This site and my services are intended for the piano service trade, rather than individual piano owners. Because there is considerable skill needed to remove and install piano keys, especially in grand pianos, I provide my service only to professional piano technicians, piano dealers and rebuilders. Often piano keys need to be aligned, leveled and regulated after being installed, and it requires training and experience to accomplish this. For these reasons you should contact a qualified piano technician to help with your project. But on occasion I do work for the piano owner if I feel he/she is able to remove and replace their keys.
You can find one at www.ptg.org or contact music teachers, choir directors and musicians for further recommendations.
When you are tuning a customer's piano...
I will include an extra new keytop with your first order of keys to use as a selling tool for the customer. If there is any interest shown by your client in recovering keys, you can demonstrate how they can all look by inserting the spare in the proper spot on the keyboard.You may also want to check for worn or missing balance rail and front rail bushings and suggest that there are substantial savings by rebushing at the time the keys are out of the piano. By checking the side-to-side movement of the key fronts (before the keys are removed from the piano) from the middle of the keyboard in comparison to the bass and treble ends, the customer can feel the difference in looseness themselves. It becomes a win-win, the piano owner will have needed work done at a saving, and we both receive added revenue.
Factory stamped numbers are often impossible to see clearly. Please make sure key numbers are legible and if not re-number them while they are still in the piano or draw registration lines on the keys.
If you wish to make a commitment to your customer on when you may return to replace the keys, call me from your location. Tell me what you have and what is needed and I will give you an estimate as to when they will be shipped back to you. Typical turnaround time is 7 to 14 days. But because I work alone, there may be times when there is a backup, so please call ahead. Rush orders can be accommodated if possible at no extra charge.
Packing your keys
It is important that your keys arrive here in good condition and that begins with proper packing at your end. I suggest you tape 5-6 keys together with masking tape wrap them and pack them alternating in a strong, well padded cardboard box. Pad the bottom, sides and top so the keys are snug and cannot move around in shipping. Keep in mind other heavier boxes may be placed on top of your box and they are often handled roughly by automated machinery. The extra time and effort in careful packing is well worth avoiding damage.
If you plan to do additional work yourself such as bushings, capstans or backchecks, send your keys after such work is done. Please do not send the black keys unless you require work done on them.
The keytop material I use
First, a word about ivory. In its day, ivory was the best piano key material available. It was cheap, plentiful and used by almost all piano makers. Because it is an animal product, it has some inherent drawbacks. With time, ivory can often dry out, crack and split. It sometimes discolors tending toward yellow or tan and with age the adhesive may fail causing the ivories to come off. Ivory can also become very brittle and will fracture easily. There is a misconception that ivory is very valuable and should be preserved at all costs. That may be true in a small number of instances: 1. Where the piano is a museum piece and must be maintained at strict original levels much like a vintage classic car and 2. When cost is not a factor (as ivory is now in short supply), to replace a set on a piano today would cost several thousand dollars, keeping in mind the shortcomings mentioned above still exist.
Plastic keys when they first appeared in quantity after WWII were not very good. Like ivory, they tended to discolor, crack and break easily. These first generation products did not stand the test of time , but today's materials are a far cry from the originals. They are now tough, fade resistant, easily repaired if needed, long lasting and moderately priced.
Over the years I have used a number of different man made materials to recover piano keys and have settled on a high quality German acrylic plastic keytop which combines a good combination of reasonable cost, durability, ease to work with and a fine, long lasting appearance. A big positive factor is the fact that unlike many products the front of the key cover is molded permanently to the top which makes it virtually impossible for either to come loose. Leave the old key coverings in place as I need to verify the original overall key height. Any ivory pieces that I remove from your keys that are intact and usable will be returned to you.