Sometimes bass strings on even the greatest pianos die. Sometimes they're dead after years of performance, neglect, water damage, or they could even come dead from the factory.
No, the latter does not happen very often, if ever, but with this particular project in January/February of 2014, it was true on an out-of-the-box Steinway at Portland State Univeristy.
Maybe through shipping, it was exposed to something in particular, or maybe it just slipped quality control at the factory, but one thing was certain; for such an esteemed music program, those strings needed to be replaced.
There's something to a music department at a school that makes the skin ripple with energy. It's most likely the amount of creativity flowing through the halls, and the sound of music being heard at every turn, be it vocal or otherwise. The room where the "M" was found had a trio practicing. As they completed their session, we were pleased to hear some intricate baroque flow through the door.
Since this was my first time replacing so many strings on a piano, the procedure was headed by my colleague Scott Peterson (whom has helped rebuild many pianos in the past which involves a full restringing). He claimed he could have completed the task himself, but to have help, the process would only take upwards of five hours.
First we had to take the action out and cut all of the old bass strings. One can see them with the action in the photo below.
As one can see below, the new strings come bound by wire, which helps keep them in order. It would be incredibly time consuming to just have them flailing individually. Also, notice the blue packing blanket draped over the cast iron plate. That's for the protection of the pristine plate, the other treble strings below it, and especially the ebony satin finish of the piano's case. These bass strings are of a very heavy gauge, and the their hardened steel can scratch almost anything, and even cut through one's skin. Thick gloves are a necessity, as is eye protection.
After the five hours of installation, the bass strings need to be "chipped" to a respectful tune, then tuned again, and a third time, for stability. It is also recommended to have it tuned a fourth or even fifth time after a few weeks just so the steel and copper can stretch to pitch in their new environment. Environment is of the utmost importance for pianos.
After it was all said and done, Scott left me to tune the Steiwnay. Upon a full tuning, there was a blaring mistake, and it wasn't our fault, but the string manufacturer's! The seventh new bass string was dead! Oh the joys of the piano world. Once you complete a job, well, it's honestly never done.
Regardless, a new D#1 (the seventh bass string) was ordered, and I was sent back to Portland State University for its replacement. Without Scott's guiding knowledge, I was undoubtedly a bit nervous, but after five hours straight of string replacement, I actually had a knack for it. Below is a video showing the difference in sound between a dead string and a live, or simply a working string. I threw another tuning on the piano, and the job was complete.