What Is Regulation?

Overview

Regulation is equally as important as tuning, but piano owners are generally less aware of its necessity. In broad terms, regulation involves a technician going over the moving parts of the piano to make sure they are functioning properly. Pianos should be regulated periodically in order to:

  • compensate for environmental changes (such as increases or decreases in humidity)
  • compensate for wear and tear
  • improve feel and tone

Regulation does not need to be done as often as tuning, but neglecting it results in poor performance and tone. If a piano is never regulated, parts may stop working altogether. I recommend that clients get their pianos regulated at least once every 5 years, or any time things start feeling noticeably worse.

During the course of a regulation, a technician will go over two main systems: the action and the trapwork (pedals).

The Action

The bulk of a regulation takes place in the action. A piano’s action is all of the parts that connect the key to the hammer and transfer energy from the key to the hammer.

Picture of a grand piano action. This entire mechanism slides in and out of the piano in one piece. (image courtesy of: www.richardspianoservice.com)
Upright piano action. This entire mechanism sits on top of the keys. (image courtesy of: wessellnickelandgross.com)

The tiny parts that comprise the action, and how they function in relation to each other, influence how the instrument feels. If the parts are not regulated within certain tolerances the piano will feel clunky and unresponsive. If they are way off they won’t work at all. The tolerances for a well-regulated piano are small enough that these issues crop up fairly often.

This is a link to a virtual grand piano action on Renner’s website. Once you are on the page, you can click on the keyboard to see what happens in the action of a piano when you play a key.

Technicians align all of the moving parts so that they make the proper amount of contact with each other and work efficiently. They also ensure that the springs have the right amount of tension and that the overall system has the right amount of friction.

The Trapwork

The other area piano technicians focus on while regulating is the trapwork. The term trapwork refers to the pedals and the systems that they operate.

The bottom of the trapwork of a grand piano, which includes the pedals.
The top of the trapwork in a grand piano. This section connects the pedals to the action.

Every piano has a damper (also called sustain) pedal, located furthest to the right. When depressed, this pedal lifts all of the dampers off the strings simultaneously. Players use this pedal frequently to blend notes together or allow notes to ring out.

In addition, most grand pianos have a sostenuto pedal in the middle and a shift pedal on the left. The shift pedal (also called the una corda or soft pedal) shifts the entire keyboard to the right. This causes the hammers to miss one of the strings they would normally hit, making the tone softer.

A grand piano hammer striking the strings without the shift pedal engaged.
A grand piano hammer striking the strings with the shift pedal engaged. This shifts the hammer to the right and will soften the tone.

The sostenuto pedal keeps the dampers up on specific notes that the player chooses without raising the rest of the dampers. Players tend to use this pedal far less than the other two, and some pianos don’t even have it.

Upright pianos often have a mute pedal instead of a sostenuto pedal in the middle. The mute pedal lowers a strip of felt in between the hammers and the strings. This greatly diminishes the sound and is intended for practice. Uprights also have their own version of a shift pedal, which pushes all of the hammers forward, making the piano quieter.

Technicians regulate all of these parts so that they function in the way that is most efficient and comfortable for the player.

Don’t Neglect Regulation

If you want your piano to perform at its best, you need to keep the intricate dance of moving parts inside of it in step with one other.

Don’t forget that in addition to regular tunings, you need to have your piano regulated every few years. Many people overlook this aspect of piano maintenance because the issues that are being addressed aren’t visual or auditory. A huge part of the love piano players have for their instruments, however, is due to the way their instruments feel. So stay in love with your piano and have it regulated!

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