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Collard and Collard 1903 Piano - DIY repairs
Having spent the last few years slowly improving my piano playing, a friend mentioned their family had an old piano they had been trying to re-home for some time without success. It hadn't been played for many years but they remembered it had a great sound when it was played decades earlier. Against all the advice you read on the internet I decided to take it on as a project to see if it could be returned to playable condition even before I had seen it.

The piano turned out to be a typical old English upright built in 1903 by Collard and Collard of London for Frank H Arnold a piano dealer that used to operate from 262 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield.

As with most of the pianos of this time, it had a very decorative and well made case covered in a quality cherry wood veneer with some fine decorative inlays. The case would have had two candelabras, but these had been removed and were no longer available. As a piece of furniture it will polish up well and look good in any period home.

Unfortunately, that is all that you can say is good with the piano as the makers seemed to invest their money and effort into the case rather than the mechanism.
Frank H Arnold Piano Dealer
Collard and Collard Piano
Inside is a straight strung, over damper mechanism, often referred to a s a bird cage action due to the vertical rods that operate the dampers resembling a bird cage. This type of mechanism was superseded in the late 1800's long before this piano was even built, with newer under damper over strung mechanisms offering much better tone and damping. It is this change in mechanism that makes these old pianos valueless. The manufacturers even resorted to deception to continue selling these outdated designs. The silver frame at the top of the piano isn't part of the cast iron harp, but instead a moulding added to make it look as though the piano has a full harp. It offers no structural value top the piano at all.

Bird Cage Action

What needs to be done to make the piano playable:

  • The piano has a very honky-tonk sound which will need to be softened by cleaning and voicing the hammers.
  • The dampers aren't making contact with the strings indicating the mechanism has moved at some stage and they will all need to be reset.
  • Many of the hammers (around 40) are tight and don't return after they have been played.
  • One hammer mechanism in the middle octaves is missing and has been replaced by the highest pitch hammer (fortunately the broken hammer was in the bottom of the piano frame). A new mechanism will need to be made as spares aren't available and the correct hammer reinstated.
  • One hammer pivot is broken and will need to be repaired.
  • A few of the keys are sticking and will need to be freed off.
  • One string had previously been spliced which broke on the first attempt at tuning.
Though I haven't managed to successfully tune the piano yet the few octaves I have tuned have seemed to hold their tune, so hopefully the tuning pins are still tight enough in the pin board.

Vacuuming off the surface of the hammers and removing many decades of dust has made a significant difference to the tone of the piano, so I am hopeful that this can be brought back to a playable piano once again.

This diagram of the over damper mechanism was produced using Blender and freestyle.

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