I tune aurally using equal beating temperament which allows all keys to be played equally in tune.
I tune to A-440 for several reasons:
1. Pianos were designed to be at 440 based on the manufacturer’s specifications.
2. Individuals taking piano lessons will be learning correct pitch association.
3. If the piano is used to accompany a singer, A-440 is necessary for the correct placement of the voice.
4. If the piano is played with other instruments that are set or tuned to A-440, the piano must be consistent to match the pitch and sound pleasant.
5. Most recordings require a piano to be at A-440.
Pitch-raising (or lowering):
Often “pitch raising” is a generic term which means raising or lowering the pitch of the piano when it has fallen too flat or has risen too sharp from the standard of A-440. This usually involves two tunings in one sitting: the first is the act of “Pitch raising or lowering” the piano to get the tuning close to the correct pitch (A-440), and the second tuning is the fine tuning which stabilizes the piano strings.
If it has been many years since the instrument was tuned, the piano may need a pitch raise and two tunings to bring it back to A-440.
Several months after the pitch raise the piano will still want to go back to the pitch it was at for many years before the service, so a second visit may be recommended. This can be discussed on the same day as the service.
This is the adjustment of the mechanical assemblies of the piano, which offers an advantage to the pianist in the form of control, sensitivity, dynamic range, and uniform responsiveness of touch.
These mechanisms include the key, whippen, hammer, dampers, and pedal assemblies. All of this on a standard piano consists of approximately 9000 moving parts with about 30+ adjustment points.
Due to weather and humidity changes, the wood parts swell and shrink, and the springs and felt compact from age and the normal wear of playing. That is why your piano will eventually need regulation to stay responsive.
If you are having a hard time producing a wide range of dynamics, controlling the instrument, or if the piano just doesn’t feel like it did when it was new, this would be a good indication that it’s in need of regulation.
This term means modifying the hammers, strings, and termination points on the bridge and hitch pins to produce a tone that is pleasant to the ear while still offering the characteristics of attack, power, sustain and versatility.
When voicing, I listen to the type of sound made when the hammer strikes the strings, which could be mellow, bright, soft, brassy, shrill, muffled, strident (and the list of adjectives goes on) and then after speaking with you, the client, modify the tone to your preferences. We as technicians know what we like for tone quality but what really matters, when voicing your piano, is if the sound is pleasing to your ears!
Before I start voicing I make sure the piano is in tune and regulated fairly well; then I check the hammers, string level, bridge and sound board to see if there are any preliminary concerns that need to be addressed first. These aspects are all fundamentals of producing good tone quality and must be in relatively good shape before I start the voicing process.
I then start by evaluating the hammer to see if it’s heavily grooved or flat on the strike point from years of playing. If they are grooved, I file them back with sandpaper to their original shape. This is important because when the piano hammers were new the strike point (the front tip of the hammer that strikes the strings) had an area of about 3/16 of an inch. This small area of the hammer is all that needs to strike the string to produce a good sound. Over years of playing the hammer felt compacts at the strike point and the area increases in size, sometimes up to ¾ of an inch and then the sound production is compromised.
After I’ve filed the hammer close to its original shape I check the hammer’s union with the strings. This means that during a normal strike, the hammer should strike all three strings squarely and equally to get the best sound. I also adjust the string level at this time to make sure that all three strings are even to ensure a proper union with the hammer.
I then make sure to “seat” or gently tap down the string at the bridge and hitch pin locations to ensure stability of tuning and a strong termination point. This also prevents any vibration bleed-through from the speaking length to the non-speaking length of the string which would produce less pleasing sounds.
In every piano there are two types of strings:
Bass strings: Are made up of a steel core wire with a copper wire wrapped around along most of its length and are found in the bass section of the piano. Some pianos have several copper wound strings in the first couple note of the tenor and these would be treated the same way as a normal bass string as far as replacement cost. These strings are custom made and have to be ordered.
Steel strings: Are steel wire with gauge size (thickness) from 12 up to 24, and can be found in the piano from the tenor section all the way up to the treble.
On older pianos, or ones that haven’t been tuned in many years, it is possible for some strings to release/break while they are being tuned.
Most technicians carry steel strings with them on spools in order to replace them when necessary.
If you are going to purchase a new or used piano, I can help by offering my consultation of the piano in question before you buy. This small investment in your musical instrument pays off for years to come to ensure that you make an informed choice.