Posts tagged cents

A Piano That Can’t Be Tuned?

There are two thoughts that resonate in my brain when someone says “A tuner once said it couldn’t be tuned”.  The first thought is “hmmmm here’s a challenge” and my second thought is “lazy”.  Lazy?  Lazy??  Yep… you heard me.  I’ve run into this many times where a piano is so badly out of tune that tuners don’t want to bring it up to pitch.  Why? Because it will require multiple tunings and probably string breakage… the piano is usually old and frustrating to work on.  Au contraire pour moi.  I enjoy the challenge.  It’s kinda like washing your car when it’s really dirty and you have a better sense of satisfaction when you’re done cleaning it.  Tuning a piano that’s really out of tune is quite satisfying for me.  I find that i enjoy bringing it back to life – to the original sound that it was intended to make.  Y’see… individual notes are meant for a specific pitch.  The gauge of wire corresponds with the pitch of the note.  Subsequently, when a piano has slidden down terribly in pitch, it resembles sound more akin to a steamship than a piano!  This last week i had such a case.  The piano is called a Sterndale.  From outward cabinetry i would date this piano at about 1880-1890.  Though the name sounds English, directly below you’ll see the word “Berlin”.  I must say that Germany really is known for engineering and when i took a quick look at the inside structure, i thought that immediately that this piano has potential (contrary to the aforementioned words of “can’t be tuned”).  I put on my strobe to find out exactly how far down we’re talkin’.  UGH! 150-200 cents down! It beat my previous record of 110 cents down.  Just to give some perspective, a piano on average will slide between 3-5 cents per year… so… 200??? Exactly.  You do the math and think that this piano hasn’t been tuned in awhile.  In fact, inside i saw a tuner’s signature in 1923.  I laughed and thought… “y’know… this may have been the last time” hahaa.  Anyway… 3 tunings later and one broken string and VOILA! The metamorphosis happened! This turned into my second favorite old piano (first being an old Steinway i tune regularly).  Tightening down flange screws, taking out lost motion, adjusting front pins and damper heads and i must say…  what an incredible instrument.  So the next time you hear those words “Can’t be tuned”… think again.  It’s amazing what a little time and TLC can do.

Piano Tuning – Finding A440

So after my last post about tuning forks and strobe calibration, this last week i had 2 customers hand me their own tuning forks to check my strobe.  For giggles i tapped each one and put them on my strobe… turns out that all 3 were different pitches!!  Mine was spot on, one was 3 cents higher but the other one… AMAZING but true… was a whopping 22 cents flat!  So not only does cold affect the tuning but i’m finding out that because all tuning forks are stamped as calibrated that “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (a fun jazz tune).  My pursuit turned to the internet where i found a few sources for A440.  One… believe it or not is on youtube! I know hey? Go figure… Check out this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-kRShXR6qA – it simply is a computer generated sine wave – 30 seconds of A440 frequency.

You can also click on the picture to take you to Seventh String tuning fork website… kinda neat.  It helped reassure me that both my strobe and my tuning fork are “on”.  Whew!

Tuning Fork Calibration?

I make no bones about the fact that i do both ear and strobe tuning.  I’ve found that over the years, ‘musical’ isn’t necessarily ‘perfect’.  What sounds good in terms of overtones on one piano won’t be suitable to another piano.  So it’s ridiculous to expect a mathmatically accurate strobe tuner to make those judgement calls.  I also know that visually ‘seeing’ the pitch is an asset as well.  I’ve found that my ears play tricks on me sometimes and visually verifying pitch can be helpful.

Before i tune each day, i pull out my good ol’ tuning fork to ensure my strobe is working correctly and i just so happened to notice that my strobe seemed ‘off’.  Huh… that’s odd… never really thought about it before.  After awhile i was tuning away… thinking i should double check this and lo and behold, my strobe had ‘fixed’ itself.  Well that’s odd… how would that happen? I started thinking of variables… thinking that my strobe could’ve warmed up.  Then i got to thinking about my tuning fork… ‘hmmmm y’know my tuning fork was in my vehicle all night and it was REALLY cold.  So yesterday i did a tuning fork test.  My strobe was running for some length of time… i decided to put my tuning fork in the fridge.  Not really unheard of temperatures when you consider growing up on the prairies a tuning fork left in -30 degree weather.  Anyway my findings? My tuning fork when cold was 5 cents off!  I know, i know… i’m a bit slow to the draw but… i didn’t expect 5 cents! That’s a lot when you’re calibrating.  I warmed it up in my hands for a few minutes… back to normal.  So remember: cold forks mean an out of tune piano by 5 degrees.  Next time you have your piano tuned and it’s cold outside, offer the tuner a cup of coffee before starting and you’ll most likely have a more in tune piano. lol.  Or…orrrrrrrrrr this is just my way of shamelessly getting my morning cuppa. hahaa.  Cheers

When 50 Cent Ain’t a Half Dollar

Pianos are stubborn! There are no two ways about it. If you pull their strings, they’ll pull back. In fact, it’s a little like a tug of war when tuning. The farther the piano has dropped in pitch (remember that there are thousands of pounds pulling whether you play the instrument or not), the more the piano is going to complain when you pull it back up to pitch. For example, there are 100 cents in a semi-tone. A cent is an increment of pitch. So if you pull strings 25 cents, quite often the piano will pull back 8 cents. Raise the pitch 15 degrees (or cents) and it will pull back 5 cents. Why is that? Most of that pull-back is from the soundboard responding to added pressure.

The following are some tuning fun free facts i’ve noticed in recent years:
1. Solid reputable pianos will fall about 3-5 cents per year. It makes sense then that a piano that hasn’t been tuned for three years will be out of pitch 9-15 cents.
2. Pianos will not stay perfectly in tune if they are out more than about 15 cents. Back to the tug-o-war… you tighten the strings and it will pull back. It is impossible to stabilize perfectly a piano on first tuning that is out more than 15 degrees.
3. It’s a good idea then to compensate for this loss of pitch. Let’s say that A440 is “0” and that the piano is 15 cents down in pitch (-15). I usually adjust my strobe to tune +5 and expect that the piano will then drop by that amount. Crossing fingers, the piano will end up at 0 after completion.
4. Pianos farther than 40 cents down and have strings that look old and rusty, expect possible string breakage.
5. When pianos are farther than 15 cents down, it doesn’t mean that the piano cannot be tuned, it simply means that it would be a good idea to do a ‘pitch raise’ first and then do a fine tuning. A pitch raise is a very fast tuning to bring the piano into the ballpark. Once the piano has settled somewhat to the new tension, it is then possible to tune it at which point, the piano should be stable.
6. Piano wire gauge is matched to the pitch of a note. Even though the wires may look all the same thickness, they’re not. And so when pitch has slidden, the piano also won’t sound optimal. Only when the instrument is matched for the pitch will the tone also follow. Pianos that are flat in pitch usually sound dull and lifeless.

Next time you have your tuner over, ask him/her (providing they have a strobe) how many cents your piano is ‘out’.
PS…you’ll look like you’re in the know

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