Replacing Spinet Drop Action Elbows

Posted by Sarah Czarnecki on

Are you unable to play certain notes on your older spinet? Does the key stay depressed? Chances are the elbow in the drop action mechanism is broken, misaligned, or needs maintenance. Fortunately, the process of replacing the elbows is fairly painless.

Kimball piano with two keys depressed

Spinets were created to be compact with a sleek design, so they have an unusual action mechanism. The drop or indirect-blow action actually sits below the key, not directly behind or above, as it does with consoles, uprights, and grand pianos. In order to reach the strings behind the keys, the mechanism uses small wood or plastic inserts called elbows that facilitate the motion of the action. 

Over time, these plastic inserts can become brittle and crumble. Many spinet models made between the 40s and 60's had elbows made of bakelite, which really have not withstood the test of time. The bakelite often snaps into pieces and crumbles. For this reason, older spinets may have dropped keys that do not bounce back and are unable to strike the hammer. Replacing the elbows is a relatively quick fix that you -- yes you! -- can do at home with a few tools, some specialty parts, and patience.

spinet piano elbows old broken bakelite and new plastic

See the difference between nice new plastic elbows and old busted bakelite?

Replacing Spinet Drop Action Elbows

Difficulty: Intermediate

Tools Required

The elbows are the joint pieces connecting the action's whippen (sometimes spelled wippen) to the drop wire, which is directly connected to the back of the key. If this joint breaks, the tension is broken, the key can't connect to the action, and the hammer won't strike the string. No elbow, no sound.

This unassuming piece of plastic is absolutely vital to your spinet's action.

plastic spinet drop lifter elbow | In Tune Piano Supply

Note: Some spinets have wooden elbows. All techniques described in this tutorial pertain to plastic elbow replacement only.

To fix the elbow, first you'll need to remove the old, broken pieces. Do this by carefully snapping off the majority of the plastic with needlenose pliers or small angle cutters. Be very careful not to twist the old pieces -- the thin wood part of the whippen could break, leaving you with a much larger repair job on your hands. Take care not to bend or damage the thin metal pin (you can see the end of the pin surrounded by the red felt bushing in the whippen). Break or crush the remaining bakelite plastic and brush it away from the whippen. Be very careful during this removal process.

Now you should be able to detach the drop wire from the end of the key; this will make replacing the new elbow easier. Remove any pieces of the old elbow from the threads.

Next, screw the new elbow onto the drop lifter rod (sometimes called a lifter bar, drop wire, or sticker). Use your vise grip pliers to firmly grasp the rod to keep it from turning while you screw on the elbow. Twist the elbow all the way onto the rod, using all available threads.

The threading on the elbow and rod is very fine, so it will take awhile to screw it all the way on. You can do this by hand, but if you need to replace all 88 elbows, you may wish to save time (and your wrist!) by using an elbow spinner tool. Attach the spinner to a standard drill to completely attach the elbows onto the rods.

elbow spinner tool attached to a drill

Now, insert the drop lifter rod into the back of the key. A padded wooden nut on the end of the rod acts as a stopper when you slide the rod into the slot on the piano key. Make sure the rods are aligned nicely and seated properly before proceeding. 

Attaching the elbow to the whippen is the easiest part. Simply snap it into place! Notice the small opening leading into the red felt bushing on the elbow. This makes it easy to see where the elbow attaches to the thin wire in the bottom of the whippen. Just be careful not to cross the rods, misaligning the keys. 

Once the elbows are attached, adjust the wooden nuts at the back of the key. This will lengthen or shorten the rod to align the height of the key. Make sure there is no lost motion when you press the key; the hammer should strike the strings with no hesitation. Compare and adjust your new repaired drop lifter rod component to match the motion and operation of the other rods.

Now that all the keys are working, you can tune your spinet piano


spinet piano elbows all new replaced plastic elbows

Questions? Ask the experts here at In Tune Piano Supply!

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