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Monday, 22 February 2016

Fine Tuning

Tuning is not as easy as we'd like it to be. If the piano to be tuned is to be brought up to pitch, then we expect the piano to fight back. Pianos do not seem to like change! The construction of the piano, especially the soundboard and the strings, presents the tuner with a challenge. Raising the pitch creates pressures and counter pressures within the piano and it will not stand in tune for very long until the new stresses have had time to stabilise. 

If only piano strings stayed at the pitch we leave them! In theory, keeping a piano in perfect tune is a never ending job. Practically speaking we are left to do the best we can with any given piano as a tuner's day to day work involves making a set of compromises which are unique for each piano we tune. The more we know a specific piano, the more straightforward the task but we still have to make judgements on what the piano can give us. Some pianos, without serious rebuilding work will never sound good, but thankfully, most pianos allow a significant improvement in tune.

Because piano strings stretch, there is no point in fussing too much when we first get to work raising the pitch of a piano. The middle section of the piano seems to fight the pitch raising more than the high treble and low bass, so it is worth, first time through, just tuning this section. Whatever method you use to fix the pitch, be sure to tune it well sharp at this stage.

Second time through, tune the middle section again taking more care with accuracy and maybe tuning a further octave up and down. Third time through is where we can fuss all we like to achieve our goal of the finely tuned piano! 

When I was learning to tune, the old tuners used to talk about 'setting the pin'. Never quite got a clear explanation of what this actually meant but it sounded rather mysterious and seemed to be understood by the expert few. 

Of course, there is no mystery. Experience teaches keen learners how to manage what is met with when tuning pianos. Pins that are very tight are difficult to turn and therefore not easy to tune. Our aim is to get both the pin and the string to embrace any change we bring about.

Happy pianos, happy tuners and most important of all, happy pianists!

Tuner's Journal



Saturday, 25 July 2015

How to Donate a Piano

During the past year I have been asked to assess various pianos offered for free to various institutions by individuals who genuinely want their piano to go to a good home and be used. 

All of the pianos have been grands of various ages and sizes - the youngest being built in about 1935. While donating a piano to a school or college is a generous gesture, the kind of piano and its condition might throw a different light on the gift.

Institutions like donated pianos to be up to scratch, up to pitch and ready for continual and rigorous use without having to spend any new money. Pianos of a certain age will never be fully up to scratch, and pianos that are ripe for being donated are often pianos that are no longer used or wanted by the owners. In this age of trying to recycle everything, passing on a surplus piano seems a very 'green' thing to do!

Perhaps wrongly, but with a grand piano, the recipient hopes the piano can be used for concerts and recitals - any piano that takes up valuable floor space has to be worthy of the room taken up! But alas, each of the pianos I have viewed on behalf of hopeful clients, has been poor examples of mediocre manufacture.

It is better to do without a poor piano than to feel obliged to make room for it and be forced into making good an inherently bad piano.

During this time, a good outcome occurred twice! Once was when a parent of a child at a certain school very generously bought a piano for the school and the other, an 'old' parent wanted to donate their 1970s Yamaha to the school and even paid to have safety casters fitted, the piano moved and tuned! This is the way to do it! 

So if you are considering gifting a piano to a school of college, be doubly sure the piano would meet the demands expected.

Tuner's Journal