An Exciting Time

dubai2

My client’s piano was on the first floor of a 3 flat apartment building in Chicago. When I finished tuning the piano I said goodbye and went out into the hallway to leave. I went down to the second entry door. It was locked. I couldn’t get out so I went back to my client’s door and knocked. There was no answer and her door was also locked. She had left through the rear door of her apartment. I tried calling her and got her voice mail. Trapped like a rat. I opened the hallway window and looked down. It was close enough to the ground that I could drop down, but I couldn’t take my tools because my tool case is quite heavy. It was impossible to lower myself down, drop a couple of feet, all the while holding on to my tools. I was not going to leave my tools in the hallway.

In the hallway were also a small chair and an umbrella. I started hearing the music from “Mission Impossible” in my head. “Your mission, Should you decide to accept it, is to get out of this hallway so you don’t have to spend the rest of the afternoon stuck in this hallway.” I lowered the chair using the umbrella. I then used the umbrella to lower my tool case onto the chair. Then I lowered myself and dropped a couple of feet to the ground. Mission accomplished. I realize this was not quite as exciting as Tom Cruise crawling up the side of the tallest building in the world, in Dubai, and fighting to the death with a nasty villain, but for a piano tuner…. it was pretty exciting.

An Exciting Time

dubai2

My client’s piano was on the first floor of a 3 flat apartment building in Chicago. When I finished tuning the piano I said goodbye and went out into the hallway to leave. I went down to the second entry door. It was locked. I couldn’t get out so I went back to my client’s door and knocked. There was no answer and her door was also locked. She had left through the rear door of her apartment. I tried calling her and got her voice mail. Trapped like a rat. I opened the hallway window and looked down. It was close enough to the ground that I could drop down, but I couldn’t take my tools because my tool case is quite heavy. It was impossible to lower myself down, drop a couple of feet, all the while holding on to my tools. I was not going to leave my tools in the hallway.

In the hallway were also a small chair and an umbrella. I started hearing the music from “Mission Impossible” in my head. “Your mission, Should you decide to accept it, is to get out of this hallway so you don’t have to spend the rest of the afternoon stuck in this hallway.” I lowered the chair using the umbrella. I then used the umbrella to lower my tool case onto the chair. Then I lowered myself and dropped a couple of feet to the ground. Mission accomplished. I realize this was not quite as exciting as Tom Cruise crawling up the side of the tallest building in the world, in Dubai, and fighting to the death with a nasty villain, but for a piano tuner…. it was pretty exciting.

Battle of the Piano Tuning

img_0326-1 The fight was defined. My goal was to create a beautiful tuning. His goal was to destroy it. It was the winter of 2014. I was the piano tech at Harper College in Palatine. The visiting Steinway artist practiced for an hour before the concert. When he finished practicing I went to meet him and I asked him if the piano was satisfactory and if he had any requests regarding its preparation. He had three requests. #1 He had knocked one of the notes way out of tune- so tune it. #2 One of the notes was too soft and could I make it louder. #3 There was a clicking noise in the top octave. I had about 30 minutes before he would be back and the concert would begin soon after. I first attacked the badly out of tune note and I used every trick I knew to try to make it stable. I then discovered the click sound was a loose hammer head and I re-glued it. Lastly, I filed the soft hammer –this makes the surface harder and creates a louder tone.

The artist had stepped out for a quick bite to eat. When he came back he checked the piano – problems 1, 2 & 3. They were fine. He said “Lovely”. Then he informed me that the pieces that he was performing that night required, shall we say, very forceful playing. He was playing Rachmaninoff as well as some other Russian composers. In other words he planned to knock the Hell out of that piano. But he promised that the first piece he played would be gentler and less taxing on the tuning.

He began the evening by talking to the audience about the pieces he was going to perform. Then in illustration, he hit a couple of chords on the piano with such force I thought the soundboard would crack. “Liar, I shouted” (in my mind) “You promised to start out gently.” And “There goes my tuning.” He then played his gentle piece. Miraculously the tuning had held. He proceeded to some of the more vigorous pieces. At half time I went up to check the tuning. Ha!! It was still in tune. I was winning.

The second half he came out an attacked the piano with such force that the bench he sat on moved. His backside literately lifted off the piano bench when he struck the chords. Still the tuning held— until the last piece when I heard some wavering of tone. I went up to check the piano after the concert, and he had succeeded in knocking it out. But it took him most of his repertoire to do it. I claimed a moral victory and lived to tune another day.

How To Clean Your Piano And Take Care Of The Finish.

Cleaning your piano’s keys

Don’t be afraid to clean the white keys on your piano.  Take a damp cloth and a mild soap, like a dishwater soap, and rub out accumulated dirt stains.  Make sure the soft cloth you use is thoroughly rung out so that no water seeps down the sides of the keys.  After cleaning with a damp cloth wipe the keys with a dry cloth.

Cleaning the finish

Modern piano finishes do not need polishes or waxes.  Polishes and waxes can actually cloud up the finish and in some cases damage it.  Never use an aerosol spray on your piano.  Dust can scratch, so when you dust your piano, dust lightly.  A feather duster works well, or start with a damp cloth and finish with a dry one.  If heavier cleaning is necessary to remove finger prints and smudges, start by dusting and then use a mild cleaning solution like Murphy’s Oil Soap. Try to clean in the direction of the wood grain and with long strokes.

Polishes

If you feel you absolutely need a polish, two common products that are OK to use are Guardsman Furniture Polish and OZ Cream Polish.  A more thorough discussion of the merits and demerits of polish and the basic care of your piano’s finish can be found at the Piano Technicians Guild Web Site http://www.ptg.org/Scripts/4Disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=60&MenuKey=Menu7

Cleaning under the strings

One question I get asked a lot is how do you clean under the strings on a grand piano.  If the dust has been there for a long time and has settled firmly, you will have to ask your piano technician to clean it. He will have special tools for getting under the strings and removing settled dust.  If you have a new grand piano and want to keep it dust free, forced air will blow the dust to the back of the soundboard where it can be wiped up.  If you don’t have a vacuum cleaner with the capability to blow a strong stream of air, take a deep breath and try blowing it out with your own breath.  Blowing loose dust with your breath can work quite well, but be warned that you may end up inhaling a little dust when you take another breath.

 

 

 

 

 

Stanwood Precision Touch Design

The invention of the piano

Since the invention of the piano by Cristofori in Italy around the year 1700, the manufacture of pianos and piano actions has been a pragmatic affair.  Piano builders experimented and did what worked. The length of the key, the weight of the hammer, and many other factors were cobbled together in ingenious but not necessarily scientific ways—-Until now.  In 1996 piano technician and inventor, David Stanwood, with the help of computer analysis, invented a way of precisely measuring leverage and weight in the piano’s movable parts.

Stanwood Precision Touch Design

Touch design evens out the amount of pressure it takes to push down a key (down weight) on each note.  It does the same for the movement of the key when it snaps back up (up weight).  The result is a piano that plays very smoothly.  In touch design the weight of the felts that hit the string (hammers) are balanced with the weight of the front of the key.  It is sometimes helpful to think of the piano action as a simple lever, like a teeter totter.  Often in touch design, after careful measurement, small adjustments are made in the position of the fulcrum of the lever, making the lever more efficient.  This allows the key to propel a heavier hammer.  A heavier hammer will give you more power and a richer tone.  You can see a You Tube presentation at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cT5GOcprEY

Testimonials

Here are some remarks transcribed from a conversation with famed concert pianist Rudolf Serkin on  August 8, 1988, after he played a Steinway D fitted with an early prototype Stanwood Touch Design at the Marlboro Music Festival.  “The action is perfect. It’s even… the whole thing.”…….”It feels connected somehow. I couldn’t believe it at first.”………”It’s amazing. The feeling is so immediate. It reminds me a little of Bosendorfer. This is better, I mean… for me.”
“Thank you for showing me.”  Other testimonials can be seen at http://www.stanwoodpiano.com/first.htm

5 reasons why you might want a Precision Touch Design on your piano

  1. It feels so good to play.  With a precision touch design on your piano, it’s hard to walk by your piano without sitting down to play.
  2. If you have a $50,000. piano but it plays like a $20,000. piano. For a modest investment you could make it play like a $90,000 piano.
  3. If your piano feels too heavy or too light.
  4. if you are a pianist that is prone to stress injury, the touch design could help you.
  5. If the hammers on your piano are worn and it’s time to replace them.

How to get this on your piano.

I am a licensed installer of Stanwood Precision Touch Design. Although it is possible to put a touch design on a verticle piano, this kind of work has been done almost exclusively with grand pianos.  A total installation costs $6500. and includes all new parts in the piano action, as well as one year of free follow-up service calls in order to fine tune the action.  The entire piano would not be moved, but the insides which include the keys and the hammers etc. would be taken into my shop.  You would be without your piano for about a month.  Satisfaction is guaranteed.

 

 

 

 

Piano Regulations- They help you play better.


Five signs that your piano needs some work

  1. You can’t play your piano really loud and you can’t play really soft.
  2. When you are trying to play soft, all of the sudden you get no sound or the sound is suddenly loud.
  3. You can’t repeat notes fast and consistently.
  4. When you play a note , it makes a bobbling sound, like a cur-plunk or a ba ba boom.
  5. The piano keys feel sloppy, difficult to control. Or they feel hard.

Many Points of Adjustment

The graphic above is a cut away of one note in a grand piano. It shows all the moveable parts and points of adjustment. A vertical piano works in a similar manner. The points of contact in this machine we call a piano are usually made of leather or felt. As the piano is played over multiple hours or years, the felt and leather compress and wear. This causes carefully designed measurements to be off. The note, which is basically a system of levers, becomes inefficient. Your piano plays, but it doesn’t play well.

A Regulation

The process that makes a piano play well again is called a regulation. All the points of contact are adjusted in all 88 keys. Each key should feel the same. The end result of a regulation should be evenness, predictability, a wider dynamic range between pianissimo and fortissimo, and faster repetition of notes. Often in a regulation some work is done on the felt that hit’s the string (the hammer) to make it softer or harder. This work evens out the tone.

A Small Investment

If you could make an investment of a few hundred dollars in your piano and make it play like new or sometimes even better than new, would you do it? A skilled piano technician can do that for you. It is a worthwhile investment to get the maximum enjoyment out of your piano. Start playing to your highest potential and get the most enjoyment out of your piano.

How Often Should You Tune Your Piano?

When you ask the question, “how often should I tune my piano?”, you should really ask three other questions first:

  1. How good do I want my piano to sound?
  2. How well do I control the humidity in the room where my piano is located?
  3. What works for my piano tuning budget?”

Sound Quality

Piano tuners have trained ears and can tell if a piano is exactly in tune , a little out, or way out.  Many piano owners can only hear the difference when the piano goes way out of tune.  An in tune piano has a very clean, clear sound.  It sings and projects better.  If you, as a piano owner can hear that, then you will get much more enjoyment out of your piano if you put it on tuning schedule where it stays in tune almost constantly.  If the piano‘s sound does not bother you until it is way out of tune,  you could put your piano on a tuning schedule where it wanders a little out of tune, but not way out.

Effect of Humidity

Humidity changes is the single biggest factor in causing a piano to go out of tune.  That is one reason why piano tuners always recommend that you place your piano away from any heat sources, fresh air streams, or sunlight.  Even if you are able to find a good location in your home, you still have to contend with seasonal humidity changes.  In Chicago relative humidity ranges from 80 to 90 percent in the summer to below 30 percent in the winter.  If your home is not controlled for humidity, you should put a humidifier in the your piano room during the coldest months or install climate control system in your piano.  The piano climate control systems are very effective and easy to maintain.

Budget Questions

The piano tuning budget question is different for every individual.  If you want to prevent your piano from going way out of tune, you should probably tune it at least once a year.  However if you play every day, I would recommend at least twice a year.  I play my piano every day.  I have a climate control system installed in the piano and I tune it every 3 months.  It always sounds good.

Final Thoughts

One last comment.  If you can find that piano tuning interval where your piano stays more or less in tune all the time, you will get more enjoyment out of you piano and also more value out of the piano tuning.  The less the piano tuner has to change when he comes to tune your piano the better the piano will hold its tune.  Basically your piano will get used to being in tune and stay there.