Well for those of you who have read pseudo regularly on this site, come and follow the blog on my new website Piano Price Point.
What is Piano Price Point? In a few words, it’s a visual and informational piano guide containing prices, specs, history and pictures for all modern pianos made in the world today. This book has taken just over 3 years to complete… and now… the big launch.
So i invite you to take a browse. Simply click on the picture to redirect to the site.
Taking apart high quality pianos fascinates me. This last month i had the opportunity to work on a German Rönisch piano. Rönisch still exists today and has a long heritage of high quality piano manufacturing. Established in Germany in 1845, their website and info can be found here: Rönisch
So after 119 years, the keys on this older Rönisch were feeling warbly… yes that is a technical term… combining… wobbly… and… warble… hahaaa. Anywhooo… what i found interesting was that the key bushings were made from EXTREMELY thin leather. In fact, when i approached my piano technician friend to find out if he had any such leather he said that he only had one 4″ strip that was about 18″ long… should be enough for key bushings i thought.
I began cutting strips of leather to replace the old bushings and i thought to myself… why don’t we use extremely thin material today? I mean… the thicker the bushing cloth, the more it’s going to wear down into cloth ‘ruts’ where the steel guide pins rub against them constantly. And so i thought about the purpose of bushing cloth (or leather). It accomplishes 2 purposes – one is to cut down the noise of 2 hard materials. Wooden keys with a steel guide pin will knock against each other. The second purpose is to softly yet gently hold the key in place and take up excess slack space between the wood and steel. My question though is… why not have extremely THIN key bushings? I mean… maybe Rönisch was on to something way back then. Because if you make a space only large enough to have this thin bushing cloth or leather, the two firm substances will still glide perfectly without excess material getting in the way. Hmmmm… this is hard to articulate. I guess i’ve seen SOOOO many pianos where they have sub-standard thick bushing cloth, it really made me think why it needs to be that way. My guess is that it’s just easier to implement. Even finding this leather was a bit of a challenge. BUT… proof is in the pudding – when i finished the key bushings, i had almost NO adjustments to make. That makes me smile. Lean key bushings make for less chance of something going sideways… literally. lol… Anyway… i just found it interesting that a piano designed 120 years ago may have had better engineering than what we have today.
- I employed a very crass Brit for a short period of time. He was well known in the antique part of town for hand rubbed french polished finishes. One day he was telling me of his experience working in an antique store. This lady comes in and remarks proudly “ALL of my furniture is SOLID WOOD”.
“I’m terr’bly sorry to ‘ear that, Madam” he replies in a cockney accent.
“Well why is that?” she asks – offended.
“Everyone knows that the real antiques are all veneered. Solid wood is all shite”. After she storms off, he gets this big grin on his face and laughs to himself. I started to realize why he didn’t last that long in the antique world.
Inexperienced at the time, I probed “Well why is that? Why is solid wood considered inferior?”
Slightly put off he replies “All great antiques have been veneered for decades… even centuries. The magnificent looking woods you find on the outsides of all antiques come from either knotty woods or from the trunk of a tree… things you would never construct a desk or a table out of. So you build the structure and THEN you veneer it, to make it look good. Veneers are thin pieces of wood cut to the thickness of cardboard. And besides…” he takes a moment to wipe the sweat off his brow as he runs figure 8’s from his french polishing pad, “solid wood warps. When you take a substrate, the core of the wood and glue another piece to it, it tends not to warp. Great furniture and pianos have all been veneered. In the 1800’s it was an art form.”
That was the start to my education… an education of finishing, sanding and staining – one that you don’t go to school for, one that comes from experience in handling the wood of a piano. Despite your thoughts regarding the intricate details of veneers inlaid into the piano, one this is for sure, you MUST appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into such a project. BTW… i’ve only stumbled upon 2 pianos in my life that were actually solid wood. So next time someone says that they have a “solid wood” piano… chances are, it’s veneered. Pictured below is a Schulze Pollmann Italian piano. They’ve made the veneers fan out from the centre – an absolutely stunning piece they call “The Peacock”. Enjoy!
There hardly is a day that goes by when people don’t ask “How often should i tune my piano?” To understand this question, there are a few variables you need to be aware of. Firstly, there are roughly 18 tonnes of string tension pulling on most pianos at any given time. To say to me “We hardly ever play it” in some ways is irrelevant because the strings are still under tension regardless of whether your hand touches the keys. That said, pianos that get play a LOT will go out slightly if the tuning pins have not been properly set when tuning and i have noticed that more frequently used teaching pianos require more attention. Second, humidity change plays a large part in tuning stability. The strings are not just stretched from one end to the other. They go over a bridge (much like you would see on a guitar). That bridge is attached to the soundboard and depending on seasonal changes in humidity, the piano will fluctuate in pitch as the wood expands and contracts.
Now then, once you understand all of that, my usual response when asked how often pianos should be tuned is this: Depends how particular you are in having it in tune. Recording studios and concert halls have it tuned every time it’s used. Some churches even locally have it tuned once a month to quarterly depending on budget. Most teaching studios tune twice a year. Most families tunes yearly.
“But my piano doesn’t go out of tune that often”… hahaaaa. I’ve encountered VERY few pianos in my lifetime and i’ve played over a thousand that rarely go out of tune. My guess is that the piano is just gently creeping out of tune in such small increments that you don’t realise it’s gone out a few degrees. My rule of thumb is that most people can’t hear when a piano is out of tune up to 6 degrees! A degree in tuning is called a cent. A semi-tone is 50 cents. Full tone 100. When pianos are out by about 3 or 4 degrees, the piano has still dropped in pitch but may not have been noticed. Well… wait another year and then it’s out another 3 or 4. Sooner than you know it, the piano has sunken 12-15 degrees over 3 or 4 years and instead of simply correcting a few degrees, you’re pulling strings. My advice? Whether you hear it or not, do yourself a favor and keep it in regular maintenance. And besides, like freshly squeezed orange juice, nothing beats a freshly tuned piano.
Lately it’s struck me that clients have no real understanding of what things are acceptable when tuning a piano. I’ve found that even teachers and experienced pianists are doing things that i would never consider doing when it’s time to tune. Since tuning is a listening process, it’s obvious (to me) that a certain amount of quiet is necessary. What i find when tuning however is quite the opposite. Regularly i compete with vacuums, dishwashers, radios and TV’s. Think about when you’re in a noisy restaurant and you’re trying to listen to a conversation but the ambient noise level is too high. It’s a struggle right? Same thing when it comes to tuning. Tuners listen for vibrations called beats. All of the extraneous noise competes then with tuning. In addition to this, distractions such as constant conversation, kids doing kid thangs and pets who feel the need to be part of the job all detract from doing a good job. This one time… this made me laugh… I was tuning a grand piano and this big fluff ball of a cat came and sat on the strings of the piano…lol… so instead of getting this long resonating tone, i would just get a ‘thump’ sound from the piano because the cat was damping the sound. The owner said that it was pretty rare to see that seeing as how this cat didn’t like guys. I must be a cat whisperer (they like me and i like them). Anywhoooo… i ended up just moving the cat over to a different section of strings and then purrriodically i would move her to a new set of strings while i tuned in a different area.
All that to say, be mindful of the task at hand, you’re paying good money for a tuning and if the environment is loud, the resulting tuning will undoubtedly be substandard.
1. Keep noise to a minimum
2. After pleasantries are said, let the tuner do his/her work
3. Best to keep kids and animals out of the area (i removed an action from a grand one time and their baby snapped a hammer off when the father and i were talking..UGH!)
4. Make sure the temperature is comfortable (i’ve tuned in homes and institutions where i could have been wearing gloves!)
5. Offering coffee, tea or water isn’t necessary but is a nice gesture
Hope this helps.
Congratulations to the 6 winners from the PianoHQ.com contest! The contest ran from July 1 until October 31st, 2011. Each contestant was given a free song from the PianoHQ repertoire. They then learned the song, recorded it and mailed it back. The prize? A pianoHQ book of their choice. The winners in no specific order are:
Joan from Dubuque, Iowa * Mia from Reston, Virginia * Xingqi from Branford, Connecticut
Nikolle from Manassas, Virginia * Nathan from Halifax, Nova Scotia * Lucas from Oak Hill, Virginia
It was GREAT fun listening to all of the contestants. Everyone who participated but didn’t win also received 2 more free songs. Thanks for making this such a delight. Let’s do it again k?