Sunday, 20 May 2012

Early 19C square piano by William Gray

For a long time I have wanted to own a square piano. Square pianos are not, of course, square but rectangular.  A few weeks ago one came up at an auction nearby and I was the successful bidder. I was particularly pleased to find that it was made by someone better known as an organ builder, William Gray (c1757-1821). It appears that Gray advertised himself as a pianoforte maker in the the early 1800s. There are two earlier pianos known by Gray and were made jointly with his brother Robert who died in 1796. Mine is the only one (yet) that I have found to bear his name alone.
Here is the nameboard - no date or number - with calligraphy typical of the early decades of the 19C

The solid mahogany case has some small repairs and needs some more but there is some nice inlay work and what appears to be original brass work.

The action is now all taken out and the cloths (not felt) have all been well eaten by moths. A number of hammers need to be made and they all need new vellum or goatskin hinges. I suspect that there has been some restoration, but a long time ago, and many of the original overwound bass strings are still there.

The main thing about this restoration project (for myself this time not for the business) is that these pianos date form a time when everything required can be made from readily available materials (wood, leather, cloth [of the right kind], iron and brass) using tools that are found in a reasonably equipped but not specialist workshop. In short they have the same appeal for me as the early organs.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Chamber organ update

Time flies when you get down to nitty gritty of a restoration project. Rebuilding an organ that has key bits missing - bellows, most of the lower case work and building frame, as well as having the solid mahogany that is left painted a garish colour - was always going to take a while. So far, a new set of bellows and feeders has been made and the frame and lower panels have all been made. The wind chest has been totally disassembled. I found that patches had been put over patches, so there was nothing for it but to get back to the woodwork. Having done this - taking the action apart and stripping out the pallets which had been recovered in 1921 - the frame, bars and upperboards were found to be in good condition, i.e. no worm or serious cracks. It seemed a good opportunity to make detailed measured drawings as the details of the construction could be clearly seen. Furthermore, I decided to make a copy of the chest for a new chamber organ - there is no point in reinventing the wheel if a competent builder like Flight and Robson has already devised a compact layout that works. In addition, building a copy when you have the original to hand helps to sort out problems as they arise. In my case, discovering that an accurately made rectangular frame went out of square overnight. Getting it square again was not a problem and a few diagonal temporary braces keep the whole thing is shape while I begin to put in the bars.