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The Fine Art of Key Capping

By Maxwell Butler

First impressions are everything. When you sit down at a keyboard instrument and the keys are cracked, yellowed, chipped, or otherwise junky, it’s a bit of a turn-off to an instrument that might otherwise be a Holy Grail. As part of our restorations, we’re able to re-cap the keys of many Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos. It’s a time-intensive task, but one that helps turn a nice instrument into a stunner.
It involves Victorian railroad levels of steam (we killed two steam irons during one job), a dose of sanding, lots of glue, a load of filing, plenty of time, and a delicate hand. Proper key capping is fine craftsmanship, and any mistakes mean you’ve got to do the key over.
Here’s a key frame from a Wurlitzer 200 that we recapped. On top is how the keys looked when the piano first came in. On bottom is the result of our painstaking work.

Upon close inspection, you’ll see straight edging, even gapping, clean and proper radiusing of edges, and good alignment.
Now, let’s have a look at how some of our competitors do this. Here’s another Wurlitzer that came in to us with the keys already recapped. Look at the cap area at end of the black keys. As you can see, the edges are wavy and jagged, and the gapping is uneven.

Here’s a Rhodes that was recapped before we got it. The alignments and gapping are, as they say, cattywampus.

You may say, “that’s just cosmetic!” Yes and no. Not only does it look lousy, improper key capping can cause keys to interfere with one another, creating sticky or sluggish key action. Not to mention that a technician who skimps on visible details may be skimping on not readily visible ones as well. Come see us or give us a call if you’ve got a piano that needs a key cap job, or more. We’re the best in the business.