By Hannah Beckett, RPT
Replacing music desk suede is a very easy, valuable skill to have as a field technician. Worn music suede is often stained, torn, or lifting at the edges, and can be visually off-putting. Applying fresh suede to a music desk is a simple service to add to your arsenal as a field technician. It is easiest to replace music desk suede in your shop on a protected workspace, so I typically sell this job when I’m already taking parts home for service.
Music Desk Suede (Synthetic suede is called Ecsaine. It is available in tan, dark brown, and black. Ecsaine Black: Pianotek #FEB-223)
Double-sided carpet tape (Keep reading, we will get to this...)
Mulwark knife set (or other sharp knife)
Clamping cauls: A 60-inch steel ruler works the best by far, but plexiglass or wood straightedges at least three feet in length will work in a pinch. You can also make custom clamping cauls from a piece of wooden half-round trim.
Silhouette Cutting Mat - not completely necessary but simplifies the cutting process wonderfully. You can cut it in half to stretch the whole length of the music desk.
Mild solvent (Naphtha) to clean up
This job can be done either with the music desk assembled or disassembled. It's fairly easy to disassemble most music desks, just be sure to keep track of the screws! It is a bit easier to trim the edges with the rail free of the rest of the music desk, but it is only worth it if disassembly is easy.
First, you'll need to get the old suede off the music desk. You can usually just pull it right off if you start at a corner. Most desks are made of metal with paint sprayed directly on top of the metal. This doesn't stick very well, so in pulling up the felt you may also pull up the paint. This is actually good because it provides you with a flush surface to work with. Otherwise, you may have to scrape off a few bits of residual suede which can easily be done with a razor or sandpaper.
You probably won’t hear tape as a suggested repair material very often because it does not usually yield lasting repairs. This is exactly why I suggest double-sided carpet tape for music desk suede. If the piano is used consistently, the desk suede will wear out several times over the course of the piano’s life. Using tape provides a firm and stable repair that will also be easy for you to remove the next time you have to replace the suede.
Once the surface is cleaned and prepared, measure the space for the suede with the calipers, using the inside measurement as shown below.
Cut the carpet tape to fit the space airing on the side of narrower rather than wider. It will be difficult and messy to cut the tape once it has been applied without scratching other visible parts of the rail. Carefully apply the tape to the music desk, leaving the paper on the top of the tape until you are ready to apply the ecsaine.
Measure the length of the rail and cut the end of the ecsaine. Ecsaine is elastic and will stretch as you apply it to the tape. Try not to stretch it too much. If it stretches too much it may shrink over time. Either way, you'll likely end up with more than you need, but you can trim it later. A new razor blade or sharp knife works best for cutting ecsaine and leather. Some people have success with a rotary fabric cutter, but this may occasionally tear the ends of the suede. If you’re going to use the rotary fabric cutter, be sure to practice several times before performing the actual repair.
Secure the ecsaine to the edge of your workspace with clamps. If you're using the Silhouette mat, clamps may not be necessary as the mat has a mild adhesive that secures the ecsaine securely. Using the same measurement you used to cut the tape, measure your desired ecsaine width. Clamp a straight edge (aluminum ruler, wood, or plexiglass) to the base of your measurement.
Measure the same width on the opposite end and clamp the straight edge to the bottom of the measurement to ensure a straight line. A good fit with your clamps will contact the surfaces evenly and securely. Using a blade that allows you to draw a smooth line, cut the felt flush with the straight edge. You'll need to apply a decent amount of pressure to make a clean cut. I recommend practicing this on a scrap piece a few times first. Making the cut twice in a row being careful not to move the ecsaine (again, the Silhoutte mat helps so much here) will also help get a clean cut.
Once the ecsaine is cut, remove the paper lining from the tape on the rail.
Starting at one end, run a thin line of super glue on top of the glue. This helps give an extra secure hold between the tape and the ecsaine, particularly at the ends where it tends to shrink over time. Run a thin line every few inches across the tape. Next, line the ecsaine up evenly with the edges and compress the fabric on the tape. Move slowly working your way down the desk applying pressure across the width of the desk. I use a small voicing block to smooth the sides and small lip on the front of the rail. VM&P Naphtha is a safe solvent for removing any unwanted tape adhesive from the music desk, work surfaces, and your reusable knife/blade. Be sure to dab a test spot in an inconspicuous place before applying anywhere visible on the finish.
Once the ecsaine is fastened to the rail, trim the end flush and enjoy the results!