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Cleaning the Upright Piano Keybed

If you want to clean the tops of the keys and the keybed, you will probably need to remove the fallboard (nameboard.) This can be attached in a variety of ways. Some of them lift up and off, being secured by a channel on either side that fits over pegs in the case. Others are attached by screws. You should only have to undo one screw on either side to remove the fallboard. Do not remove the hinge screws - you will only make a lot more work for yourself. On a spinet (a very short upright, usually 36" or so) piano, the way the fallboard is attached can be far more cumbersome. If you have that type, I suggest leaving it on and working around it. If you decide to take it off, please take pictures and notes so that you can reassemble it. You may also need to remove the key upstop rail, which you will find going across the midpoint of the keys. Not all pianos have this as a separate piece, but those that do attach it with screws at either end and possibly a nut in the middle.

Once the fallboard and the key upstop rail are off, you should have no problem in vacuuming out the keybed and the tops of the keys. Another piece you may want to remove is the keyslip (the long narrow piece of wood which is usually screwed in in front of the keys. You'll have to get under the piano for this, but the screws should be obvious. Please note if there are any pieces of cardboard, and where they are. You will need to put them back in the same place or places. They are there as shims because keyslips frequently warp and need to be shimmed out in order to not run into the keys when they are depressed. If your white keys are sticking after you have removed and replaced the keyslip, and they didn't before you did this, see where they contact the keyslip, and then shim it out with layers of cardboard (I fold a 1/2 business card in a accordian shape), and glue it to either the keyslip or the bottom of the keyframe.

When the keyslip is off, you will be able to see underneath the keys and the amount of dust there is truly amazing. Exercise extreme caution when vacuuming here. You don't want to lose any of the small bits of cardboard or felt punchings which are underneath the keys. They are essential to the smooth functioning of the action. If you want to be extremely thorough and are willing to prepare in advance, you may remove the keys from the action and clean under them.

First, number all the keys. You may notice that they have been numbered before. If so, and if it's legible, great. If all you see are impressed numbers, take the time to hand number them with pencil or pen. Those embossed numbers are usually very confusing when you have all the keys out of the keybed. Remove the keys by first pushing up on the action part that rests on the back of the key. The key rests on the keyframe and is secured by two pins coming up from the keyframe, one in the front and one in the middle. Lift the key straight up while the action piece is also up. Congratulations, you did it!

You will notice that at each of the pins there is a pile of punchings, the top one should be felt and the bottom ones paper or cardboard. These are very important! Use your paintbrush here and collect the dust from around the pins, brush it into the vacuum nozzle which you are holding close, but not too close to the punchings. When I am doing this job, I usually remove 5 or 6 keys at a time in order, clean under the keys, and then replace them. You can be very thorough and still keep this project under control.

What happens if you lose a punching? The punchings at the middle of the key control the key height. The punching in front control how far down the key travels when it is fully depressed. If you lose one from the middle, the keys will be at different heights, which is noticeable visually. If you lose one from the front, the key will travel too far down which you will notice while you are playing. If either of these things happens, best to get a technician in to correct.

When you are replacing the keys, remember to lift up the corresponding action part at the same time, otherwise you will jam the key. The key should fall easily back in place if you start it going straight down and wiggle slightly.

When I have cleaned the keybed, I then decide if I want to clean the keytops. If yes, please go to: Cleaning Plastic Keytops or Cleaning Ivory Keytops, depending on which you have. Plastic keytops are usually one piece, with no division between the front (wide part) and the tail (slender back part). Ivory keytops usually have a butt joint which you may see as a black line between the front and the tail. Very occasionally, you will get a plastic keytop which tries to mimic an ivory keytop by having a narrow score line where the butt joint would be. Look at the texture of the key. Ivory has a pattern of sworls, much like a fingerprint. Plastic is smooth.

When you have finished cleaning the top of the piano, it is time to reassemble the case parts. Go slowly and refer to your pictures and notes. Remember to put back the key upstop rail first, then the fallboard/nameboard, then the front door (which has the music desk on it). Make sure you don't have any screws left over, then close the lid.

Now it's time to tackle Cleaning the Bottom of the Upright Piano.

Elizabeth Atkins
rev. 11-29-13

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