Soundboard Cleaning

Soundboard Cleaning

The soundboard of my grand piano is covered with a thick layer of dust. Can you clean this for me? Of course. Cleaning the soundboard is quite tricky as it involves getting a cleaning pad underneath the strings. Trying to clean it using a vacuum cleaner just won’t work – you can try blowing the dust towards the bass end and wiping up what accumulates there which will get some of the looser material out, but the heavier, greasy dust will stick. I carry some specialist cleaning rods which are perfect for wiping the soundboard over its entire area but please ask me to do this before I tune your piano! Some of the strings are likely to get knocked which will put them out of tune...
Historic temperaments

Historic temperaments

I play mostly baroque music and would love to hear it in an historic temperament. Would this be something my tuner could do for me? I don’t think I could manage it myself. Any properly qualified tuner should be able to do this for you although the whole subject of temperaments is fraught with argument and opinion. Check with your tuner if he is willing to change from equal temperament (ET) to an alternative and ask which one he recommends or is happy to do, as there are many to choose from! Some tuners may be most unwilling to deviate from ET either because they are unable or not confident in doing so or because they believe that unequal temperaments belong to the past and have no place on a modern piano. This is unfortunate as playing a piece in the temperament it was written in can be very revealing and open up a whole new world of sound which has been hidden by equal temperament. Bear in mind that ET has only been in universal use for the last hundred years – until then pianos were tuned to all sorts of different tuning temperaments; it could even be said that every tuner had a version of the temperament he was taught to tune in which was slightly different to every other tuner.When we listen to a recording of The Forty-Eight in equal temperament, we are rather missing the point – the subtleties of Bach’s choice of intervals and other musical decisions remain inaudible. Most editions of this music carry a facsimile of the original title page – a...
Electronic Tuning Devices

Electronic Tuning Devices

I’ve always been happy with my piano tuner but last time I noticed he was referring to a program on a pocket PC and tuned all the notes consecutively from bass to treble. I’m not sure what to think about this – isn’t it cheating to use a machine? There can’t be many fields of human endeavour where keeping up with the latest technology causes so much suspicion and mistrust! In the case of piano tuning this probably originates from the idea of tuners having the gift of superhuman hearing; that tuners are born, not made. The mundane truth is that good tuners are the result of good training and experience and that any tool is only as efficient as the person operating it. Electronic Tuning Devices (ETDs) have come a long way in the last few years and are nothing like the fixed frequency tuner you may use to tune your stringed instrument. These are dedicated piano tuning instruments designed to replicate the listening process to a degree of accuracy possibly exceeding that of the human ear. If your tuner has started to use an ETD then the net gain should be a more accurately tuned piano. The other point to be made is that listening is only a part of what the tuner does – actually setting the tuning pin so that the tuning remains stable after prolonged heavy playing requires just as much skill. Although ETDs are not cheap, there is nothing to stop an unqualified ‘tuner’ from acquiring and using one to tune your piano. If, however, you employ a Member of the PTA then...
Flat or sharp?

Flat or sharp?

When my piano was last tuned the tuner informed me that the pitch was slightly high – how could this be? I always assumed that pianos went flat over time, not sharp. You are right in thinking that the general trend, over time, is for the pitch of a piano to drop due to the great tension exerted on the strings and frame – something has to give and if left long enough the pitch will inevitably drop. However, in the short term other factors come into play. Bearing in mind that the piano is constructed from many different materials, humidity and temperature have considerable effect on the tuning and its stability. Too little humidity and the soundboard, being made of wood, will shrink allowing the strings to relax a little of their tension with a resultant drop in pitch. This usually happens during the winter months when the central heating is running and the air is drier. Conversely, if the summer months are particularly humid or damp, the soundboard can easily absorb the extra moisture and swell, forcing the bridges upwards which then have the effect of tightening the strings and raising the pitch. Unless you are particularly anxious for the piano to be at concert pitch at the time of tuning, it is probably best to leave the pitch slightly high as it will fall again when the humidity falls. This annual ‘breathing’ of the soundboard is one of the reasons why piano tuners are so welcomed twice a...
Missing string

Missing string

My tuner broke a string when he last tuned my piano. He didn’t replace the string yet the note still sounds! First things first, your tuner didn’t break a string. Unless he was annoyed that you didn’t bring him a cup of tea, it would be more accurate to say that a string broke while the tuner was tuning your piano. If you look at how the strings are arranged on your piano you will most probably find that the bottom octave or so has only one string per note, the upper bass (up to about the C below middle C) has two strings and the treble has three strings per note. Put quite simply, if a single string breaks in the bass you will lose that note completely. If one of the bichords breaks then the note will still sound albeit with only half the power as only one of the two strings is being struck. Often, on a poorer quality piano, this difference can be quite subtle although on a good piano it will sound odd. If one of the trichords breaks and the other two strings are saveable, the difference, even on a good quality instrument, can be minimal and hard to detect, particularly in the top treble. Obviously, if you have a fine piano, broken strings will need to be replaced but practically speaking it is sometimes better to not replace the string and avoid the cost and inconvenience of the inevitable return visits by the tuner to tighten the new string as it settles and slips out...
Clicking notes

Clicking notes

I have a clicking sound on several notes of my piano; I think some of the felts are missing. Is this a major problem? Will my tuner be able to repair this in a normal tuning session? If you listen very carefully, you’ll be able to tell whether the click occurs before or after the note is sounded. If the clicking sounds like wood hitting wood and doesn’t appear to be the actual key itself, then your action is likely to be either very worn or to have been attacked by moths. An important component of the piano action is the hammer notch. This is where the energy of the key is transferred to the hammer via a lever which sits under the notch, protected by a small piece of leather and a pad of cushion felt. Moth larvae love this felt which is often partially or wholly eaten by this wretched pest, particularly in older pianos, leaving the connecting lever (the jack) to slap loudly against the bare wood of the notch slightly after the note has been played. If the action is very worn (or you are the owner of a piano with synthetic leather covering the notch) and the notch leather, which is actually doeskin, has worn completely away, there will be a clicking noise just before the note is sounded. Whether your tuner will able to repair either of these problems depends on how many notes are affected and the degree to which the action has worn or how far the infestation has taken...