Replacing piano tuning pins

January 28, 2012 by Karl

Piano berry berry berry berry berry

This post will show you how to replace a tuning pin on your piano.  If you have it done professionally, it will cost you a minimum of $1000 to have the entire piano re-pinned.  Here I will show you how to do it yourself for a fraction of that price.  You can typically get a full set of tuning pins for less than $100.  I will have some links at the bottom of this post with more information.

When a piano gets old (more than 50 years) the tuning pins start to become loose in the pin block (a block of wood that is built into the piano).  This is due to the number of times the piano has been tuned over the years.  Each time the pins are adjusted, the hole becomes a bit bigger in the tuning block.

There are several methods to take care of this problem, but the best overall method is to replace the existing tuning pins with the next larger size.  All other methods are just as time-consuming, and the results are not as not as good (I speak from the reading I have done on the subject, not personal experience).

One concern in doing this is that you don’t want to crack the pin block.  A cracked pin block is will render the piano useless unless replaced.  To replace the pin block is very expensive on a grand / baby grand piano, but on an upright it is generally considered not doable.  To replace the pin block on an upright would require complete disassembly of the piano case.  The piano is built around the pin block on an upright piano.

In an upright piano, there is no way to know for sure if the pin block is cracked, but generally, from what I read, if all the pins are loose and won’t hold a tune at all for more than a few hours, there is a good possibility that the block is cracked.

The first step in replacing a tuning pin is to find out the current size of your pins.  The only way to do this is to remove one of the pins.  The video below will show you how to do this.  First take a look at the pins to see if they all generally look the same.  There may be a few that have already been replaced, and it will be somewhat obvious by the color / oxidation on the pins.  If none have been replaced, then you job is that much easier.

In order to ensure that the pin block is not going to be cracked by the work you are doing, you SHOULD buy the proper size drill for the pin you are installing.  In my video, you will see that I have gone with a drill that is a bit smaller than it should be for the pin.  I may pay the price for this later by cracking the pin block.

Here is a chart of pin sizes.  The proper drill bit is going to be .009 inch smaller than the pin diameter.  Yes, that is 9 thousandths of an inch.  There does seem to be some different information on the internet about the exact size of the drill bit, so there is probably a little wiggle room here, but I wouldn’t go to far. YOU MUST HAVE A MICROMETER to measure these pins correctly.  Borrow one, rent one, or take the removed tuning pin to a piano shop or machine shop to have them measure it for you.  I just happen to have my own, but most people do not.

Size 2/0 – .282″ diameter

Size 3/0 – .286″ diameter

Size 4/0 – .291″ diameter

Size 5/0 – .296″ diameter

Once you know the diameter of the pins you need to replace, you should buy a pin that is one size bigger.  If you can get pins the same length, you may not need re-drill the hole, though there are also spoon type reamers that you can buy to prepare the hole for the new pin.  I’ve read that it is best to ream the hole as a minimum.

You can buy the pins at a local piano shop if you are buying just a few, or you can buy them on-line at a piano supply house like THIS if you plan to re-pin the whole piano.

Here’s my video on how I’ve done it.  Please be kind, this is my first video post.



Please post a comment if you found this video helpful!



16 Comments »

  1. LD Thompson says:

    You are far more intrepid than I. Just bought an old Kimball and the piano tuner is recommending something called Pin Tight – some kind of product that supposedly remoisturizes the pin board. I have my doubts. Seems like he should just do what you have done.

    I’m a professional videographer and I thought you did a great job for a first time effort. I would just recommend a tripod for your loyal videographer. Also, you might want to fiddle with the sound a little bit more, the overlapping of words is a little distracting and maybe just lower the volume of the shop vac. Taken all together though, I watched it all the way through and was definitely educated. Kudos!

    • Karl says:

      LD,

      Thanks for the note! Pin Tight is a quick band-aid for the pin block problem. It will produce some results, but the pins will be sticky and difficult to tune. Installing oversized pins is the best overall repair to get another few decades (or more) of use out of the piano. It IS time consuming though. It took me 20 hours to replace all the pins.

      Karl

  2. rami says:

    My piano tuner told me that when repinning is done, you must also replace all strings, or they will break because the segment wrapping the tuning pin is not flexible enough. You did not mention anything about this. What do you know about this fact ?

    • Karl says:

      Rami,

      I replaced 240 pins on my piano last year. I haven’t had one break after replacing the pins. I used the original strings as I show in the video. My strings may be a little stronger than some though. I can see how this may be a problem for some people.

      Karl

      • Ron Russell says:

        Nice notes. May I make a couple of comments.

        Pins go loose because 1. the pinblock wood shrinks from drying, 2. the changes in humidity and temperature alternately pull and release the strings causing the pin to work loose. I have two hundred year old pianos that have tight pins and are in consistent environments while being kept in tune regularly.

        Wires in fact do break when removing them from the pins. Most often this occurs trying to pull the string becket out of the pin hole. This has even happened on bass strings which were pretty newish. It is a chance thing.

  3. Travis says:

    Dear Karl,

    I have a Yamaha G2 grand piano. My piano tuner is replacing the bass strings and he mentioned that he would a) go up one size on the pins and b) hammer them in.

    From checking the web, it appears that going up one size is common but I couldn’t find anything about hammering the pins. Is this standard? Why not just screw them in place?

    Thanks,

    Travis

    • Karl says:

      Travis,

      I am by no means an expert on this, but I have read a lot of books and watched a lot of tutorials. From what I understand, screwing them in is the standard method of replacing them. Hammering them, from what I understand, is used as a last resort when the pins simply won’t hold a string in tune (before replacing the pins).

      I am sure that each piano technician has their particular favorite method, but hammering over-sized pins into a wood block sounds scary to me.

      Again, I am NO expert on this and can only provide commentary on my minimal experience from my own piano.

      I hope this helps.

      Karl

  4. Brandon says:

    Hi Karl,
    Just saw this video while looking for a tuning bit drill bit attachment. Very cool to watch and I’m impressed with your handiness! A much easier way to remove the pins is to get a drill bit to fit your tuning pins for a reversible power drill, and power them out. You can start it by hand to get the coil off, then use the drill.

    One person mentioned replacing your strings…Yes, it is true that it is a good idea that if you’re going to do the work of repinning, you might as well get fresh strings too, although it’s not necessary.

    As far as hammering them in, in my experience, it’s far more common to hammer them in. The pin block is made up of a large number (I forget exactly, I think around 10-15) of layers of wood. Each layer up is rotated (the grain of the wood) a little bit. This ensures maximum grip on the pin. Hammering in the next size up pin into the old hole won’t crack the pin block. It just serves more to get a strong grip on the pin.

    Happy working!

    • Karl says:

      Brandon,

      Thanks for the applause!

      In my reading I found that some of the older pianos don’t have the laminated tuning blocks. Mine is from the 1920′s and since it is an upright I couldn’t tell what the tuning block looked like. I figured drilling it was my safest option.

      Thanks for adding your expertise to this forum!

      Karl

  5. Hi Karl,

    I watched your video on pin replacement with great interest. I have a beautiful 1907 Webster piano that I bought used about 12 years ago, and I’ve recently found that several pins won’t hold a tune well. I’d always heard that the best method for getting the pins to hold is sizing them up, but it sounded like a daunting task for someone without much experience at fixing delicate instruments. I’m now (mostly) convinced that this is something I can pull off, and I thank you for that.

    However, the reason I’m writing is that I’ve been doing some research of my own, and I think I’ve learned about a method of fixing pins that improves on yours, and may be cheaper to boot. The quick fix method involved “doping,” or treating the wood around the pins with a chemical that causes the wood to swell. Unfortunately, this fix won’t last very long, and causes the cellulose in the wood to deteriorate. More recently, some tuners have switched to using cyanoacrylate, the active ingredient in Super Glue type adhesives. Apparently this gives the wood more holding power. With an upright piano, the piano is tipped on its back and the CA is applied at the pin/pinblock joint. I had been thinking to use this method, but my pins are hammered in so far that there’s little space to apply the glue.

    Another method came up as part of the same Google search that lead me to your video. With this method, you can reuse the pins you already have, so there’s no need to purchase new ones. After removing the pin, the hole is treated with epoxy (marine epoxy was suggested). In some cases, when the pins have been sized up to the max, the piano is laid on its back and the hold is filled completely. In either case, once the epoxy cures, the hole is re-drilled using the appropriately sized bit for that pin, and the pin is reinserted. The epoxy strengthens and protects the wood surrounding the pin, while providing the necessary friction to hold tune. At the moment, I favor trying this method. Worst case scenario, if the pins still don’t hold, I can buy larger pins and drill out the holes just as you have.

    My concern with sizing up is that many tuners seem to hate the large pin sizes, and feel that they make tuning more difficult. In one forum a tuner was recommending that all the plus 4/0 size pins be removed and sized down using the epoxy method, or else have the pin block replaced.

    Speaking of pin blocks, I’d also heard the that the pins were hammered in, but I prefer the idea of screwing them in – it seems more gentle, and less likely to break the block. I plan to try your method.

    Thanks again for your video. You may have saved me from buying another piano!

    Regards,
    Daniel

    • Karl says:

      Daniel,

      I did a lot of research myself. I found out what the best books are on piano repair, did some checking on Amazon to see what ratings were, and then ultimately went to the library and checked out these books. The Books that I read seem to be recognized by the best of the best in the business, and they said without question that the best method is to upsize the pins. The various liquids that you can use to expand the wood are a stop-gap measure, and make tuning the piano a challenge.

      I’ve had lots of comments on my videos from self professed experts that say I’m doing it all wrong. I’ve also had some professionals tell me that I’m right on the money. Honestly, I trust the books that have been used by professionals for years more than the questionable characters that have commented on my videos. I don’t know what the skill level is of the people who you consulted on the issues, but I have never read about the epoxy method before, and it sounds extremely risky.

      After re-pinning the entire piano using the method I outlined, I have two pins that have slipped over the winter. When I re-tune the piano I will be hammering those pins in further to give them more surface area. I think this will work.

      Thanks for your comment, and I hope my novice advise is helpful.

      Karl

  6. Daniel Valverde says:

    Hi Karl,

    From what I’ve read online, the epoxy method is pretty new, and not likely to appear in the venerable piano maintenance literature. It is apparently the method of choice for restoring instruments of historical significance, where as much of the original structure is preserved as possible, and replacing the pegboard isn’t an option. I personally see no downside to trying it. If it doesn’t work, I can still drill a hole for the next larger peg size, and size up in the conventional manner.

    FWIW, here are three links that mention the epoxy technique, two from piano tuners:

    http://www.rvpianotuner.com/repairs/pinblock.shtml

    http://www.tuneandtravel.com/services/tuning/

    http://www.mmdigest.com/Archives/Digests/201102/2011.02.23.08.html

    That said, I am now also considering the cyanoacrylate treatment, because so many piano tuners swear by it. My biggest concern is that it should really be done with the piano tipped on its back, and I don’t think I can handle that by myself.

    Regards,
    Daniel

  7. Cate says:

    You are a life saver, there is nothing else on the internet related to this repair topic. Thanks so much for posting,

  8. Jerry Carpenter says:

    It is very refreshing to have a video from a regular guy that tells me what I want to know and not volumes of stuff I don’t want or need to know.

    Thanks Jerry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


4 − = two


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *

RSS Feed
RSS Feed
Facebook
Follow us on facebook

Search & Win
Privacy Policy
Money Saving Blogs
Karl Boericke