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

  1. Charles says:

    is that it? I’ve been trying to find an article that tells me EVERYTHING about taking a piano apart i.e. the pin block, the sides, etc. 😦

    • bdpt109 says:

      Hi Charles.
      I try to keep most of the articles on my blog geared towards the everyday person with little to no technical knowledge of piano servicing, in order for them to learn how to properly care for and maintain their instrument. If you want to delve into the absolute nitty gritty of piano servicing/complete tear down, I recommend you pick up a copy of the book “piano servicing, tuning and rebuilding” by Arthur Reblitz.” It’ll tell you everything you ever wanted to know and more.
      Best,
      Brian

  2. Chris Bonvissuto says:

    Hello

    I own my own small business and I’m in the process of cleaning out a person’s estate. Inside the estate their is a oregon (approx 3-500 lbs) I’m trying to possibly come up w best strategy were i don’t cause damage to hardwood floor. I have never dismantled a piano before? Is it possible for 4 rookies to dissemble piano? If so, how much time are we looking at?

    Look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Chris Bonvissuto

    • bdpt109 says:

      Hi Chris! I’m sorry for the long delay–for some reason I haven’t been able to see comments for the last week or so. Is it a piano or an organ that you’re looking to disassemble? There’s some similarity between the two, but namely, there’s only a certain length to which you can disassemble either instrument for moving. If all the removable panels and such are removed, you normally can reduce the weight of the instrument by 100-150 lbs. With four people, the instrument can then usually be moved without much strife, if you utilize a piano/instrument dolly, which you can rent or purchase at a number of places. If you send along some more details, I can probably give you more of an idea of what you’re looking at. Feel free to email me at the address found on the front page of this site. Best! Brian

  3. John J. Smid says:

    Brian, I have an antique upright grand. I want to remove the overly heavy sound board and action etc. to use the case for a theater stage prop. It is possible to do this. Do I have to rebrace cabinet with other wood? Is the sound board etc. holding the case together?

    • bdpt109 says:

      Hi there John. This is doable, certainly, and although pianos vary slightly in construction, the fundamentals are the same. You’ll need to first remove all action and related parts (hammers, pedal dowels, etc). Next, you’ll have to unstring the entire piano. Then, depending on the piano, you’ll either have to remove the entire Keybed (it’s held on to the piano on the underside and sides with screws, and some are glued as well) or, if you’re able to get the piano onto its back, you might be able to slide the cast iron plate from the top. Unbolt the cast iron plate and remove it. You’ll need some help with this, as the plates can weigh upwards of several hundred pounds. You’ll find that the cabinet of the piano is a separate structure–all parts of the exterior cabinet should be attached to one another. If anything has come loose or has broken, you may simply need to make braces to shore up the cabinet. I’d recommend 1X2 furring strips or something similar. Especially if the piano is going to be moved frequently (such as in a theater production) I’d certainly recommend at least bracing the bottom, which is usually made of thinner wood, and subject to more abuse. Hope this helps, I’ll let you know if I remember something I may have missed. Thanks for writing! Brian

  4. Instinct says:

    Brian, I can say I am very glad I found your blog!!!

    My mom just purchased an Ebersole piano circa 1903. Lovely piece, but it has cosmetic issues that need to be addressed. The finish has faded on the cabinet (it was originally a deep mahogany color) and while the inside is great the outside is damaged.

    My question is this. For repairing and refinishing the outside, would you need to disassemble the whole thing or can you work with removing some parts and leaving the internals where they are while refinishing the main cabinet?

    I’ve done refinishing before so that part doesn’t worry me, it’s ruining the actual parts that make it a piano that does!!

    • bdpt109 says:

      Hello! And thank you for writing. I’m very sorry it took me a while to respond to your comment–sometimes things are buried within the blog. Any time I do a cosmetic restoration, I follow the same basic mantra–get the piano as disassembled as possible without digging into major surgery. If screws can be taken out–take them out. Getting the instrument into smaller pieces allows one to focus on each in turn, and makes it easier to work on consistently. Remove the action and all associated parts, and leave them in a safe area. Be extra cautious to protect the strings and backplate against damage from a stray dropped tool. Make certain you mark everything religiously, in order to make reassembly easier: pictures are extremely helpful for this reason. I think you’ll find that pianos are extremely logically built, and therefore easy to disassemble and reassemble. If you follow the mantra of breaking it into smaller components, I think you’ll find the process is a breeze. Please feel free to write or email with any additional questions as you encounter them. Also: if you have pictures of your restoration process, I’d love to feature them on this blog, if you are willing to share! Thanks!
      Brian

      • Instinct says:

        Thanks for the reply. I’ll ask a second question here since it’s short.

        Some of the laminate on the piano is damaged. Would you replace the entire piece of laminate or try and repair it. On the left side of the cabinet they, for some unknown reason, cut part of the laminate off. It’s a section about 4”x6” right in the center of the cabinet and the laminate is one piece so repairing it would be tricky.

        Here’s what the front looks like. I already know how I am going to fix the vinework. I’m going to do a molding of it and then CNC mill out the replacement parts. At the bottom left part of the shot is what I mean about the laiminate, it’s separated and some of it has been broken off.

        Thanks again

        Mark White

  5. Liz Weston says:

    I want to remove the music desk on my 100 year old George Steck upright piano in order (try) to tune it myself. I can see two screws on either side that hold the desk to the frame about midway. There are also two levers at the bottom that move when one pulls the desk out. However, I can’t figure out how to disengage either to be able to lift the desk out. I took a couple of photos, believe it or not, but don’t know how to send them here.

  6. Donna of Timely Treasures says:

    Thank you for your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading it over this morning. We want to disassemble an old electric,player piano. Mostly to be able to move it for trash/ recycle pick up, and to get it out of my sister’s basement.

    However, my son requested we keep it when his grandparents died and it’s been in her basement ever since 2005, and we need to get it out of there. Those of us who have trouble parting with things attributed to fond memories, would like to keep parts of it. We each selected a music roll or two, but would like to use or make something out of its parts, even if it’s just to frame a few keys.

    I haven’t seen a way to remove it in sections to retain the “key board” for a possible shelf. We need to gut it to get it to the street. Can we remove the harp in one piece without cutting the chords/wires? That cutting seems scary. Basically, we’d like the wood/veneer frame to remain for other possible uses.

    Thank you,
    Donna

    • bdpt109 says:

      Hi Donna! First, let me just reply on this message so others will be able to see in the future: DO NOT, under any circumstance, try and cut any of the piano strings in any manner, while they are under tension. To do so, will likely cause
      some pretty severe injury to whom ever is attempting such a feat–even old, worn out pianos still have strings that are under several tonnes of pressure. This pressure may be relieved safely by using either a tuning wrench, or if
      The piano is being scrapped, a crescent wrench used on the tuning pins may be used to relieve the pressure on the strings until they are safe to remove.
      Can you shoot me an email at bprofai1@gmail.com, so we can discuss this further in depth? I have some suggestions for ways you can up cycle parts of your piano. Hope to hear from you soon! Brian

  7. ForTheLoveOfMusic says:

    Hello!! I have been searching everywhere for someone of your knowledge. THANK GOD! Ok so here’s my question…
    On an upright piano is there any way i can go from the back of the piano and remove the sound board and harp? I want to keep all of the strings in place and attached to wherever they belong. I wont be needing the hammers or keys etc. Just the back end of the belon and the peice of wood that is bolted to it. Is there a easier way to do that without having to go through all the keys, drums etc?

  8. jace829 says:

    I’m still stuck on how to remove the front panel on mine! Mine’s a yamaha m108 and it appears that it’s screwed on instead ofa latch…help?

    • bdpt109 says:

      Can you send a picture to my email? Bprofai1@gmail.com We’ll get it figured out!

      • pm says:

        Hello. I received notification of your reply to this tonight via e-mail, but never saw my question from about a month or two ago posted or replied to. Did it get lost in Cyberspace?
        Peace,
        pm

      • bdpt109 says:

        Hi there! I don’t see any unanswered questions stuck in my queue–sometimes the spam filter on WordPress is a little over zealous, which is why I prefer email for more detailed explanations. What is it I can help ya with?

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