Many owners think of their pianos simply as musical instruments that may need occasional tuning, and that’s it. However, a piano is a complex machine with thousands of moving parts that require periodic maintenance to keep it playing well and sounding good.
My primary work as a Registered Piano Technician is in three main areas:
I work with pitch. This is tuning your piano, adjusting string tension precisely to raise or lower pitch and bring the instrument to the international standard, A-440.
One of the reasons pianos go out of tune is because they are built of wood, which is hygroscopic – wood absorbs moisture and swells in damp conditions and releases moisture and shrinks when it’s dry. This swelling and shrinking through the seasons in response to humidity changes can cause your piano’s pitch to move slightly higher in the summer and lower in the winter in our region. Movement of a piano’s pitch over years of tuning neglect is always downward more than upward.
Most piano manufacturers recommend two to four tunings a year. In our mild, piano-friendly climate, my standard recommendation is two tunings a year, which should keep your piano sounding nicely musical once its pitch is stabilized. Pianos that have not been tuned for many years or have been kept in locations such as unheated garages or damp basements likely have become severely out of tune and may require several tunings to become stable again at standard pitch.
I work with touch. This term refers to how those thousands of moving parts – the piano’s action – respond to your playing. Adjustments made to those parts to improve action response make up the process of action regulation.
Many pianos are played for a lifetime without any action regulation. Deterioration of touch response develops gradually over time as parts wear and get out of adjustment, making it difficult for a piano’s owner to detect that the instrument is becoming increasingly difficult to play. The symptoms of a piano needing action regulation can be poor or uneven repetition, a mushy, uneven feel from the keys, loss of power, poor dynamic control, and other problems.
Action regulation is a complex procedure, especially on a grand piano. A set of interconnected adjustments must be made on each note, repeated 88 times. A properly regulated piano, though, can help you play better and can increase your enjoyment of the instrument.
I work with tone. Piano hammers are made of wool felt. Over years of playing, the felt at the points where the hammers strike the strings becomes compressed and hardens, causing changes in the piano’s tone. A competent technician can monitor your piano’s tone and maintain it at a level you prefer. This procedure is called voicing.
Technicians refer to the piano tone spectrum as running from dark to bright. Dark piano tone is more subdued. To hear an example of a dark-voiced piano, listen to the beginning of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Bright piano tone is more assertive and powerful. This is what you hear from concert pianos that must project a soloist’s playing over the sound of a symphony orchestra. Bright tone can also be heard on just about any song recorded by Elton John; “Rocket Man” is a good example.
As hammer strike points get continually harder through years of playing, a piano’s tone moves from dark toward bright, or bright toward brighter, then to almost shrill in the treble sections of some old instruments. Again, the change in tone is gradual and difficult for the piano owner to track – and again, many pianos are played for generations and are never voiced, sounding ever brighter as time passes.
Voicing is an entirely subjective matter – there is no “correct” piano tone. It would be my job to work with your piano’s hammers to maintain its sound where you prefer it to be on the dark-to-bright spectrum.
Other Piano Work I Do
- General repairs, string replacement, etc.
- Appraisals and evaluations
- Minor case repair and finish touchup
I no longer do rebuilding, case refinishing or piano moving. I can refer you to other professionals who do this work.