About Kurta Piano Service
I have been a professional piano technician since 1989 and was mentored by Frank McKowen, RPT from Lansing, MI. Attaining RPT status with the Piano Technicians Guild in 1995, I began lecturing and presenting technicals on several subjects but primarily tools and keytop replacement. I have spoken before 10 PTG chapters, a number of national conventions and am well known in PTG circles.
I also found myself drawn to key work as I always had a soft spot for bench repair having been a carburetor rebuilder previously in the automotive repair business.
Replacing keytops for my own customers, and over the years for other technicians, piano dealers and rebuilders, I was asked if I would do more work for them.
Having now retired from actively tuning pianos, I am focusing on keytop replacement as my primary occupation. By concentrating on doing one thing well, I have developed highly specialized machines and techniques to produce a fine finished product. Because you are dealing with me directly, I can offer a quick return of your keys, moderately priced and skillfully done. You will be proud to install these in your customer’s or your own pianos.
I have a couple of mottos: “Consistent Precision” meaning each key is of a standard I would aspire to if working on my own piano. And my warranty is “Customer Satisfaction”, whatever it takes to make you happy is my goal.
Because I work alone, please call or email before sending your keys, to be sure I’m available and not away, or otherwise tied up.
Enclose your check or pay via credit card through Paypal and I will pay for return shipping.
This site and my services are primarily intended for the piano service trade, rather than individual piano owners. Because there is considerable skill needed to remove and install piano keys, especially in grand pianos, I provide my service mainly to professional piano technicians, piano dealers and rebuilders. Often piano keys need to be aligned, leveled and regulated after being installed, and it requires training and experience to accomplish this. For these reasons you should contact a qualified piano technician to help with your project. But on occasion I do work for the piano owner if I feel he/she is able to remove and replace their keys.
You can find a technician at www.ptg.org or contact music teachers, choir directors and musicians for further recommendations.
When you are tuning a customer’s piano…
I will include an extra new keytop with your first order of keys to use as a selling tool for the customer. If there is any interest shown by your client in recovering keys, you can demonstrate how they can all look by inserting the spare in the proper spot on the keyboard.You may also want to check for worn or missing balance rail and front rail bushings and suggest that there are substantial savings by rebushing at the time the keys are out of the piano. By checking the side-to-side movement of the key fronts (before the keys are removed from the piano) from the middle of the keyboard in comparison to the bass and treble ends, the customer can feel the difference in looseness themselves. It becomes a win-win, the piano owner will have needed work done at a saving, and we both receive added revenue.
Factory stamped numbers are often impossible to see clearly. Please make sure key numbers are legible and if not re-number them while they are still in the piano or draw registration lines on the keys.
If you wish to make a commitment to your customer on when you may return to replace the keys, call me from your location. Tell me what you have and what is needed and I will give you an estimate as to when they will be shipped back to you. Typical turnaround time is 14 to 21 days. But because I work alone, there may be times when there is a backup, so please call ahead. Rush orders can be accommodated if possible at no extra charge.
Packing your keys
It is important that your keys arrive here in good condition and that begins with proper packing at your end. I suggest you tape 5-6 keys together with masking tape wrap them and pack them alternating in a strong, well padded cardboard box. Pad the bottom, sides and top so the keys are snug and cannot move around in shipping. Keep in mind other heavier boxes may be placed on top of your box and they are often handled roughly by automated machinery. The extra time and effort in careful packing is well worth avoiding damage.
If you plan to do additional work yourself such as bushings, capstans or backchecks, send your keys after such work is done. Please do not send the black keys unless you require work done on them.
The keytop material I use
First, a word about ivory. There is a misconception that ivory is very valuable and should be preserved at all costs. In its day, ivory was the best piano key material available. It was cheap, plentiful and used by almost all piano makers. Because it is an animal product, it has some inherent drawbacks. With time, ivory can often dry out, crack and split. It sometimes discolors tending toward yellow or tan and with age the adhesive may fail causing the ivories to come off. Ivory can also become very brittle and will fracture easily.
Plastic keytops that first appeared after WWII tended to discolor, crack and break easily, similar to ivory. While the early generation of man-made keytops did not stand the test of time, today’s materials are tough, fade resistant, easily repaired if needed, long lasting, and moderately priced.
Over the years I have used a number of different man-made materials to recover piano keys and have settled on a high-quality German acrylic plastic keytop. This material combines reasonable cost, durability, and a fine, long-lasting appearance. A major benefit is that the top and front of the key cover are a single piece, making it virtually impossible for either to come loose. Because of this, the top and the front of the key will be the same color.
Leave the old key coverings in place as I need to verify the original overall key height. Any ivory pieces that I remove from your keys that are intact and usable will be returned to you.
A look into what I do from when your keys arrive until the time I ship them back to you
Carefully unpack your box.
Number the keys in order (unless you have already done so), as often the factory numbers are illegible.
Clean the key using a combination of dry brushing and compressed air.
Measuring the heights of three keys
Measure the heights of three keys: A0, C4 and C88, in thousandths of an inch to establish and maintain the original height dimension when finished. You will see this measurement written on the left side of A0. I strive to stay within .010″ of this original amount, about the thickness of 3 sheets of paper. This dimension is critical for regulation especially on grand pianos. At this point the all capstans are polished. My initials and the date appear on the opposite side of A0.
Remove old top material
Depending on how difficult the old tops are to remove, I use a utility knife and if needed a heat gun or iron to loosen the most stubborn material. Let us remove the old tops to minimize damage to the keystick and/or ivory. Any usable ivory will be returned to you at no charge.
Removing the fronts
This is done using a heavy cast iron vintage table saw for accuracy. Only the precise amount of key front is cut away to insure that the new front is in exactly the same location as the original. Whatever spacing existed between the keys and the keyslip will be duplicated.
Milling the tops of the keys
Because the new key material is .084″ thick, applying this directly to the top of the key results in a higher overall dimension than the original. So it is necessary to carefully mill the top of the key surface so that when the new acrylic plastic material is applied that the original key height is maintained. A precision fly cutter is used.
This is done once again, using older heavy, solid machines. The drill press in the video was purchased by my father from WWII army surplus. It originally came out of a defense plant factory, and I just finished rebuilding both the saw and the drill press.
Attaching new material
This is one operation I have developed and refined over the last 25 years and prefer to keep proprietary. Suffice to say that in over 500 sets of keys recovered, I have yet to experience a top coming loose.
Trimming the key
The new keytop material is almost always slightly larger that the width of the wooden key. This is because this dimension varies between different pianos and piano makers. To precisely remove this excess plastic, I have set up two dedicated table mounted routers. The first trims the overhanging material on the front and sides of the key, and the second very precisely cuts a perfect 90° notch on the inside corner of the key.
Each key is clamped in a padded vise and carefully hand filed to remove all sharp corners and edges. Looking closely you will see the underside of the front key overhang is smoothed and rounded. This enables children and those folks with short fingers to play more comfortably when stretching for octaves and provides a more finished appearance.
The final step in key recovering is removing all the tiny scratches and imperfections in the surface and front of the key. A cloth buffing wheel coated with a polishing compound is used which results in a final clean and shiny appearance.
If your box is suitable for return shipping, I will re-use, packing the keys with proper padding and taping. Once I have shipped your keys, I will contact you by phone or email to tell you it is on its way, give you a tracking number, and to thank you for your business.
I typically use UPS, but tell me if another shipper works better for return shipping.
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“I’m happy to be listed as a satisfied customer. Your workmanship level was of a very high caliber, with quick turnaround and the price was right! I’ve been very pleased with the keytops you’ve done for me.”
I just completed work on two piano actions, which included new key bushings, both front and center, completed by Mike Kurta. The pianos, a1932 Baldwin and a 1993 Howard, (made by Kawai for Baldwin) were both in pretty tough shape. It was a great relief to send off the keys for bushings, have them come back in a timely manner and watch them slide down the pins like a hand into a favorite glove. Not one bushing was too tight or too loose. When I have done my own, I often have to go through and ease the bushing so the key will fit over the pin. That’s a lot of lost time and effort. For me it makes great common and financial sense to just send them off to Mike and have them come back right and ready! Thanks Mike!
“Mike described precisely what had to be done and made recommendations. He told me how to pack the keys to keep them safe for shipping. He returned them on the date he said he would, packed beautifully and secure. They looked brand new. The technician that installed them was very impressed and complimentary of how these were done. I love them !!”
“Mike Kurta’s keytop recovering was professional from start to finish. From his courteous and knowledgeable advice in the initial phone conversation, to the accurate and prompt recovering service on a Baldwin M keyboard, it was a pleasure to work with him. He even threw in a little extra work on an already reasonably priced job. I wouldn’t hesitate to use Kurta Piano Service for future key work.”
“Mike did an excellent job re-bushing and recovering a set of keys for me. He came highly recommended by a few technicians that I know and have great respect for. His attention to detail exceeded my expectations; I look forward to working with him again in the future!”
” A few times the last ten years or so I’ve farmed out keywork to a couple people, and I thought they did good work…. Until now. Really great craftsmanship, and your attention to detail shows. The refinished sharps really look, well, sharp! And the naturals look like they came from the factory. Bushings are flawless, at least to me. I know my client will be as pleased as I am, and I assure you any future keywork I get will be heading your way!”
“The turn-around time was quick, the price was reasonable and the quality of workmanship was excellent. There was no need for any adjustments or touch-ups after the keys were installed. […] I will certainly contact Mike for any future keytop replacement work.”
“Mike has supplied me with many sets of keytops and each new set is as beautifully crafted as the last. Mike understands that ivory keytops and plastic keytops are not the same thickness and thus he compensates for that. You won’t have a set of keys that won’t fit under the fallboard. I highly recommend this quality service for your next set.”
“Mike installed a set of natural keytops on a Yamaha C3 for us recently. The keys were carefully packed for shipping, their edges are clean and smooth, and the tops do not have the minor incidental blemishes so often seen with new tops. Both we and the customer are very pleased!”
“I have been in the player piano rebuilding business for over 45 years and many jobs included replacing the old ivory key tops. For many years I used Rochester Piano & Key Co. in Rochester, NY for key top recovering, I began using your service when you came to the Syracuse area. Although Rochester’s work was OK, your work was outstanding, perfect in every way. Many customers of mine commented on how nice the keys looked. You recovered over ten jobs for me and never had any problems with any of them. Keep up the good work.”
“Mike Kurta provides prompt, professional service and does good work. It’s all a business owner can ask for. Mike is friendly, knowledgeable and has a vast technical background off of which contribute to a positive experience in recovering or other repairs.”
“I used Mike for my first time recently to a set of keytops. I have to say that everything from our initial conversation, to his website videos, to his instruction on packing the keys, to prompt and courteous customer experience, not to mention the incredible attention to detail on the keytops themselves. Incredible. I’ll definitely be using Mike in the future!”
Services & Prices
Usable ivory will be returned and capstans will be polished at no extra charge.
First-time clients will receive a free demo keytop.
Include your check with keys, and I will pay your return shipping fee. We accept PayPal and you can click this link to securely pay by credit card.
Warranty: Your satisfaction.
|Furnish and install one set of piano keytops. (.084″ with fronts)||$345|
|Furnish and replace sharps, black acrylic plastic.||$185|
|Rebush keys – each rail.|
Please furnish pin sizes.
|Rebush keys – both rails.|
Please furnish pin sizes.
pricing effective January 1, 2023
Mailing & Contact
Kurta Piano Service
1349 Terrace Bluff Drive
Traverse City, MI 49686