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.
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
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.
I know what you’re thinking. £45 for a piano tuning in Sheffield seems under-priced, so there must be hidden charges included. Well, the only time a ‘hidden’ charge might apply is if I were to turn up and find that the piano needs a pitch raise rather than a standard piano tuning to tune it to concert pitch – in those instances I charge £45 for the first tuning, and then £20 for a second two weeks after the first. That isn’t just me; every piano tuner will charge extra for a pitch raise (every piano tuner I’ve heard of at least), and most like to break it up into two visits two weeks apart to ensure the best result in terms of tuning stability.
For the £45 you get two hours of my labour – which includes a full piano tuning and any minor piano repairs that can be done within that time. This is usually enough to ensure a piano is fully functional/operational. It’s then up to the customer to decide if they’d like to spend more on extra action parts or on some of the finer points of piano regulation that might take it up a level in terms of its performance (not so much its sound – that will have been taken care of during the piano tuning).
I hope I’ve done my 10,000 hours of piano tuning and repairs by now. From what I’ve observed, a good tuning and a basic set up of the action will leave the majority of piano tuning customers very happy indeed. There are certain players (usually in possession of high-end pianos) who may desire something a little more extensive, such as voicing/toning the hammers to achieve a certain sound (typically a brighter or a warmer tone). Generally speaking, if someone has looked after their piano and had it tuned & serviced regularly, I’ll spend about an hour to an hour and a half on the piano tuning plus a little time making any adjustments to compensate for one or two worn action parts. If it’s an older piano and the action is showing more severe signs of wear, I’ll suggest replacing action parts if it’s cost effective to do so and if such a decision would greatly improve its playability and performance.
I’m glad that, even with rising living costs, I can continue to give people in the Sheffield area a good deal on piano tuning. It’s a business model that has worked quite well over the years, and helps me get a few new customers each week, plus my round of regulars. I work in other cities and towns, as mentioned across this website, but travel costs have to be taken into consideration on those trips (although my prices are still competitive even then). If a customer can book me in with a neighbour at the same time I’ll sometimes offer a discount as well, depending on the location.
- Richard, Sheffield Piano Tuner.
While I’m primarily a Sheffield piano tuner, I occasionally sell pianos (usually ones in the £500 – £1000 range – perfect for upgrades). I’m particularly drawn to ‘Chappell’ and ‘Challen’ pianos from the early to mid 20th century, as they tend to age significantly well and keep their tone. In an ideal world I would have a workshop set up to do repairs on both the action as well as more aesthetic improvements (polishing and refinishing pianos), but I live in a small flat without a garage so this isn’t practical at present.
Sometimes I receive an enquiry from someone who wishes to sell a piano, but would like to book a piano tuner beforehand. This is an excellent idea as it allows me to look over the action/mechanism and give it a worthy assessment. Minor TLC can be performed if the customer is pushed for time, and more extensive repairs can be done (my fee for repairs is £20 per hour).
If you would like me to use my contacts in the piano trade to speed up your sale, I charge a commission of 10-20% of the sale (depending on the value of the piano). I am often in contact with people who wish to upgrade their piano and have got in the habit of saving their details for when the perfect piano comes along.
The last time I did significant restoration work before selling a piano (i.e. not the usual repair work undertaken in a customer’s home) was when I still lived with my parents in 2012. They had the room for me to set up a mini workshop and on my time off I would take in free pianos found on Freecycle and restore them to the best of my ability. It was a great learning experience coinciding with my time studying piano tuning and repairs at college, away from Sheffield. I would recommend every aspiring piano tuner and tech to do this while learning their trade, nothing quite compares to throwing yourself in at the deep end this way. This was before I had gathered a sizeable set of tools, so jobs such as re-stringing were especially challenging, forcing me to think outside the box and use household items such as screwdrivers to make a neat coil. Once you have been a piano tuner for several years, you will become quicker at your job, partly through experience and partly due to the useful piano tools that are able to be purchased on the market today.
In short, you are legally allowed piano tuners and other tradespeople into your home during tier 4 and tier 5 lockdowns.
In terms of exposure to Covid-19, Piano tuning is a relatively low risk profession. What social interaction I have had since march has been at a safe distance. I have good common sense and have been washing my hands religiously (with alcohol-based sanitizer), both in the car and when I return to my Sheffield home. I will happily wear a face mask on request.
A few links to keep your mind at rest:
Daily Express Article
Let’s support local piano tuners and tradespeople. But let’s do it while staying safe and obeying the lockdown rules.
Please view my other blog for a post advertising a new song we’ve just recorded:
Apostle – Reaper
Yes, I have a Piano Tuner Sheffield website and a Piano Tuner Leeds website. It’s difficult to keep on top of both websites sometimes, but as far as booking customers in both areas? So far, so good. There seems to be more work in West Yorkshire, particularly in Leeds and Harrogate where a lack of piano tuners (mainly due to older piano tuners retiring from the trade) has increased demand – so much so that I can group together Leeds piano tuning jobs with Sheffield piano tuning jobs. That’s always nice. Honestly, I quite enjoy the long drives between cities as well as seeing new localities after the piano tuning work. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like work.
The problem with Sheffield is that there are already several Sheffield Piano Tuners currently active so for a city of its size I have fewer clients than you’d expect. Down south there doesn’t seem to be many Chesterfield Piano Tuners, so I get several jobs a week in that area. Rotherham is also a popular area – perhaps I should call myself the Rotherham Piano Tuner instead!
More and more piano tuning work in Hull and Humberside recently, so a third piano tuning website might be on my list shortly!
For the last nine months the Sheffield Piano Tuner has been splitting his time evenly between Sheffield and West Yorkshire in the hopes of gaining more customers in towns such as Wakefield, Halifax, Bradford and Leeds. The hard work I’ve put into promoting my business in those towns has, unfortunately, caused me to neglect this website somewhat (aside from updating my availability page a few times per week), as at least two thirds of my piano tuning enquiries are from people who live far away from Sheffield. I’m still a Sheffield piano tuner though and will be forcing myself to update this website more so I can attract customers in Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster, Barnsley and Chesterfield. There are many people in those towns as well who need a piano tuner – please pass my name on if you anyone; my number is 07542667040 and my email is email@example.com.
For information about The Sheffield Piano Tuner’s new workshop check my sister website. The blog page on that website is updated much more regularly with diary entries.