Posts tagged bass

Piano String… Repair or Replace?

I was introduced to the concept of repairing bass strings only 5 years ago.  A fellow tech friend of mine showed me this simple knot in order to ‘save’ a bass string.  Now before i get down the path too far, some of you might be thinking…’well why not just throw it out and replace with a new string?’  First of all, it it’s plain wire, you do.  Plain treble wire is readily available and there’s no magic in the wire.  When it comes to the bass strings however, they are custom made for the size, model and scale of each piano.  The core wire, the copper winding, the length of the copper and the speaking length all come into play.  You don’t just pick up the phone and ask for a new one… especially when the company has been out of business for 60 years.  In addition, a new bass string will not carry the same ‘weathered’ sound as a the more brilliant brand new string.  Aged strings tend to be duller.  So there’s a lot to be said for splicing a bass string.  This knot (shown in a diagram and also picture) tightens up wonderfully.  There are a few criteria however…

1. The break cannot be in the speaking length.  That’s the part where the string sings.  A knot will inhibit vibration.

2. You must have enough steel to make the knot.  Most recently i went to a home where there was a broken bass string and although i was hoping to splice, the broken wire only had about 1/8″ or about 5mm before the copper… not enough to work with

I usually use brand new wire of the same core thickness at the tuning pin because if it has broken once, it’s probably brittle enough to break again.  Once tight, the string usually acts as normal and you can once again listen to the bass with a continuous flow or sound rather than one note ‘jumping’ out at you.

Piano Scale Design

There are SO many differences in piano design.  “Well aren’t all pianos kinda the same?” you ask.  Not at ALL!!!! (I can’t emphatically add more stress to this point).  Yes pianos operate the same – they all have soundboards, strings, keys and actions.  Think about cars… BMW, Toyota, Honda, GM… they all drive but do they feel identical? Of course not.  Even within the same company there are huge differences between models.  Toyota makes (my beloved) Landcruiser but they also have made the Tercel (and trust me… i’ve owned both and there are few similarities).  Pianos, within the same company have different designs.  These designs are called “scales”.  When you play hundreds of pianos you will appreciate a good scale.  So what’s the difference between a good scale and a bad one?  Oooohhhh (rubbing hands together) where do we start? Hmmmm let’s start at strings: There are 2 types of strings on any piano – plain wire steel treble strings and copper wound bass strings.  In the steel wire treble strings, there are about 2 dozen sizes of wire (plus half sizes!) ranging from 0.029″ to about 0.059″ in thickness.  To look at them, they all kinda look the same but they are INCREDIBLY different.  So each note is matched in length and tightness to the pitch of the note.  Someone then decides “OK let’s use size 14.5 wire for that note on the piano”.  Now that’s part of the design – part of a decision to make a piano sound a certain way.  Now getting into the bass section… OMG! There are hundreds if not thousands of permutations on what could be used for the centre ‘core’ of the string but also the copper winding… how much mass, how long is the copper blah blah blah… there are HUGE choices to be made on JUST the strings alone.  Which reminds me… i should write a blog about great sounding bass strings… cuz trust me, not all strings are equal (far from it).  And believe it or not, there are different grades of steel wire as well – all factors that play into the overall sound of the instrument.  So that’s just one tiny tiny element of piano design… then you think about hammers – the quality, the weight, the placement… the action – the various types…. the frame, the soundboard, the quality of the wood… even the expertise of installation… the list goes on and on and on!!! Someone once told me “The piano requires the attention to a thousand details”.  I believed him… THAT’s scale design.

All this to say… i have found that there are 2 pianos that i tune that i REALLY REALLY enjoy.  One being the Yamaha C7 – it’s the 7 foot Yamaha grand.  The other is a Boston 6′ grand (designed by Steinway, manufactured by Kawai).  Both have SUCH smooth scales… meaning that the sound from one note to the next is like a string of pearls – matched in tone and timbre – fundamental and overtones.  Nothing beats a good scale.  Shout out to Steve in Metchosin who has me regularly tune his C7 and to Hillary and Lawrence on their choice of such a wonderful Boston.  Thanks… those pianos remind me of why i love to play.

Pedalling – Part 3 Sostenuto

Fancy pedal lyre

If you can make it through this post without confusion, you’ll be considered an educated PRO!  The middle pedal has actually 5…count ’em FIVE usages that i’ve seen… so here goes… follow if you can… starting from the authentic usage…

1. If the right pedal is known as the sustain pedal and sustains the notes, the middle pedal – known as the sostenuto, also ‘sostenuto’s the notes.  Y’see, the word sostenuto in Italian actually means ‘sustain’.  So there are two sustain pedals on a piano? Well… yes and no.  The right sustain pedal lifts all of the dampers on the piano.  The middle pedal is actually what one might call a ‘selective’ sustain.  Sustain happens only to the notes that are depressed on the keyboard.   The two pedals are quite different in how they operate.  While the damper/sustain pedal is connected to a long rail that has physical contact with the dampers, the sostenuto pedal only enables a ‘trip switch’ to hold the dampers up that were once depressed.  The technique required then is to depress a  the key – then hit the switch (sostenuto pedal) and the pedal will sustain only the notes related to the keys depressed.  Sostenuto is ONLY an on/off control.  Unlike the sustain where you can achieve many shades or levels of the damping, the sostenuto either holds the notes or it doesn’t.    There is no middle ground.

2. Ok to make yet MORE confusion… MOST upright pianos have opted out for a simpler ‘bass damper’ approach.  Rather than the ‘selective sustain’, the bass damper simply lifts the entire bass section.  Why? Because sostenuto playing USUALLY involves just damping the bass – holding those notes and changing the top keys in some way.

Practice mute

3.  If your piano comes from anywhere in Asia, the middle pedal has NOTHING to do with sostenuto or bass damper AT ALL!  It is called a ‘practice mute’ pedal.  Due to the fact that in Asia, MANY of the homes are either in close quarters or in apartments, the sostenuto was done away with and this mute was installed.  It simply cuts the volume by 30-40%

4. Digital ‘silent’ option.  Some of the newer and, i might add more expensive pianos have a digital mechanism installed that blocks the hammers all together and replaces that with a digital piano! Yep, you can plug in your headphones and play without making a sound.  Only problem is… this option costs usually another $5000-10,000! Ouch.

5.  This quite possibly is one ‘feature’ that time and again makes me laugh.  Because many people NEVER look inside their piano, the middle pedal is sometimes connected to NUTTIN’!! HAHAA true story.  I’ve opened up many a piano and there’s a pedal there… and there’s absolutely NO connection to any other part of the piano.  It’s purely cosmetic! Well that just simply makes me laugh out loud.  But i must say, on the check list of pianos when people are shopping i quite often hear the words “oh good…3 pedals”.

So there you have it… the list of 5 usages for the middle pedal – from sostenuto to stylizer.

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