Pianos and The Insects That Love Them

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Piano

English: Closeup of a pneumatic player piano o...

English: Closeup of a pneumatic player piano or Pianola. Taken by me [MxAesir]. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like you, I was reading about player pianos this evening. Okay, maybe not you.

After I learned that player pianos (and old foot pump organs) do not work by forcing air into the piano, but rather by creating suction which draws air into the unit, I happened onto a page about piano infestation.

A tuner in New Jersey elected to accept work on an old piano and after inspection found that the piano was seriously infested.

The same thing happened to me today. It was one of those “Craig’s List” pianos that lures parents into buying someone’s problems and circumventing the more difficult task of shopping for a good piano.

When I opened the piano I noticed a black mold-like color on the hammers. There were stains here and there from liquids spilled into the piano over time.  The veneer on the case had water damage. No rings, which would indicate flower pots; rather, whole sections of both ends had had standing water on the surface. The brass pedals were black from corrosion.  The front casters had small green blotches, indicating they had stood in water or extreme humid conditions. Back to the action; the bridle straps were missing. Only the leather fob remained connected to the strap holder. The cause of the disappearance was common to every note. Humidity, water damage, even tiny, curious fingers would not cause every single bridle strap to disappear. Something had eaten them.

The tops of the hammers had large dents, as if something had taken a bite out of the wool. A dark, oily substance had accumulated under one hinge. You see, when a tuner tunes a piano, he (or she) must hit each note very hard several times. Each time the hammer hits the wire, a small puff of wool dust is released into the air. A tuner that hovers over the piano can end up inhaling a lot of that dust. Inhaling piano hammer dust is bad enough, but when there is visible mold on the hammers – nope, it is not a good idea to tune that piano.

Now I return to the New Jersey piano. The tuner thought the damage to be so severe that he had the contents of the debris in the piano tested at a local college through the cooperative extension department.

Most everyone in Texas knows what a cooperative extension is.  When suburbanites (an earth-born parasite that feeds off of natural resources) want to improve the quality of their lawn, it is most often the case that it is recommended by horticulturalists (another earth-born parasite that feeds off the money of suburbanites), that the soil be tested. In Texas, the #1 soil testing service is done at Texas A & M. I have a story about that which I will tell you.

There was once a Texan who, A & M degree in hand, wanted to raise chickens.  He bought one hundred chickens and took them to his new farm. He dug one hundred holes and placed each chicken into a hole, freshly dug, and patted the earth firmly around the neck. At the end of the day, he had ten rows by ten rows of chickens planted in the garden area, and one hundred heads looking at him in sheer disbelief. After three days, the chickens died.

His first thought was to call the A & M Cooperative Extension, but since he held a degree, he was reluctant to reveal his failure. Instead, he relied on his years of schooling and thought about what might have gone wrong. In a flash of wonder, he realized his error and proceeded to buy one hundred more chickens. He dug one hundred more holes and again planted those one hundred chickens. This time, however, he planted them upside down. He was pleased with himself.  The next day he returned to the garden and found that the chickens were of course quite dead.

He overcame his embarrassment and called the A & M Cooperative Extension. A voice answered the telephone and the Texas chicken farmer explained all that he had done. The line went silent for a moment as the A & M Cooperative Extension representative, (an earth-born parasite that feeds off the tuition of unsuspecting suburbanites), presented his suggestion.

“First we will need to do a soil sample…” he said.

So you see, the cooperative extension is a valuable partner to farmers and piano tuners alike. The report that the New Jersey piano tuner received identified several insects that were eating the piano. There was a drain fly (Psychoda sp.) which lives in “dark, moist areas and feed[s] on rotted organic matter.”  A carpet beetle larval case was also found. They feed on the “keratin and chitin” found in wool, fur, or feathers. Last, the larvae of the brown house moth (Hofmannophila spp.) which is a common pest, was identified as causing most of the damage in the piano.

The remedy is to treat the piano with an assortment of bug killing chemicals and naphthalene (moth flakes).

As it applies to the piano I saw today, I inspected the bottom of the cabinet and found it had been vacuumed clean – removing obvious evidence that might encourage even the most trusting consumer to run from the home of the parasite who was trying to sell the piano.

Since I live in Texas, my remedy was a little different. “First you get a shovel and you dig a hole in your neighbor’s yard at night. Place that bug infested piano in that hole with the same care as any A & M chicken farmer, and walk away.”

“When the door bell rings the next morning,” I continued, “You look that police officer right in the eye and tell him that he should call the A & M Cooperative Extension and get a soil sample to identify where the piano came from.”

(The original story can be found on John Tuttle’s page.)

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Comments
  1. Can I just say that title is amazing. If there was a book with that title I would read it.

    Anyway, it’s amazing the stuff that can happen to a piano, I’m glad I read this, you just never know. Once my piano became a rat nest, I had in on storage for about two years and when I went to get it, it was infested by rats. It’s a long story I should probably blog about it.

    Anyway, great post!

    • Kent Moore says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Titles and headlines are the most challenging part of writing imo. A good title must capture the essence of a piece and yet be clever enough to spike immediate interest in the reader. This time, based on your comment, I got it right. tks again. km