noticeable with the new tops on.
Last step in preparation is to remove the white piece on the fronts of the keys. Do not remove them, of course, if you wish to only put on the tops without the fronts molded to the tops. It is cellulose on old pianos, so just carve it away, and clean the front down to wood. You may find this the most frustrating step in the whole process since the cellulose is often very well attached. One fellow burned them off since cellulose burns very well. Be very careful as you get to struggling with the knife and the fronts. We have had several people cut themselves rather badly doing this. Another way to remove the fronts is with a bed sander, preferably the disk type. You can zip them off in seconds and keep the front of the key lever from being damaged.
Notice that the key notation of each key top is on the back end of the key top. Follow this marking strictly. A key top for two notes may seem to be interchangeable, but you will regret not using those guides. Also, notice that the keytops on the extreme right and left end of the scale are special in width. This is rather obvious. I just like to mention obvious things since one is apt to be correct making such speculations. :-) Hey, when a Senator makes the most obvious comments, the crowd swoons with delight. Cut me a little slack too, OK?
If you are not using the Key Top Restoration Kit, buy a tube of GE white (white only) silicone at the hardware store. It does not hold as well as the PVC-E glue, but I have had only two come off in 20 years with silicone. If it comes off later, you can easily clean away the old glue and glue it right back on.
If you are using the Key Top Restoration Kit, use the PVC-E glue to attach the key tops to the lever. See the instructions in the side box.
Put an amount of silicone on the wood key top. Try to imagine the minimum needed to completely cover the top. Don't try to spread it with a tool. Be sure to get some on the front face of the wooden key to hold that part in place, that is, assuming you are using the key tops with the fronts molded on. Place the new plastic key top down on the silicone, and slide it toward you. This will spread the glue. Do this two or three times. Finnish by pushing on the front to spread the glue under the front. If any glue comes out the edges you may wipe it off. If any gets on the key top, don't panic. You can remove it after the work is all done by rubbing it with your thumb and forcing it to roll off. If you don't take it off now, you can trim it off when the work is all done with a razor knife, but with care not to slip and scratch the top.
You need to clamp it some way as the silicone glue dries. Try to avoid big "C" clamps. They are hard to control. Buy some narrow window screen molding from the hardware store, and cut it into pieces the length of the key tops. Put one piece of the wood on top of the key, and use rubber bands to hold it tight. Let the glue dry for at least as long as the directions on the tube call for. Try to position the key top so that any overhand is evenly divided from side to side. Again, make sure the front is pushed all the way back hard against the front of the key lever.
If you are using the Key Top Restoration Kit, first apply the PVC-E glue according to the instructions and the side box. Attach the top before the glue is overly dry so you can position it. First, use the front clamp with the round and flat jaw. Insert the round jaw into the hole in the front of the key with the flat jaw against the front of the key lever. I suggest you do this before putting the key top on the wooden lever. Place the wood square in place which protects the key front from damage from the clamp. Now, release the clamp slightly, and slide the front into place under the wood piece.
Quickly position the whole top so the sides are lined up and centered as best you can. Slightly release the clamps alternately a couple of times to allow the key top to settle completely into position as tight as possible. Some over hang may be there, but you will dress that later, as instructed below. Finally, use the two clamps and wood strip to clamp the top. Set that key lever aside, and start the next one. By the time you have it clamped, you should be able to remove the clamps on the first key lever and move on that way.
The new key tops WILL hang over the edge of the wood key slightly. Don't worry, you will file this off AFTER the silicone has dried, but PLEASE take your time and make sure the new white top is centered so that the overhang is equal on both sides. This is important. DO NOT adjust the key top so that the rounded edge is flush with one edge of the key. It will make for hard finishing work later.
After you are sure you have it right, hold the whole mess of wood, plastic, and rubber bands about eight inches from your nose, and look it over from every angle. Look for the slight misalignment that must be there. Don't be easily satisfied. Look for termites also. What better time than now to catch any of these beasties walking about on your keys. Hey, if you want formal instructions, go to Harvard :-)
Lay it down very carefully without tension against the plastic key top-- in other words, not resting on the new key top. Also, beware of little people (and some grown up trouble makers) who just HAVE to pick everything up and feel it. They claim they are, "just looking at it." I find this bizarre since looking is generally not done with the finger tips. Oh well, such is life.
You may want to do several a night after work rather than all at once. That way you can concentrate on the job and be a perfectionist at it. Hurrying will get you poor results.
Once you have several (or all) of the whites glued on, you now need to dress the edges.
Step One:- Find a medium size fine toothed flat file. File the "notch." (Study the diagram carefully as you go through this process) The "notch" CANNOT be left undone since it is essential so that the front of the sharp does not hang up in the notch. Be sure to file the key DOWNWARD and at an angle matching the angle of the notch. If you file UPWARD, and is you used silicone glue, you will probably knock the new key top off. Filing up also could leave tiny tails. File the plastic flush with the wood in the notch.
As you file the "notch," DO NOT glide sideways into the long side of the key top. You could have another notch in that side which you cannot get out.
Step Two :- File the long edges and side of the head of the key flush with the wood sides. Remember-- DOWNWARD please. Also, beware of digging into the notch and making it uneven.
Step Three :- Round the long edges you just filed flush. A square edge will irritate the musician. Use long even downward strokes so that the edges are straight and smooth. Let the file drift from one end to the other of a long side, whether the head or the tail of the key, so that the edge is evenly rounded over its whole length. Be sure the file is double cut, not single, so that you do not make trails as you move the file. The round edge should be quite modest-- just enough to keep the pianist from catching the fingers on the sharp edge.
Step Four :- Last, file the front overhang corners rounded. Again, be conservative, and use your first one done as an example for all the rest. If you need to slow down on this step, use emery boards normally used for finger nail work.
You may have to dress the "notch" slightly, when you are all done, to get a neat appearance.
Now, put the white keys back into the piano with the sharps. Do any of the keys drag on each other? If so, do a little filing, observing the rules above, to make things fit.