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.
For home bookings I can now book you in for a piano tuning at 8:30 AM or 9 AM on a week day morning. I have hitherto saved early morning slots for professional venues such as schools, churches, recording studios, but those enquires have sadly declined somewhat over the last sixteen months – particularly schools.
From my experiences piano tuning in Sheffield and beyond, I have found people have wildly different views on booking tradespeople to their homes under current circumstances, but rest assured I am taking the covid-19 precautions very seriously, with frequent testing and following all procedures that keep the customer happy. The customer is always right and your wishes will be respected.
I will rearrange a booking at the slightest sign of any symptoms. I’m vaccinated and very careful to social distance and regularly sanitise work hands, car and piano tuning kit (particularly the piano tuning lever and paps wedges that I regularly handle throughout the day). If you have any concerns, I’d be happy to discuss it with you before you book the piano tuning.
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.
Concerned about the legality of booking a piano tuner or other tradesperson while you have a little bit of time off? You shouldn’t be. Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State For Housing, Communities and Local Government has confirmed that booking tradespeople (plumbers, electricians and… yes, Sheffield piano tuners) is allowed under the new lockdown rules. What a relief.
I’m operating under regular hours in the Sheffield and South Yorkshire region. The only port of call I won’t be able to manage on my various journeys will be the Scarborough and North Yorkshire piano tuning base I have developed since 2015… at least for another two weeks. It’s more ethically agreeable to wait until I have a larger number of enquires from that region to reduce the number of visitations in the current climate.
– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield.
Due to an influx of new inqueries and a costly new marketing campaign, the Sheffield piano tuner has raised his prices £5. £45 for a piano tuning is still very modest compared to similar services in the UK. Don’t forget that this also includes many repair and regulation jobs that other piano tuner’s will charge extra for. I generally do as much as I can within two hours to make sure your piano sounds and plays the best it can. If the work needed takes more than two hours I charge £25 per hour plus the price of any replacement parts (worn felts and bushings are sometimes replaced during the regulation process). Keeping the customer satisfied is in both our interests – my working hours are flexible and I can always work around your busy schedule.
– Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield.
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.
For the last few months I’ve made a concerted effort to expand my business to other parts of Yorkshire and Derbyshire. While most of my piano tuning work in the past has been based around Sheffield, South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, I have started making more trips to other towns and cities, doing a huge amount of promotion in Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, York, Harrogate, Hull, Bridlington, Whitby and Scarborough. If you or anyone you know is in search of a piano tuner, I am currently targeting the following towns:
If you or anyone you know live in one of these areas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Travel is not an issue for me, I have my own transport and am happy to make a long visit for piano tuning (although for the foreseeable future there will be an extra £5 charge for fuel costs if I have to make a journey outside Sheffield). Although I live in still live in Sheffield, much of my social life and piano tuning now takes place in North and West Yorkshire.
Richard, Piano Tuner Sheffield.