Monthly Archives: March 2015

Types of piano action and purchasing second hand pianos

The picture above is of an overdamper piano action (sometimes known as ‘birdcages’ because of the way hammers are obscured by the wires of the action) and these account for roughly 20% of the pianos I encounter. A customer in Sheffield asked me about the difference between the types of piano action so they know what to look for when buying a new piano. 

There are two main types of piano action on the market today, overdamped and underdamped. Overdamped pianos have felts nearer to the top of the string which makes tuning the piano much more tricky. But from the point of view of a piano player rather than a piano tuner, it is simply more efficient to have the felt nearer to the middle of the string as they deaden the note more effectively. The notes on an overdamped piano sustain and ring on for longer which isn’t always a desirable effect. If you have an overdamped piano the chances are that is at least 75 years old as production of overdampers ceased in the 1930s.

An Underdamped Piano Action

An underdamped piano will usually be much newer than an overdamped piano which is definitely a bonus when it comes to pianos. That said, it’s all subjective and some people are attached to an overdamped piano that has been passed down from an older generation and refuse to part with it. Some people like the character that an old piano has and they can often look nice in your living room, but it’s just not advisable to pay for a second hand overdamped piano when you can easily find a better piano for an affordable price. If you have been given an overdamped piano and aren’t willing to part with it then the good news is that it can always be made to sound a bit better than it did before, but if it hasn’t been maintained very well then keeping it pefectly tune will be impossible (I’ve tried tuning a 100 year old piano before for a Sheffield customer and it went out of tune as I was tuning it).


I will write more about the different types of piano action in another post, as there is a lot more to consider than the difference between overdamped vs underdamped pianos….


– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield

Piano tuning in Doncaster yesterday

Although most of my piano tuning customers are from Sheffield, occasionally I make a trip to Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley or another part of South Yorkshire to tune or repair a piano. As a piano tuner I have no problem travelling to tune pianos in other as long as its within driving distance from Sheffield. Yesterday a Doncaster customer asked me about pitch raising the piano before the piano tuning. I have to remind people that as long as they aren’t playing the piano in an ensemble then sometimes it is safter to keep the piano below concert pitch rather than tuning it to A440 every time. It’s the choice of the piano tuning customer whether they want the piano tuner to do this, but raising the pitch adds the risk of it being a less stable tuning than tuning the piano to itself.


– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield

Piano Tuning post: How to tell if your piano is out of tune

For new piano tuning customers or people wondering if their piano is out of tune. Very basic but useful information:

An out of tune piano can be easily identified by the harmonics or ‘beating’ of the intervals. In all but the bass notes of the piano, each note has three strings and getting these strings to exactly the same pitch each other is the essence of piano tuning. A piano tuner also has to tune a scale so that the notes are in tune relative to each other (he or she starts at middle C or C4, in the piano of the piano and then tunes in octaves). A badly out of tune piano will have a ‘honky tonk’ sound most people recognize from the out of tune pianos played in the salons in old western films. 

A piano tuner will tune the piano in fourths and fifths, trying to get the beats at one note per second for fourths and about half a note per second for fifths. This system of tuning is known as the equal tempered scale and is the most common musical scale used at present, used for the tuning of pianos and other instruments of relatively fixed scale. It divides the octave into 12 equal semitones. It is common practice to state musical intervals in cents, where 100 cents is defined as one equal tempered semitone. The cents notation provides a useful way to compare intervals in different temperaments and to decide whether those differences are musically significant. A useful parameter for comparison is the just noticeable difference in pitch which corresponds to about 5 cents.


– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield

Piano Tuning in Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsely and other areas of South Yorkshire

I cover all of south yorkshire (Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley) and the surrounding areas (Chesterfield, Dronfield). I am prepared to travel anywhere within 40 miles of Sheffield for a piano tuning. A customer living further than 40 miles from Sheffield city centre may be asked on a day prior to the piano tuning (usually the day of the piano tuning booking) if they would be willing to pay a small supplement for travel costs. 

– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield

Tuning Old Pianos

Sadly I often will not tune pianos older than 100 years. Before tuning a new piano I will assess its condition and tell you if it is untunable or if it is too old to be restored to an acceptable standard. If a piano is well past its prime there is not much point in trying to tune it since it shall never stay in tune properly. A dilapidated piano can always be made to sound better by a professional piano tuner but if your standards are high enough to want it to be tuned accurately (if you’ve hired a piano tuner, they will be), it’s more advisable to invest in a newer and more stable piano. As a piano tuner I can recommend one if you email or for me (my details are on the contact page of this site). If you happen to prefer the look and sound of an older piano, you should only purchase one that is well-maintained or one that has been properly and expertly restored.


– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield

Piano Tuning: Pitch Raising

A pitch raise is a rough tuning, which generally takes a piano tuner less than a half an hour. Piano Tuners call it a pitch raise because one must raise the pitch of each string about 25 to 30 percent as sharp beyond concert pitch as it was flat. By the time the pitch raise process is completed, the strings have fallen back to approximately concert pitch and a fine tuning by the piano tuner can successfully be achieved.

A pitch raise or pitch adjustment is needed when, in order to achieve the desired tuning, a great shift in tension across all the strings of the piano is required. All of the strings of the piano are exerting pressure on a large piece of eighth inch thick wood called the sound board through contact with another piece of wood called the bridge. As the tension on each string is increased the tension on the others is decreased. I can only predict the subsequent decrease in tension within a certain range, therefore a fine tuning must follow a pitch raise. A pitch raise will be needed if your piano has not been tuned for more than a year or is extremely flat or sharp.

If the instrument is tuned regularly (about every six months) it may never require a pitch raise. If it has been a long time you should expect that one will be needed. I will let you know on the day if I have concluded that one will be necessary.


New Prices:

£40 Introductory tuning

£50 for a standard tuning

£60 for a pitch raise and fine tuning (both classified as one job)


– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield