Tuning & Repairs
Tuning is the act of making adjustments to the tensions of the strings of a piano to properly align the intervals between their tones so that the instrument is in tune. The meaning of the term “in tune” in the context of piano tuning is not simply a particular fixed set of pitches.
Fine piano tuning requires an assessment of the interaction between notes, which is different for every piano.
Pianos are usually tuned to a modified version of the system called equal temperament. In all systems of tuning, every pitch may be derived from its relationship to a chosen fixed pitch, which is usually A440.
Piano Tuning requires patience, a good ear and practice. The piano is a complex instrument, requiring all work – tuning, repairs, cleaning, etc. to be done by an experienced, caring professional piano tuner. Keep in mind that professional piano tuners spend years learning the nuances, craft and art of Piano Tuning.
Most manufacturers recommend that you service your piano 2 – 4 times a year for the best sound depending on the condition of your piano. New pianos will need servicing 4 times during the first year. This is because new strings tend to stretch as they are being worked in, causing the piano to go out of tune more often. A piano that is used quite often, such as one being used all day for piano lessons, or one being used by high level pianists who practice many hours a day, will need to be tuned every 2 – 3 months.
I service all piano brands (Steinway & Sons, Baldwin, Wurlitzer, Chickering, Mason and Rich, Weber, Yamaha, Kawai, Bosendorfer, Schimmel, Knabe, Kimball, Mason and Hamlin, Story and Clark, Kohler and Campbell, Boston, Young Chang, Samick, Petrof, Pearl River, and many others). All types – upright, grand, baby grand are supported.
The felt hammers of the piano tend to harden over time, as the felt becomes compressed by repeated impact. They also form grooves at the points of contact with the strings. Harder hammers produce a brighter tone quality, which may ultimately become harsh and undesirable. Piano technicians can soften hammers using special tools called voicing needles. They also sometimes use special hardening agents when the hammers are too soft (though this practice is controversial among some technicians). In either case, an important goal is uniform tone quality across the piano, since the hammers are not used with equal frequency and therefore tend to wear unevenly. How much and how forcefully the piano is played is a factor in how often a piano is voiced, as are the piano’s setting and the preferences of its players.
Over time, the strings will wear grooves into the surface of the hammers. The grooves eventually become deep enough, and the head of the hammer flattened enough, that voicing cannot restore the piano’s tone. At this point, a technician can file the hammers, restoring their original ovoid shape and pristine surface at the expense of making them somewhat smaller. This process may repeat several times, until there is not enough felt left on the hammers for another filing, and they must be replaced.
Over time, the performance of a piano action tends to decline, due to the compression of felt, warping of wood, and other types of wear. A skilled technician can restore it to optimal precision, in a process called regulation, which involves adjustments ranging from turning a small screw to sanding down a wood surface. Many new pianos are not perfectly regulated when released from the factory, or quickly lose their regulation when moved to their new home, and benefit from regulation in the store or in the home.
The goal of regulation is to make the piano’s touch and sound consistent across all notes, allow it to comfortably achieve the widest possible range of dynamics, and make the keys responsive to even the most rapid or most subtle motions of the player.
There are many dozens of types of regulation a piano may require. The most important include adjustment of:
Let-off, the point when the hammer disengages from the jack and flies freely. If the let-off is too large, it can be very difficult to achieve a pianissimo, to execute rapid trills, and to play powerful fortes; if too small, notes can acquire a “pinched” sound, or even block.
- Drop, how far the hammers fall back after let-off. This affects the responsiveness of the action.
- Repetition springs in a grand piano, which allow a hammer to repeatedly strike with minimal lifting of a key. If a spring is too springy, it can cause double-strikes; if not springy enough, it becomes difficult to repeat a note.
- Key weights (and, in some actions, weight-regulating springs) control the inertia of the keys. A technician can add, remove, or change lead weights in the keys to change how light or heavy the keys feel to the player.