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.
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.
Here’s a quick update for my customers in the Scarborough region, or anyone looking for a new Scarborough piano tuner. I will be in your area much more frequently tuning and servicing pianos in people’s homes, churches and other venues. I might even enjoy a quick walk on the beach if I get a lunch break.
The ghastly nature of the pandemic drastically limited my work and my willingness to travel last year. Things are almost back to normal, albeit with careful health and safety procedures in place (regular hand washing and social distancing, and I will also wear a mask on request).
Many residents of Scarborough and Whitby are looking for a piano tuner who is young and highly motivated and willing to go that extra mile. That’s me (except for the young part). I’m always happy to tune ANY piano and value all my customers equally. All done at a reasonable cost.
I greatly look forward to seeing my piano tuning business bounce back to how it was at its zenith (2018 – early 2020).