Although summers are busy in all kinds of other ways, the end of the summer season, the start of a new school year, and the change into fall weather brings with it a significant increase in piano work, particularly institutional pianos. A couple of times each year, I have to clean out all of my tool bags and toolboxes and reorganize. This is a small piece of what that looks like! I guess you could call it a “fall cleaning.” As I return to blog posting after a couple month’s hiatus, keep an eye out for some exciting projects and interesting work that took place over the summer!
When a string breaks on a piano, it often breaks at or very near the tuning pin. This means the majority of the string’s length is still perfectly viable, and in fact is ideally suited to the rest of the piano in age, timbre, and general wear. In these cases, it’s often best to splice the string (tie a knot, essentially), creating a new lead wire to attach to the tuning pin, but leaving the rest of the string’s length almost exactly as it was before. This is especially preferable on bass strings, where the length of the string and the thickness of the copper winding is completely customized, meaning a replacement string must be a custom order, and even still will not match the old strings very well in timbre and appearance. The picture is of a recent splice on a customer’s old spinet piano. The piano is not… Read More
It’s important to recognize when you hire someone to work on your piano (or anything you own) that the fee or hourly rate you pay encapsulates the entire amount needed to run the business and offer you the service. There are significant cost overheads involved in any business; self-employment and in-home services are certainly no exception One of the biggest cost overheads in piano work is tools. In order to work efficiently and quickly, at a high level of quality, while minimizing the risk of any damage to your piano, there are a number of specialized tools that piano technicians carry. One of the most important is the tuning lever, or “tuning hammer.” This Fujan tuning lever is not cheap, but it is one of the best investments I’ve made. With a carbon fiber shaft and precision machined head, it gives the best possible grip and torque on tuning pins.… Read More
What’s a “mezzo-thermoneal stabilizer” you ask? That’s a great question. In the post-WW2 era, when the piano market was really taking off in America, manufacturers started coming up with all kinds of new patented techniques to make their pianos stand out from the competition. Or, at the very least, to make them sound special. “Mezzo-thermoneal stabilizers” are a great example. No one really knows what it means, but it sure sounds cool. Almost like your piano was designed by NASA! Most of these kinds of labels, unfortunately, are little more than marketing gimmicks. This particular piano is a 1979 Kimball Console. It’s actually a good little piano, but the mezzo-thermoneal stabilization probably has nothing to do with it!
This 1938 Lester spinet doesn’t have any resale value, hasn’t been serviced or tuned in over ten years, and frankly was a low-end piano to begin with. So why am I writing about it? Because it never ceases to amaze me that pianos like this still have life left in them. When I finished tuning (twice over) and doing some minor regulation, this piano sounded pretty good! In fact, it hit me that it sounded and felt better than most mid-price electric pianos I’ve played. Some of which cost several thousand dollars. I think that’s pretty impressive for an 80-year-old bottom-of-the-line piano from Lester. There truly is no comparison to quality craftsmanship and acoustic sound. (Don’t get me wrong here: there are WAY better acoustic pianos than this! Don’t settle for an 80-year-old spinet if you can afford something better.)
Actually, I carry three with me for most appointments. And that doesn’t include many, many more tools at home. But one toolbag is typically all I need for a tuning. The extra materials are for those impossible-to-predict broken strings, regulation and voicing issues, broken parts, and miscellaneous repairs! And those extra toolboxes stay in the trunk. So you know it’s a serious job when you have to bring in the second toolbox…
Did you know there are actually three categories of maintenance that pianos need? Tuning is the first that most people think of. But regulation and voicing are two other maintenence items that make an enormous difference in the feel and sound of a piano – sometimes more so than tuning. I’ve discussed regulation before, but voicing is the third element of piano maintenance and refers exclusively to the manipulation of the hammer felt. Over time, piano hammers get deep grooves, as well as the natural hardening and compressing of the felt with age and use. Voicing involves several different techniques to harden, soften, reshape, and re-texturize the hammer felt. It’s called “voicing” because every change made to the hammer felt makes a significant difference in the tone quality of the piano. What may be perceived as a “sour” or “out-of-tune” note is sometimes a voicing issue. Lastly, it’s worth pointing… Read More
Many people are not aware that there are actually major differences between “spinet” pianos and other upright pianos. Spinets are the shortest of upright pianos (generally less than 40″ tall), and the small size has other compromises built in, but by far the most significant is what’s known as the drop action. In all other upright pianos, the back end of the key pushes upward against the action mechanism, propelling the hammer toward the strings. In a spinet, as you can see in this picture, the back ends of the keys are actually attached to lifter rods, which drop down below the keybed, connect to the elbow and a special lever which transfers the movement to the action and the hammer. A drop action is a somewhat more complicated and less efficient way of transferring energy from the key to the hammer, but at one time was considered a worthwhile… Read More
This is a great example of what is known as a “stencil” piano. The name “Brahms” appears on the front of the piano, but in fact the plate (visible in the background) is stamped with Winter & Company, the actual manufacturer of the piano. I couldn’t find any background information on this particular customer’s piano, but it was very common in the mid-1900’s for piano stores, dealers, and others to have a run of pianos manufactured by an established company with the dealer’s name stamped on the front. Winter & Co. was one of the larger piano manufacturers in the 1940’s, when this piano was built, and had arrangements like this with dozens of companies over the years. If you own a piano with a name on the front that is unfamiliar and hard to find any information on, one possible explanation is that it’s a stencil. They are not… Read More
Approximately twice a week, I post pictures of pianos I have worked on, usually focusing on a specific aspect of piano care, maintenance, or repair. Sometimes they’re educational, sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re scary, and sometimes just plain interesting. If you’re a pianist or a piano owner, follow South Jersey Piano Service on Instagram and Facebook! You’ll learn more about these incredibly complex instruments, and you’ll be better informed when you have your own piano serviced. And of course, if you live in South Jersey, you’ll know who to call! www.instagram.com/sjpianoservice www.facebook.com/sjpianoservice