Posts tagged lost motion

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.

Lost Motion in Pianos

If you own an upright piano and it hasn’t been maintained other than tuning, it’s time to do a simple test.  Ever so gently, press some keys down on your piano.  The first 1-2 millimeters (1/16″) does it feel kinda loose? If so, you may have a case of something called ‘lost motion’.  What is lost motion anyway?  Well before we discuss it, take a moment to look at the two videos below.  The one on the left has gaps in the parts.  Notice how the one green part is moving significantly before engaging the assembly? The one on the right is a snug fit – I just finished adjusting the same piano.  So what actually is happening here? Glad you asked.  Over time, parts wear and compress and create spaces or gaps between parts.  And instead of moving smoothly together, the parts start travel at different times.  At the keyboard i would describe it as feeling ‘loose’.  It’s called lost motion because the green backcheck is moving without pushing the hammer towards the strings.  In essence, the hammer has lost some of it’s power or force due to the gaps between parts – thus the name.  And the fix? Easy – there’s an adjustment screw to take out that lost motion.  A technician can have that fixed in no time at all.  So if you’re feeling like you’d your piano isn’t quite right, do this little check and ask your tech the next time they come to tune because is probably the quickest fix with the most drastic results on a piano that i know of.

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