Cleaning Your Upright Piano
Cleaning the Top Action
In order to clean your upright piano you are going to have to disassemble it. A digital camera can be very helpful here to give you a reference as to how the piano is supposed to look when it's put together. Here are some of the views you should take: pictures that show the detail of how the fallboard looks when it is closed and when it is open (specifically, you want to see how wide any gaps are); one that shows the relationship of the bottom door to the frame of the case, a picture of the front door (this is the one that has the music desk on it) and its relationship to the sides of the case. This last one you will need to pop the lid up so that you can see. Use the flash!
Supplies for this project (you may not need them all): a good light, preferably a pole lamp, dust masks for you and your helper, vacuum cleaner with strong suction, soft brush attachment, paintbrush with stiff but soft bristles, crevasse tool, dust cloth (swiffer type is good), a blower of some type (reverse vacuum cleaner hose to use exhaust, or hair dryer set on "cool" setting, or bellows, a couple of screwdrivers, slotted and phillips, a pen or pencil.
First we'll raise the lid. Some lift up and back (you'll need to prop it with something, or let it lean back against the wall with a cloth to keep from marring the wall. Some fold back (my favorite kind). Some have a side hinge which means they lift from right to left. Many pianos have a set-up where the underside of the lid is fitted with knobs which form a pressure fit into the case. You have to use some force to get the lid open here. For some pianos there will be a prop stick that you can use to keep the lid up, but in most cases these are pretty short. Improvise. Find a longer stick that you can use to keep the lid up and wedge it against the inside of the case. Always use a cloth (facecloths are a handy size) to keep from marring a finish.
You will need to detach the front door from the frame of the piano. If the music desk is hinged, fold it down so that it doesn't fall down. If you have screws securing the front door to the case it's a good idea to make a pencil or pen reference line or lines to help you relocate when you are putting it back together. Just trace where the front door meets the inner case on the inner case. In some instances, you may see where this has already been done to help the piano technician who has serviced the piano in the past. If you have the screw type, note whether or not there is a bar that simply slides up over the screw, or whether the bar is fixed. If the bar slides up and away, this is easier. If you have the fixed type, unscrew (putting the screws somewhere safe but not on the piano). Be careful here as the front door is heavy and will want to fall forward as soon as the last screw is out. Note how the front door is supported. Are there glides? Are there pins on each side? Make sure you understand this before you take it out so that you will know how to put it back together.
You may have a different kind of system holding things together, one that I call "flippers." This is usually on the taller uprights, the studio size and the full uprights. There will be either wooden or metal catches which swivel to lock in a recessed pin. If you have this type, just move the pivoting part back to uncover the pin. Sometimes the metal ones are really tight and may need some fussing over, but they will work eventually. When the pivot is out of the way, pull the top of the front door toward you and lift up. With the heavier doors, you will definitely want a partner.
Now you can see the action, exposed and dirty! Get out your vacuum cleaner and get to work. On a newer piano, it will simply be a matter of dusting with the soft brush and sucking up with the vacuum. You won't need to worry about the possible disintegration of the bridle tapes. On an older piano, they probably will fall apart, but if they do that with a vacuum, it would have happened soon anyway. The bridle tape is a piece of cotton tape with a leather tab which is attached in the front to a wire with a curl on the end. It usually has a cork on the other end which goes into an action part called the butt. Its purpose is to keep the action parts in place when the action is removed from the piano. Its secondary function is to help pull the action together again after a key has been played, so that it will play again. If everything else is working properly on the piano, this is not as necessary, but in an older piano, it may be essential. Oh well, you can always call your technician to replace the ones that break! He or she will certainly thank you for cleaning the piano first.
Next we will proceed to Cleaning the Keybed.
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