Archive for category General

Has Your Piano Action ever been Reconditioned?

If you own a piano more than say 30 yrs. old (and that would likely be a great majority of you) then here’s a great question for you to consider…

Has your Piano Action ever been Reconditioned?

 

First you ask…”A Piano Action? What is that? My piano has one of those?” And your next question is likely “What is reconditioning ?” And “why do I need to have my piano action reconditioned?” After all, the nice salesman when I bought the piano guaranteed that my piano would last forever and I would never have to do anything else to it, other than tune it. Well, not to be too hard on the salesperson, but given how pianos are designed and the materials that are used, that sort of statement just cannot be true. As long as pianos are made with materials that wear, they will need routine maintenance to repair, replace, adjust, clean, and lube them.

So, the answer to the first questions is “YES”.  Most (if not all) pianos have an “action”, which contains most of the working parts of the piano (the guts) that need to be removed from time to time for routine service and adjustments. The answer to the second question, “What is reconditioning ?” And “why do I need to have my piano action reconditioned?”,  lies in the below explanations…..

 

First, there are basically two major types of piano actions.  Upright actions and Grand actions.

 

upright action

Upright Piano Action

Upright Actions:

Upright actions (spinets, consoles, studios, old uprights) consist basically of the the hammers, the whippen assemblies, and the dampers. Each is mounted to a series of rails that hold them in proper alignment to the strings and keys so that when a key is depressed to play a note, energy is properly transferred from the key to its corresponding string(s). Upright actions are by nature quite a bit simpler in design than the grand actions. This is primarily due to the fact that the upright action does not have a specialized repetition lever like the grand does.

Most upright actions are pretty easy to remove from the piano for repairs. The exception to this would be most spinets and player pianos. They are some of the most difficult actions to work on.

 

 

Grand Piano Action

Grand Piano Action

Grand Piano Actions:

Grand Piano Actions are similar in basic function, but in many ways quite  different. The grand action parts are also mounted on a series of rails that can be removed from the piano for service and adjustments. Noticebly different, however, is that the hammers are in a different orientation than on the upright action.    The grand action also contains the keys which the upright doesn’t.  In addition to the keys, the grand action also holds the hammers, and whippen  assemblies. The whippen assemblies of most modern grands have a repetition lever which allows a note (the “jack” for those know their piano parts) to fully reset before the key has risen totally back to rest. This allows for better “repetition” of the note than in uprights. An upright key has to fully rise back to rest position for the note (“jack”) to reset in order for the next note to be played.

 

Moving on…..

This is not a lesson on how actions work, however, I did want you to know that there are basic differences between each type action and that all actions can be….and NEED to be removed from time to time for routine cleaning and maintenance.

 

Reconditioning:

Reconditioning is a term which refers to a combination of procedures that is done on a piano action to bring it back to good operating condition again. Actions that I recondition will always be thoroughly cleaned, screws tightened, moving parts lubricated, worn or broken parts repaired or replaced, and hammers shaped.

 

Most pianos I service are well past needing reconditioned, to be quite honest. Years of playing have compacted the leather and felt parts whose purpose are to create cushions between certain parts and keep others in proper alignment and adjustment. The felt hammers that strike the strings also get compacted and deeply grooved over time and tone is eventually adversely affected, not to mention the damage that is occurring to the hammer itself. A piano that is never maintained will eventually begin to deteriorate and fall into disrepair. As one part fails, it puts added wear and stress on other parts, and the damaging effects begin to multiply throughout the piano.

 

Below are some of the main things that are usually addressed when an action comes to the shop for reconditioning:

 

hammer flange screws

Hammer Flange Screws

Tighten all Action Screws: There are close to 300 screws in an average piano action (not including the ones used for adjustments). That’s 300 screws that just hold hammers and whippens tightly to the rails in proper alignment, screws that hold the damper heads at the proper height and alignment to the strings, screws that hold the action frame together, and so on. As humidity in the air changes, the moisture content of the wood rails and wood hammer/whippen flanges will change in size and shape slightly and cause screws to become loose in time. If your piano is making clickety – clackety noises while you play, there’s a good chance you have loose flange screws throughout the action. Other things can cause these sounds too, but loose screws are an easy place to start. Loose screws lead to all sorts of trouble, including, loose, wobbling hammers…which in turn will grind the face of the hammers flat…which ruins the hammers.  Tightening screws is an important, but highly overlooked maintenance item that is very easy and doesn’t take all that long to do.

One short example: I played a piano a couple weeks ago that had a very noisy action, and by simply tightening all the screws, the piano played so much differently…quiet and solid feeling like it’s supposed to be. Amazing.

 

Hammer Shaping

Hammer Shaping

Hammer Shaping: Shaping the hammers can help restore the piano’s tone. After the screws are all tightened, now is the time to shape those hammers to bring back their nice round shape that helps them rebound off the strings as they were intended to do. Flat hammers hit the strings with more of a “thud” and transfer an excessive amount of energy to the string. This can cause broken strings and/or broken hammer shanks. Hammers will always have some grooves, but those that have deep grooves really should be shaped if they can. After being heavily shaped several times, hammers can become too small to function correctly and the set will need to be replaced, but don’t let that concern you. Most pianos have never had their hammers shaped, so they can sure stand it. Once done, if the piano is not a concert piano being used heavily all the time, the shaping will last for many more years to come.

 

dirty actionCleaning and Lubricating Action Parts: Piano actions, like everything else, will collect years of dust. That dust works itself down into all the small moving parts of a piano and can gunk it up quite well, causing sluggish notes, squeaks, a very heavy feel to the keys, notes that don’t repeat, and things like that. Actions can be removed from the piano, moved outdoors, and carefully blown out with compressed air to remove most dust and foreign objects from the action. Some parts can be brushed lightly to remove other dirt that remains, and the action can be lubricated as needed to free up any tight moving parts (note: only special lubricants made for pianos should be used and unless you know what you are doing, any removing of the action and cleaning should be done by a trained piano technician to prevent costly damage to your action).

 

bridle straps

Bridle Straps

Bridle Straps: A very common repair is to replace the bridle straps on an upright action. These straps are necessary to be in good condition and adjusted properly so that the action can be removed and replaced in the piano properly for servicing. Without going into too much explanation, suffice it to say that without the bridle straps in place to hold certain piano parts in place (whippens), the action is very difficult to put back into the piano without damaging parts. During reconditioning, these are almost always replaced if worn or missing.

 

Much Felt/Leather in an Action

Much Felt/Leather in an Action

Worn Felts/Leathers: There 88 keys on most pianos, therefore on those pianos consider that there are also 88 hammer assemblies, 88 whippen assemblies, and either 88 keys(grands) or 88 dampers (uprights) on the removable action. So, for every note on the piano, (see grand piano note in picture which shows a key, whippen assembly, and hammer assembly) there are approximately 15-25 small pieces of felt or leather that are used to cushion, control friction, stop hammer travel, quiet action noises, dampen strings, etc. That’s between 1320 and 2200 pieces of felt/leather just in an average piano action.  They do wear with age, harden, get dry and brittle, fall off because of failing glue, not to mention those that become nesting materials for mice or insect larvae, as well as damage caused by moths. So, there is a very good chance, especially on older pianos, that some felts/leathers may need replaced in order to help your piano action function properly as it should.

 

 

old dampers

Old Dampers

Dampers: Damper felts will harden, compress, and deform over time and can cause poor string dampening. Sometimes you will hear a “zoink” sound, or a slight buzz sound just as the dampers contact the string as you slowly let up on the key after playing a note. While not necessarily a standard thing to replace while doing an action reconditioning, if yours needs it, while the action is in the shop is a great time to have them replaced.

 

If your piano action has never been reconditioned, it would be wise to ask your piano technician to evaluate whether or not your piano is in need of being reconditioned. If done correctly, you will be amazed at the difference that a clean, well functioning action will make to your playing.

 

Until next time…”Make a Joyful Noise!”

 

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How to Prepare for your Piano Tuner’s Visit

So, you’ve scheduled tuning, now what?

 

The reason for this post is because even though there is usually not much to do to prepare for the piano tuner’s visit, I am often amazed at how many customers don’t do much, if anything.  After all, they usually don’t have to prepare anything for the A/C repairman or plumber.  Why would they need to for the piano tuner?

Prepare?  Like….what kind of prepare?  I thought the piano tuner just comes in, sits at the piano, plays a bunch of enharmonic non-sense for about an hour, then leaves, and my piano is now somehow, almost magically, in tune. What do you mean prepare?

 

Well, as I said, there are not a lot of things necessary to prepare for your tuner’s visit, but there are a few things that can make a big difference.  Here are a few of the basic things would help me if I came to your home or organization to service your piano.

 

1) Prepare your schedule before the tuning. Try to be there before the appointed time. I will try to honor your time, and I expect the same courtesy.  If emergencies come up, please try to contact me and I will do the same.

 

2) Prepare your schedule and activities during and after the tuning.  Allow plenty of time for the tuning and for any unexpected things that might come up.  This basically means, don’t schedule a tuning 2 hours before you have to leave for a wedding.  Not good planning. It puts a lot of pressure on me to finish early lest I spoil your outing.  Besides that, if a repair issue does come up, there will either be no time to do the repair at all, the repair gets rushed and is done poorly, or we have to schedule another trip for the repair.  Also, if you do have somewhere to be later, please let me know up front so I know how to plan.  From my experience, there’s nothing quite like working merely along thinking you’ve got plenty of time, when out of the blue the family starts rushing around, looking at their watches, and giving you the eye that you’d better start wrapping it up….like yesterday….only to find out that they have a dinner date in 15 min. that they didn’t tell you about.  Well, that’s embarrassing!  Especially since I was ahead of schedule according to how long it normally takes, however, they never bothered to find out before hand how long a typical tuning takes.  That lack of planning put both of us in a very tight spot.

Also, it’s a good idea to plan your activities during the tuning…(or around the tuning might be a better thought).  Some “normal” household activities and chores that you’re accustomed to doing at that time may have to wait because of the noise they produce.  Try to plan activities that are considerate of the quiet I need in order to do my best job for you.

 

 

3) Prepare the piano by clearing the piano top completely of lamps, nick-knacks, doilies, figurines, books, sheet music, and such (both grands and uprights). I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived and have had to either wait for the customer to clear off the piano, or have had to clear it off myself.  Some pianos have as little as a lamp on top, and others…..well, at Christmas, for instance, the entire town of Bethlehem…in fragile, ceramic figurines!   I prefer the customer to have done it before I arrive so that I can get right to work, and so I am not responsible for any broken items.  I am always nervous handling other people’s things because invariably, I will pick up the figurine that looks like it’s all one piece, but actually it’s two pieces, and they seem to want to separate in mid air somehow.  Not too good for customer relations.   Grands are just as important to clear as uprights since I usually like to lift the lid to give clearance for my mutes behind the dampers in the treble areas.

Note: It is usually not necessary to move the piano away from the wall.  Sometimes I will on a first visit to inspect the back of uprights, or I may need to move them an inch or two so the lid will not bind against the wall when opened, however, I am accustomed to moving them if I need to.

 

4) Prepare the area around the piano, and provide a bench.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve come to pianos that had no bench, and all the chairs in the house were of the odd type (ie: bar stool, lawn chair, etc.)  A bench or hard chair of about 19″ or so will usually suffice.  The area around the piano should at least be tidy.  I live in my home too, so I know that things can get disorganized when you live there…however, I try to tidy up when I know someone’s coming to visit.  At the very least tidy up the area immediately around the piano so I have a place to walk without tripping, and so I’ll have a place to set my tools and the piano case parts when they are disassembled for tuning and inspection.  Adequate room lighting is also helpful.  I do have lighting if needed, but it’s always helpful if there is already adequate room lighting available.

 

5) Prepare the family.  Please let your family know ahead of time that you’ve scheduled the piano tuning and let them know the expectations on them during the visit.  It is crucial that they all know that video games, CD players, Radios, TV’s, and all other noise producing items will need to be kept OFF, or their volumes at a bare minimum during the tuning.  Even though I am playing loudly, I am listening to minute changes in beats, pitch, etc, so I need it pretty quiet.  It’s also probably not the best day to invite the neighborhood friends over after school, nor the day for dad to be running the table saw in the adjoining workshop or garage!

 

6) Prepare your pets. Not sure how this works, but it would be nice if we could!  You know your pet(s), and you know what that may mean for each of them.  I get along good with most pets, and one thing that is sometimes helpful for many pets is if you will allow them to meet me first, even if they are going to be kept in a back bedroom, basement, etc. during the tuning.  Usually after meeting me, their curiosity is satisfied, then all is well.  For those pets who are more curious than some, please know that my tuning kit contains some chemicals and such that can be harmful to pets and children if they were to get into them.  While I try to keep a close eye on that, it is always helpful if you can help me keep an eye on your pets, and children too for that matter.  Nuisance pets I’d just prefer be kept in another area of the home until the tuning is completed.

 

7) Prepare the neighbors! You think I jest? While it’s not always necessary, possible, or practical, sometimes it is appropriate to notify the neighbors before my visit.  I tuned for a lady one time that opened all the windows as soon as I got there. Yippee for the neighbors!  I know she was trying to save running the A/C, but I really didn’t feel comfortable tuning her piano as the neighbors were out in their yards mowing (which was a distraction to me with the windows open), walking their dogs, planting flowers, etc. and I’m sure they didn’t need to hear me!  Should she have notified her neighbors? Not necessarily, but she might have at least thought a little more about the situation and have closed the windows and maybe turned on the A/C.

I do, however, often tune in condo’s or apartments where there are more than one family present in the building.  One time as I tuned, I noticed a person on the other side of the wall (in the adjoining apartment) that decided to practice their bass guitar while I was tuning. When they heard me tuning, they tried to match the notes I was playing. While I’m sure it was a neat learning time for them, wow, what a mess it was for me.  This might have been avoided if the customer had just politely notified the adjoining household that I would be there for a span of a couple hours.  By letting them know ahead of time that it would only be a couple hours could have potentially saved the neighbors from getting too upset as well, because as at least they would have had an idea of about when the monotonous pounding might be winding down.

 

8) Churches/Organizations – Have temperature of the sanctuary, etc. at operating temperature several hours before I arrive.  It is important to have the piano tuned at the temperature that it will be used.  Also, janitors vacuuming in the sanctuary while I’m tuning is not a good thing.  Don’t ask me how I know!  I know they have a job to do, but a little planning could avoid those awkward moments.

 

8) Prepare your method of payment. It’s always a good idea to have your method of payment thought out before I arrive.  I don’t accept credit cards at present, and we could be in an awkward situation come billing time if that was the only method of payment you had planned on.  I’ve had clients run to the bank or ATM while I finished the tuning because they had forgotten to plan for it or their checkbook was lower on funds than they realized.

 

 

I’d better stop there.  The more I write, the more things I think of.  Please know that my goal is to service your piano to the best of my ability as well as to satisfy you as a customer, not to hold you to a list of things I need in order to tune your piano.  Not at all!  Through many years of doing service calls I have learned that it is super important for me to be flexible because every situation will be unique. which is good.  However, with a little planning and preparation, many average service calls could have been superb service calls.  It is my hope that these tips will help you when planning your next tuning, whether with me or someone else, so that everyone involved has the best tuning experience possible.

 

Until next time….make a joyful noise!

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What Lurks Inside Your Piano? Time to Clean!

So, what does lurk inside your piano?

Have you ever even seen the inside of your piano?

I was thinking a lot about this yesterday as I was designing a new page for my website: www.RichardsPianoService.com/cleaning.htmlI’ve come to the conclusion, through many years of servicing pianos, that most customers that I see for the first time have never even seen the inside of their piano, especially owners of uprights.  That is somewhat surprising to me since, at the very least, the lids on uprights need to be raised and the front music desk needs to be removed just in order to tune the piano.  Beyond that, the key cover is often removed and keys sometimes removed for key repair, key adjustments, or to remove that coin that is jammed between two keys, causing them not to function.  On top of that, the bottom knee board is usually removed to inspect the bridge and make any pedal adjustments, and the entire action has to be removed in both uprights and grands in order to service any of the mechanical parts of the piano that have been broken or need adjustment.  While much of that is all in a days work for me, many tuners never make those simple repairs or adjustments, never pull the action, or never clean anything, so all the customer ever sees is the tuning pin area…which on uprights, usually doesn’t collect much dust. That tells me that those customers who act so surprised that their piano comes all apart like it does during regular servicing have either never had their piano tuned, OR, IF their tuner did more than a bare minimum tuning, the customer wasn’t there to see it.  It also tells me that there are a good MANY pianos out there that could stand a good cleaning!

On a grand, only the lid needs to be raised in order to tune the piano, and much of the time, the piano has been left open, so the customer is used to seeing the pinblock, dampers, and strings on their piano.  However, the insides of the piano look somewhat mysterious and fragile, so most grand owners leave the inside pinblock, damper, and string area alone…not knowing what to do.

While keeping your piano closed up all the time will help considerably, a piano will still collect a lot of dust and dirt over time and it will eventually need to be cleaned out to free up the working mechanisms of the piano.  The fact remains that a vast majority of pianos have not been kept closed up all the time and have been collecting dirt for ages.  Many old uprights have never been cleaned in their 80 to 100 years, and it shows when I go to service them!  Grands are often left with their lids up for looks, and dust and dirt will quickly collect on all the horizontal surfaces.

So, what does lurk inside your piano? Every piano gradually collects years of dust and grit inside the piano in places where the piano owner rarely, if ever, will see.  The dust and grit eventually works its way down into all the little nooks and crannies of the piano where all the working mechanisms of the piano are, and it can lead to premature wear and eventually to serious, and costly, mechanical problems.

Typical Junk Found in and around Piano Keys

Typical Junk Found in and around Piano Keys

It is really common to find paper clips, coins, can pull tabs, stamps, stickers, bobby pins, straight pins, rubber bands, pencils, and other foreign objects under the keys and amidst the action’s working parts, especially in homes where there are small children…or if the piano once resided in a home with small children.  Very often the key lid can act just like a postage drop box, depositing pencils into the action area when the  key lid is opened.  A single pencil can cause 5 or 6 keys to jam if it gets lodged in the wrong places. When the jammed key is pressed, small wooden parts inside can break.  Mouse nests and their droppings can jam up the action and cause trouble.  Debris in a piano can sometimes lead to hundreds of dollars in repairs down the road if not removed before permanent damage is done.

 

Years of dust build up under Key Bed.

Years of dust build up under Key Bed.

Technicians (that I happen to know personally)  have found dead birds, mice (see important note below about Hantavirus), envelopes of cash, and “hidden” whiskey bottles from husbands who swore they quit drinking years ago!  I found a home-made dehumidifier once….basically a 100 watt light bulb on a frayed cord, waiting to burn the house down if plugged in.  I found a mouse nest measuring over 15″ in diameter and 3-4″ tall on top of the key sticks in an old upright, and all sorts of other things that don’t belong in pianos.
Your piano will only work as freely as it was designed to if it is clean and free of such debris.

 

 

Grand Key Bed being cleaned

Grand Key Bed being cleaned

Because of all the fragile parts in a piano, it is not recommended for the piano owner to attempt to clean the inside of their piano.  Water and chemicals, etc. can be corrosive to the fragile metal parts of the piano.  Sprays containing oils can cause pin block damage which will lead to slipping tuning pins. Even dusting and vacuuming can cause serious problems if any of the thousands of fragile parts are bumped, snagged, mishandled, broken, misplaced, or accidentally sucked up in the vacuum cleaner.  Cleaning the piano’s interior is best left to the professional piano technician.
I will, however, offer a few things that you can do yourself to help keep your piano clean, and I’ll also suggest things you should leave to guys like me who have the proper training to deal with the more fragile parts of your piano.

 

Here are some things you can do yourself (at your own risk, of course):

All piano owners: First of all, you can keep your piano covered or closed up as much as possible, and vacuum your home on a regular basis, especially if you have shedding pets.  Don’t get in the habit of setting small objects on the piano (paper clips, loose change, etc), and don’t allow children to play on or around the piano with small toys.

Refer to the Piano Technician’s Guild’s webpage for recommendations for dusting and cleaning your piano’s exterior case.  In summary: dust with a feather duster, then slightly damp rag (flannel or microfiber cloth).  DO NOT wipe in circles, but in direction of the grain or direction the finish was applied. make sure any water residue is light enough to quickly evaporate.  Avoid most sprays and polishes, as they can contain oils that can damage the strings and pin block.

Upright owners:  Most of the time it is perfectly alright for you to lift the top lid, and remove the front music desk board. There are usually either a couple screws on either side that hold the board to the piano, or some sliding or rotating wooden latches.  Once the lid is up and front board off, you may vacuum (see important note below about Hantavirus) anywhere along the tops of the keys and off to the sides of the keys at either end of the piano.  Be SUPER CAREFUL not to touch or snag any part of the action.  If there is dust on the felt hammers, you may carefully vacuum the tops of the hammers, but in a front to back motion.  If you snag a hammer side to side, it can wreck the fragile hinge parts inside the action.  I would stay away from the dampers since they are very fragile and a vacuum can do harm to them!  You may also vacuum the tuning pin area, and or use a toothbrush to get any tough places if you wish.  Next, you may remove the bottom knee board by pressing up on the spring retainer clip(s) and pulling the top of the board out first. Lift the board off the pegs that hold it in place at the bottom and set aside. You may vacuum the entire area around the pedal rods and levers.  Not much you can hurt down here, unless you have a humidity control system installed.  Replace the knee board when finished and close up the rest of the piano.  You may clean the key tops with a damp (not wet) rag with some mild dish soap.  For the exterior case, refer to the Piano Technician’s Guild website for recommendations.

Grand owners, It is perfectly fine, and recommended, to vacuum the pin block area and use a toothbrush, pipe cleaner, etc. to loosen dirt in hard to reach areas around the pins and strings. Just be gentle as to not pry against the strings, causing them to shift position.  That can altar your tuning.  Use no water or sprays around the tuning pins!  If you need a bit of moisture to help remove the grime, very lightly dampen the tip of a rag, but keep the water source away from the piano!  You don’t want a cup of water tipped over on your pin block!

Grand Piano plate and soundboard

Grand Piano plate and soundboard

You may vacuum (see important note below about Hantavirus) anything you can see, being careful around the dampers and being careful not to scratch the plate or soundboard with the vacuum nozzle.  If you want, you may purchase a set of felt soundboard cleaners that will help you reach under the strings to clean the soundboard in places the vacuum won’t reach.  Some have used a cloth and yard stick or something flexible to reach under the strings.  Again, for the exterior case, refer to the Piano Technician’s Guild webpage for recommendations.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE about Hantavirus: Mice fecal material can carry Hantavirus, which can be extremely dangerous.  Be sure to use proper mask, latex gloves, etc. while removing mouse/rat infestations.  Scoop and dump the majority of it very carefully so as not to get the contaminants airborne.  Then use a vacuum (with hepa-filter if possible) to clean up the remainder. Click here to find out more information on Hantavirus.

 

If your piano hasn’t been cleaned in several years (or ever, in many cases) it could greatly benefit by having a complete cleaning.  Almost inevitably, you will notice a difference in how your piano plays and sounds just by having it thoroughly cleaned…and hey, any money found in the piano is yours! : )  Usually that amounts to only a few cents…but you never know!

Until next time…Make a Joyful Noise!

 

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Regular Piano Tuning Can Save Big Bucks!

We all know that musically, as well as for the health of the piano, that it is recommended to have your piano tuned regularly.  So, you say…tell me something I don’t know!  OK

 

I recently received an interesting email from an acquaintance of mine which serves as an important reminder of “other” reasons to have your piano serviced regularly.  It seems that having their piano tuned could would have likely saved this couple thousands of dollars.

 

I was called to a very fancy house in a very rich subdivision, (Old money rich), to tune a small grand in the formal sitting room. In addition to tuning, which they admitted hadn’t been done for a couple of years, they asked me to fix a few sticking keys in the 3rd octave. When I pulled the action, I found a dead, and mostly decomposed, black bird, between the tenor and bass hammers. These birds are about 10″ long, and how it got in there is anyone’s guess.

But that’s not the funny part of the story. When I showed the dead bird to the customer she let out a big yelp. She told me that for over a year there was a very bad odor coming from that room, and in order to get rid of the smell, they had the ducts completely cleaned, replaced the carpets and the drapes, painted the room, and replaced all of the furniture. By the time they did all that, the smell was mostly goner, but only because the bird had decomposed. Considering the quality of the carpets, etc, and the size of the room, it must have cost them close to $15,000. They only got the piano tuned and repaired because they were planning a big party, and someone was going to play it.

I guess this is another good reason to get the piano tuned once a year, even when no one is playing it.

Another good reason (and this is totally personal for the piano technician) is that from time to time when a tool is mistakenly left in a piano, it’s always a very nice surprise when you are called back and whala…there’s the tool you’d been missing for the last year or so!  Don’t ask me how I know!     : )  Ok, well it did happen to me once!  I did find a mute that I had dropped in the bottom of a piano a year earlier…thinking I’d remember to retrieve it at the end of the tuning.  For the life of me, I couldn’t remember where I had misplaced that mute …that is until I returned to tun that piano again the following year and there it was.  I’ve also found other technician’s mutes who apparently hadn’t been called back.  Unfortunately, they have been too dry rotted to use.
Anyway, I hadn’t posted in quite a while and thought I’d let you know what was on my mind today….obviously…not much! : )

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The short answer is “Yes”, I did…tune my piano!

And the long answer is….

Those that read my last blog entry know that I set a date, last Wed, to tune my own piano…so I felt compelled to follow up and say, “Yes”, I in fact did just that.

To be quite honest, it had been close to 2 yrs. since I had tuned it last.  I do play it weekly, and therefore monitor it often, and it seemed to be holding tune pretty well.  So, I was pleased when I found that it was only a couple cents off here and there.  In fact, it was very close to proper pitch and hadn’t slipped much at all since the last tuning, and a few notes were even slightly sharp.  Still, no excuses…I should have tuned it a year ago…just because!

Anyway, I got to thinking about why it seems to be so hard for those in service oriented professions (like mechanics, piano tuners, etc.) to consistently service their own equipment even though they expect it of their customers.  Again, no excuses here, but I would just imagine it has probably has a little bit to do with money…like the fact that we don’t get a paycheck for doing service work on our own things. Not exactly, anyway.  True, we definitely save money by not having to hire it out to someone else, so in essence it is still money in our pocket, but it still isn’t quite the same as getting paid for it.

Besides, if you’re working on cars or pianos all day long for others, why would you, in your right mind, want to come home to work on your own?  To me, it almost seems like there’s something intrinsically wrong with that.  Nevertheless, we do it, but usually not without a few groans here and there, wishing there was something in it for us….but wait….maybe there is after all!

The payoff!  Yes, there really is a payoff after all.

The first payoff came when I finally realized I was in my own home, tuning my own piano.  There are several fringe benefits to this.  I think I was a little over 3/4 the way through my tuning when I realized that I was still in my own home and could actually get up and raid the refrigerator if I wanted to (I didn’t want to…but I could if I wanted to!).  I also realized that I also already knew where the restroom was without having to ask directions…or permission from anyone, which was nice!  I also realized that I had been in “the zone” and was working at my normal pace, and that I could have relaxed a little if I really have wanted to.  No one was pushing me to finish at a certain time and that is a pleasure I’m not always used to.

I should explain what I meant by “the zone”.  It is interesting how once I begin tuning, I am somehow transported to “the zone” as I call it.  It’s the zone of concentration where all that matters is the job at hand.  It’s the same zone that makes my wife wonder if I’m going to die of starvation by missing a meal as I often can do when I’m in “the zone”.   Sure my mind wanders a little in this zone, but when you strive for a perfect tuning every time, I guess it doesn’t matter who’s home you’re in, even your own.

So, the second payoff came when I had tuned the last note and the piano began singing ever so sweetly, as only it can when it’s been freshly tuned.  I always say that there’s nothing quite like a freshly tuned piano.  I could play for hours after a tuning if my customers would let me!  I believe that that is one of my biggest reward in this profession is getting to play a freshly tuned piano at the end each and every tuning.  What a payoff!

And, the third payoff came when I had packed my bags, stood to sign my own sticker in my own piano, and mumbled to myself with a smile on my face….”self…that will be ‘x’ amount of dollars for a job well done!”, chuckling to myself in satisfaction that I have just saved myself a tuning fee by having been able to do it myself.  In this moment, not used to dialoging with myself, I feel I have a bit of a split personality: half piano technician, and half client…for in that moment, I am both.  So, in the spirit of the moment, I say to myself, “thank-you” and “you’re most certainly welcome!”  If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s the importance of being polite to your clients so they will call on you again….
So, with that said, I had so much fun, I think I’ll do it again next year!

 

Until next time, make a joyful noise…and remember that pianos are meant to sing sweetly…and not just once every 10 years!

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The pot calling the kettle black…a tuner’s confession!

I’m guilty as charged!  I found myself caught the other day staring down the proverbial double barrel, caught red handed, cornered, whatever you want to call it….anyway, my conscience got the best of me and I couldn’t deny it.  I have to confess I felt pretty hypocritical.

 

Here’s the situation.  I was sitting in the dentist chair a couple weeks ago for my annual….semi-annual, no…more likely, my bi-decade visit, just wrapping up the visit which proved to be very painful for me.  Not in the teeth either.  It was painful for my conscience, as well as for my wallet.  See, my dentist found that I needed 3 or 4 crowns and a filling since my last visit 4 years or more ago.  Wow.  That will cost me, big time.  As I was leaving, he said something to the effect of, “now don’t be such a stranger”, or “next time, let’s not wait as long”..what he was really saying was…”dude, it’s your own fault for waiting so long.  I could have saved you a bunch of money and a whole lot of pain if you had only kept regular checkups.”

It was at that moment I thought I was listening to myself talking…or at least thinking of what I’ve wanted to say to certain customers at times.  For instance, the customer who told me that they had their piano tuned the week it came home from the store in the early ’80’s, new …then just had it tuned this year…nearly 30 years later.  That was it!  Two tunings in 30 years…and the first one came with the purchase, I guess!  Don’t I feel special, I was the one who was chosen to do the honors after all these years! : )  Yup, we had some catchup work to be done on that piano.

Anyway, back to the dentist chair.  It was at that time that my conscience got the best of me, like a child who stole the cookie from the cookie jar and couldn’t contain his guilt, and I blurted out before I could stop myself…I said to him, and his assistant, “you know, that’s funny you should say that.  I feel so hypocritical.  Here, I’m a piano technician, and I implore my customers to not wait years and years to get their piano serviced, or it will end up costing them  “big time” later…and here I did that very thing with my dental visits.  Wow, do I feel like the pot calling the kettle black”.  He just chuckled…his way of saying that he of course was in total agreement with me!

I say that to say this…that it’s pretty natural for most of us to put off, to forget, or avoid what we know we should do because more important things come up, or we dread the tuner’s/dentist’s visit for whatever reason (see they’re both about the same…you grit your teeth the entire visit!  It’s either the noise of the monotonous pounding of the tuner, or the dreaded noise of the dentist’s drill!)

Many find it interesting that it’s usually the mechanic that drives an old beater and the piano tech who doesn’t have time to tune his own piano…so, I decided I’d better break the stereotype and put my piano on the calendar.  Next Wed. at 11am, I scheduled my own piano to be tuned!  I haven’t gone years or anything like that, but let’s say, I sure understand how my customers feel, as it’s really easy to forget how long it’s actually been.  Time has a way of getting away from ALL of us.

So, I hope this post serves to do both of us some good.  It sure helped me to get that off my chest, and it will surely help me to empathize a little better with my customers…that I truly do understand.  I also hope it helps you to realize that it does sometimes cost more to make repairs than it sometimes does to do preventative maintenance.  Waiting can be costly. Ask me how I know!

It was a lesson that I’m sure everyone can learn from.

Believe me, I’ll be reviewing this little lesson for the next couple months as I have my teeth repairs done!

 

Until next time, make a joyful noise….and make an appointment with your tuner…and dentist while your at it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do the Left and Center pedals do on my piano?

Here’s another good question and the answer will vary slightly depending on what type piano you have and who the manufacturer was.

 

GRAND PIANO PEDALS

Typically, on a grand piano, the left pedal is a soft pedal, the center pedal is usually a sostenuto pedal, and the right pedal is always the sustain pedal.

 

Soft Pedal.  The left pedal is typically a soft pedal.  On grands, it most always works by shifting the entire action to the right just a fraction of an inch to the right.  This allows the hammers to hit only 2 of the 3 strings in the treble, and one of the two strings in the tenor.  The bass, having only one string, will still sound since they are wider strings and the shift isn’t enough to move the hammer off the string.  It will hit the hammer striking surface a little off center, but that allows the string to contact the hammer at the part of the hammer head that should have softer, less compacted felt, resulting in a softer sound.

Note: some lesser expensive grand pianos may not have this feature.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been asked by customers to remove that extra space at the far right end of the keyboard between the last key and the cheek block, (not knowing of course what it’s purpose was) but this space is there on purpose in grands so that your shift pedal (soft pedal) will work.

 

Sostenuto pedal. The center pedal is usually the sostenuto pedal, and found mainly on good quality grands as well as professional grade uprights.  It is a pedal that is not often used except maybe in certain types of classical music.  It sustains ONLY the notes you just played, but not the ones after.  So, for instance, if you played a C E G major chord and held the keys down, then press the sostenuto (left) pedal and hold it, the chord you just played will still be sounding while all the other dampers are down on all the other notes of the piano.  Now, while that chord is sounding, you can go on and play the piano as usual, even using the sustain pedal, and even playing the notes of that same chord.  What it amounts to is that it holds up only the dampers of keys that were played, and will keep only those up as long as the pedal is depressed.  The regular sustain pedal will still operate all the other dampers as usual.

Note: some lesser expensive grand pianos may not have this feature, even though they have a center pedal.  In that case, it will likely just raise the bass dampers which mimics a sostenuto, but really it’s not a true sostenuto (like you find on most uprights, as will be explained later).

 

Sustain Pedal. The right pedal is the sustain pedal and is the most used pedal on the piano.  Simply, this pedal raises all the dampers off the strings to allow them to resonate freely, even after the key has returned to it’s rest position.  Any number of notes can be sustained at the same time since all the dampers in the piano (using this pedal) all lift at once.

 

 

UPRIGHT PIANO PEDALS

Typically, the left pedal is usually a soft pedal, the center pedal is either a “faux” sostenuto pedal (will explain later) or a practice pedal (extra soft lock-on), and the right pedal is always the sustain pedal.

 

Soft Pedal.  The left pedal is typically a soft pedal.  On uprights, it works by either lifting the hammer rest rail closer to the strings to shorten the distance the hammer must travel, thus softening the blow, or it will lower a felt rail between the hammers and the strings to muffle the sound.

You may notice that when the hammer rail is moved forward, lost motion is introduced in the action making it more difficult to play and control.  This doesn’t happen with the felt rail mufflers, although, they will certainly wear over time.

 

“Faux” Sostenuto Pedal. The center pedal is usually a “faux” sostenuto, or fake sostenuto.   That’s what I call them, anyway.  True sostenutos, like you would see on most grand pianos and some more professional model uprights, are too expensive to include in most uprights.  Therefore, they opted to make a split damper system that would mimic a real sostenuto (although it doesn’t do well at it at all, in my opinion).

 

Most upright center pedals will lift only the bass dampers off the strings, allowing you to play the rest of the piano (mid to upper section) as normal. This causes the chord tones you play while pressing the pedal to ring sympathetically in the bass.  Again, this is not a true sostenuto.  Refer to the grand sostenuto function above.

 

Some of your more expensive uprights DO have a true sostenuto systems.  To check, lift the lid and watch your dampers as you press the left pedal.  If the bass dampers lift off the strings but the other half of the dampers in the piano don’t, then you do not have a true sostenuto.

 

On other uprights, the middle pedal is a practice pedal (with a locking option) which makes the sound extremely quiet beyond the standard soft pedal. This is often achieved by dropping a felt cloth between the hammers and the strings when the practice pedal is depressed.  So on these pianos, you would have two soft pedals, the left pedal (probably which moves hammers closer to strings) and the center locking pedal (which lowers a felt rail between hammers and strings).

 

Sustain Pedal. The right pedal is the sustain pedal and is the most used pedal on the piano.
Simply, this pedal raises the dampers off the strings to allow them to resonate freely, even after the key has returned to it’s rest position.  Any number of notes can be sustained at the same time since all the dampers in the piano (using this pedal) all lift at once.

 

 

My Pedal doesn’t seem to do anything!

 

You may be absolutely right!  Sometimes you will have a pedal that actually is for looks and has no function.  Really.  Less expensive pianos sometimes put “dummy” pedals on for looks and selling appeal.

If one or more of your pedals doesn’t seem to work, it could a “dummy” pedal, as mentioned, or it may have been accidentally disconnected, or maybe it was forgotten to be reconnected when the piano was serviced or moved. You may be able to remove the lower board on your upright and visibly see if any of the pedal dowel rods are disconnected.  They aren’t hard to reconnect.  Or, mention it to your piano technician and they’d be happy to fix it for you, probably for no charge if done at the time of a regular tuning.

 

If you still have questions about the function of your pedals, have your technician explain to you how your pedals function on your particular piano.

 

Until next time….make a joyful noise!

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Are “free” pianos really free, and are they OK to learn on?

Are those “free” pianos that are offered to you really free, and are they usually OK instruments to learn on?  That’s the questions I’d like to address in this segment.

 

The answer to both is typically “no”, however, there are always exceptions.  First let’s look at why those seemingly good bargains, those too good to pass up offers are sometimes just not worth it.

 

Free pianos are not always free!

 

So, you’re considering getting that free piano to fix up…or maybe you just got that free piano anyway and want to fix it up because you know that your child needs a good piano to practice on.  Well, in short, unless you really get lucky and receive a piano that is not terribly old and is still in good shape, that “free” piano might likely wind up costing quite a bit of money by the time all is said and done.  I’d recommend instead, save up the money that you would be using towards pitch-raises, repairs, rebuilding, regulation work, and put it toward a piano that does not needs as much of that at this stage of it’s life.  Yes, all pianos need those things from time to time, but older pianos usually need much more work done on them than younger pianos usually do.

 

Think you’re getting a great deal?  You might be….great deals are out there, I’ve seen them.  On rare occasions I’ve found myself commenting to a client on the good shape their piano is in, only to hear from them, with a great big smile on their face, that they got the piano for free.  Really?  It does happen, however, that is usually the exception…not the rule.

Many times I’ve had to tell a customer (after they’ve spent hundreds of dollars to move an old upright piano to their home, up a flight of stairs, down a hallway, around the corner…well you get the picture…) that this old piano that had been graciously given to them for free was virtually beyond repair, (at least as was practical or feasible for them).  I always feel terrible for them since I know that not only were their hopes of getting a great deal dashed, but so was any thought they may have entertained of saving money!

My goal here is not to knock free pianos or make anyone feel bad for having taken one home, but my goal is really to try and prevent someone from going through the frustration and letdown of going through all the work and effort of moving a piano only to be told it has no real value left in it. 

To be quite honest, I’m a bit baffled, but also kind of chuckle at the thought of just how many free pianos get passed around, like the unwanted Christmas fruitcake!  It’s interesting to me how someone who would never consider accepting a free car that was on its last leg would say “yes” to a free piano with the same type issues.  Why, I’m not really sure, although I have some ideas about it.

I don’t have any numbers to back this up, so this is just my speculation, but something I find interesting is that millions of cars have been produced worldwide, and millions of pianos have been produced world wide, we see junkyards for cars all over the place, but I’ve never seen a piano junkyard.  Per million produced, in comparison, I would bet that a much higher percentage of cars get ditched after they wear out than pianos.  There are lots of reasons for this, and that could spark a whole other discussion, but I think the point here is that people, for whatever reason, just hold on to pianos as long as humanly possible.

I’m sure much of it is because people seem to bond with their pianos like it’s another member of the family.  This makes sense if you stop to think about how the music that comes from a piano moves our spirit, unlike ordinary furniture in the room.  It seems to sing to us, speak to us, it stirs us emotionally….so we become emotionally attached…therefore, we cannot bear to see it go to the landfill, even when we know that it’s at the end of it’s life and that”s exactly where it needs to go.

With that said, that brings up another issue, where to take it…how to get rid of it when it does die?  So…rather than facing the music (no pun intended), we send the old piano down the road for someone else to babysit for a few years.

Let’s go back to the free car analogy for a moment. We all know that there are a lot of free, or cheap, cars floating around out there that you, or I, wouldn’t dare take ownership of, for any reason…even as a gift….because we know that if it’s free…it probably has some issues that are gonna cost….big time!  It may need new brakes, a new motor, it may have leaking oil issues, it may have a rusted out frame, it likely needs new tires, the radio may not work, etc, etc, etc…..you know the ones.  You may have one of them.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with an older car if it gets you from one place to another without breaking down or costing too much money, but by the same token, I’d never purchase an old Ford Model T to commute down the highway to work. Forget for a moment it’s historical value and just consider it’s function.  It may get me from place to place, it may have been cheap to purchase from a junk yard, it probably will take some money to get it at least running, but it will never perform like the rest of the cars on the highway.  It was great for it’s day, but it’s day is gone.  Similarly, an older piano that can’t be sold, but is usually given away may need similar things done to it. It could have a bad pin block (loose tuning pins), a cracked bridge, loose glue joints, broken and misaligned parts, mice chewed and/or stained wood, felt, and rusty strings.  A piano with one of these issues may indeed be a candidate for fixing up, but often times an older piano may have all these problems and is just too costly to repair.  In addition, an old piano, like the Model T, even fixed up sometimes has a difficult time comparing to a modern piano in sound, tone, and function.

My point is, most times that things are given away for free, there is a good reason….it’s too costly to own, impractical, low quality, or whatever…or they’d keep it themselves.

I’m not saying that all free pianos are bad news.  Not at all.  If you wanted to give me a free Steinway B in perfect shape, very well…I accept!  Probably not going to happen, though! Why, because it still has a lot of value, both musically and monetarily.  Most free pianos have very little value left of their own without putting something in to them to bring back some of their value.  Most pianos, can be reconditioned or rebuilt, for the right price, but just like a “totaled” car…even though it might be brought back to working order in the hands of an expert rebuilder…new doors, new motor, new frame, new tires, new this, new that….the next thing you know you have spent near what a good used or new car costs…but you still have an old car with new parts.  Pianos work a lot the same way.  Once they’re “totaled” you can put money into them, at your own risk…many pianos have been saved from “the heap” that way, and many pianos have gone on to lead useful lives for many more years.  My hats off to the many piano rebuilders who do just that every day of their lives.  We owe a lot to them.

Again, I am NOT saying that old pianos should not ever be rebuilt, not one bit.  I am NOT saying that you are not wise by putting money into an old piano.  You have every right to do what you would like.  The CAUTION is to consider these things before accepting that “free” piano, and then being disappointed when you realize what you’ve inherited, and that once you fix it up, you quite possibly won’t get that price back out of it if you decide to sell it.

 

What I AM saying, is that basically, you’re not going to get something for nothing.  Don’t expect to take on a free piano and “only have it tuned”.  It’s probably not going to happen.  If you are going to accept that free piano, it would be a good idea to know what you’re getting into so that you don’t have that shocked look on your face when I have to give you the bad news!   Accepting that free piano sounds so tempting, but take some simple advice and do your homework before you do.

 

Free pianos are not always the best to learn on!
I am often surprised when I hear a parent reason that they “are getting a piano for free, even though it’s in pretty rough shape, to see if my child will like it and stick with it before investing any money into a better piano.  After all, they aren’t practicing to play at Carnegie Hall, or anything like that, so it really doesn’t matter.”  I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this. Really though, what kind of reasoning is that?  I understand not wanting to spend money on something the child may give up in a year or two, but the way I see it, you are setting him up to fail.
Certainly, if your first experience with an instrument is a run-down, shoddy instrument that barely plays, the chances of you falling in love with the music it produces (or doesn’t) is slim to none!  While it is a risk you take to get a decent piano and keep it maintained, that investment will likely pay off in the long run…and if it doesn’t, you still have a nice piano that has value that can be sold if you need to.
This goes for adults too.  Anyone learning to play the piano needs a good, decent, well tuned and regulated piano from which to learn on.  “Why.” you ask? Because your ear is being trained to hear differences in sounds and pitch, as well as the differences in expressions.  If the piano is not tuned and voiced well, you will begin to recognize pitches incorrectly, the piano may not respond to your loud or soft playing correctly, and you could learn improper finger techniques as you attempt to compensate for poor, uneven touch, loose and wobbling keys, and such. We seem to think that younger students won’t notice, or that they at least won’t mind, but the fact is that they do notice.  Every time they go to their piano lesson play on their teacher’s well maintained piano (we hope), they are reminded when they get home that their piano for some reason doesn’t sound or feel like their teacher’s piano.  It is for this reason, many times whether the student knows exactly why or not, that many potentially great pianists have given up at a young age.
What makes things worse, I feel, is when the parents are not musically inclined (not THAT they are not musical, but because they are not musical).  When the parents don’t have an ear for music, or are not pianists themselves, it makes it much easier for them to justify starting out with a less than stellar instrument, because they honestly don’t know the difference.  So reasoning with them about how really important it is for the student can sometimes be more difficult.

Here’s how I see trying to get little Johnny or Suzie to learn to play on an old clunker.  Think about this…would you WANT to learn to play golf, and would you learn to play WELL, on a set of hand-me-down clubs that had all the club faces all nicked up, where the wood clubs were dried and split, where the handle grip tape was all gummy and falling off, some of the clubs had bent shanks, and all your golf balls had deep cuts in them from years of use.  Absolutely not.  Granted, we usually cannot afford the best set money can buy, just like everybody can’t go out and get a Steinway & Sons grand piano to learn on, but at the same time, I would never try to learn golf on a set of clubs that I’ve described, nor would I try to learn or practice piano on a very poor piano.  It may have been good in its time, but time and wear have rendered them near useless.

 

Today’s post was not about bashing old pianos given for free.  As I said before, there are many of them out there still making plenty of great music.  My hope is that armed with this knowledge, you will be prepared to either say “no” to that offer and make plans to search out a decent piano to learn on, or that if you say “yes” to that free offer, that you will be either prepared to spend some money fixing it up properly, or you will be prepared for take your technician’s recommendations, whatever that may be.

 

Until next time…..make a joyful noise!

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How often, and what time a year should my piano be tuned?

Generally, your piano should be tuned about once or twice a year.  That said, the real answer is …it depends.  For example, a once-a-year tuning would never do for a brand new piano, teacher’s piano, practice piano, or concert piano.

 

How often you decide to tune your piano depends on several things, such as: humidity fluctuation, how particular you are about how your piano sounds, how often it is used, how it is used (for practice, for performance only, teaching, etc), and of course finances play a role too.

All these factors really need to be considered and discussed with your piano technician for you to come to the proper conclusion regarding how often to service your piano.

 

As a starting point, I’d recommend tuning your piano no less than once a year.

 

If you wait any longer than a year, then the overall pitch and tension of the piano will begin to change, usually going pretty flat.  This is not only hard on the piano, but you’ll pay for it later in pitch raises (also known as pre-tensioning, pre-tuning, or pitch adjustments) trying to get it back to pitch and trying to get it to hold it’s pitch again.  If you have a piano that is being rarely used, the piano is not used for teaching or practicing, and you’re not really particular about how perfectly it sounds, then once a year is usually just fine.

 

If the piano is being used in a school or church type setting, you are playing your piano regularly practicing for lessons (or maybe you just love to play), then I would recommend twice to four times a year, again, that depends on things such as humidity, how hard you play, and personal preferences.

 

If the piano is used in say a recording studio, then the piano might likely need to be tuned weekly if not before each recording.  Again, this depends on the piano (how well it holds it’s tune) and how stable the humidity is where the piano is located.

 

Now, if the piano is used for concerts, then it will usually be tuned for rehearsal, and then fine tuned again just before the concert, and sometimes “touched up” during intermission.

 

So, you can see that there is really no one answer that I can give you, and even the recommendations above are just that…recommendations.  Each piano and situation varies, and that is something you will have to talk over with your piano technician.

 

Generally, the more a piano is used and the more public the piano becomes for entertainment, teaching, concerts, recordings and such, the more frequently the piano will need to be serviced.

 

Don’t forget that like anything, your house, car, etc. that pianos too will require more repairs and regulation also the more they are used.

 

What months are best to tune my piano?

 

What we’re really asking is: “what time of the year is the humidity stable enough to tune my piano so that I can keep my good tuning for the longest amount of time possible?”

 

You will hear it said over and over that HUMIDITY CHANGES are the primary reason pianos go out of tune.

The following excerpt is from my FAQs page on my website:

When choosing a time of year to have your piano tuned, some
believe that fall and spring are the best times, being
right after major seasonal changes. True, that is when the
Relative Humidity is most ideal for a piano, at 43% or so.
However, January and July are the best times if you want the
longest period of time without major fluctuations, even though
the humidity during those times are not always ideal. If your
home or establishment maintains it’s temperature and humidity
rather well, or if your piano has a Dampp Chaser or similar
humidity control system installed and functioning regularly, then
this is not as much of an issue. While there is never a “perfect”
time, it is always better to have it tuned than it is to wait and risk
forgetting. Pitch adjustments are costly and hard on the piano! I
would suggest that whatever time(s) you decide, that you stick
with it.

 

So, in the Spring and Fall (April and October) about 2 weeks after the heat or A/C is turned on, are typically recommended times if you decide to tune twice a year.  The humidity at these times of year are closest to 43% on average, which is what the piano needs.  Generally, these are good times of the year to have your piano tuned.

 

However, another good time is January and July.  While the humidity may be a little higher or lower than desired at these times, humidity levels hold pretty steady for a longer period of time during and immediately following those months.  So, with a January/July tuning, in some places, your piano should stay in tune a little longer than with an April and October, Spring/Fall tuning.

 

IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that I live in Missouri, and other parts of the country may have different recommendations.  Please always consult your local Piano Technician for his/her local recommendations.

 

While there may seem to be no absolute perfect time to get your piano tuned, (and if there were, everybody would be calling us all at once and we piano technicians would be swamped with hundreds or thousands of pianos in one week or month, and have no tunings the rest of the year), it helps us to at least aim for the “better” times of the year when we can maximize our tuning stability.

 

My final recommendation, though….whatever you decide, pick a time and stick with it.  Get your piano tuned, and then keep it tuned.  It will be the best for your instrument, the best for your ears, and the best for your neighbor’s ears too!

 

Until next time…make a joyful noise!

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My piano sounds louder since you tuned it…what did you do?

Today’s post has to do with sound waves, and can look complicated at first, but I promise, it’s pretty simple to understand.  I love explaining this one to the customers who ask.  I keep it short and simple for them, so I’ll keep it short and simple here, fair enough?

 

“My piano sounds louder since you’ve tuned it…what did you do?”

I’ve heard this one so many times, and there is a simple answer.  I tuned it!  “Ok, I know that already….so really, what’s going on here,” you ask?

The simple answer is that before tuning, the 3 strings of each note (or two strings per note in the tenor section) don’t match each other. The sound waves bump into each other, and when they do, they cancel each other out from making any sound…this creates a “whah – whah” or dead sounds when the strings are out of tune with each other.  However, after tuning, the 3 strings (or two in the tenor) do match, and the waves are now working together to produce more sound, not against each other.

 

That’s basically it.

 

Now, for those of you that just wanted the simple answer….you’re done…you can go back to your Sudoku puzzle now! However, if you want a little better explanation, read on.

 

Sound waves : Working together…or not? That is the question!

I think we all remember back to science class when we learned about sound waves, right?  A single string that is played will produce a certain soundwave having a particular frequency (wavelength) and amplitude. Furthermore, any sound wave will have peaks (high points) and troughs (valley low points) like you see below.

Parts of a wave

Cycles: While understanding cycles is not really important to understanding what I’m trying to explain today, I’ll throw it in just as a refresher to how waves work. Each wave starts at the line, goes up above the horizontal line, then down below the line, then back to the line.  That is one cycle. (The picture to the left shows about 2 wave cycles. This happens many times a second for any given note.

Your piano is tuned at A=440, that means the A above middle C has a wave that cycles (or reoccurs) 440 times each second.

 

Single note wave

Now, back to the explanation…what you see in this picture is a single wave. This is what a single string of any note would make. (Side-note: a single string almost always sounds good and pure because it doesn’t have another string’s wave to potentially “fight” with).

 

2 waves at different speeds - waves cancel sometimes

OK, now imagine you take another note’s wave and lay it right over this one.  If they are exactly the same frequency, the peaks and troughs would line up, an exact match.   However, if the second note created a pitch with a frequency a little faster or slower than the the first note, (the peaks and troughs would happen sooner or later  and will not line up) this note would be either sharp or flat from the first note.  Every so often the the faster wave would overtake, or “lap” the other, just like a runner that runs so much faster than another, that he eventually “laps” the slower guy (this always happened to me- I was the slow guy on the track in High School).

Every time this happens you will hear a beat, which sounds like a “whah” sound. When the waves of each note played wind up at the peak at the same time, they get together and you hear sound.  When they are at the trough at the same time, you hear sound.  When the waves wind up on opposite sides of the center line, they cancel out. (Much like + and – cancel in math).

Notice in this picture, the greyed areas the sound is cancelled.  The first, 3rd, and 4th areas you see in the picture are clear, meaning that the waves are together and are producing sound.

 

So, let’s put it together and see what it means for the piano.

3 strings per note

 

On a piano there are usually 3 strings per note.  So, for one note on the piano to be in tune with itself, the waves of all three strings need to be traveling exactly the same speed.  When they do, guess what….the peaks and troughs now match up creating more….you guessed it…sound!

 

 

All 3 notes (waves) traveling together AMPLIFY sound!

The bold yellow line represents all 3 waves (the 3 strings of a single note on the piano) traveling exactly together…in tune with each other.  No fighting, no bickering for who’s first to the finish line, none of that.  They work together to help each other out, thus creating a more unified tone with greater volume.

 

Here’s a real life example that may help. 

 

Imagine a soloist singing in an auditorium.  Suppose he/she is singing at a medium to loud volume.  At the back of the auditorium, they sound good, clear, but maybe not too loud.  (that would be like a single string sounding in a piano).

Now, imagine a trio (three singers) in the same auditorium. They are singing in unison, the same melody of a song.  They are also each singing the same volume that the soloist did.  The difference will be that they will have more volume as a group, even if each is only singing a normal volume.  (this would be like the three strings in tune with each other).

Lastly, imagine what it would sound like if each of the three each sang a different song, different melody, different words, different rhythm, etc. but at the same volume as they were before.  What might you hear?  Discord for sure, but you would catch bits and pieces of each and none would be as well heard as if they were singing the same thing, together.

It’s much easier to hear the group singing the same thing at the same time, right?

 

One last example: Here’s another way I like to think about how waves behave when they are in tune or not.  It’s kind of like riding a horse.  If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up saddle sore if when the horse goes up, you go down, and vice-versa.  Every time you bump the saddle, would be like a beat (or “whah) like I was talking about.  Not exactly, as all analogies don’t work perfectly, but that’s the idea. You get saddle sore when horse and rider are working against each other.  The better way is to be in “tune” with the horse….riding “with” the horse.  When he goes up, you go up.  When he goes down, you go down.  Much better to  work together, than against each other.  That’s really all there is to it!  When we tune, we are trying to get all the waves of a certain note to work together, and when they do, they produce not only a better tone, but more sound!  Pretty neat, huh!

Kind of like life, isn’t it.  We work together, we get more done!

 

Well that’s all for today.  Until next time…make a joyful noise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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