Checking the front weight of the keys

Checking the front weight of the keys

Fine old pianos can be made ‘like new’ or even ‘better than new’ with a complete restoration (“rebuilding”). Improvements can often be made to the stringing scale (the wire gauges and string tensions), the damping mechanism (“dampers”) as well as the internal geometry of the keyboard mechanism. Cracks in the soundboard and bridges can be repaired or soundboards replaced and bridges recapped if necessary. Today’s selection of quality strings and parts coupled with a sophisticated knowledge of action geometry can match and even improve on a piano’s original touch and tone.


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Hammer Leading

Adding weight to the hammers

Every action that comes to Ris Piano for restoration is evaluated and balanced according to the Stanwood Method: a system that analyzes and describes how each action part contributes to the feel of the keys in terms of weight, leverage, and friction. The “action ratio” is measured and necessary changes made by parts selection or moving the fulcrums on which parts rotate. There is no guesswork involved; each decision is based on detailed measurements.


Measuring the strike weight of the shanks

Measuring the strike weight of the shanks

Unlike many other rebuilders that use standard modern replacement parts that are heavier than the originals and who compensate by using parts that change the internal geometry of the action mechanism, Ris Piano uses hammers that are custom made and modified to match the originals as closely as possible. Modifications are made to the hammers to compensate for differences in dimensions in individual instruments (for example the distance between the key bed and the strings can vary dramatically even between pianos of the same model and vintage, and the “sweet spot” where the hammer hits the strings can vary by up to 1/8” from factory specs.) Changing these specifications can make the difference between a good piano and a fabulous piano.

Rebuilt action

Choosing hammers whose weights are close to the originals allow the use of original dimension parts (wippens, shanks and flanges) that give consistent results and the magical “feel” of the best made pianos. Optimal tone is maintained as the soundboard and strings of the piano were designed to be activated by a hammer of a certain mass; a heavier hammer can over drive the system and diminish the subtleties of tone intended by the builder.

New wippens

New wippens

In the process of restoration each individual piano hammer is weighed and modified to within one tenth of a gram to create a smooth change in weight from the heavy bass hammers to the light treble hammers (see accompanying chart). Without this modification, hammer weights can vary by as much as 20% from note to note which will cause dramatic differences in the volume and tone as well as the touch of adjacent notes.

Four types of felt are available for the hammers that offers a wide range of tonal characteristics, from warm and rich to crisp and bright.

1B Too may key leads

Too may key leads

“Our family is most grateful to Christopher Ris for the magnificent restoration work he has accomplished on our 1928 Steinway grand piano. . . We all recognize and recommend Christopher Ris as a superb and highly skilled piano technician!”

Betty Conner and family
Tiburon, CA

2 Mason Hamlin

Mason Hamlin BB

“Thank you for the joy you have brought into our lives . . . the new responsiveness of the keys and the wonderful resonance keep me happily at my practicing.”

Sue Scott
Pianist and teacher
San Rafael, CA

Grand Action Diagam

Grand action diagam

“Chris genuinely loves bringing old pianos back to their prime, and for my money, no one does a better job.”

Prof. Robert Leachman
Berkeley, CA


“So many times piano technicians do not understand what to do to make the touch correct and ruin pianos when they work on them. The actions (on Christopher’s pianos) were even from note to note and had exactly the right amount of resistance. It was very easy to bring out nuances and interpretation in the music. . .


In my fifty plus years of teaching piano and performing experience, it is very rare to find someone as committed to excellence in piano rebuilding as Christopher and I would recommend that you try his pianos and see for yourself.”


~Barbara Wilkens, performer, teacher, and Certified Balance Instructor