The varying size and stringing scale of pianos gives each model individual characteristics. Getting the best out of each one requires years of experience, not only in calculating the appropriate placement of each note, but also in anticipating how each piano will react to the changing tensions of over 230 strings pressing down on a thin wooden soundboard under tons of compression.
Pianos that have not been tuned for some years may have drifted considerably below standard pitch. If you want your instrument to be tuned to A440, it may require some additional tuning. Raising pitch on a piano requires pulling all the strings tighter, and the resulting additional tension will compress the soundboard, resulting in the strings dropping back in pitch to some degree. It’s like climbing a muddy slope: you scramble up three steps and slide back one. The tuning can only be stabilized by pulling the pitch above where you want it to begin with, anticipating this drop, and then giving the piano a fine tuning during a second or third pass. If the piano is not too flat I can do the additional tuning and then fine tune in one sitting. However, if the piano is quite flat it will be best to give it some additional time to settle after the initial pitch raise, usually about a week, before fine tuning it.
From the replacement of a broken hammer or string to full replacement of all the action parts, no job is too big or too small. Most minor repairs can be done in the home at the time of your service call. I carry a large stock of replacement parts and strings. If you have problems in addition to the tuning, please let me know so I can anticipate the time needed to address them.
This service is what we call the mechanical aspects of the piano action as distinct from problems with the acoustic side of things. Piano actions are subject to wear and tear as well as warping of the rails on which the parts are mounted, humidity damage and many other problems. The good news is that all of this can be fixed. Pianos—unlike modern electronic keyboards—were designed to be repaired. If the touch of your piano feels wrong to you—too heavy, too light, too uneven, or just plain frustrating to play, chances are I can make it better.
The tonal quality or “voice” of the piano is so much more than just the frequency of the string you hit. In many ways it’s the sum of all the parts of the piano working together just right. When piano technicians talk about voicing the piano they’re usually referring to manipulating the felt of the hammer because the hammer does contribute more to the tone than almost any other part. And the hammer felt does wear down, flatten out and compress with usage. So reshaping the hammers and needling them is usually the first avenue of approach when you’re looking to restore the tone of the piano. However, leveling the strings and mating them to the surface of the hammers, seating the strings on the bridge, forming the strings where they bend at the pressure bars. . .all these things also have a big effect on tonal quality as well.
I do replace individual strings that break quite commonly. However, there are times when all the strings may need to be replaced. This is usually for one of three reasons: the tuning pins are so loose they won’t hold a tune or the strings are breaking frequently due to rust or heavy usage. These problems are self-evident. What most people do not realize is that piano strings, like guitar strings, do loose their tonal quality over time—it just takes a lot longer. A newly strung instrument will offer rewards of restored power and richness as well.
I can replace individual ivories from a large stock of salvaged keytops, or recover the entire set using modern durable plastic keytops. Unlike many other technicians, I do all this work myself in my shop and do not ship off your keys through the mail to another shop for recovery.
As a part of my tuning service I do vacuum out the piano for no additional charge. However, there are areas of the piano that take special attention and more time to clean thoroughly: to clean the soundboard under the strings of a grand piano, for instance, or under the keys of a vertical. Since I have many customers near the beach rusting strings is a condition I encounter with some frequency. I offer a complete detailing which includes polishing the rust off the strings, cleaning the soundboard and taking the action outside to blow out the dust as well.
Are strings of your grand beginning to rust? Rub you fingers over them. Do they come off brown? Do the strings feel rough to the touch? This is a serious matter and should not be ignored. First you should get the rust cleaned off—it tends to build on itself. Then the best preventative measure you can take is to install a cloth cover cut to fit over the strings. This cover, which should be of 100% wool cloth, acts as a moisture barrier and keeps the dust out, which also can give the moisture something to “cling” to. The sound goes right through the cloth and so it does not need to be removed to play the piano. Many technicians offer very pricey embroidered string covers which run into the hundreds of dollars. I own a large bolt of felt baize which I cut to size which offers an economical and very effective alternative.
HUMIDITY CONTROL SYSTEMS
In our beautiful California weather, these systems have only one purpose: to control the rust in a vertical piano which is located in very humid surroundings. There is no justification for one on a grand piano—they aren’t enclosed and don’t help with the rust. They also don’t help the piano stay in tune any better.
I have many years experience dealing with used and new pianos. If you want to know what your piano is likely to bring on the open market, ask me and I’ll give you my informed opinion. If your appraisal is for the purpose of insuring the instrument or valuation for an estate, this will be a different figure which is more akin to replacement value. It is important to let me know the object of your inquiry.
Many good quality older grand pianos are candidates for a complete rebuilding, including restringing, replacement of action parts and refinishing. As a rule of thumb a well rebuilt grand can bring two thirds the cost of a new one, and with the price of new Steinways continuing to climb, it can often be an economical alternative which pays for itself. I have prepped new Steinways for dealers and rebuilt many older ones.