LOS ANGELES CHAPTER
October Meeting - Please see Orange County Tool Auction information on page 5.
Our September meeting (a joint meeting without the joints) was held at David Rubenstein's shop in El Segundo. I was not at the meeting to my dismay. There was, however, a new face at the meeting, a person who called Kay asking about learning how to tune. She invited him to the meeting. He wrote a complete review of the meeting, and it is presented here so that you can get the viewpoint of a person who has, by his own admission, little or no experience with tuning and the allied arts. His name is Daniel Pok.
I was invited to this joint meeting by Kayoko Forrest after having contacted her about landing an apprenticeship. She mentioned in her email that this particular meeting was not about tuning, but about the design and replacement of existing keys. I know basically nothing about the inner workings of the piano so I thought this would be an interesting and fun experience.
The meeting was held at a workshop owned by a man named David Rubenstein. He recently built a 12 ft. grand piano from scratch, which is literally amazing to a complete beginner like myself. For this meeting however, he concentrated on talking about the keys and other components directly related to them.
One of the things I found interesting was that there seemed to be some variation of how people work on making the keys. I specifically remember David talking about people having mixed opinions about the use of basil wood, a type of wood that used to be popular because of how white the wood was and it looked very nice. It seemed like in David's experience he didn't have any problems with using basil wood. David also talked about a certain measurement people make on the keys. You start at the front of the keys (where you would play) then measure all the way to the other end (the part inside the piano the player wouldn't be able to see). He mentioned a lot of technicians look for a special spot where the player's fingers would/should be contacting the keys, and that they would start their measurements from that point. I found it interesting that David did not necessarily agree with this method. He took his measurements from the very front of the keys, instead of an arbitrary spot somewhere farther up.
Another aspect of designing keys that I found interesting was the process of
mapping out the keys for a sketch. David showed us several computer sketches of
what the key panel would look like. It was really cool to see how the keys
aren't just a straight piece of wood, and instead angle out to the left or right
after a certain point. As a player I don't normally think about the inner
workings of the piano, and often times I only see the keyboard and not the
components "under the hood." David showed us several sketches. Some were from a
bird's eye view, some were views from the side, some had straight lines
indicating measurements he was making. Some had little dots for where the key
holes needed to be drilled.
I was blown away that David made the actual cuts to the keys himself. He mentioned he used a really thin saw blade (I don't know my saws very well, but it looked like some kind of jig saw only bigger and stationary? I don't know!). It was really impressive to me because those cuts weren't just straight line cuts. He would have to cut straight, go off to the right/left a little, then cut straight some more. And he would have to make many many cuts, and be very accurate every time. He also mentioned that the key panel was big and cumbersome so he had to cut the panel in specific places so he could have smaller more manageable pieces to work with. He gave us his order of where to cut (I think there were spots you weren't supposed to just cut straight through but I was a little lost during this portion). Towards the end of this portion of the presentation, David said something like, "you got your sketches ready to go, now you just need a steady hand to make the cuts." Maybe it's just me, but I was really, really impressed with his ability to make so many cuts from the same key panel so accurately.
There were more things talked about. Like the key holes, the wool bushings that goes inside them, the varying degrees of stiffness in the keys, how a wrong adjustment can lead to having "mushy keys" that players don't like. Adding the lifted portion of the black keys, more talk about different types of wood used, and a bunch of other things I don't remember as well. I wish I can recall more of the presentation but I think this is all I can muster.