Archive for the 'Technical Servicing' Category

A piano is a gloriously complex musical instrument. Some have metallic sounds, some have brilliant sounds, while others have a sharper tone.

It is a true work of art that combines historical innovations with the need of artists to be more involved with the instrument. It can produce more varying sounds than any other acoustic instrument, and allows for a greater freedom of musical expression unlike any other instrument.

With all it’s intricacies and required precision, it is important to maintain a piano regularly, so that it can achieve its optimum performance potential.

Piano technology is the art and science of tuning, voicing, regulating, repairing, rebuilding and restoration of the instrument in order to obtain that potential.

Piano Tuning
Piano tuning is quite simply the adjustment of the tension of the approximately 200 strings in a piano. The tuning pins on a piano are adjusted with a tuning “hammer”. The pins are turned so that all of the notes of the piano are the same musical distance apart. If there is more than one string for a note, each one must be tuned to precisely the same frequency, or be in unison

Piano Voicing
Voicing is manipulation of certain parts of the piano to produce a certain sound or tone, usually set to the preference of the owner or the person playing the instrument. It ensures that the hammers are properly aligned to the strings, and that they contact the strings evenly. A tool called a “voicing needle” is pressed into specific areas of the hammer which vary according to the kind of tone desired. Some people prefer a rich mellow, or “fruity” sound while others prefer a brighter, sharper or “bell-like” sound. No one sound is better than another; the sound you choose for your piano is simply a matter of deciding which one is most pleasing to you

Piano Regulation
Piano regulation involves the adjustment of thousands of parts in a piano so that they function properly in relation to each other. Regulation involves key levelling, adjustment of key height and key dip, “let-off”,”lost motion”,”hammer blow”, “back checking”,damper adjustment, and pedal adjustment. A properly regulated piano will allow the musician to repeat at any volume, ornament well, and play very softly. The goal is to have a consistent feel across the entire keyboard, and can be adjusted to suit the player’s requirements for a lighter or heavier touch while playing.

Piano Repair
With all of the thousands of parts in a piano and the sometimes harsh treatment it receives in it’s lifetime, from excessive or even normal use, occasionally things are bound to go wrong or require repair. Sometimes a string will break, occasionally a pedal will start to squeak, old brittle parts may break, or keys will stick. A qualified piano technician recognizes these and other common symptoms of typical repair situations and can usually do these repairs in your home.

Piano Rebuilding
Occasionally, a piano is suffering from more serious problems that an in-home repair appointment cannot rectify. For example, the strings may be old or rusty, and the tuning pins might be loose and unable to hold a tuning. There may problems with the soundboard, the bridges or the felts and cloths may be damaged by insects. The keys might be chipped or cracked, and may need to be replaced. If rebuilding is done, the piano is usually removed from the home and taken to a rebuilding shop. It will usually remain there for quite some time, so the owner must be prepared to live without their piano for an extended period of time. A piano technician will be able to give an estimate of how much time it will take and how much money it will cost to make these repairs. In some cases the work to be done will cost more than the piano is worth, and a good technician should be straightforward with you about that. Many people choose to have rebuilding done on their piano regardless of the cost because it is a family heirloom and much sentimental value is attached to it.

Piano Restoration
Restoration is not something normally done by piano technicians, as their shop facilities are not set up to do it, and, since chemicals are involved, the shop may not have adequate ventilation to do it safely. Restoration can mean having the plate resprayed, minor touch ups to pianos with polyester finishes, or complete cabinet restoration, which involves completely removing the original surface, and applying a new one. If the plate is being resprayed, it is normally done as part of a rebuild, as it is impossible to spray the plate while it still in the piano, and removing it under any other circumstances could mean replacement of the strings as well. New manufacturers decals can also be applied at this time as well. A piano that is being restored is almost always sent to another location where the work is to be done.

The “88th” Note
After reading this, you must now realize that piano technology is a very specialized field, and that a piano technician is a highly skilled craftsperson that has chosen to translate their love and appreciation of the instrument into a challenging and very interesting livelihood.

Every piano has its own unique sound. One might be described as ‘glassy,’ another as ‘warm’. One might have a ‘full singing’ tone, and yet another sounds ‘thin.’ Although the original design establishes the basic character of your piano’s tone, your technician can modify it to better suit your taste or restore its original tone if it has deteriorated with age. The process of modifying a piano’s tone is called voicing.

What is the difference between tuning and voicing?
Tuning is the adjustment of the tension of all of your piano’s 220 (or more) strings to the correct pitch or frequency. This ensures that notes played in a musical interval (octaves, chords, etc.) will sound in harmony.

Voicing is the adjustment of a piano’s tone or quality of sound. Tone can be changed without affecting the pitch. For example, turning the bass or treble knobs on your stereo changes the tone but does not alter the notes the musician recorded. A skilled piano technician can voice a piano to change its tonal personality from mellow to bright or robust to delicate. The degree of change possible depends upon the piano’s design and condition.

What is good tone?
Tone varies, even among pianos of the same make and model. No matter what its size or cost, any good piano should provide a wide range of tone, from soft and sweet to loud and bright. The tone should be even from the lowest to the highest notes. Most of all, it should sound musical.

What does the perfect piano tone sound like?
There is no single answer, because everyone’s taste varies. Also, certain tonal characteristics are more suited to specific styles of music. A bright, lively tone might be best for jazz, whereas you might prefer a rich and dark sound for Beethoven’s music. There are many different sizes and models of piano available in the market place; you chose your piano because it sounded good to you.

But a piano’s tone changes with use. As the hammers wear and compact, the tone often becomes too bright and harsh, robbing the pianist of the ability to produce a sweet sound. As parts wear, the regulation (adjustment of the mechanical parts that transmit motion from the fingers to the hammers) becomes uneven, and the pianist loses control over volume and tone. This is most noticeable in quiet playing. A delicate pianissimo passage becomes very difficult or impossible to play, and some keys may not sound at all if played very lightly.

Aging of the piano’s strings and structure also can diminish its tone.

Other factors that affect the sound you hear from your piano are:

  • Room Acoustics - Hard shiny surfaces such as windows and bare floors reflect high frequencies, making a piano sound bright and loud. High ceilings or large adjoining rooms add resonance. Rugs and upholstered furniture soften tone and add warmth.
  • The Lid – Both grands and verticals sound louder and brighter if the lid is opened.
  • You – Your ears are sensitive, and will perceive sound differently if you have spent all day in a quiet office or at a loud construction site.

Does my piano need voicing?

  • Your piano may benefit from voicing if:
  • Your piano sounds different than when you purchased it.
  • You don’t like the sound even after it has been tuned.
  • Tone varies radically from note to note.
  • You cannot achieve a range of tone (mellow to bright) at different volumes.
  • The piano has lost its ability to play softly.

Before deciding if a new piano needs voicing, make sure it is well-tuned and well-regulated. Then, play a wide variety of music on it. Most voicing procedures are long-lasting, so give yourself some time to explore the sound of a new instrument before deciding to change it.

How often voicing is needed depends upon the piano’s usage and its intended audience. Pianos in concert halls and recording studios often receive minor refinement of the voicing before each performance. A home piano may need some initial voicing to customize it to the owner’s taste, then once every one to five years to maintain its tone.

Your piano and your musical needs are unique, your own schedule for periodic voicing is a matter for you and your technician to decide. To find out how voicing might improve the tone of your piano, ask for a demonstration on one or two notes.

How does a technician voice a piano?
Before you or your technician can fully evaluate then tone of your piano, it must be well-tuned. Tuning is the first step in improving the sound of any piano and may actually provide the tone you desire. If the tone is still not satisfactory. Your technician will inspect the action, hammers and strings. If these components are severely worn, major repairs may be required before an improved tone is possible.

Moderately worn hammers can be re-shaped with sandpaper to remove string grooves and restore their original rounded shape. Next, the hammers are aligned to strike each string squarely.

Action regulation should be checked or adjusted. This ensures an even, powerful response from each key.

If tuning, hammer shaping and regulation are correct, the tone probably will be balanced but still may be too bright or mellow for your taste. If so, your technician might recommend voicing the hammers.

For a tone that is too loud, too bright or seems to die out too quickly, softening the hammers felt often is recommended. This is usually done by inserting needles into specific areas of the hammer to increase flexibility.

For a tone that is too weak or too mellow, hardening of the hammer felt may be necessary. This is usually done by filing away soft outer layers of hammer felt or by applying a chemical hardening solution.

Once the overall tone is correct, individual notes are voiced to make the tone as even as possible from one end of the keyboard to the other. In some pianos certain notes still may sound different from their neighbors, no matter how skillfully the technician voiced the piano. This most commonly occurs about an octave below middle C, where the strings change from steel wires wrapped with copper to plain steel. Such irregularities are a result of design compromises, and usually cannot be corrected by voicing.

Getting the most enjoyment from your piano
One of your piano’s most important assets is its tone. Properly voiced, your piano can offer you a rich palette of music expression, and inspire good practice habits in every member of your family. However, piano owners are not always aware that tone can be customized to their own tastes and room acoustics, and to correct for deterioration and age. If the only service your piano has received is tuning, the sound can likely be improved by voicing.

Good Hammers VS Worn Hammers

A properly filed shaped hammers (good hammers) will produce a far better tone whereby a worn piano hammers (bad hammers) with string grooves in the felt result in uneven and sometimes harsh and lifeless tone.

As a conscientious piano owner, you probably have your piano tuned regularly by a qualified technician. You may, however, notice a deterioration of its performance despite regular tuning. It’s important to note that tuning is only the adjustment of the system of strings and pins that determines the pitch of each string. Your piano also requires a periodic servicing called regulation, which attends to the mechanical parts which cause strings to sound when keys are played and affect the sound through use of the pedals.

What is regulation and how does it affect my piano’s performance?
Regulation is the adjustment of the mechanical aspects of the pianos to compensate for the effects of wear, the compacting and settling of cloth, felt, and buckskin, as well as dimensional changes in wood and wool parts due to changes in humidity.

The three systems involved in regulation are the action trapwork and damper system. The action is the mechanical part of the piano that transfers the motion of the fingers on the keys to the hammers that strike the strings. It is comprised of over 9,000 parts which require adjustment to critical tolerances to be able to respond to a pianist’s every command. The trapwork is the assemblage of levers, dowels and springs that connects the pedals to the action affecting sustain and dynamics. The damper system is the mechanical part of the piano that stops the vibration of the string when you release the key and is controlled by the key and pedal systems.

If I have my piano tuned regularly, why do I need to have it regulated?
While tuning corrects the pitch of your piano, it is only one component of a complete maintenance program. Regulation attends to the touch and uniform responsiveness of your action, all vital to making each performance pleasurable. In addition, regulation ensures that your instrument is capable of producing a wide dynamic range – a critical factor, particularly in pianissimo passages.

Music is one of the most complex vehicles for expression. Its beauty is reliant upon personal dynamics and tempi. These changes require extremely fine adjustments to respond to the pianist’s nuances and subtle shadings. A smooth, even response throughout the entire range of the keyboard and an extremely quick action capable of playing rapid passages and repeated notes evenly is essential. Outstanding response is essential for a pianist to create an outstanding performance.

Do all pianos need to be regulated?
All upright and grand pianos need periodic regulation to perform their best. Frequency of regulation is dependent upon amount of use, exposure to climatic changes, and the instrument’s quality, age and condition. New pianos may require regulation in their first year because settling and compacting of parts sometimes necessitates adjustment.

How often is regulation needed?
Only you and your technician together should decide how frequently your piano needs regulation. Several factors can contribute to this. The intensity and number of hours your instrument is played, and climatic conditions are all determinants. A piano kept in relatively consistent conditions which are neither too wet nor dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 42 percent relative humidity, will require less adjustment.

The quality of the instrument itself also can affect frequency of regulation. Some manufacturers decrease costs by not going over the regulation and voicing processes in the factory as much as needed. Reputable retailers sometimes do the necessary regulation themselves prior to selling the pianos, but others do not.

Also, performance instruments may require some regulation before each use, due to the higher demands placed on them.

What are the signs that my piano needs regulation?
If you instrument displays a lack of sensitivity or a decreased dynamic ranges, it’s a candidate for regulation. If you notice that the keys are not level (some higher or lower than the rest), the touch is uneven or that the keys are sticking, the need for regulation is indicated. However, a sluggish action or deep grooves in the hammers indicate the need for reconditioning or repair. Ask your technicians to show you what needs adjustment on your piano.

No amount of practice can compensate for a poorly maintained action. Poor legato touch, chord playing where all notes of the chord don’t speak clearly, a gradual loss of subtlety in phrasing and an inability to execute quick passages or note repetitions evenly may be the fault of the piano, not the player.

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