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What goes into a piano tuning?
Piano Tuning is the adjusting of each strings' tension so that the particular string is vibrating at exactly the correct frequency. There are approximately 220 strings on the average piano with a cumulative tension in excess of 20 tons. On one end, a string is attached to a hitch pin, and on the other end, it is wrapped around a tuning pin. By turning the tuning pin, a piano tuner can change the tension of a string and therefore change the string's pitch. All pianos are tuned to the world standard pitch of A440 unless I am instructed differently. Piano tuning can be a delicate job, and I treat all of my clients' pianos as if they were my own. Most pianos should be tuned at least once, but preferably twice each year, regardless of usage. Recording studios, concert halls, performance venues, bars and clubs, some schools and fine pianists often request tuning on a more frequent basis. If that can be done in accordance with seasonal changes. Not tuning the piano regularly will cause it to become unstable and make future tunings much harder. In fact, it might cost more to repair a neglected piano in the future than to care for it regularly. In addition to tuning, periodic regulation of the action, pedals, and keys is required to keep the piano in good shape.
What is a "pitch raise"? When the tension on the piano strings drops to where the musical pitch is one half a step flat (The note "A" sounds like an "A flat".) we say the pitch is 100 cents (100%) flat. I have found that pianos that are around 20 years old will normally drop in pitch about three to five cents in a year. (Newer pianos will probably drop in pitch faster.) When the pitch has dropped overaltl by twelve cents or more, it should have a "pitch raise" before the fine tuning is done. Let's assume the pitch of a string is twelve cents flat and I increase the tension to where it is at the correct pitch. In a matter of a few minutes the tension would decrease (sort of like a slow spring back) to make the pitch about four cents flat. In order to compensate for this drop, I must put an additional tension ("stretch" or "overpull") on the string. Thus when it loses some of the tension I put on it, it will drop down to the correct pitch rather than below the correct pitch. This process is called a pitch raise. Once the pitch raise is done, a fine tuning will make the final adjustment to each string. Pianos that have had a very large pitch raise will probably need another fine tuning within six months. Some technicians may refer to the process of a pitch raise and a fine tuning as a "double tuning". Also, some prefer to come back later for the fine tuning so they can charge for two tuning visits. I do the fine tuning immediately after pitch raise with concert quality tuning in one visit.
Why are the pianos getting out of tune?
Pianos go out of tune for a variety of reasons. Pianos are sensitive to climate change, temperature and humidity levels. When moisture levels increase (such as in summer months) pianos often go sharp in pitch. This is because the strings are stretched from the tuning pin at the front of the piano to a hitch pin on the rigid cast iron plate or frame. Each string passes over a bridge (either treble or bass) and makes it's connection to the soundboard via the bridge. When the moisture content of the soundboard increases, the board rises in reaction because it has absorbed ambient moisture from the air. Pitch rises or becomes sharp as the string is tensioned by the enlarged soundboard which has a forward or diaphragmatic shape. The opposite is true when moisture levels decrease such as in the winter months and moisture leaves the soundboard. Pitch drops (or goes flat) as strings relax due to a decrease in soundboard profile. Pianos also go out of tune because of a condition where the pinblock (wood, usually a thick maple block under the tuning pins) becomes weak over time and loses the ability to hold a necessary amount of torque at the tuning pins to prevent slipping. A common reason for piano rebuilding is an inability of the piano to stay in tune because of pinblock failure. Pianos also go out of tune from frequent or hard playing as piano hammers impact the strings directly. Piano wire does also stretch for many years due to elasticity of the wire until a time at which it becomes more brittle and no longer stretches noticeably.
What is the best location to keep a piano?
The best location for any piano is one where sudden changes in atmospheric conditions are minimized. Extreme changes in conditions such as temperature or humidity will cause harm to the piano. For this reason, it is best to keep the piano away from air vents, fireplaces, and radiators. In addition, it is better to keep the piano away from windows and doors which are frequently opened and closed. Since sunlight can damage the finish of a piano as well as the tuning, direct sunlight on a piano should be diffused with curtains or blinds. Overall, the piano should be kept in as stable environment as possible.What Is Piano Regulation?
The piano is a mechanical instrument. All machines require some sort of regular maintenance. Piano action regulation is putting all of the factory specifications back to their original condition and is the process of optimizing the piano action (moving parts, keyboard and mechanism) to provide the best response to our touch. Each note has approximately 32 steps to properly accomplish this. In a sense regulation is the optimization of touch and tone. A piano that is out of proper regulation can have sluggish repetition, uneven tone, touch, exhibit tonal irregularities and an inability to play gently or softly. A fine regulation will result in an even touch whereby the piano keys and action respond in a like manner throughout. Power and control are restored. We use words like aftertouch to describe the sensation at the end of the keystroke at the very moment of sound. Aftertouch provides a comfortable touch sensation for pianists a physical zone for parts rotation, travel completion and repetition of each note. Hammer voicing in conjunction with regulation improves tone and timbre (tone color) in this process. Our regulation procedure includes inspection, repair and cleaning of the piano keyframe, keybed and action. Necessary repairs are made, friction is measured and reduced as needed followed by adjustments of key height, dip and level, key travel and spacing, hammer shaping, alignment, spacing and travel, all major action alignments, timing and parts synchronization, repetition spring and repetition lever adjustments and a host of other fine alignment and related adjustments. Regulation improves touch , tone and responsiveness of the piano and provides the basis for a positive musical experiens. Most technicians will recommend minor regulation every 5 years or so depending on the piano and its use and condition.
Piano repairs can include anything from replacing a broken string to fixing sticky or sluggish keys. Piano repair can also entail fixing broken or replacing missing parts and repairing minor regulation problems.
Piano voicing is primarily, in simple terms, the changing of the tone of the piano by either hardening or softening the hammer to give the piano a mellower or brighter sound. For more information click here to learn about voicing.
Piano Estimates and Appraisals
For piano appraisals I go over the entire piano to check age, mfg, type, size, case condition, action condition, strings, tuning pins, plate, bridges dampers, keys, etc. And then I give a value based on the current market. This is done for both insurance and resale values.
Piano Humidity Control System Installation
Piano humidity control systems help control the expansion and contraction of the sound board. The constant moving of the sound board is the main reason the piano goes out of tune. The system also helps control the humidity around the piano to avoid rust, corrosion, sticking / sluggish keys and cracked sound boards.
Cleaning and Touch-Up
Cleaning should be done before the piano is tuned. We will clean the soundboard, strings, keyboard, action, action cavity, cabinet, plate, tuning pin area and more. Hammer felts are vacuumed, brushed and sometimes filed to restore a clean surface. Light rust is removed from treble string surfaces. The sounboard is cleaned with a gentle solution and soft cloths are inserted between the strings to gain access to these hard-to-reach areas. The tuning pin area is carefully brushed with soft bristles and vacuumed. The keyboard and action are retracted from grand pianos to expose the inner keybed cavity where debris collects for years. The entire area is vacuumed, brushed and thoroughly cleaned. We can arrange to touch up, clean and polish the exterior cabinet in the home which includes fixing dents, chips, gouges, missing veneer and scratches in the piano and/or furniture finish. Pianos become dirty because of exposure to the atmosphere, indoor pollution from cooking oils, smoke, pet dander, spills and other accidents. It is normal for a piano to need cleaning after some period of time. Dirty pianos can pose a health risk, as common allergens collect for years including dust, mites, pet dander, smoke and mold. Some of these allergens become airborne as the piano is played. It is possible to see these effects as hammers strike strings.