Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Disassembling an Upright Piano (But Were Too Afraid to Ask)

There are a number of things the common person with knowledge of how to use a screwdriver can do to their piano. If that rare coin from your collection (that for some reason you are studying at the piano) falls in between two keys–you can go get it. If your child spills a drink over your keyboard, you can get in there and do damage control before a cluster of six keys decides to stick together. Whatever the reason may be, if you feel the need to open your piano, even just for a peek, here’s your comprehensive guide on how to do so SAFELY.

In this article, I will be focusing on full upright pianos. Not grands, baby grands, upright spinnet or smaller console pianos. The aforementioned models I either don’t currently have in my shop, or are currently undergoing restoration in varying stages, so much so that I’m unable to reassemble them to disassemble them. Some guidelines I will discuss here may be applicable to spinnets or console pianos, but keep in mind that not every piano is going to be the same. The wide variations in manufacturing techniques and overall designs mean there will be discrepancies. This article is intended to give you a general overview, but you will have to do your own detective work.

Tools needed: Screwdriver. Extra pair of hands.

Before we begin, allow me to cover my behind. These are a set of general instructions. I make no guarantee that every piano comes apart as easily as mine. I will give you an example on how to take apart a common garden variety upright grand piano cabinet, but unless you also happen to have a 1909 Hobart M. Cable upright grand with a serial number in the high 20,000’s, this guide wont be exactly spot on. You will have to use common sense to see how your piano comes apart, but you must swear to the following rules, which I have etched in stone after years of experience.

1. Don’t force anything. If it doesn’t move easily, it’s probably not stuck. There may be another screw holding it in somewhere. Take your time and look it over again. Most of these pianos were made so well, all the parts were made to fit together perfectly. Go slow, or you risk scratching/dinging/pitting/bending/breaking etc. something.

2. Don’t be a hero. If at any time something makes you feel uncomfortable (that little voice that says “should I really be doing this?”), please, for the love of all that is holy: stop. Consult a qualified piano technician. Let them screw things up. It’s called “shifting liability.”

Okay here we go, with hopefully helpful pictures included.

1. If your piano key-cover is closed: open it.

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2. If your piano is equipped with a movable desk: close it.

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3. Open the top lid

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4. All upright pianos will have a latch of some sort holding the desk to the side-rails of the piano. Locate these latches and open them.

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5. Remove the desk by pulling it towards you and then upwards. An extra pair of hands helps in this instance, as they can be heavy. Set the desk aside in a safe place so it doesn’t get scratched.

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6. The piece of wood that supports the desk is called the “shelf.” Mine is held onto the arms of the piano with one screw on either side. Remove the screws. This particular shelf is also held on with two more screws below, and is slid forward for removal. Remember what I said earlier? Every piano is different. Go slow.

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7. Remove the shelf and set it aside.

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8. Locate the screws holding the fallboard assembly onto the side blocks. Mine has one screw on either side. Remove the screws.

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9. Lift the fallboard assembly STRAIGHT UP out of the piano. An extra pair of hands is handy here. Lift up and avoid tilting to avoid damaging any wooden parts. (Speaking from experience folks) Set the fallboard aside.

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10. If you’ve done things right, this is what you should be staring at.

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Removing the action. (Standard upright grand action only. I’ll get to drop actions (spinet pianos) in another article)

I recommend you only do so if absolutely necessary. I.E: you’ve sent me an email, I’ve told you to do so, and you feel comfortable doing so. Your best bet is to use another person in this instance, as actions are heavy, awkward, and more or less fragile. If you bump something unintentionally, you may break off a hammer or a felt, bend a damper wire, jar a spring loose, or crack a piece of wood. Don’t do those things if you can help it.

1. Find any attachments that are fastened to the action. The soft and damper pedals are attached to the action by means of wooden dowels. Unscrew them, label the rods (very important) and then set them in a safe place.

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2. Upright actions are held onto the piano by means of four thumbscrews that attach to their counterpart threaded longscrews mounted into the backplate. Remove the INNER two screws first, then the outer two. If the screws are difficult to turn, as they usually are, apply inward pressure (towards the piano) with your thumb to the “fork” that surrounds the long screw, as you try and remove the thumbscrew. Make sure you hold the action in place as you remove the final two screws to avoid the action falling forward (and likely doing a bunch of damage.)

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3. Here’s where your friend comes in handy. This is an instance of “do as I say, not as I do.” I can remove piano actions by myself, but I’ve had plenty of practice. The piano action sits on four little knobby screws at the bottom of the keybed. Grip the METAL RAILS ONLY of the action. Not the hammers, not the felts, not the soft rail (sometimes shiny, sometimes not) behind the hammers. THE METAL RAILS ONLY. Avoid touching the hammers or felts, as the oils in your hands can cause them to harden with excessive handling. Gently pull the action towards you, until it reaches about a 30-45 degree angle to the rear of the piano, and then gently lift out. You may set the action on its metal “feet” on a smooth, flat surface. The floor next to a wall would work, as it would help prevent the action from falling over.

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Insertion of the action is the reverse of removal. Make sure you have your friend help you, so you can more easily line up the feet of the metal rails to the knobby screws in the keybed. You will have to apply a good deal of inward pressure to the rails on the top of the action in order to get the thumbscrews to a tension where they will hold the dampers against the strings. After you’ve threaded the thumbscrews, try playing a few notes on the action. If you hear a ringing, as though the damper pedal was depressed, the screws are not tight enough. Apply inward pressure and tighten the thumbscrews until no more latent ringing is heard.

As always, feel free to email with questions!

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