THE A-440 PIANO
FINE TUNING / PITCH CORRECTION
Your piano will be referenced to A=440cps standard concert pitch unless,
1) the piano is to be used as routine accompaniment with another pre-pitched instrument - a church organ being a common example. In this instance, a simple (mid-range, 8' flute stop - i.e., one with minimal overtones) from the organ is employed as the piano's reference pitch.
2) If two pianos are regularly played together, one (the recognized better of the two) will be tuned to A-440, which in turn will be used as the second piano's reference guide.
3) It has been determined during the pre-tuning inspection that a) the piano is below pitch and b) that to raise the piano to concert pitch would prove an unacceptable risk to the strings, bridgework, and/or the client's pocket book.
4) It has been determined during the pre-tuning inspection that it would be a poor investment, hence, unwise to attempt to tune a piano that otherwise demands restoration or replacement.
5) My client requests otherwise.
Please, know that a piano must be close to the targeted reference pitch, at the start of the tuning process, in order to anticipate a Fine Tuning opportunity. A regularly tuned piano that lies within 6 to 8 cents (100 cents equals 1/2 step) to the targeted reference pitch should ensure a fine, stable tuning result.
If a piano is not within fine tuning range, a "pitch raise" / pitch correction must be considered (but, please, see #3 and #4 caveats above).
I pitch raise / pitch correct by first calculating the amount of anticipated stretch. By example, a piano's strings will drop roughly 1/4 the amount that they are being raised - e.g., middle C on the piano that begins 1/2 step below pitch may drop as much as 1/8 of a half step if not "stretched" higher in anticipation of this drop.
Furthermore, as the strings are tuned, the previously tuned strings will continue to suffer destabilization as a result of increasing soundboard compression / decompression and possible "bridge roll". The bass section generally requires less stretch, whereas the treble section(s) will be stretched as much as one-quarter to one-third higher as per pre-tuning stretch calculations.
A follow-up tuning is routinely scheduled one to four weeks after the pitch correction, depending upon the amount of string tension added to or subtracted from the plate in order to ensure greater tuning stability.
A piano's tone changes over time due to a number of physical factors, foremost being the compacting, flattening, and grooving of the original hammer felts.
Typically, an aging hammer loses its shape, gets harder, and becomes brighter over time to the point that the tone produced is perceived to have become "brittle," "tinny," harsh, uneven, or in some way less well-defined (less clear). Ideally, the tone of the piano is something we should hope to embrace and love; because, a lovely, beautiful tone encourages continuing use.
While string leveling is checked prior to tuning, hammer felts can only be critically voiced (i.e., needling, steaming, etc.) after the piano has been properly tuned.
While a technician may strongly recommend Voicing for your piano, I would even more strongly caution that you trust in YOUR own ear to be the final guide as to whether Voicing across the keyboard is both needed and personally desirable - because, tone can be a very personal / subjective perception.
More often, a single note, or maybe two, may stick out from their neighbors as, perhaps, being a touch "too bright," "too soft," or otherwise non-complementary. Generally, such notes (i.e., hammers) may be voiced during the post tuning check, often at no charge.
In considering a piano's tone, it's also important to observe
-- a string's physical condition - especially the wrapped bass strings.
-- string leveling to ensure each hammer strikes each string squarely.
-- the string termination points along the plate's bearing and/or bridges - which may interfere with both clarity and amplitude of the tone produced by a string. String buzzes often originate at a string's termination point(s).
GRAND / VERTICAL REGULATION
Regulation is the complementary adjustment of the piano's Action, Damper, and Pedal system points.
Regulation becomes necessary as a result of felt wear, compression, and humidity changes over time.
Having your piano carefully regulated will increase your piano's mechanical efficiency, hence, dynamic range - permitting both louder and softer shades of musical subtlety and nuance. A piano that performs (mechanically) more efficiently will ultimately translate into a more beautifully complex sounding instrument. Even a carefully regulated sustain pedal can prove to be an appreciable joy to use.
While a grand action may be rough-regulated on the bench, both the vertical (i.e. "spinet," "console," "studio," "upright") and grand action may only be finely adjusted with the action back inside the piano.
Before proceeding to regulate, the action, damper, and pedal felts, springs, cords, etc., must all be carefully inspected, cleaned and/or replaced where needed.
If you are having your hammers resurfaced, then action regulation becomes mandatory in order to compensate for the increased hammer distance (at rest) to the string which in turn will affect hammer "escapement" and various other action regulation points. Unless the hammers show little wear, it will prove invariably wiser to plan on having the hammers resurfaced first and only then having the action regulated. Because, if you have your piano regulated first and decide only later to have the hammers resurfaced, all the action's regulation points will need to be serviced all over again.
Piano keytop ivory has not been commercially available since around 1973 (two years before I began my practice as a tuner-technician). However, custom made to order sets of "pre-ban" Ivory may be / become available at considerable cost.
Ivory tops come in different widths, lengths, thickness, color, and grain.
While I have a very limited stock of used ivory, I am prepared to try and offer a best possible match to an equally limited number of keytops in need of ivory replacement. I may also consider filling a small chip in an old ivory key, using Richard Wagner's "Acrylikey" kit. But, because only a small batch of the material can be made at any one time, it is not practical to repair more than a couple keys while still hoping to maintain customized color consistency.
If you own an heirloom / treasured antique or exceptional quality grand, and remain determined to have your keyboard recovered in ivory (with ebony sharps) - I would not be able to assist with the ivory restoration, but I would nonetheless be willing to investigate your options, including referral(s).
Today's molded keytop acrylic plastic is of the highest quality and is made to complement every white key. Plastic is not only more durable than ivory, but it has the decided advantage of sparing the African Elephant from further commercial incentive towards extinction.
Custom installation of molded keytops (or older pyralin blanks) is necessary, because the generic molded top is both overly long and wide (in order to cover any possible key wood). Hence, Plastic tops require both side-flushing and notching (where the sharp meets the white) in order to achieve a custom installation.
Keytop recovering includes the following services:
1. Careful removal of the old ivory / plastic keytop material - care being necessary to avoid the loss of any underlying key wood.
2. A caliper is used to measure the difference between the thickness of the original keytop (ivory averages around .050" thick) and the thickness of the new keytop material (standard plastic top is .075" thick); which in turn determines the maximum depth of the key wood to be planed. This measurement ensures that the new keytops will perfectly complement the piano's original key front, key strip / fallboard height relationships.
A router jig is then used to uniformly clean and resurface the set of key woods.
3. High grade contact cement is used in conjunction with a standard 1/16" key lip jig to seal each new top to the key wood.
4. A router jig is employed to flush both sides of the new keytop, perfectly complementing the width of the original key wood.
5. A router jig is employed to notch each new keytop.
6. A small square-edged file is used at this point to 'manicure' the notch area of each new keytop to ensure as uniform a notch as possible.
7. All keytops are buffed to a uniform gloss.
8. Key Squaring, Leveling, and Dip of all keytops (both sharps and whites) is included in this service - after the keys are properly returned to the piano.
You may also wish to consider having all the keys (both sharps and whites) re-bushed with new felt at the time you are having your keytops recovered.
New Keytops Warranty: Five Years, Materials and Labor
The appraisal is not an exact science. If the piano to be appraised is intended for resale, please, consider obtaining more than one appraisal, especially if the piano is a higher quality grand, rare heirloom, especial antique, or Victorian vintage instrument.
The written appraisal includes the following:
Current Estimated Market Value
Current Estimated Replacement Value
Recommended Insured Value
Additionally, a general Condition Report, covering Tuning, Action, Resonant Structure, and Finish is included.
Whereas the written appraisal is best reserved for insurance policy coverage and resale appraisal assessments of clearly higher valued instruments, I will attempt to assist you in a rough assessment of a typically more modest instrument's appraised value at no charge during initial consultation.
1. The "Appraisal For Purchase" Estimate
- offers an estimated current market value for the instrument you may be looking to buy, along with an estimate of needed repairs. An Appraisal For Purchase typically takes about 45 minutes. Because the instrument under consideration for purchase is not yet yours to thoughtfully invest in, the fee charged is for a minimum 1/2 hour Service Call.
2. The Estimate for Repairs
-- may include the following (as applicable or requested by my client):
1) Rebuilding / Restoration estimates and/or referrals (I do not offer complete rebuilding or refinishing services)
3) Minimum service and tuning care options
I charge a minimum 1/2 hour Service Call fee for the traditional estimate - 50% of which may be credited to services rendered within 90 days of the original estimate date.
Rebuilding / Restoration demands uniform replacement of ALL strings, hammers, dampers, action centers, key bushings, keytops, etc., and may include custom soundboard replacement (a limited service performed by only a handful of select piano rebuilders nationwide), as well as case refinishing.
Reconditioning, on the other hand, remains a far more modest option in time, labor, materials, and ultimately cost.
Reconditioning serves to uniformly reestablish improved
a. Touch - Action Regulation
b. Tone - Hammer Resurfacing and Voicing
c. Pitch - Fine Tuning.
Reconditioning may best serve the slightly worn to middle-aged piano. But a well cared for, older piano, too, may greatly benefit from reconditioning.
1. Hammer Felt Resurfacing.
Hammer resurfacing has the anticipated effect of brightening up a piano's tone. Resurfacing also serves to bring back a more uniform, even tone quality across the piano from bass to treble.
As a cautionary note, only agree to have your hammers resurfaced if
a) you are prepared to accept a clear tonal change - whereas "change for the better" is my guide, it must also be shared by you, too. Remember: Voicing may always be considered once the piano has been fine tuned.
b) no longer satisfied with the piano's tone as it is.
2. Action / Pedal Reconditioning - requires that individual felts, springs, repetition cords, strings, key bushings, key pins, pedal pins, etc. be carefully inspected and replaced, repaired, cleaned and polished wherever needed in order to restore the piano to a both reliable and pleasing level of performance.
3. Regulation is a key component to reconditioning and is mandatory once the hammers have been resurfaced.
4. Tuning - ideally to A-440 concert pitch - which may or may not include a preparatory pitch raise / pitch correction tuning. If the latter is the case, the finish tuning would be rescheduled for another day.
Please, appreciate that a prematurely aged or very old piano, may or may not qualify for reconditioning, as the option to rebuild / restore or even replace a piano must be carefully weighed first.
Dust audibly impedes tone production. A Clean piano promotes both a cleaner - clearer - tone, while at the same time reducing friction in the action mechanism. It often offers the added benefit of removing unwanted objects on a soundboard or in the trap area that cause chronic sympathetic buzzes.
Where cleaning is indicated, it should be performed ideally prior to your fine tuning.
1. The Action frame is removed from the piano's keybed and then moved to a safe area where the vacuum's blower may be gently but effectively employed.
Note: An effectively cleaned piano Action is preparatory to any optional dry-cleaning lubricant / heat treatment aimed at removing humidity-causing sluggishness in the action felt centers.
2. A preliminary vacuuming, using a secondary long-haired brush, going over all parts of the piano - including strings, bridges, tuning pins, plate and keybed areas will serve to minimize the additional dust exposed in later cleaning stages.
3. The bass strings, next, are vigorously agitated (with the action, of course, resting idle outside the piano - and the damper pedal depressed to clear all dampers from the strings). This will release what may prove to be a surprising amount of trapped dust caught between the bass wrappings. Dust audibly robs a wrapped bass string of some portion of its 'life' (clarity).
4. With only the client's approval, the blower side of the vacuum is next used to blow out all dust lying on and under the plate, bridges, soundboard (both top and underneath sides), keybed, and damper underlever system.
Blowing off the top side of the grand soundboard will almost always expose any object lying on the board, but hidden beneath the Plate. Any hard object left lying on the soundboard inevitably risks sympathetic buzzing.
5. A flexible soundboard tool is next used along with a soft cloth and Formby's Furniture Cleaner (because it's effective yet gentle) to wipe clean the soundboard surface. If old dust has not yet penetrated through the original lacquer / varnish to embed itself into the soundboard wood, wiping down a soundboard can prove to be especially gratifying.
6. The plate surface is similarly wiped down with a soft cloth and Formby's cleaner.
7. Keytops are cleaned with a warm, damp, soft cloth and buffed dry.
8. A performance check looks to ensure that everything, including case parts, are back in their proper place and functioning properly.
Vertical (spinet, console, studio, upright) Cleaning
1. The action is removed.
2. The keys are removed, maintaining original order outside the piano for ease of re-installation.
3. The action is moved to a safe area where the vacuum's blower may be gently but effectively employed.
4. The bass strings are next vigorously agitated (with the action, of course, resting idle outside the piano).
5. The piano is now vacuumed with the assist of a long-haired brush - this includes the bottom board / pedal area, keybed, strings, bridges, individual key strip, front panel, music desk hardware, etc., as well as the inside case perimeter, backside lower trap, soundboard and ribs.
(Note: the backside trap of a vertical piano can hold a treasure trove of childhood memorabilia (crayons, toys, etc.), as well as the usual squirrel nut, needles, bobby pins, decoder ring, coins, pens, pencils, manuscripts, etc.. But, more importantly, any objects in the trap area can chronically "buzz" or rattle against the soundboard whenever a sympathetic note is played.)
6. The backside ribs and soundboard are wiped down with Formby's furniture cleaner.
7. The keys are returned to the piano.
8. The action is returned to the piano.
9. The keytops are cleaned with a warm, damp, soft cloth and buffed dry.
10. A performance check looks to ensure that everything, including case parts, are back in their proper place and functioning properly.
The first half hour of a Service Call is charged at my hourly rate to cover for travel. Thereafter, any additional service is charged at the hourly rate.
PLAYER PIANO SERVICING
Player neoprene tubing and pneumatic cloth both tend to share a similar healthy lifespan of roughly 65 years. Beyond this time span, Neoprene will grow more brittle. Similarly, pneumatic cloth becomes stiffer, eventually developing leaks at the creases. Metal tubing, seen less frequently in players, will chemically break down with age and likewise become brittle over time.
Player Piano Servicing is limited to:
--Basic troubleshooting - i.e., identifying vacuum loss, tracking alignment, governor efficiency, expression / pedal adjustment, etc..
If the Player Piano has reached a stage where rebuilding of valve / pouch leather, key pneumatic cloth, etc., is required, a player rebuilding specialist will be recommended.
Steinway Spring Tension Regulation
The A-440 Piano -
A Sample of My Used Ivory Stock, Fronts and Tails
Repetition Lever Jack Height Regulation
The A-440 Piano -
Schaff .075 Molded Keytop Samples
Source: PTG "VOICING"
The A-440 Piano - Pianotek KP-2C Deluxe Acrylic Light Cream Keytop Samples