What is Piano Tuning?
Is the most essential regularly scheduled form of piano maintenance. Tuning is a process which alters the pitch of the piano. We use tuning as a means to positively change intonation to best suit our standard of equal temperament and compliment the diatonic scale.
Because it is currently accepted that the equal tempered scale is the most common modal configuration for our musical traditions, we design our piano scaling and adapted most tuning patterns to work best with this standard.
Piano tuning involves the physical manipulation and movement of approximately 209 tuning pins which alter the tension of the wire which is attached to each tuning pin, in order to change pitch, either higher (sharp) or lower (flat). Each note is “set” at a place which contributes to an overall formula for the distribution of frequencies and beat rates that we find most pleasing to our ear. Piano tuning is an art in itself and takes many years to develop the knowledge, skills and proficiencies necessary for artistic tunings. The overall skills needed for aural tuning require exhaustive practice, patience and dedication.
F.A.Q. How often should I have my piano tuned?
A: Most pianos should be tuned twice yearly. Many of our clients have their piano(s) tuned much more frequently. This is suitable for pianos which are in constant use. Recording studios, concert halls, performance venues, bars and clubs, some schools and fine pianists often request tuning on a more frequent basis. Most pianos should be tuned twice a year. If that can be done in accordance with seasonal changes, all the better. Our pitch standard is A440.
Q: Why does my piano go out of tune?
A: Pianos go out of tune for a variety of reasons. Pianos are sensitive to climate change, temperature and humidity levels. When moisture levels increase (such as in summer months) pianos often go sharp in pitch. This is because the strings are stretched from the tuning pin at the front of the piano to a hitch pin on the rigid cast iron plate or frame. Each string passes over a bridge (either treble or bass) and makes it's connection to the soundboard via the bridge. When the moisture content of the soundboard increases, the board rises in reaction because it has absorbed ambient moisture from the air. Pitch rises or becomes sharp as the string is tensioned by the enlarged soundboard which has a forward or diaphramatic shape. The opposite is true when moisture levels decrease such as in the winter months and moisture leaves the soundboard. Pitch drops (or goes flat) as strings relax due to a decrease in soundboard profile.
Pianos also go out of tune from frequent or hard playing as piano hammers impact the strings directly. Piano wire does also stretch for many years due to elasticity of the wire until a time at which it becomes more brittle and no longer stretches noticeably.
Pianos also go out of tune because of a condition where the pinblock (wood, usually a thick maple block under the tuning pins) becomes weak over time and loses the ability to hold a necessary amount of torque at the tuning pins to prevent slipping. A common reason for piano rebuilding is an inability of the piano to stay in tune because of pinblock failure.
What Is Piano Voicing?
Voicing or tone regulation is the process of changing the character and timbre of the piano tone to make it more pleasing and even from note to note throughout the range of the piano. Voicing includes preliminary repair and regulation of the action, strings leveling and other fine adjustments. Hammer shaping and felt regulation follow.
Voicing can change the character of a piano's sound to match individual tastes, or to increase or decrease the sound level of the instrument. Our goal in voicing is to produce a full, rich, clean and even voicing with excellent carry and sustain. We avoid bright or harsh over voicing and strive for a smooth bell like tonal quality with even progression of tone throughout the scale.
All pianos need voicing regulation at some time. Hammer felt is highly compressed. Over time distortions including string cuts in the surface and throughout the hammer felt will cause changes to the sound of the piano. Wear is also a factor.
Among the techniques used in voicing:
- Needling of hammer felt
- Liquid infusion to the hammer felt for hardening purposes (sometimes called lacquering)
- Filing and shaping of the hammer head
- Ironing of hammer felt
- Gentle steam exposure to surface felt of hammers
- Action regulation adjustments
- Hammer tail and cove shaping to reduce mass