I have been reading much talk online about the benefits of A442 (European pitch – the standard Orchestras tune to on continental Europe in the present day) verses A440 ( concert pitch in the UK and the USA since the early twentieth century). The difference between the two is seven cents, which is so minute that the majority of people would not be able to hear the different in weight and timbre between the two (although they certainly would be able to hear that a piano tuned to A442 is out of tune with other instruments at A440 if played together). There are some musicians who genuinely prefer the added brightness that A442 can bring to a piano and on rare occasion I might opt for A442 if this is a quality that the customer is searching for. The other reason I might choose A442 is if the piano is already sharp or has been tuned that way by a previous piano tuner, I might in the interest of tuning stability, choose to tune the piano at A442 again. It’s not something I would like to do and I’d always discuss it with the customer before the tuning – my attitude as a piano tuner is that since equal temperament and A440 have been the default for nearly all modern music since the early twentieth century, one shouldn’t deviate from that without good reason.
Although rarely asked, I offer unequal temperament piano tunings for discerning Sheffield and Yorkshire piano tuning customers, if discussed prior to the piano tuning. When arriving at a piano tuning job, the default tuning system and pitch standard I choose would be equal temperament at A440 (which lines up with the majority of recorded music). This satisfies the vast majority of clients.
To those unfamiliar with the different tuning systems in music, Equal temperament is the standard tuning system of the current western world, and it involves dividing an octave into twelve equal parts, resulting in slightly imperfect fourth and fifth intervals and faster-beating major and minor thirds compared to earlier systems. Intervals are tempered in a way that makes all music equally “right” (or “wrong” depending on how you look at it) in all keys, hence the name equal temperament. It is in no way agreed upon that this is the best or the most musically-pleasing way to tune an instrument, only the most balanced across key signatures. Whatever gains are made in chords and keys being well-balanced, the unique and colorful characteristics of each key become lost in the trade off.
There are other reasons to request a non-equal temperament – If a customer is interested in medieval, renaissance or early baroque music for example, he or she may ask for an unequal temperament and an alternative pitch standard to compliment their repertoire. If that’s the case I’d also suggest a lower pitch standard than A440 – A415 tends to evoke the spirit of Bach more than anything else, but there’s something magical about A432 (the fundamental frequency of the universe, after all). For someone playing Bach and Handel, or earlier music, Wreckmeister III or Vallotti-Young are alternatives that give each key its natural color.
I also offer a wide variety of Pythagorean and Meantone temperaments for the open-minded customer. Please be aware that while such a job will yield exciting results, it will take me longer than usual due to Equal Temperament being so deeply ingrained in my psyche (tuning 3-4 pianos a day this way for 12 years, it becomes a force of habit). When tuning in an unequal temperament I have to be even more thorough with my checks to ensure the very greatest accuracy.
What separates a merely “good” piano tuning from a first class piano tuning service? From my ten years in the Sheffield piano tuning trade it comes down to several key factors that all require a lot of attention and diligence. The three factors are:
- Equal temperament – the tuning of intervals in accordance with the equal tempered scale. Using the high-end piano tuning software Tunelab plus my own aural checks of the beat frequency of intervals (fifths, fourths, octaves, major and minor thirds against their related sixths) I can achieve a first class equal tempered scale across the whole piano.
- Unisons – Eradicating the pulsing/beating from each note by fine tuning each string. This is one of my strongest areas as a piano tuner and its a good skill to be proficient in. A piano tuner who is strongly skilled at tuning unisons will achieve the purest tone from the piano, giving it the concert hall sound rather than a simply satisfactory sound.
- Stability – great piano tuning hammer technique and patience are the biggest factors in piano tuning stability. Achieving great stability is the reason a piano tuning can be so time consuming, taking up to ninety minutes or more to complete. The piano tuner must be certain that he or she leaves your home with the piano sounding great for another six months and that each note is securely in tune so that no call backs occur. Every piano tuner has their own way of setting the wrest pins that they achieve maximum stability – the position of hammer, tuning sharp then flat, moving the pin deep inside the wrest plank; all those are factors to consider. I have found best stability occurs when one hits the keys hard while moving the pin in tiny increments.
There are many other factors to consider, but a piano tuner who has taken care to become skilled in those three areas will have gone above and beyond the average. Being skilled is one thing, but being diligent on each every job (the right attitude to have) is equally important. The goal must be to ensure that every piano is brought to its very best.
Sometimes a piano that has not been tuned in many years with require a bit of extra work to make sure it settles at concert pitch (A440). While a standard piano tuning is £50 for Sheffield customers and takes sixty to ninety minutes to complete, a pitch raise is £70 and usually takes two hours or more. The reason a pitch raise costs a little extra is because the piano is tuned twice – once slightly sharp so that when the wrest pins and the strings relax they flatten so that each note is roughly in tune. After that, the Sheffield piano tuner will perform a fine tuning to make sure the equal temperament, unisons and overall stability is at an extremely high standard. Due to the increased tension put on the piano, it must be tuned again fairly quickly (the Sheffield piano tuner recommends another tuning in three to six months, which will greatly aid the pianos stability). Pianos that have been tuned every six months eventually become so stable that each piano tuning is a ‘touch up’ rather than a full tuning.
Once the piano has been tuned, you will hear the Sheffield piano tuner playing a piece of music for a minute to test how well the piano plays on a musical level. After all, piano tuning and repairs are mechanical tasks, but having a piano that plays brilliantly is always the end goal.
Don’t forget to have your piano tuned this Summer. While you have some time off work and the kids are out of School, it might be the perfect time to devote some extra time to your hobbies. The Sheffield piano tuner is always open for business. Please remember, if your piano has not been tuned in a few years, it might need more work – £50 to £70 is the price of piano tuning depending on how sharp or flat its pitch is. For the best results your piano should be tuned twice a year, ensuring optimal stability and performance.
- Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield.
Here’s something I’m often asked on my Sheffield piano tuning ventures, particularly when a piano has moved from one place to another and the movers haven’t shown due caution, or if a piano has not been tuned/serviced in many years. Dampers don’t damp. Notes ring out when the sustain pedal is lifted. This issue has many causes and several solutions:
- The action is not seated properly in the piano. If every key sustains even when the sustain pedal is off, then this is probably the case (commonly occurring after a move). It takes 10 seconds to fix this, assuming nothing is broken and the action is simply loose or unscrewed. Overdamped pianos have a middle screw that allows one to move the whole action closer to the strings (this can be used prudently in order to improve the effectiveness of the dampers, although even altering it by less than a mm will have an effect on the pianos touch).
- The damper felt is worn or missing. Depending on the severity I might suggest a full replacement of damper felt – however, a quicker solution on a piano with more pressing concerns could be to move the damper so that a new section of the felt is now touching the string (giving it new life). I have many different sized felts in stock for uprights, grands, spinets and console pianos.
- Damper springs have lost tension – if it’s only one or two notes ringing out this can be a common issue on an older piano. In this case I replace the springs (I have a full set of upright and spinet upright damper springs in stock). I’ve never been asked for a full replacement of damper springs as a piano in such a state would likely not be worth such extensive repair. Occasionally springs can be re-tensioned manually by pulling them, but I usually err on the side of replacement.
- On Grand Pianos only: the damper wire is stuck in the damper guide rail. Bushings can be compressed, replaced or lubricated with PTFE depending on the severity.
- On Grand Pianos only: The damper lever or damper wire block needs repair or adjustment.
- The damper spoons are out of regulation. This is the least common reason for a damper not working properly, as typically damper soon regulation is a task usually related to touch or how the key ‘feels’ rather than the effectiveness of the damper. In my piano tuner’s tool case I carry a special tool for regulating the damper spoons which is often a preliminary step in a piano regulation procedure.
On many of my travels tuning and repairing pianos is Sheffield and elsewhere, I may have encountered other reasons for dampers not working, but these are the most common that come to mind.
Noises of various kinds (clicks, rattles, buzzes and squeaks) can be one of the most unbearable annoyances for the pianist and must be fixed. If a piano has been stored in a very dry environment (next to a fire place for example), the felts in the action and keys can dry out and disintegrate over time. This not only causes regulation problems but can also lead to annoying clicks that make playing the piano unbearable.
If you’re piano clicks loudly on every note, it’s possible that hammer butt felts in the action have disintegrated. The causes the jack to slam against the wood of the hammer butt rather than felt after a note after a note has been played. This can be an intensive job to fix due to the time consuming nature of re-felting 88 hammer butts. If it’s the only issue with an otherwise good quality piano it’s very much worth doing – with the price of felt included I would charge £250 for a full replacement of every hammer butt felt (although it would be much cheaper if only a few have disintegrated)
However, If the hammer butt felts have dried out and disintegrated it’s very likely that the balance rail punchings and the back rail cloth have also dried out and crumbled away to various degrees. If the keys are different heights then this is likely to be the case. Replacing the balance rail punchings/washers and the back rail cloth – and cleaning the entire key bed – is also important as any dry crumbs from the disintegrated felts can be catastrophic to the pianos performace and cause different key heights and sticking keys. In the case of the back rail cloth, if you can imagine the very back of the key resting on a collection of cloth debris rather than a clean, even strip of cloth you can see why even a slight difference in how the back of the key sits can cause the front of a key to be raised or lowered.
Another possibility for clicks on every note is that the hammer rest rail is either loose or has come off. This would cause the hammer shanks to click against the wood of the rail (rather than felt) after a key is player and the hammer falls back into resting position.
In the key bed, a cause for clicks is the key bushings being worn out causing the loose key to rattle against the front and balance rail pins, although this is lesson common cause of clicking.
One issue I’ve occasionally seen on older uprights, is the capstan screw being exposed and clicking against the wippen when a key is played – this is an easy fix as a thin layer of felt (with minor re-regulation) over the capstan can fix the issue within minutes.
The common theme here is of wood hitting wood where it should be hitting felt or cloth. If the humidity of the room is kept at reasonable levels (40-50% is the sweet spot) this can be avoided long term as of the felts and cloths in the piano action are designed to withstand years of aggressive piano playing. I’ve seen instances of pianos kept next to fires where the felts dried out on the side that was closest to the fire and the other side was fine. Very dry air destroys pianos, so please be careful where you keep your piano!
- – Richard Lidster, Sheffield Piano Tuner
Each morning as I leave my Sheffield home for a day of piano tuning, I have to pack my car with everything I need. This usually involves a case of piano tuning and repairing tools, but also many spare actions parts that can be used for repairs. In the winter when it snows and I can’t get my car off the drive for piano tuning, I sometimes work locally in Sheffield by walking to each job if it’s close enough. In these instances I can use a few essentials:
- My Fujan Carbon Piano Tuning Hammer – the worlds most advanced tuning hammer that allows me to feel every little movement in the wrest pins (or tuning pins) as they turn. Piano tuning became much easier for me when I began using this around 2017 or 2018.
- My Keyes Impact Tuning Hammer – another excellent tuning hammer, this one uses a weight to move the tuning pins. I’m slowly introducing more of this hammer into my tunings as its much easier on the wrists and elbows, and moves the wrest pin deeper in the wrest plank (better stability than one could manage with a regular piano tuning hammer)
- A variety of screwdrivers for tightening or loosening loose screws in the action, or for removing broken action parts
- PTFE – both powdered and liquid for lubricating various felts in the piano action and piano keys. Or can be used to fix squeaky pedals and the like.
- Two mutes for muting the strings – piano tuning is achieved by tuning the middle strings in equal temperament and then tuning the adjacent strings in unison with its neighbor.
- A bag of jack springs – a very common issue for notes jamming is that the jack springs have lost tensions (particularly true if the piano is older than 50 years)
- Several types of glue (different glue for different needs)
- A variety of washers – these are needed to set the key height for an even touch and the best play-ability
- A set off regulating tool – another very common problem with pianos. If the note is dead, the hammers bobble against the strings or the hammer won’t repeat properly there’s most likely an issue with how the set-off buttons are regulated
- A pair of pliers – many, many different uses in regulating a piano
Many piano tuning and repair jobs could be achieved with just these essentials, although I’m always glad to have much more than this backed up in the car and at home.
Due to runaway inflation, the cost of living crisis and high travel costs I have put my prices up as of this month. My current prices for new customers are:
1x Standard Piano Tuning and minor repairs and maintenance £50
1x Pitch Raise £70
(extra visits for repairs £25 per hour plus price of parts)
Still very modest and competitively priced. Anything you’d like to discuss regarding piano tuning or my pricing system you can contact me on 07542667040
Ever since beginning my informed Sheffield piano tuner blog positing in 2015, I’ve steadily ran out of topics relating to Sheffield pianos and piano tuning. While initially successful, it soon became too difficult to write posts about the inner workings of a piano that aren’t steeped in technical jargon. If any of my piano tuning clientele would like me to discuss something on this blog I would happily make another post about Sheffield piano tuning, repairs and regulation. All helps the traffic to the site. On occasion I have been told during piano tuning that this website has been illuminating and has taught many a pianist about the inner workings of their piano. So all has not been in vain.