I had an interesting weekend the other weekend. I dismembered a rather unfortunate 115 year old piano in our front room. Partly because it was in the way but also because I want to make a new bed for me and my wife. It got a little creepy.
It was a thing of craft and beauty. It was made by John Broadwood and Sons in 1891 of inlaid mahogany, iron and ivory.
My wife had a friend in removals, van it all the way from South Wales. It took 3 of us to manhandle it into the front room. We were young and married. We'd just bought a house. We needed a piano.
Sadly, the thing could not be tuned. The professional concert pianist put away his tools and soberly explained the situation. I don't remember the details too well. Something about wooden frames and warping. Basically he could tune it reasonably well but over the next few days it would slowly go out of tune. Restringing and £1000 I definitely recall being mentioned. We could have sold it, but in this day and age no one wants a large heavy dark brooding wooden hulk in their living rooms. We may have got £30 or so for it, so there it sat for many years. Mostly unplayed until our first 2 kids arrived to give it a tuneless pounding.
But we have run out of space and need to redecorate the front room so go it must. Late one night in the garage, quite possibly under the influence of whiskey or tea (or both!) I came up with the idea of using the hefty lumps of antique wood and decorative marquetry to build a new king sized bed. But deep down, I suspect it was just a subconscious response to a primal urge to want to destroy a piano.
So one Saturday, the family was sent out for the day and the grizzly business began. I had expected it to be quite straight forward and had assembled a range of light hand tools. At first it was easy going and large sections came away after removing ingenious wooden cams and the odd screw.
I was particularly taken with the hammer mechanism. It is quite a work of art. 84 individually crafted mahogany, brass and felt mallets rods and hinges.
But as I came to the strings things started to get harder. 84 piano wires needed to be slackened by turning well over a hundred square tuning pegs. I had no socket that would grip these pegs so resorted to using a crescent. One by one.
When I had come to the end of that ordeal I was confronted with having to remove a few good handfuls of large turned steel screws. Some were so stiff the impact driver and lump hammer were summoned. It wasn't the last time I was to use the hammer.
The afternoon was wearing on and the piano itself was not getting any smaller. The front room was filling with wooden piano entrails and century old dust. Underneath the keys revealed a thick mat of greasy dust, peppered with the dead skin cells of a hundred years of pianists. I tried not to think about it.
I seemed to have reached the limits of what was ‘meant' to come off. The frame, soundboard and sides were a single mass of wood, glue and dowel pins. I hefted the lump hammer experimentally. Smash! A couple of mahogany panels came away mostly intact but the wood was brittle and would crack easily. I couldn't shake the feeling that the piano was like an old grandparent I was dismembering. Splintering mahogany felt like shattering bone and any of the initial excitement about taking a piano apart had long gone. I just wanted to get the grim task over and done with.
In the end the piano beat me. I ended up cart wheeling the still heavy carcase outside and into the garage until I get time to salvage the wood. Having a piano in an already cramped garage is perhaps not highly ranked in a list of Feng Shui tips. The ornamental panels, hammer mechanism and other remaining parts were disposed of in the loft which also is quite probably not a sensible place to keep half a piano.
I'm sure some good will come out of the demise of this venerable musical instrument. I have no idea what the bed design is going to be but I do hope to do the piano justice.