10 meters of spruce and acrylic paints:
The soundboard restoration story

Grand Piano Lab is a workshop in Minsk, Belarus, that restores grand pianos that have a story to tell. In the professional hands of our experts, the instruments are given a second life and can again delight you with their music.

Let's talk in more detail about one of the most important grand piano parts that makes its voice so magical, a soundboard. We’ll show you the detailed process of its restoration and talk about making it unique.
Blüthner, 1894

What is a soundboard and what is its function in the grand piano?

The soundboard is a resonant shield made of special acoustic wood that amplifies the sound produced by the strings. Thus, the soundboard becomes a kind of membrane that propagates the vibrations of the strings, filling the space with sounds.

In order to reflect a deeper and more voluminous sound from its surface, the soundboard must be tensioned. How is this achieved? Soundboard has a curved shape thanks to the ribs, the rigid resonant spruce slats, that hold it in this position. It is because of this pressure that the soundboard becomes susceptible to sound waves. In turn, the strings are positioned so as to fit snugly through the pins to the soundboard. This results in good contact between the strings and the soundboard, and hence a good sound.

A resonant soundboard is a part of many musical instruments. Among other things, it is also responsible for the sound characteristics of a grand piano, so the restoration of this part of the instrument in our workshop is given great attention.

You can read more about our collection of musical instruments and the workshop team here.

sounboard Blüthner, 1894
The soundboard of a grand piano
The work starts with diagnostics. We determine the extent of damage, which allows us to choose the most appropriate method of restoration. Our experts conduct a visual inspection and check the splits with special probes. The most common soundboard problems in vintage instruments are cracks, dome sagging, splits or weak bonding.

Before starting work, the body of the grand piano is pasted over with shielding materials to protect all its surfaces.
Grand piano restoration
Chisels or millers?
And now comes the most difficult and painstaking stage: the actual repair. Our specialists size up the ribs with special glue using several types of clamps and supports. Next, they take on the cracks. First, they install props under the soundboard to give it the shape of a dome and open the cracks either manually, with chisels, or with the help of special milling cutters. The method of working with each damaged area is chosen based on where it’s located and the convenience of working in this place. Next, we glue pre-fitted slats into the cracks. We buy acoustic wooden slats in Germany or make them ourselves, for which we also buy their wood.
Grand piano restoration
Gluing slats into the cracks
To lock the slats more firmly in place, spacer clamps are used. Our specialists don’t use a lot of clamps at once, so as not to put too much pressure on the soundboard. Therefore, working on cracks requires patience and a certain sequence of actions.
Grand piano restoration
Spacer clamps
When all the cracks are glued, we remove the supports, and now we can check the resulting shape of the soundboard dome. Next, we cut off the protruding parts of the slats, remove old shellac with scrapers, and polish the entire surface to prepare the soundboard for the final stage.
Grand piano restoration
The soundboard surface cleaning
Shellac brings luster to all grand piano surfaces, including the soundboard. Many thin layers emphasize the depth of the color of the wood, and also become a canvas for the artist's custom painting.
Applying shellac
Our specialists use both classical and modern repair technologies. In addition to gaining knowledge from textbooks on grand piano restoration, the Grand Piano Lab specialists attend thematic seminars and exchange experience in the restoration community. This fundamental, yet flexible and modern approach allows us to preserve the distinctive character of the instrument and breathe new life into it.

The diamond of our collection and its oldest grand piano is Blüthner, 1894. To repair its soundboard, we purchased about 10 meters of high-quality resonant spruce slats from Germany, the birthplace of this grand piano. After completing the restoration works, the soundboard was covered with Borma shellac from Italy.
We thoroughly repaired the soundboard, carefully filled every crack, then covered it with shellac. We didn’t make a new soundboard, we restored the old one, because we really wanted to preserve the authenticity of this grand piano. The work we’ve done has undoubtedly improved the characteristics of the instrument. Now the grand piano is technically as good as new.
says the expert restorer Sergey Stetsko.
 Blüthner, 1894 grand piano
Blüthner, 1894

Artistic painting of the soundboard surface is our know-how

The Grand Piano Lab workshop boasts a collection of more than a dozen vintage grand pianos of the 19th-20th centuries from well-known manufacturers, such as Blüthner, Steinweg, August Forster, Bechstein, etc.
The restoration of grand pianos in our workshop is not just a process of fixing their mechanics, but a project about music and art. Since there are already many grand pianos in our collection, and all of them will pass through the skillful hands of our experts, we decided to create some kind of a storyline to give them extra value. So, we came up with the idea of making a series of customized grand pianos dedicated to famous pianists and composers.

Two grand pianos from our collection are already fully art-painted and customized. Although at first glance they are not different from other classical musical instruments, the inner surface of the lid reveals true works of art.
Blüthner, 1894
We choose musicians for these paintings based on their contribution to the history of music and the character of the instrument. Each of our chosen performers brought something new into the world of music, and their individuality matches the soul of each particular grand piano.
Creating the initial sketch for the painting is the longest stage of my work. It involves studying the history and life of each musician, searching for images, interpreting them, then developing a detailed composition, emphasizing the bearing lines of the visual structure and fine-tuning the expressiveness of the image”.
Anna Redko, our in-house artist, who creates these unique designs on grand piano lids, talks about her work.
The lid of the Blüthner 1894 grand piano features a portrait of Glenn Gould, Canadian pianist, organist and composer, famous for his interpretations of the music of Bach, who was the genius of that era and a true representative of one of the first musical styles, baroque.
 Blüthner, 1894, customized grand piano
Artistic painting on the lid of Blüthner, 1894
Glenn Gould is well-known for his unusual but outstanding technique of playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which he performed with virtuosity and precision at a fast tempo. Playing baroque polyphonic compositions was a spiritual and intellectual quest for Gould, as he often performed different interpretations of the same pieces of music.
I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations”.
— quote by Glen Gould in the painting.
On the soundboard of this grand piano, the artist also painted a pattern that reflects the unique performing style of the pianist, his intellectual depth of interpretations, distinctive tempo and dynamic solutions.

“I depicted one of the elements, the rain. Glenn Gould's music is sometimes compared to the splashing of raindrops due to its crystal clearness and precision. There is a special rhythm in his performance, skillfully permeated with silence and pauses, as in the rhythm of falling raindrops,” says artist Anna Redko.
Blüthner, 1894 soundboard
Artistic painting on the soundboard of Blüthner, 1894
In this photo collage, you can follow all the stages of working with this element of painting. We assess the damage, remove the old varnish with a scraper, grind it and cover the surface with shellac, apply a pattern and cover it again with a special compound.
Grand piano restoration
The art painting on the Blüthner 1907 grand piano features a portrait of Soviet-era Russian pianist Svyatoslav Richter. This grand piano has a powerful voice that corresponds to the academic style of Richter's performance, matching his inherently monumental power of sound image. Richter is one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century possessing both virtuoso technique and depth of musical interpretation. He is a winner of countless prizes and awards, including the Grammy Award for Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 2.
We picked a few phrases and quotes. I arranged the words in such a way that they intertwined with each other and formed a composite image, given the complex shape of the grand piano soundboard. In the center of this composition, I painted an image of Svyatoslav Richter, based on a photo of him walking around Paris during his first tour in France in October 1961. He called France and Italy his spiritual homelands”.
— the artist spoke about the process of her work.
Blüthner, 1907
Artistic painting on the soundboard of Blüthner, 1907
But this process of art-painting has not only a creative component, but also a technical one. Prior to painting, the surface is primed, and after the painting process is completed, the surface of the soundboard is covered with polyester varnish in several stages, so that the paints stay sharp as long as possible.
The soundboard painting process
The soundboard painting process
The artist uses acrylic paints and employs a special technique, first creating combinations of graphic lines, then applying layers of glazing paints. She also applies translucent shades on top of the main components to achieve deep saturated colors.
In every image, the artist uses fluorescent paints, thanks to which the image glows under a special lamp.
Blüthner, 1894 custom
Repairing and customizing the soundboard is a very important stage, but this is just one of many stages in the process of restoring grand pianos at Grand Piano Lab. Our experts, like doctors, reanimate vintage grand pianos, so that they find new owners and continue to delight us with their music.
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