Category Archives: Piano Actions

Weekly Update: 17/09/16

I’m glad it’s September – I’ve had more and more piano tuning work booked in, which, after how slow July and August were (they always are, as it’s a time when people are away on their holidays). I’ve had at least one new enquiry a day this week, a huge increase from the Summer.

Of the many jobs I had booked this week, I will tell you about some of the more interesting ones:

On Tuesday I had a slightly more high profile piano tuning than usual; a tuning for wedding in Wortley, at the eponymous Wortley Hall, located just south of Barnsley. A large stately home which is now used for weddings, which contained a grand piano which had henceforth been displayed for show rather than for playing. A customer had wanted the piano tuning for her wedding, and since the venue hadn’t been receiving regular visists from a piano tuner, she called me. Since I had a piano tuning job in Barnsley later that day, fitting another piano tuning job in Wortley that morning was perfect. The worst thing about the piano I noticed upon immediate inspection was that the keys were filthy with brown muck and horribly sticky as if a child had spilt juice over them during a wedding ceremony (which wouldn’t surpise me). A had some cleaning equipment with me so I cleaned the keys with a lightly damp cloth and a special cleaning solution I carry with me. While tuning I had three customers take down my details (one assumes piano tuners are hard to come by in that area), which was a pleasant surprise! Presumably they liked what they heard!

On Wednesday morning I had a piano tuning at a school on the other side of Sheffield, near Attercliffe. Unfortunately I was booked in during both assembly and a PE lesson ( these mistakes sometimes happen from time to time), so trying to tune a piano in a hall full of screaming kids proved quite difficult. Luckily I had some repair jobs I had to do first (glueing a plastic hammer flange back in place, replacing three or four center pins and replacing some worn out bridle tapes), so I could get on with that those tasks while the kids took assembly, and then got most of the tuning done while the kids were out of the hall.

I got the job done in time to get to my next job, which was in a suburb in Sheffield near to Silverdale school (Millhouses I think), to assess a piano given to the customer for free by a friend. This customer had kept the piano in the garage which she wasn’t sure was worth keeping, as it had been given to her for free by a friend, and she wanted to start playing again as she hadn’t played much since childhood. It was true that the piano was very old (another overdamper) and not in the best condition, but I agreed to see what I could do in terms of fixing three of the notes which weren’t working, which I managed to do within twenty minutes or so. I then did an extremely rough tuning on the piano, doing the whole thing as fast as I could, finishing it in half an hour. This was just to give her an idea of what it would sound like if it was in tune and to prepare it for a proper piano tuning later on once it had been moved into the house. Obviously it stil sounded rough after tuning in that amount of time – I don’t believe any piano tuner can tune a piano in under an hour and have it sounding as excellent as it should do (on average it takes me around 90 minutes to perform a proper piano tuning).

Friday morning I tuned an old piano on the other side of Sheffield, past Woodseats and near Grave’s Park and Bishop’s House. The customer had kept his piano in the conservatory for a few years (always a bad idea, but thankfully he had moved it into the corner of his Kitchen, away from radiators and the hot stoves). Before the piano tuning I had to perform some customary repair jobs (applying teflon powder to the key bushings; lubricating the jack and hammer flange center pins with Protek CLP; gluing sticker cloth and damper felts back on to the action), which took about half an hour in total but which were necessary in order to fix keys which weren’t working and to restore the piano into its proper condition. Then came the tuning which took a good 90 minutes but completely transformed the sound of piano from something you’d hear in an old western film to something resembling a musical instrument (a very nice sounding one at that, in all seriousness). It is always satisfying to restore a piano which is in such an awful state as the customer usually seems ecstatic at how much better the piano sounds/plays afterwards and is more appreciative of the hard work put in to improve it.

On Friday afternoon I had a lovely drive to Bradwell, a village in Derbyshire that I’d driven through in the past but had never been there for work. Hopefully more people in that area will call me when they need a piano tuner, I certainly enjoyed the drive from Sheffield into Derbyshire, through Bamford, past Castleton… a much more pleasant drive than the usual ones across the city. During my life as a piano tuner I’d driven that way for work in Castleton, Hathersage and Glossop, but never in such nice weather. The piano tuning job was an enjoyable one. The piano was a straight-strung overdamper which the customer had an inherited from an elderly relative, and judging by the design I’d have put the piano as at least 80 years old, although it had clearly been kept in reasonable condition by its previous owner and had had some restoration done on it in the not so distant past. In terms of repair work, there wasn’t a lot for me to do. The piano tuning took about 90 minutes to tune and, again, the improvement in its overall sound was noticable after the tuning. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring the piano up to concern pitch due it’s age and how flat it was (70 cents flat of A440), but I got a good tuning out of it by tuning the piano to middle C.

I had other jobs that week but they were usual run of the mill tuning in customers homes and not very interesting to write about. If you’d like to book a piano tuning please get a touch, there are still plenty of available times in my diary for this next upcoming week.

– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield.

Weekly Update: 26th of of May

The last two weeks have been busier than usual. Aside from the usual piano tuning jobs scattered across Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and other parts of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, I’ve had six seperate bookings at the Lyceum and Cruicible Theaters to tune their pianos for rehearsals and for the premire of the play Flowers For Mrs Harris (a musical based on the novel by Paul Gallico). Yesterday evening I caught the bus into town to tune the grand piano in between performances. If anyone has seen the play on its current run, I hope the piano sounded lovely.

On Tuesday I purchased a whole new set of tools for replacing the centre pins (a job I’m required to perform for a Sheffield customer next week). Centre pins are the pins found inside the hammer flange that allows the hammer to move when a key is hit. The bushings holding the pins can become too loose or two tight, which can be remedied by adjusting the action parts (which is usually ill-advised as too much alteration will create an uneven touch across the piano – as a quick fix, however, minor adjustments can be made to the capstan screw, the let-off button or the back checks). In my two years of piano tuning professionally I have thus far been able to get by without replacing centre pins. I think this is mainly because in Sheffield (and the north of England generally) the cold and damp climate tends to swell the flange bushings (and the key bushings for that matter) making them grip the pin too firmly – when this is occurs, I apply some protek lubrication which loosens the grip (this has worked every time so far). In hotter climates the reverse is true: the dryness causes the bushings to loosen their grip. The good news is that I’m at the stage now where I’ve got all the tools I need for piano tuning and for the vast majority of repair and regulation work required on the job.


– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield.

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