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Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Tuning Snob

If a piano is not in tune, surely it is out of tune! A simple 'either/or' choice would make life so much easier. 

Imagine if we piano tuners would turn up to work, flick some kind of switch, tinker about for an hour or so, play the 'Tuner's Waltz', have a cup of tea, get paid, smile and... on to the next job!

But alas, a tuner's life is not so black and white, not so easy. Whatever make the piano may be: Steinway, Schimmel, Schiedmayer - just a few of those beginning with S - but Bluthner, Bechstein etc. and all the rest. All these good pianos, need regular tuning and maintenance to keep them sounding good.

Videos posted online, recordings heard on the radio, programs on the TV, all demonstrate the vast spectrum of ideas about in-tune-ness. The concept of 'in tune' can range from the clinically bland to the ridiculous clang of a poorly tuned street piano. Some people seem to tolerate terrible twangs and jarring noises, oblivious to the blatant affront to musicality, while being quite serious in their playing. Perhaps being a piano tuner cuts oneself off from being able to appreciate the honest effort of sincere musicians wanting to express their musical abilities, but I find it surprising there is not a more widespread appreciation of the concept of being 'in tune'. 

Making the picture as a whole even more bewildering is the fact that among tuners there is a varied set of opinions about in-tune-ness. Even worse, we tuners are often not the most accommodating of people. Negative comments about our work tends to bruise our egos and leave our nerves a little on edge. But no real harm done!

The truth is we can all improve. I'd be embarrassed to be met with some of my earliest tuning efforts. Of course, after so many years, nobody is going to complain now. We can only deal with the pianos we tune today with our very best efforts. Building experience one piano at a time. Who knows, we may yet see at shift towards a wider appreciation of in-tune-ness.  

Tuner's Journal


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