Category Archives: Piano Types

A Happy 2019 from the Piano Tuner

Happy New Year from the piano tuner! After two piano-free days I’m glad to be tuning again in Sheffield, Rotherham, Chesterfield and Doncaster. January is usually a slow month for me, so if you’ve been putting off booking a tuning, please get in touch. If you’re thinking of putting it off further, here’s a message from an old Bentley piano:

If your piano requires any replacement parts, I’ll be placing an order with my suppliers (Fletcher & Newman) after the 7th of January when they’ve re-opened. I have a large collection of sundry parts for odd jobs which can be used during a piano tuning session, but if it needs a component of a specific size or shape, you may have to wait a week. I pride myself on my punctuality and organisational abilities, so I will make sure I have everything I need to fix your piano as soon as I possibly can.

Piano of the week: The Kawai K-300

I had a call out earlier today to inspect a four-year-old Kawai upright for a buyer looking for a used piano. The buyer lived in Wiltshire whereas the seller lived in the area of Hansworth in Sheffield, so she needed a Sheffield piano tuner on the case (not literally)…

As always with pianos in this range, the tone is superb – mellower sounding than a Yamaha, but with a light touch and a similar ebony-polished aesthetic. Its Millennium III action is built from carbon-infused components resulting in a strong, sturdy and precise mechanism that can withstand loud playing for long periods of time without the need of regulation.

Even though the piano had been bought new four years ago and hadn’t been tuned since arrival, the pitch had stayed close to A440 with most notes being just two to three cents flat (with the unisons needed touching up of course). A quick testing of the keys gave me the impression that this would be an excellent choice for players looking for a wide a dynamic range – pianists who like to play both pianissimo and fortissimo. The surface texture of the jack (at the point where it meets the hammer) enables a great level of consistency in touch and the sturdiness of its action parts in general means much less regulation work is required of the piano tuner.

The music rack is wider than you typically find on an asian piano which is useful if you’re a pianist who switches between pieces on a regular basis. The music rack and fallboard are tightly fastened into place preventing any annoying drops while playing.

At 227 kg it’s not something that you’ll be able to move very easily, but the double casters are a nice touch that make it easier for professional piano movers to transport the piano. The piano in question had been moved upstairs without any damage to the case (although the credit there goes to the piano movers).

See for yourself:

 

Piano of the week: the Knight K10

 

If you’re a piano buyer who is feeling patriotic, you might want to look at this piano made by the sadly-defunct British manufacturer, Knight (1936 – 2003) one of the finest companies to ever grace Her Majesty’s shores. Likewise, if you’re not so fussy about where your piano was made, but would like a great-sounding piano that fits in your new house or flat, this measures in at 112 cm in height, 140 cm in length and 56 cm in depth and matches bigger high end pianos in tone – so depending on your budget, it would be a much better choice than the run-of-the-mill console or spinet piano if you’re pushed for space.

One of the things that impresses me the most about this piano is the bass tone. It’s easily as powerful as the Yamaha U1 which is 9 cm taller – this is thanks in part to the bass strings on the K10 being overstrung at a greater angle than is typically found on a 112 cm piano, making them much cleaner and more resonant. Speaking as a piano tuner, I’ve found that the overtones are more consistent and you don’t get the weird harmonics that are found on smaller bass strings (which is a relief). The middle and treble are similarly mellow in tone, though can be made brighter with a little voicing work by the piano tuner if you so wish. Those who complain that Yamaha and Kawai pianos are too sharp/bright would do well to look at the K10 and other Knight pianos if they want something warmer and more mellow sounding.

Over the course my piano tuning career I’ve never seen a Knight piano that didn’t leave a positive impression on me, and I’ve tuned many of them in my travels in Sheffield and beyond. The soundboard, frame and action are all made of top quality parts which allow them to last a lot longer than the average upright so they typically need very little in the way of maintenance. This also makes them very resistant to changes in humidity and in being moved, giving you a greater bang for your buck as far as paying for piano tuning goes.

Here’s a nice sticker that I often see on Knight pianos (and other pianos built in the UK):

Where to buy them? Alan King’s Piano and Violin shop on London Road in Sheffield would be the best place to try first, as he has always been a fan of Knight pianos and I still see some in stock from time to time. Another place to try is the piano centre on Chapel Lane, Rotherham – a shop I’ve only been to once but are known to have a wide-selection of different brands in stock. A favourite piano shop of mine is the Piano Man in Leeds, but I haven’t seen this particular piano in there – although the pianos they do sell are all of a consistently high calibre.

As always, if you’re unsure of the piano your buying and would like me to come and inspect it, I charge a £20 call out fee to inspect and evaluate a piano in Sheffield, and £25 if it’s outside Sheffield. Outside of my daily work as a piano tuner I also have experience in piano repairs, restoration and selling, which can be helpful to you as a buyer if you’re unsure of a piano’s condition. Never be afraid to ask for help!

Piano of the week: The Schimmel Vogel V115

Anyone searching for a wide-ranging instrument at an affordable price might take a look at this elegant 45″ studio piano, a remarkable feat of German engineering using traditionally old-fashioned methods of production (wasn’t it great when they built things to last?). I haven’t encountered a great number of them in my piano tuning work, but the few I have made an immediate and lasting impression on me – largely thanks to their hugely diverse tonal palette.

Here’s a snippet from a Pianist magazine article detailing the superior production of its spruce soundboard:

Anyone can work out that a ‘budget’ upright can’t be made exactly the same way as a concert grand, but differences are rarely spelled out. One important area is the soundboard, the heart of the piano’s tonal response. It’s not simply a matter of which material you use: there is also the question of how you put it together.

There are two fundamentally different methods of constructing the soundboard of a piano, says Simon Loat of Schimmel’s UK distributor, Forsyth Bros. ‘The mid-market tends to be where the two methodologies cross over and explains why two pianos of the same size can produce sounds which are totally different.’

For mass production where speed is of the essence, a flat soundboard is attached to ribs cut with a curved profile, immediately forming a crown once the two are joined. The traditional ‘German’ method, where high humidity straight ribs are joined with a low-humidity soundboard and the transfer of moisture results in the crown, takes around six months. It delivers a richer tonal character, but costs a lot more.

In order to produce the Vogel, a mid-market priced piano with an expensive traditional soundboard, Schimmel makes the soundboard assembly in its Braunschweig factory. It then ships the ‘strung backs’ (soundboard, wooden back frame and bracing and iron frame plus tensioned strings) to the Vogel assembly plant in Poland to take advantage of cheaper labour costs.

Buying a second-hand piano

One can obtain astonishing bargains on websites such as ebay, but there are also unwanted pianos whose owners are unaware of their true value, offering what seems like a low price for something essentially worthless. When you are purchasing a second-hand piano online, there are four things you should keep in mind:

 

1. The newer the piano the better. Pianos do not age well. The average lifespan of a piano is about 50 years: over time the wood deteriorates, the soundboard warps and cracks, action parts break which cost more to replace than the price of a better piano. If you buy a piano that’s older than 80 years there’s a strong chance that it won’t be able to be tuned and will certainly never sound as good as new. If you can, buy a piano that’s less than 20 years old (older pianos in good condition may be worth it, however).

2.  Buy an iron-framed piano and avoid wooden-framed pianos at all cost. Iron frames are preferable because they can better withold the massive amount of tension caused by the piano strings. Wooden-framed pianos go out tune very quickly for this reason as the wood warps due to changing humidity. Thankfully, wooden-framed pianos are not as commonly found as iron-framed ones.

3. The phrase “good things come in small packages” is not true in the case of pianos. Larger pianos are generally better because the longer strings provide a richer tone. However, with the advent of overstrung pianos (where the strings are strung diagonally rather than vertically), smaller overstrung pianos can also have excellent tone. Straight strung pianos will be lower in value and their tone is not usually as good (they’re generally pianos made for beginners), therefore they are usually not worth buying second-hand.

4. Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is the condition of the piano. In this case it would be wise to have a specialist view the piano (I charge £20 for visits to inspect pianos) and assess the condition before buying anything. If you buy anything that needs a lot of resoration work, you might not be getting such a good deal as you thought, as extensive resoration work can sometimes cost more than the price of the piano.

 

I have customers with old pianos that are in OK working order and they are satisfied with the sound and quality of them, but these tend to be either relative begineers who will eventually upgrade to something better, or they are people with young children who are only starting to learn how to play.

If you have an ancient piano and your heart is set on keeping it, then most of the time it can be made to sound OK (but never as good as new). Last week I was called for a job in Rotherham to find a 100 year old piano with a beautiful rosewood finish that luckily only required some minor regulating work replacing the centre pins. The tone was rather dull-sounding compared to a new piano, but it was relatively close to concert pitch and had been kept well-maintained by its previous owner. On the other hand, about six months ago I was called out for a job in Woodseats, Sheffield, and found an untunable straight-strung overdamper made in the 1900s. The customer purchased it for a low price on gumtree unfortunately unaware of the poor condition the piano was in and I had no choice but to refuse to tune it, knowing that no matter how good a piano tuning I did, it would sound little better.

Take your time when looking for a new piano and don’t rush into things. What seems like a bargain might in fact be someone trying to get you to pay the movers to get rid of their valueless piano (or they might simply be unaware of that their piano is beyond repair). If you buy a high-quality piano in good condition, you will save money in the long run by avoiding costly restoration work, and hopefully you will have a beautiful-sounding piano that you can own and cherish for a very long time.

 

– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield.

 

 

People in Sheffield with second hand pianos

If anyone in Sheffield or elsewhere in South Yorkshire is thinking of upgrading to a better piano and has an old one they are trying to get rid of, please let me know. If you live close to me in Sheffield then I could inspect it for you and see if it is worth restoring. I’ve already met piano tuning customers in Sheffield who are in this situation so I know you are out there!

– 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