Tuning

All our tuning is conducted by ear, – this is recommended by companies such as Steinway & Sons.  Naturally we also make use of technology – the old “bang on the knee” tuning forks have long gone.

A440 is the pitch we tune to, although we can tune at any other pitch. Equal temperament is the standard tuning style but other temperaments are an option if you have any historic requirements.

The 3 T’s – Touch, Tuning and Tone

(these 3 T’s make up our standard “Tuning” and are outlined in the following)

Our tuning service is based fee on  when we leave the workshop to when we return to the workshop.

On average the Touch & Tone side of the “tuning” takes longer for a Grand piano than an Upright (for Concert Work we need to spend even more time).

Tuning does is not including any repairs of felt replacement that may be required.

Travel expenses are to be applied to the tuning fee, based from Palmerston North.

 

THE  THREE  T’S  of  Piano  Tuning

1

Tuning

I recommend that a piano be tuned at least once each year. It is more preferable to have this done every six months especially if you have children taking lessons.

The piano is primarily made of wood, and is extremely affected by climatic changes.Changes in humidity result in the swelling and contracting of the wood, resulting inconstant increases and decreases of string tension, thereby continually changing the”tuning.” The proper string tension must be consistently maintained. You will receive and maintain the best tone quality from your piano when it is tuned on a consistent basis. When a number of years pass between tunings, the pitch will drop, often far enough that two or more tunings will be necessary to restore the pitch to the proper level of Concert A-440 pitch. It is sometimes my practice to bring the pitch back up to normal over the course of several tunings, particularly when it has dropped a step or more. Raising the pitch too far in one tuning may result in broken strings. In this case, it is impossible to give a fine quality tuning, as the pitch will continually slip, until the strings stabilize. It is much better to ease up to Concert Pitch over the course of several tunings.

2

Piano Regulation (Touch)

As a conscientious piano owner, you probably have your piano tuned regularly by a qualified technician. You may, however, notice a deterioration of its performance despite regular tuning. It’s important to note that tuning is only the adjustment of the system of strings and pins that determines the pitch of each string. Your piano also requires a periodic servicing called regulation, which attends to the mechanical parts which cause strings to sound when keys are played and affect the sound through use of the pedals. To understand the regulation/touch of the piano first we need to look at the piano action.

Piano Action: The system of lever trains between the hammers and keys of a piano whereby the finger movements at the keys are transferred to the hammers and dampers that produce tones from the strings and mute them, respectively.

What makes a “good” action? Although individual preference is the deciding factor in determining a “good” action from a bad one, there are a number of mechanical tests that can be performed to get a good idea of how well an action is performing. First, lift the top of the piano to allow you to see what is going on inside when you perform these tests. Slowly depress a key while watching its corresponding hammer. The hammer should start to move when the key is depressed. If you can push the key down, even slightly  before the hammer starts to move, the action needs regulation (adjustment). Excessive travel is called “lost motion”.

Now repeat the same process , but this time watch the damper (the wooden block with felt on it that is located below the hammer and normally rests on the string). The damper should pull away from the string when the key is pushed halfway down.

Next, strike a key and watch the hammer travel to the strings. It should travel in a straight line (not moving to either side) and strike all three (if you are playing above middle C) strings squarely.

Again, slowly depress the key and watch the hammer, it should move to within 1/8th inch of the strings and then release itself back away from the string. If the hammer did not release itself it would mute the string as long as the key was depressed.

These are just a few of the simple tests you can perform to determine if your piano action needs regulation. If you suspect that your action needs work, contact Piano Services for qualified repairs.

What is regulation and how does it affect my piano’s performance?  Regulation is the adjustment of the mechanical aspects of the pianos to compensate for the effects of wear, the compacting and settling of cloth, felt, and buckskin, as well as dimensional changes in wood and wool parts due to changes in humidity.The three systems involved in regulation are the action, trapwork and damper system. The action is the mechanical part of the piano that transfers the motion of the fingers on the keys to the hammers that strike the strings. It is comprised of over 9,000 parts which require adjustment to critical tolerances to be able to respond to a pianist’s every command. The trapwork is the assemblage of levers, dowels and springs that connects the pedals to the action affecting sustain and dynamics. The damper system is the mechanical part of the piano that stops the vibration of the string when you release the key and is controlled by the key and pedal systems.

If I have my piano tuned regularly, why do I need to have it regulated?  While tuning corrects the pitch of your piano, it is only one component of a complete maintenance program. Regulation attends to the touch and uniform responsiveness of your action, all vital to making each performance pleasurable. In addition, regulation ensures that your instrument is capable of producing a wide dynamic range — a critical factor, particularly in pianissimo passages.Music is one of the most complex vehicles for expression. Its beauty is reliant upon personal dynamics and tempi. These changes require extremely fine adjustments to respond to the pianist’s nuances and subtle shadings. A smooth, even response throughout the entire range of the keyboard and an extremely quick action capable of playing rapid passages and repeated notes evenly is essential. Outstanding response is essential for a pianist to create an outstanding performance.

Do all pianos need to be regulated?  All upright and grand pianos need periodic regulation to perform their best. Frequency of regulation is dependent upon amount of use, exposure to climatic changes, and the instrument’s quality, age and condition. New pianos may require regulation in their first year because settling and compacting of parts sometimes necessitates adjustment.

I always check the regulation at every tuning.

How often is regulation needed?  Only you or your technician should decide how frequently your piano needs regulation. Several factors can contribute to this. The intensity and number of hours your instrument is played, and climatic conditions are all determinants. A piano kept in relatively consistent conditions which are neither too wet nor dry, optimally at a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius and 42 percent relative humidity, will require less adjustment.The quality of the instrument itself also can affect frequency of regulation. Some manufacturers decrease costs by not going over the regulation and voicing processes in the factory as much as needed. Most retailers do not do the necessary regulation themselves prior to selling the pianos.Also, performance instruments may require some regulation before each use, due to the higher demands placed on them.

What are the signs that my piano needs regulation?  If you instrument displays a lack of sensitivity or a decreased dynamic ranges, it’s a candidate for regulation. If you notice that the keys are not level (some higher or lower than the rest), the touch is uneven or that the keys are sticking, the need for regulation is indicated. However, a sluggish action or deep grooves in the hammers indicate the need for reconditioning or repair. Ask us to how you what needs adjustment on your piano.No amount of practice can compensate for a poorly maintained action. Poor legato touch, chord playing where all notes of the chord don’t speak clearly, a gradual loss of subtlety in phrasing and an inability to execute quick passages or note repetitions evenly may be the fault of the piano — not the player.

To help understand the need for regulation you need to understand that if the piano key is depressed 10mm the hammer will move about 50mm, this means if the keys are not level or one key can go down 9mm and another down 11mm that the hammer will travel from 45mm to 55mm – this results in every uneven playing.

Why is reconditioning or rebuilding of the mechanical systems sometimes necessary prior to regulation?  Prior to regulation, your technician will assess the condition of your instrument. If it has badly worn parts or if there has been corrosion or moth damage, the piano may not be able to be properly regulated without some repair or replacement of parts.Reconditioning is the process of putting your piano back in good condition by cleaning, repairing, and adjusting your instrument for maximum performance with replacement parts only where specifically indicated. If you piano has deteriorated beyond simple reconditioning, it may need to be rebuilt.

Rebuilding involves complete disassembly, inspection and repair as necessary with replacement of all worn or deteriorated parts. The piano is then reassembled, tested and adjusted to the same or similar tolerance and performance as when it was new.

Your piano is a major investment which deserves to be protected through regular servicing by a qualified technician. Properly maintained, your piano will sound its best and give you and your family a lifetime of enjoyment.

3

Tone –  Getting the most enjoyment

from your piano

Every piano has its own unique sound. One might be described as ‘glassy,’ another as ‘warm’. One might have a ‘full singing’ tone, and yet another sounds ‘thin.’ Although the original design establishes the basic character of your piano’s tone, your technician can modify it to better suit your taste or restore its original tone if it has deteriorated with age. The process of modifying a piano’s tone is called voicing.

What is the difference between tuning and voicing / tone?  Tuning is the adjustment of the tension of all of your piano’s 220 (or more) strings to the correct pitch or frequency. This ensures that notes played in a musical interval (octaves, chords, etc.) will sound in harmony.

Voicing is the adjustment of a piano’s tone or quality of sound. Tone can be changed without affecting the pitch. For example, turning the bass or treble knobs on your stereo changes the tone but does not alter the notes the musician recorded. A skilled piano technician can voice a piano to change its tonal personality from mellow to bright or robust to delicate. The degree of change possible depends upon the piano’s design and condition.

What is good tone?  Tone varies, even among pianos of the same make and model. No matter what its size or cost, any good piano should provide a wide range of tone, from soft and sweet to loud and bright. The tone should be even from the lowest to the highest notes. Most of all, it should sound musical.

What does the perfect piano tone sound like? There is no single answer, because everyone’s taste varies. Also, certain tonal characteristics are more suited to specific styles of music. A bright, lively tone might be best for jazz, whereas you might prefer a rich and dark sound for Beethoven’s music. There are many different sizes and models of piano available in the market place; you chose your piano because it sounded good to you.

But a piano’s tone changes with use. As the hammers wear and compact, the tone often becomes too bright and harsh, robbing the pianist of the ability to produce a sweet sound. As parts wear, the regulation (adjustment of the mechanical parts that transmit motion from the fingers to the hammers) becomes uneven, and the pianist loses control over volume and tone. This is most noticeable in quiet playing. A delicate pianissimo passage becomes very difficult or impossible to play, and some keys may not sound at all if played very lightly. Aging of the piano’s strings and structure also can diminish its tone.Other factors that affect the sound you hear from your piano are:

ROOM ACOUSTICS — Hard shiny surfaces such as windows and bare floors reflect high frequencies, making a piano sound bright and loud. High ceilings or large adjoining rooms add resonance. Rugs and upholstered furniture soften tone and add warmth.

THE LID — Both grands and verticals sound louder and brighter if the lid is opened.

YOU — Your ears are sensitive, and will perceive sound differently if you have spent all day in a quiet office or at a loud construction site.

Does my piano need voicing?  Your piano may benefit from voicing if:

Your piano sounds different than when you purchased it.

You don’t like the sound even after it has been tuned.

Tone varies radically from note to note

You cannot achieve a range of tone (mellow to bright) at different volumes.

The piano has lost its ability to play softly.

Before deciding if a new piano needs voicing, make sure it is well-tuned and well-regulated. Then, play a wide variety of music on it. Most voicing procedures are long-lasting, so give yourself some time to explore the sound of a new instrument before deciding to change it.

How often voicing is needed depends upon the piano’s usage and its intended audience. Pianos in concert halls and recording studios often receive minor refinement of the voicing before each performance. A home piano may need some initial voicing to customize it to the owner’s taste, then once every one to five years to maintain its tone.

Your piano and your musical needs are unique — your own schedule for periodic voicing is a matter for you and your technician to decide. To find out how voicing might improve the tone of your piano, ask for a demonstration on one or two notes.

How do we voice a piano?  Before you or your technician can fully evaluate then tone of your piano, it must be well-tuned. Tuning is the first step in improving the sound of any piano and may actually provide the tone you desire. If the tone is still not satisfactory. Your technician will inspect the action, hammers and strings. If these components are severely worn, major repairs may be required before an improved tone is possible.

Moderately worn hammers can be re-shaped with sandpaper to remove string grooves and restore their original rounded shape. Next, the hammers are aligned to strike each string squarely.Action regulation should be checked or adjusted. This ensures an even, powerful response from each key.If tuning, hammer shaping and regulation are correct, the tone probably will be balanced but still may be too bright or mellow for your taste.

If so, your technician might recommend voicing the hammers.For a tone that is too loud, too bright or seems to die out too quickly, softening the hammers felt often is recommended. This is usually done by inserting needles into specific areas of the hammer to increase flexibility.

For a tone that is too weak or too mellow, hardening of the hammer felt may be necessary. This is usually done by shaving away soft outer layers of hammer felt or by applying a chemical hardening solution.Once the overall tone is correct, individual notes are voiced to make the tone as even as possible from one end of the keyboard to the other. In some pianos certain notes still may sound different from their neighbours, no matter how skillfully the technician voiced the piano. This most commonly occurs about an octave below middle C, where the strings change from steel wires wrapped with copper to plain steel. Such irregularities are a result of design compromises, and only a skilled technician can improve the sound quality in this area.

Getting the most enjoyment from your piano.  One of your piano’s most important assets is its tone. Properly voiced, your piano can offer you a rich palette of music expression, and inspire good practice habits in every member of your family. However, piano owners are not always aware that tone can be customized to their own tastes and room acoustics, and to correct for deterioration and age.

If the only service your piano has received is tuning,

the sound can be further improved by touch and tone regulation.