Author Topic: How to make your Wurli keys white  (Read 12874 times)

Offline Alan Lenhoff

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How to make your Wurli keys white
« on: July 21, 2011, 02:35:52 PM »
I recently replaced about 20 scratched or gouged key caps on my 200A, mostly with key caps I bought from Steveo.  (Who did me a great favor by removing them from some old keys he had around, which I'm sure was extremely time-consuming.  Thanks Steveo!)  It all worked great -- and I really like that my instrument still has its vintage looks (unlike what it might have looked like if I had installed a set of generic keycaps).

One of the main issues, though, was that the assortment of used Wurli keycaps I used (from at least three pianos) ranged from fairly bright white to a deep, sickly yellow.  I needed a way to make them all white -- and posts on this list that address the subject typically gave advice that doesn't work, or said it can't be done.

I found a method that worked perfectly:  All my keys now are white and matching.  Here's what I did:

I scrubbed them -- really hard -- with 0000 steel wool. It was a lot of work, and some of the keys required multiple passes.  Then, I hand polished them with some automotive rubbing compound (which was labelled safe for clear coat finishes), and then with some Novus 2 plastic polish.  They are now all clean, white, shiny and smooth.

(To tell the truth, I didn't pick those polishing compounds based on some special characteristics of each of them.  I simply used what I had around the house.  But they worked beautifully.)

It was a lot of work.  Having done it, if I ever had to replace a broken keycap, I would be confident I could get any Wurli replacement to color match the rest of my keyboard.  (Of course, I might have to do the steel wool treatment to every key on the piano to make them match.)

One other takeaway from this: Don't do your steel wool work anywhere near your Wurli, since the steel wool residue flies everywhere, and Wurlies don't like dust and debris. I didn't think about that, and when I turned my piano back on, it had an awful, loud, staticy sound.  It took a lot of vacuuming around the reed bar to get it working properly again.

Alan

Co-author, "Classic Keys: Keyboard Sounds That Launched Rock Music"

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1965 UK Vox Continental;1967 Gibson G101 organ; 1954 Hammond B2; Leslie 21H; Leslie 31H; 1974 Rhodes Mark I Stage 73; 1972 Rhodes Sparkletop Piano Bass; 1978 Hohner Clavinet D6; 1968 Hohner Pianet N II; 1966 Wurlitzer 140B; 1980 Moog Minimoog Model D; 1983 Roland JX-3P; 1977 Fender Twin Reverb; 1983 Roland JX-3P synth; Vox AC30CC2X amp.
(See the collection: https://vintagerockkeyboards.com/ )

Offline Rob A

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2011, 03:56:16 PM »
Novus is superb stuff, and there's a Novus 3 polish that could stand in nicely for the rubbing compound.

Offline adcurtin

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2011, 04:39:04 PM »
The keys are ABS plastic, correct? I would highly recommend against steel wool for discoloration (by all means use it for scratches and chips). ABS plastic from the era of wurlys has a certain flame retardant in it that causes the plastic to yellow with exposure to UV. Many old computers had this same problem (Apple //e, Commodore 64, tons more). Almost anything made with ABS back then. Some people worked together to figure out how to chemically reverse this process to restore the plastic to its original color, and they posted their method online.

Here's a link: http://retr0bright.wikispaces.com/

They explain thoroughly what causes the yellowing, and how they are reversing it. They give instructions on how to make the gel and use it. I have fairly yellowed keys on my wurly (and some cracks and maybe a chip or two, but I'm not fixing those, they add character), and I have a spare malformed keycap thats slightly yellowed. I ordered some hydrogen peroxide, and I have to go to the store and grab some xanthan gum, but I should have all the stuff ready sometime next week, and I'll post results and let you guys know how it turns out.

Offline Alan Lenhoff

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2011, 07:10:21 PM »
This is intriguing. 

I've seen references to the lids on 200 series Wurlis as being made from ABS plastic, but not the keys.  But I think the use of ABS plastic for keys was fairly common for pianos in that era, so it's quite possible. 

Don't know whether ABS can vary in hardness, but to me, the Wurli keys feel harder than plastic keys on my '79 Rhodes or on some acoustic pianos.  And certainly a lot harder than the Wurli's plastic lid.)

A few observations/questions: 

The 0000 steel wool I used is so fine that it will not remove scratches or chips.  If you go to something more abrasive, you have the issue of dealing with the scratches it leaves.

Are you recommending against the use of steel wool for removing discoloration because you feel it is potentially harmful to the keys -- or because you believe there may be a more effective or easier method?  (The steel wool treatment certainly took a lot of time and effort.)

Finally, it would be good to know whether the hydrogen peroxide gel they suggest is safe on the wood part of the key (since it would be hard not to get some on the wood) and whether it might dissolve/degrade the glue on the edge of the key tops.
Removing the keycaps to clean them is not really an option, since they are very hard to remove without breaking them -- and the wood key itself can be damaged in the process.

Alan


Co-author, "Classic Keys: Keyboard Sounds That Launched Rock Music"

Learn about the book: http://www.classickeysbook.com/
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1965 UK Vox Continental;1967 Gibson G101 organ; 1954 Hammond B2; Leslie 21H; Leslie 31H; 1974 Rhodes Mark I Stage 73; 1972 Rhodes Sparkletop Piano Bass; 1978 Hohner Clavinet D6; 1968 Hohner Pianet N II; 1966 Wurlitzer 140B; 1980 Moog Minimoog Model D; 1983 Roland JX-3P; 1977 Fender Twin Reverb; 1983 Roland JX-3P synth; Vox AC30CC2X amp.
(See the collection: https://vintagerockkeyboards.com/ )

Offline adcurtin

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2011, 08:34:54 PM »
I'm not really recommending anything at this point, as I haven't tried it. I'm saying that it is probably an easier option. I'll see if it damages the wood at all, and what it might do to the wood. Even if it's not ABS, it still might have the same flame retardant in it (I've heard that sun [UV] exposure is what causes the keys to yellow), and thus retr0bright might still work.

Offline pianotuner steveo

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2011, 11:34:08 PM »
Wurli keytops are not made of ABS

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Offline adcurtin

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2011, 05:24:08 PM »
Do you know what kinda of plastic the key tops are made out of? If I know that I can do some more research to see if this is likely to work.

Offline pianotuner steveo

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2011, 07:54:09 PM »
No, not Off the top of my head, but I can see if I can find the answer. One possibility is a plastic called Pyralin. Some replacement keytops are made from this.
1960 Wurlitzer model 700 EP
1968 Gibson G101 Combo organ
1975 Rhodes Piano Bass
1979 Wurlitzer 206A EP
1980 Wurlitzer 270 Butterfly Grand
2004 Hammond XK3
2009 73A Rhodes Mark 7
2009 Korg SV-1 73
2017 Yamaha P255
2020 Kawai CA99
....and a few guitars...

Offline Abraham

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2011, 12:22:17 AM »
I just wanted to thank Alenhoff for sharing this with all of us, I readed this post months ago and today I've decided trying myself... it was a TOTAL SUCCESS!! I just couldn't believe I'll get such GREAT results without replacing keycaps!!! Im really impressed.

Total cost of repairation: 5€!!!

But hell its being so tedious and time consumming job, I could have spent half an hour for each single key... So it would be a work in progress task for the whole next week...





I just came back to post so this may be of any help for someone. I guess this post may diserve a sticky.
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Offline Alan Lenhoff

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2011, 10:00:41 AM »
Nice to see how well it worked for you. Your keys look great!

It does take hard work and patience, but you'll likely only have to do this once every 20 years or so.  And it's nice to know that you really can't do any harm to the keys with this method, unlike experimenting with chemicals or using more abrasive materials.

Alan
Co-author, "Classic Keys: Keyboard Sounds That Launched Rock Music"

Learn about the book: http://www.classickeysbook.com/
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1965 UK Vox Continental;1967 Gibson G101 organ; 1954 Hammond B2; Leslie 21H; Leslie 31H; 1974 Rhodes Mark I Stage 73; 1972 Rhodes Sparkletop Piano Bass; 1978 Hohner Clavinet D6; 1968 Hohner Pianet N II; 1966 Wurlitzer 140B; 1980 Moog Minimoog Model D; 1983 Roland JX-3P; 1977 Fender Twin Reverb; 1983 Roland JX-3P synth; Vox AC30CC2X amp.
(See the collection: https://vintagerockkeyboards.com/ )

Offline swenz

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2011, 10:20:03 AM »
Alan, have you ever tried this on Rhodes keys?
I'm in the same situation with my Rhodes that you were with your Wurli.  I have about 20 scratched keys that need to be dealt with.  I'd much rather recap only those 20 but I'm sure I'll end up with mismatched colors just like you did.

Offline Electrickey

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #11 on: November 07, 2011, 10:25:27 AM »
That sure is a marked difference in color..

Offline Alan Lenhoff

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #12 on: November 07, 2011, 11:55:00 AM »
Alan, have you ever tried this on Rhodes keys?
I'm in the same situation with my Rhodes that you were with your Wurli.  I have about 20 scratched keys that need to be dealt with.  I'd much rather recap only those 20 but I'm sure I'll end up with mismatched colors just like you did.

My '79 Rhodes' keys are slightly yellow, but I've never tried to whiten them.  They're otherwise like new, so I've left well-enough alone.  So, I have no experience to share.

You should remember that all the Wurli keys I was whitening were original vintage Wurli ones.  If you are thinking of recapping your bad Rhodes keys with modern replacement keycaps, I'd doubt if you could ever get the vintage caps white enough to match new ones.

Also, my understanding it that Rhodes keycaps changed over the years, both in design and composition.  I believe the latter ones (like my 1979) were prone to yellowing, while the earlier ones were not.  (The full-skirt keycaps on a 1973 I owned until recently were perfectly white.) 

So, to have a shot at getting them all to match (in color and design), I'd think you'd have to find vintage Rhodes keycaps from about the same production time as yours.

If you're sure you're going to replace those scratched caps, you might want to experiment first with using some more abrasive material to remove the scratches, and then sanding/polishing them.  You might be able to get good results.

(I didn't do that on my Wurli because many of the keys had fairly deep nicks.)

Alan
Co-author, "Classic Keys: Keyboard Sounds That Launched Rock Music"

Learn about the book: http://www.classickeysbook.com/
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1965 UK Vox Continental;1967 Gibson G101 organ; 1954 Hammond B2; Leslie 21H; Leslie 31H; 1974 Rhodes Mark I Stage 73; 1972 Rhodes Sparkletop Piano Bass; 1978 Hohner Clavinet D6; 1968 Hohner Pianet N II; 1966 Wurlitzer 140B; 1980 Moog Minimoog Model D; 1983 Roland JX-3P; 1977 Fender Twin Reverb; 1983 Roland JX-3P synth; Vox AC30CC2X amp.
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Offline Chris Carroll

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #13 on: November 09, 2011, 04:35:49 PM »
Hey

To clean your keys and remove the yellow or remove scratches and pitting. Use sand paper like 150 to start on divits, pitting etc or stains start at  220 and then work your way to 600- 800 wet sanding , then use Mothers aluminum polish to shine the keys- It's will make them look new- We have done this for years and you can get out the most stubborn stains, pitting and finger nail wear. It's easy to do, just takes a while to do all keys for an even look-
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Offline swenz

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2011, 10:09:50 AM »
I know this is the Wurli forum so I apologize for talking about Rhodes here, but since this is where the topic started I just wanted to follow up and post my results.

Chris, thank you so much for your recommendation on removing scratches and pitting.  I have basically followed your instructions.  I started wet sanding with 220 grit on a RO power sander.  It literally takes just a few quick passes to remove fairly deep gouging.  The power sander might be overkill and you do need to be careful not to get too aggressive but I think it makes the job much easier if you're careful with it.   I then used 400 & 600 grit wet sanding by hand and finally polished with Mothers aluminum polish as recommended.  It works beautifully.

I have been really torn trying to decide how to approach the scratched keys on my Rhodes as I've fully restored the rest to like-new condition and the keys are the final task.  This will take some time to complete but it's really not too bad once you do a few keys and get the process down.

I've attached a before and after picture of my middle C. as well as a wider shot that shows the contrast of the refurbished key with the rest of the keyboard.

Offline Alan Lenhoff

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #15 on: November 17, 2011, 10:37:03 AM »
That's a really impressive result.

Many of my Wurli keys had scratches/gouges up high on the keys, very similar to your's.  I always wondered how that might have happened.  Doesn't seem like you could do that with normal playing.  Is that what Chris called "finger nail wear?" Hard to imagine that nails could damage the key surface that much.

Alan
Co-author, "Classic Keys: Keyboard Sounds That Launched Rock Music"

Learn about the book: http://www.classickeysbook.com/
Follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ClassicKeysBook/

1965 UK Vox Continental;1967 Gibson G101 organ; 1954 Hammond B2; Leslie 21H; Leslie 31H; 1974 Rhodes Mark I Stage 73; 1972 Rhodes Sparkletop Piano Bass; 1978 Hohner Clavinet D6; 1968 Hohner Pianet N II; 1966 Wurlitzer 140B; 1980 Moog Minimoog Model D; 1983 Roland JX-3P; 1977 Fender Twin Reverb; 1983 Roland JX-3P synth; Vox AC30CC2X amp.
(See the collection: https://vintagerockkeyboards.com/ )

Offline swenz

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #16 on: November 17, 2011, 11:31:24 AM »
I've been assuming that it's finger nail wear.  I acquired my Rhodes from an older woman who was the original owner so I just kind of figured that over a 30+ year period she might have been able to damage the keys to that extent.  The curious thing is that I tried deliberately to duplicate that kind of damage on a spare Rhodes key, but even hitting it fairly hard with the tip of a screwdriver I couldn't gouge it to the depth that my keys are gouged.  So I'm not sure what to make of it, maybe long fingernails really can do that much damage if given a sufficient length of time?  At any rate, I'm sure glad that I'm going to be able to restore them without doing a full recap job. 


Offline pianotuner steveo

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #17 on: November 17, 2011, 04:33:41 PM »
I have seen fallboards damaged by fingernails, but not keytops. Wooden fallboard damage ( the piece that folds down over the keys) is very common on grand pianos.
1960 Wurlitzer model 700 EP
1968 Gibson G101 Combo organ
1975 Rhodes Piano Bass
1979 Wurlitzer 206A EP
1980 Wurlitzer 270 Butterfly Grand
2004 Hammond XK3
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2020 Kawai CA99
....and a few guitars...

Offline AFeastOfFriends

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #18 on: November 25, 2011, 04:37:48 PM »
I'd like to thank both Quadrapuss and Allen for mentioning some methods to whitening up yellowed keys. My Rhodes keys had pretty bad yellowing, and took away from the whole "sharp" sort of look the Rhodes has, so I was really looking to whiten them up.

Anyways, I tried both wetsanding and the 0000 steel wool, and prefer the steel wool. I found that the scratches and matte finish left by the 0000 were easier to take out with my Novus2 than the wetsanding. Not to mention the mess leftover from 0000 was easier to clean and I didn't have to worry about the keys getting wet.
And most important, I got a slightly whiter look with less time (and Novus usage) with the steel wool.


Offline Abraham

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #19 on: December 06, 2011, 07:28:18 PM »
Hey! just to let you know, I tried sanding the checkblocks (from my rhodes) by the "steelwool method" and I managed to fix SERIOUSLY deep scratches, I just regret I didn't take any pictures before for you to check...
« Last Edit: December 07, 2011, 08:10:16 AM by Abraham »
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Offline Electrickey

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #20 on: December 07, 2011, 12:48:58 AM »
Try Simichrome for scratches. Its good for plastic, plexiglas items you view through, besides metal, if you can find it. Comes from Germany. It says its non toxic as well.
« Last Edit: December 07, 2011, 12:52:46 AM by Electrickey »

Offline velo-hobo

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #21 on: December 07, 2011, 09:42:09 AM »
I've never used Simichrome for plastic but it is awesome stuff for chrome and aluminum.  Fantastic for chrome legs!  I used it on the chrome Z-stand for my Vox Organ and it made a huge difference.

Cool that it works on plastic too!

Offline Raw2019

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Re: How to make your Wurli keys white
« Reply #22 on: February 26, 2015, 11:25:34 AM »
The keys are ABS plastic, correct? I would highly recommend against steel wool for discoloration (by all means use it for scratches and chips). ABS plastic from the era of wurlys has a certain flame retardant in it that causes the plastic to yellow with exposure to UV. Many old computers had this same problem (Apple //e, Commodore 64, tons more). Almost anything made with ABS back then. Some people worked together to figure out how to chemically reverse this process to restore the plastic to its original color, and they posted their method online.

Here's a link: http://retr0bright.wikispaces.com/

They explain thoroughly what causes the yellowing, and how they are reversing it. They give instructions on how to make the gel and use it. I have fairly yellowed keys on my wurly (and some cracks and maybe a chip or two, but I'm not fixing those, they add character), and I have a spare malformed keycap thats slightly yellowed. I ordered some hydrogen peroxide, and I have to go to the store and grab some xanthan gum, but I should have all the stuff ready sometime next week, and I'll post results and let you guys know how it turns out.

That wikispace is gone. You can find more of them here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retr0bright