Piano Tuner in Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, Glasgow, the west of Scotland and beyond.
Here's a photo of something unusual:
What is this, and what's unusual about it?
It's a Lindner upright piano, and what makes this one rare, is that everything on it still works! This is one of only two Lindner pianos I've seen that are still in full working order. This photo and the others on this page are reproduced by kind permission of the owners of the pianos.
The story of the Lindner pianos is an interesting one. In 1961 the Rippen piano company of the Netherlands set up a subsidiary piano manufacturing company in Shannon, Ireland, because of Irish government incentives to attract new employers.
In that period, several factors favoured a trend towards smaller upright pianos instead of the large traditional style instruments. Postwar house building brought houses and apartment blocks with smaller rooms and lower ceilings and this, combined with different fashions in décor, meant that large traditional pianos seemed stylistically out of place. This was the era when fine old panelled doors were covered in hardboard to give them a plainer look.
The designers at Rippen saw that a smaller, lighter piano would offer several advantages. So the brand new Shannon factory would produce unique new designs, engineered for portability and modern appearance.
These lighter pianos would be much less costly to transport. In fact for shipping from the factory the key-beds could be folded into the body of the piano so that two pianos could be packed and shipped together in a much smaller space. The dealer could then fold the key-bed out and secure it. Weighing only around 75 Kg, they could more easily be taken up stairs in apartment blocks, and the small size and neat plain design would look more contemporary in modern homes.
Credit must be given to the Lindner designers for the ways in which they reduced the weight of an upright piano. Nothing was changed in the basic design of how a piano operates, but much thought evidently went into how things could be made lighter.
For a start, instead of the supporting frame of the piano being the usual very heavy solid cast iron plate, the Lindner designers opted for a frame made of welded rectangular-section steel tubing. Some sources say that the tubular fame is aluminium but I don't think that's correct. You can see the rectangular-section tubular frame in this photo:
And a closer view:
The strings, bridges and soundboard are of conventional materials.
The hammers too are conventional. Piano hammers are little wooden mouldings covered in highly compressed sheep's wool felt. Usually the hammer shanks rest on a wooden 'hammer rest rail' covered in a baize material, but in the Lindner action, the ends of the hammers themselves rest on the rail baize.
I seem to recall that the earliest Lindner designs used foam rubber instead of wool felt/baize for some cloth parts like the rail above, and that it was found to perish and crumble quickly.
The Lindner designers were not the first to try plastic materials in piano actions but as a way of reducing weight they made much more extensive use of plastics than had been tried before. You can see in the above photo that the damper heads are plastic, though the felts attached to them are conventional. Instead of the damper heads being attached to round steel wires on wooden levers, the Lindner action has square-section metal alloy rods attached to plastic flanges.
A weight saving is also made with the backchecks; instead of wooden heads on steel wires, they are stamped metal alloy. Cord and plastic caps are used for bridles instead of braided tape and leather ends.
The acton design eliminates a relatively heavy wooden part called the Wippen, which normally supports several action components. Its function is still effectively there in the action but clever design with plastic and lightweight alloy means it's not really a separate component.
The rear of the keys which you can see in the photos above, show where a significant weight saving was made in these pianos: the keys themselves are hollow plastic. Here's a complete key, out of the piano:
A view of the underside:
Closer view of the front of the key, underside:
General view of plastic keys:
And from the side:
Normally, piano keys simply rest at the middle (not strictly the very middle of the keystick) on felt washers on a wooden centre rail. When you press them down at the front, they go up at the back, and operate the action for the note. In the Lindner pianos, the keys are held in place by, and pivot on, a small metal leaf spring:
So what's the problem with these nice little pianos? Why is the fully-functioning one at the top of the page a rarity?
The difficulty is that while the thinking was forward-looking and innovative, the materials available at the time simply weren't sufficiently durable. Parts started to get brittle and break. An example is the leaf spring that you can see above, on which the key pivots up and down. It's quite common for them to break.
I've also heard tell of keys themselves breaking, perhaps because a frustrated player pounded on them when the failure of another part meant that the note wouldn't play reliably
The other fault I've most commonly found is with the plastic hammer flanges. The photo below shows a hammer, shank, butt and flange assembly:
You see that the hammer butt (into which the wooden shank is glued) is plastic, as is the flange which secures the whole thing into a U-section aluminium action rail. Here is a closer view showing a part on the flange that frequently breaks:
If you look closely at the top left side of the flange you can see that the end has broken off. This is significant because that part, in conjunction with a small flat square metal leaf spring, holds the flange/butt/hammer in place on the rail. When it breaks, the whole assembly comes out of the rail and won't work. Here are some broken flange ends, and leaf springs which have fallen out. I retrieved these from one of the pianos on this page. Not the one that's all working!
Stop Press August 2016:
New, redesigned flanges are now available from Mr Grant Benton who has designed and manufactured them. They are of a superior material and do not require the flat square leaf springs shown above. Click on the link to email Mr Benton. Photo below (with permission):
Lindner upright pianos appeared under various model names: Topic, Cameo, Festival and the Lindner name itself.
According to Mr. Anton Rippen, who worked in the Shannon factory, some 40,000 pianos were made there between 1961 and 1971. The Lindner company went into liquidation in 1975. No replacement parts are commercially available for these pianos. There are still some spares in private hands but they are as old, and presumably as brittle, as the piano actions. It really isn't worth trying to carry out much repair work on these little pianos now. If you take out the action to replace some parts, other parts are likely to break while you are working on it (but see the bottom of this page for very recent developments as of September 2015).
It's a pity that the plastic parts and the leaf springs were not more durable, because the pianos had a well-designed stringing scale and actually sounded good for their size. Also they seem to have very good tuning stability. One technician has pointed out that the frame being tubular steel rather than cast iron, would give it the same coefficient of expansion as the strings, and that could be a factor in tuning stability.
You can see an advert here for Lindner pianos in The Sydney Morning Herald of March 1967 (gentle reader, I was nine!).
Stylish Lindner Grand - No Plastic!
Interestingly, Lindner also produced a lightweight folding grand piano, with similar aims in mind. Below is an example, photo courtesy of David Winston at period piano
This beautifully designed and elegant grand piano doesn't have plastic parts! It has an excellent conventional Schwander grand piano action and will last as long as any other grand piano. It will be a superb feature in the right room.
Go to David's website to see how the piano folded: http://www.periodpiano.com/RippenLindnerTiltingPiano.html
On the Period Piano website you can also see an extraordinay and beautful aluminium grand piano made by Lindner's parent company, Rippen, at http://www.periodpiano.com/grand_pianos/Rippen-Aluminium-grand1965.html
A drastic end for a Lindner upright, perhaps unnecessary now that parts are being fabricated:
Mr James McCabe of New Bruswick and Costa Rica has been in touch, and relays this interesting information. Mr McCabe was involved in the piano trade for years and I reproduce his comments with his gracious permission:
"I met Mr. Rippen at his factory in EDE Holland in the late sixties and later toured the Lindner factory in Shannon.
Mr Rippen told me at that time about the huge number of problems with the plastic action parts which were breaking all over the world. Probably they used styrene in the first action parts. Pratt Reid in the USA also made some actions with styrene flanges with the same problems of becoming brittle with ageing.
Mr Rippen told me that he has switched plastics to an acetal resin (Delrin from Dupont) to correct this major flaw. The centre pins had to be specially made with a closer diameter tolerance than the standard centre pins for cloth bushings which are more forgiving.
Probably the Lindner you found in perfect shape was one of the later models with the delrin butts and flanges.
Alfred Knight tried rather unsuccessfully to use nylon jacks in his upright models.The problem that arose with the nylon (unlike Delrin) is that it is moisture absorbent and swells. Alfred then tried the nylon impregnated with graphite and the jacks were still getting stiff in moist conditions, so in the end he had to put standard cloth bushings in the nylon jacks which rather defeated the whole purpose".
New developments August 2015
Monsieur Alain Denis in France has recently done some interesting work on a Lindner. M. Denis is a Model Aeroplane engineer. Three years ago his son, a musician, rescued a Lindner piano. They set about a restoration, using a 3D printer to make replacement parts.
The whole process is beautifully explained and illustrated with photographs, on his Wordpress blog. There are two parts to the story. M. Denis has kindly given me permission to post the links here. Part one describes the problems and illustrates the broken parts, and Part two shows the making on the new parts and the completed project, along with this Youtube video: