Cleaning Dust Off A Grand Piano Soundboard

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If you own a GRAND PIANO (acquired, perhaps, with only one or two additional mortgages), you may be excused it you think you see another inch of house dust grow on the soundboard every time you look at it. You may even have wondered what you can do about it (besides stop shedding your own skin since that is really what most household dust consists of -- I know, icky, right?).

grand piano with open lidNaturally this problem can be alleviated by simply leaving the top lid closed. But, darn it, the dang thing looks so much cooler with that graceful wing opened, the way it is supposed to look. Besides, if you actually play the piano, that propped lid is a part of the instrument's sound, projected by reflection to the audience. In your home that may be a moot point unless you're Billy Joel, but still -- it's meant to be opened. That's why it's there.

But hold on! There is a way to clean the soundboard IF you are willing to invest the time and money in it. You can have your piano tuner do it for you (some will, most won't), but more than likely you'll end up doing it yourself. The good news is that there is a tool made expressly for this purpose, a unique flexible metal strip called a soundboard sweeper (pictured here). grand piano soundboard sweepThese are available inexpensively (under $10) from Schaff Piano Supply. Though Schaff sells only wholesale to piano stores and technicians, you should ask your tuner to order one for you (or call your local piano store). These thin flexible strips are designed to hold a cloth at the tip and will allow you to push the rag around under the strings to remove the dust. Now, to be honest, this is a tedious job. There are only a few places, mainly near the iron frame support beams, where there is enough room to force a rag under the strings. But you can do it if you pay attention. Granted, it is slow and tedious work so save it for an afternoon when your schedule is light. It helps to dampen the rag on the end of the sweeper with a bit of light lemon oil, but not necessary - a dry cloth will do the job, eventually.

It's also possible to make a similar tool if you can't get your hands on the professional model. To wit: A wire coat hanger will work in a pinch. As you see on the left, I hired a top notch professional artist (sparing no expense) to graphically illustrate this procedure in a stunning piece of artwork. Straighten the wire out to its full length. clothes hangerAt the straightened tip push the wire through a soft rag and moisten it with a little lemon oil. Now use a pair of parallel or needle nosed pliers to bend the tip of the wire in a U shape as best you can. The purpose here is not only to keep the cloth from falling off, but more importantly to prevent the tip of the clothes hanger from scratching the soundboard. Don't say I didn't warn you -- you'll not do damage to the sound of the piano, but seeing an ugly scratch on the surface of your shiney soundboard may send you into a deep, dark depression from which you, your children and all future generations of your clan will never fully recover. Or not.

Work slowly and carefully, pushing the cloth around the soundboard gently, and removing it frequently to find the best place to access the board. This is not the kind of job for the impatient or timid. But done carefully it can make your piano look great and confuse your piano playing friends whose grand soundboards will remain eternally dusty.

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