By Kelly Overvold
Special thanks to ProPTN member, Emmanuel P. from the Netherlands, for requesting this article!
Correcting improper damper timing is one of the trickiest, most time-consuming adjustments you might ever need to make while regulating a vertical piano. The damper spoon should engage the damper at 1/3 to 1/2 hammer travel to string.
Hypothetically, you are supposed to be able to slip a spoon-bending tool through the action from the front to the back, without removing the action from the piano, and make adjustments to the position of the damper spoon by latching onto the spoon with the notch in this tool and bending it backward or forward. This, however, tends to work a lot better in theory than in practice.
The hypothetical spoon bender.
The following is a more straightforward and faster method that I have found works quite well for individual damper timing adjustments:
1. Unscrew the action from the piano, but do not remove it completely.
TIP: Make sure you aren’t putting the action bracket screw caps on a part of the piano’s case parts where they could scratch the finish. Also, keep the caps in order so that the correct one is going back on its original screw.
2. Disconnect the shift and damper pedal rods.
3. Position yourself near the damper you will be adjusting and carefully tilt the action towards you, making sure its cupped action feet are secure on their bearings, and steady it via the shift bar with the palm of your right hand with your fingers pointing down towards the keybed.
4. With your middle finger, stabilize the end of the wippen which you will just be able to feel with your fingerpad.
5. With your left hand, use what is known as a backcheck bending tool (Pianotek, # JCH-13) to grip the stem of the damper spoon and make microadjustments either away from the string to make the damper lift sooner, or towards the string to make the damper lift later. For new pianos, this may need to be more of an aggressive bend, for an older piano you will want to use as little force as possible to minimize the risk of breaking the older metal piece. Avoid touching or mashing the damper felt so you don't create more work for yourself later!
6. Tilt the action and “snap” it snugly back into its holds so that the dampers are in their correct position against the strings and test your change. You do not need to screw the action the whole way back in, just make sure that is in place as snugly as possible in order to get a correct reading on damper timing. If a further adjustment is needed, simply tilt the action back towards you and repeat the process.
You’ll find that you really start to get the hang of these movements and you can finesse this tricky but extremely important area in your piano in no time at all!