Piano Pedal Squeaks (And A Custom Solution)

I often find myself tracking down obnoxious and unpleasant sounds in customer’s pianos. Pedal squeaks and creaks are very common.

I recently had a customer ask me if she could use WD-40 to lubricate her squeaking pedal. I’ve included a brief excerpt from that email:

It entirely depends on where the creak is coming from. Depending on your piano’s design, there might be any number of rubber connectors in the pedal trap-work. Those respond very well to WD-40. (I would recommend either silicone grease or the “silicone specialist” variety of WD-40, which makes for a better lubricant. WD-40 is, by its nature, a solvent.) I would say approximately 50% of pedal squeaks and creaks are caused by these rubber pieces, and they’ll ultimately have to be replaced, but WD-40 will coast them along fine for years. In general, you can apply WD-40 anywhere that you see metal operating against metal, plastic, or rubber. Do not use WD-40 on felt or wood.

If it isn’t a metal connection, the effectiveness of WD-40 reduces quickly.

Most pedal “creaks,” if they aren’t caused by an old rubber joint, are caused by one of the components being loose. Screws have a tendency to work themselves out over time. This is another 25% of my pedal creaks and squeaks. You’re looking for any mounted piece moving that shouldn’t be, and usually turning the screws a hair will obviously reduce or eliminate the sound.

If it’s not any of the above, you’re in for a prolonged hunt. Pedal problems are either fairly obvious, or are some of the most difficult problems to diagnose. To give you an idea how hilariously difficult they can be, I had a pedal creak in a Steinway grand that was caused by a dowel bending. They dowel ITSELF actually creaked when force was applied to it. The problem could be simulated by taking the dowel out of the piano, placing one end on the floor, and leaning on it. I ended up machining a replacement out of brass, which remedied the problem, but is (to date) one of the most over-the-top solutions to a creaking pedal I’ve encountered.

I apologize for the long-winded nature of that response. Discussing pedal creaks is a common way piano technicians pass the time.

And now, for a brief photographic journey through the creation of that brass piece:

This small, innocent looking wooden dowel is approximately 3.5″ long, and is coated with graphite on both ends. When pressure is applied to it, a small creaking sound is produced.
The first step is measuring the piece.
I can then use crayon to mark a location on a piece of brass. It’s better to go slightly long here, as brass is worn away in the creation process.
Now I can cut the brass to length. Hacksaws are two handed tools, and placing my foot on the vice creates a solid base. One hand is placed on the handle and the other on top of the saw to provide downward pressure. Brass cuts easily.
This is a closeup of the brass piece in the vice. A shop rag has been used to protect the finish.
Once cut, the end is very rough and there are burs. It is, however, render for the next step.
I ground the brass piece freehand against an 80 grit grinding wheel after dressing the wheel. One hand is used to hold the brass piece at the correct angle. (Don’t use gloves—you don’t want them caught.) The other hand rotates the piece as smoothly as possible. The best motion for rotation seems to be counter to the motion of the wheel, since otherwise the piece might become unsteady. It’s very hard to hold a DSLR and do this at the same time.
At this point, the piece has approximately the correct shape. Now I can grind the end against a fiber wheel, using the same technique.
The fiber wheel leaves a much better finish than the grinding wheel. The usage of the fiber wheel is the same as that of the grinding wheel, except for applying considerably more pressure. The wheel will deform, unlike the grinding wheel, and will naturally produce rounder contours. Cheap wheels are fine here—you’ll end up destroying them.
Looking closely, some imperfections in shape are visible. You can also see the relatively course finish left by the fiber wheel. Finer fiber wheels could be used to make this prettier, but its hidden application inside a piano makes this perfectly adequate. At this point, you want a rounded surface with no rough edges.
Here is my new brass piece next to the original wooden piece. Unlike the wooden piece, it will not deform. Brass, in addition to being both quieter and more attractive, is a very smooth, self-lubricating material that won’t by likely to experience friction or binding of any kind in the future. On both sides, the brass will be placed against leather pads. These should also be replaced.

1 thought on “Piano Pedal Squeaks (And A Custom Solution)”

Leave a Comment