Adjusting Piano Pedals

Removing the kickboard

Fixing vertical pedals that aren't working is a common repair for piano tuners. You will save a service charge if you can fix it yourself. More often than not, the pedal rod has simply fallen out of place, or has too much slack in it, requiring a simple adjustment.

To view the pedal mechanism (or "trapwork"), you'll need to remove the kickboard, the front cabinet piece, under the keyboard. This board is usually secured by a metal spring latch affixed to the underside of the keybed, right in the middle of the piano (or maybe two latchs, one on each side). Depress the latch/latches and pull the board forward and out, as shown in the drawing above.

As can be seen in the following generic illustration, the pedals are typically connected to horizontal wooden (or metal) see-saw type levers. Vertical wood dowel or metal rods connect to these horizontal levers and extend up into the piano to a mechanism in the action.

When you step on the pedal it causes the pedal end of the horizontal lever to move down, raising the opposite end, which in turn causes the vertical rod to rise, which then activates the appropriate action mechanism inside the piano. Grand pedals work the same way, but look a bit different.

The damper, or "sustain" pedal, is the truly important pedal on any piano and is always on the right. On verticals, the left pedal is usually a "soft" pedal, which moves the action closer to the strings to lessen the hammer's blow.Adjusting vertical pedals Some vertical pianos have three pedals in imitation of grands. The middle pedal may have any one of several effects, from repeating the action of the damper pedal, or raising only the bass dampers, or dropping a practice "muffler" felt between the hammers and the strings to soften the tone.Whatever their function, all vertical pedals operate the same way.

The rods are usually inserted into the action and bottom levers with metal pins and can fall out of position, causing the pedal to no longer function. This is common after a move, or if you are one of those players who stomp on the pedals to keep time. Pedal rods usually fall out because there was too much freeplay in them.

Freeplay means the pedal and the horizontal lever move too much before causing the vertical rod to rise. If it is severe enough it can cause the rod to fall out of position, or cause it not to rise enough to allow the action parts to work right (an example would be stepping on the damper pedal and the tone doesn't sustain).

You can adjust the wing nuts at the pedal until the play in the vertical rods is removed (see illustration). Newer pianos have convenient wing nuts, though older models may just have a conventional nut, requiring the use of pliers or a small wrench to turn.

Proper adjustment calls for a freeplay of only about 1/16th of an inch...the pedal rod should begin to raise the mechanism as the pedal starts down a 1/16th of an inch when you step on it.

In other words, if you grab the vertical rod you should be able to move it up and down only very slightly. If you adjust ALL the freeplay out, it may jam against the action parts and leave the pedal mechanism engaged when you don't want it to be, letting the notes ring on.

If the vertical rod has fallen completely out, you will be obliged to lie on your back and stick your head inside the piano so you can see up into the action to insert the pin back into the appropriate action lever hole (a flashlight is a must here).

Before you do this, check to make sure the rods still have the small round felt bushings (or rubber) on the ends (felt are usually green, as shown in the inset of the drawing). If these bushings are missing the rod will make a clicking noise when the pedal is depressed. Rubber bushing are inserted into the lever holes rather than the rods, and usually remain in place even if the rod has fallen out.

If you can't find any bushings on the rods or levers, or lying in the bottom of the piano,you can probably improvise new ones by cutting a piece of felt and punching a hole in it for the pin to pass through, or wrap the pin and the end of the rod with duct tape.

When you replace the rod, be certain the pins are in the holes on both upper and lower levers, then tighten the wing nut to take up the freeplay. If all the rods have fallen out it may not be obvious which lever in the action operates which pedal, so you will simply have to experiment until you find the correct combination.

Grand Pedals

Grand piano pedal rodsGrand piano pedals usually cause fewer problems than verticals, once again due to a better design. The grand pedal rods are encased in a wooden lyre and usually cannot fall out of position. Still, they do need adjustments sometimes, and this is usually done in the same fashion as in verticals.

Though the grand pedal mechanism may look much different (the horizontal levers, for example, are above the vertical rods rather than below them), it works on the same principles (see drawing). At the upper portion of the vertical rod there will be an adjusting nut of one sort or another (see inset) which you can turn up or down to control the pedal freeplay (Go back to vertical adjustment).

On some very old grands there may not be an adjusting nut. In this case it is necessary to adjust the freeplay by placing felt or leather shims between the rods and the horizontal levers.

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