Copper-wound vs. plain wire strings

Did you know that about a third of the piano is strung with copper-wound strings? The lower notes use copper winding because the extra mass helps create lower pitches; without that extra mass, pianos would have to be 20-30 feet long just to have strings long enough for those lowest notes! Usually somewhere in the octave below middle C, pianos switch over to plain wire. On a well-designed piano, the break should hardly be noticeable. Listen for it next time you’re at a piano and see if you can tell where the break is! On this Kawai upright, the copper wound strings continue up three notes past the end of the bass bridge (the point where the angle of the strings changes). That helps make the transition even smoother. Notice also that when the switch to plain wire happens, there is a transition to three strings per note instead of… Read More

String splicing: often the best option

String splicing: often the best option

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

Key Dip: All pianists notice it, few think about it

Key Dip: All pianists notice it, few think about it

One of the biggest and most immediate factors in how a piano “feels” to the player is the key dip. You’ve probably played a piano with very shallow key dip, and disliked it, but not been able to put your finger on the culprit (pardon the pun).The keyboard may have felt sluggish, clunky, hard, unresponsive, or just plain weird.    Key dip is the distance the key travels downward when you play it. As pianists, we are used to a key dip of about 3/8″, and even the smallest fraction of an inch makes a significant difference in how the piano feels. Part of this is due to the fact that the key dip is directly related to several other action regulation items, such as how far the hammer travels, at what point it stops being driven by the action (let-off), how far the key continues to move after let-off… Read More

Hyundai makes pianos too?

Hyundai makes pianos too?

They’re probably better known for cars than pianos (and rightly so), but my car and this piano have the same roots! Hyundai was a huge conglomerate in South Korea that broke apart in 2003. Hyundai Motor continues to make and ship cars all over the world, but Hyundai Music, a division of Hyundai Development Company, continues to manufacturer and distribute pianos all over the world! Like many large companies, Hyundai’s pianos are manufactured under a variety of brand names. On this particular piano, the “Aeolian” name was used and this Hyundai logo was visible only on the plate. On some other models, the Hyundai name may not appear at all.

Two different solutions for old, dead hammers

Two different solutions for old, dead hammers

Top: before and after hammer reshaping. This can’t make the hammers new again, but can restore some of the tone, even out the sound, and improve sustain. In this case, it was a helpful measure on an old piano where replacing hammers wasn’t currently in the budget. In a perfect world, this should be done every few years on all hammers, especially on high quality or heavily used instruments. Bottom: new hammers on a 100-year-old upright. This is the ideal solution for this age instrument, where the original hammers really have nothing left to give. Many people do not realize that hammer quality and maintenance are some of the biggest factors in the tone quality of a piano! They are worth everything you put into them.

Pitch raise

This piano was more than a half step flat! Tuning something this poorly maintained is not much fun, but the task is made much easier by an ETD (Electronic Tuning Device). If you watch the display carefully, you can see, as well as hear, each of the three strings rise in pitch until they are all at the target pitch. Customers often ask about the difference between tuning by ear (aurally) vs. using an electronic device. Some people hold to strong positions one way or the other. At the end of the day, the quality of the tuning is what matters! I use both methods, but I tend toward mostly aural for fine tuning quality instruments, and mostly electronic for a first-pass pitch raise like this, where all you can expect is to get it in the ballpark.

Dampp-Chaser Piano Lifesaver system

Dampp-Chaser Piano Lifesaver system

This piano is a 45-year-old Steinway upright, which only seems half its age thanks to this Dampp-Chaser humidity control system. The Dampp-Chaser “Piano Lifesaver” system is a humidity control system designed specifically for pianos. It truly is a lifesaver, particularly for pianos in churches, schools, and other institutions where the climate is not controlled as consistently as a home. I highly recommend the system for any instrument, and especially for church and school instruments. It can’t resurrect an already dead piano (sorry), but it will help to significantly preserve the life of your instrument! If you’d like to read more about humidity control, visit: http://www.sjpianoservice.com/humidity_control.htm