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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Hackbarth

Emerson Restoration Project, Intro

Sometime this past summer, a facebook marketplace piano ad caught my attention. I see a lot of pianos for sale on facebook and craigslist, most unremarkable, but I kept coming back to this one, an Emerson upright from the 1890s. After a month or so of seeing it advertised, I finally contacted the owner and set up a time to look at the piano. Following a brief, but thorough inspection, as well as some research about the maker, I decided to bring it home and try my hand at restoration.

Here's the piano, newly arrived in my garage, with my pint-sized assistant.

Now, I'm not a piano rebuilder or restoration specialist. I'm just a piano technician, and a relatively new one at that. But, I'm always looking for ways to develop my piano tech skills and diving into a restoration project seemed like as good a method as any to learn something new.

The piano is in relatively good shape for its age, but it does need significant work to get into good, playable condition. Following are some of the things I'll be doing:


Most of the keys are original ivory, but some of them appear to have had their fronts replaced with some kind of plastic imitation ivory. I'd like them to look more uniform, so I'll probably be replacing the plastics and the more badly-damaged ivories with salvaged ivory if possible. I'll also try my hand at patching the smaller chips in many of the keys.

The keys will also definitely need to be cleaned and rebushed.

(Protip: Don't remove keys before checking that *all* the keys are numbered... More on that later.)


As is to be expected from a piano of this age, the action needs considerable work, including cleaning, new felts, leathers, and bridle straps, and repinning. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Wessel, Nickel & Gross (WN&G) name on the action. I know the name as a modern company on the cutting edge of action parts design and manufacturing, using unique materials like carbon fiber and high tech composite plastics, rather than the traditional wood. I've since learned that WN&G began making parts in 1874 to compete with Steinway. This would have been one of their earliest actions, and it seems to be of good quality. I'm looking forward to taking it apart and fixing it up!


One of these things is not like the others! It doesn't take an expert to see that one of the hammers definitely isn't right. The rest of them aren't in great shape either. I'm not sure yet what I'll do with them - maybe try to clean and shape them? or maybe replace them all together? We'll see.


The case is pretty dinged up, as you can see on the fallboard here. It needs a complete stripping and refinishing. I'm excited to see what it looks like under this old finish, and even more so, what it will look like with a shiny new finish.


As I said, I'm a relatively new technician, and have basically no experience with restoration, so I'm going to need some help with this project. Thankfully, seasoned piano rebuilder Chuck Behm is offering online classes on all aspects of piano restoration and refinishing. I'll be taking multiple courses from him as I go through this process.

I'll be documenting my progress here, as well as on instagram and facebook - I hope you'll follow along!

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