CLASSIC PIANO DOC
Southold • New York
Some pianos need more than just tuning the strings. This is the realm of the Piano Technician and Restorer.
If you have had your piano tuned and it still sounds too bright or harsh, or at the extreme, like a tin pan alley piano, the hammers probably need voicing. This is perhaps even more important than tuning to "return the classic sound" to your piano. Also, most Asian pianos start out rather bright because the hammer felt is harder than American or European piano hammers. I have experience softening these piano hammers so that they have a sound more like that of the classic American pianos such as Steinway. As all pianos age and are used, they tend to get brighter sounding, especially in the middle three octave. Often the bass looses brightness with age. This can all be corrected and will make an amazing difference in the sound. For concert pianists, I not only voice the hammers to give you a soft pianisimo and a strong percussive forte, but I can also do soft pedal voicing for that extra softness when the soft pedal is down. This is often only attemped by concert technicians working in concert halls. I learned this from one of the best Steinway technicians.
As pianos get older or are exposed to the salt air near the sea, the dampers tend to get harder. This results in an after-buzz as you let up on the key. Try this on your piano. Depress the note and hold it for a second. Then let up. The string should be immediately muted. Often it will buzz as the damper mutes the string. This can get quite extreme and be nearly as loud as when the note is sounded. It adds a twang to every note that is very annoying. Also, in the bass section, the dampers can come down on the strings with a drumming sound. This added percussion section usually does not complement your piece of music. I have developed a number of techniques to restore the dampers without replacing them. This works in most cases. In very old pianos, the dampers may have to be replaced. When I evaluate your piano, I can tell you if damper restoration is likely to solve the problem. It can save you a lot and make your piano sound great again.
Bass strings sound dull?
The bass is the foundation of your music. If it is dull, the whole musical piece sounds dull. There are several reasons for the bass to get dull. The bass hammers may have never been properly voices when the piano was new. This can happen in even the most expensive pianos. Voicing bass hammers takes time and experience and is one of the more challenging adjustments on a piano. It is often neglected. Also, as pianos get older, or exposed to salt air, the copper wound strings can corrode or they can just get dirty. Tar and nicotine are some of the culprits that cause strings to get dirty prematurely. It makes them sticky and dirt accumulates faster. Dirt between the copper windings prevents them from vibrating and results in a dull sound. Such pianos are said to have a "tubby" bass. I have some unique techniques for restoring bass strings without replacing them. Often, following my restoration, they sound and look as good as new. This can save hundreds of dollars compared to replacing a set of bass strings. I don't have to take the strings out of the piano to do this and it can be done in your home.
This is probably the least understood and most neglected part of piano maintenance. Regulation encompasses about 18 different adjustments of each note of the piano action. That is over 2000 adjustments. If these adjustments were not made correctly at the factory (and it happens in even in the most expensive pianos) the piano will be hard to play, have an uneven response from note to note, or result in any number of odd clicks or buzzes that you don't want to hear. To test the regulation, gently depress each note on your piano. Given the same pressure, you should be able to make each note sound about the same amount. If it does not, it is time for regulation work.
Regulation changes as your piano ages and needs periodic adjustment. Felt parts compress, hammers wear down, dampers get thin and hard, and screws vibrate loose. Pianos should be regulated every 5-10 years or even more often if they are played heavily. I have taken a Steinway grand from being nearly unplayable because of poor regulation to being a concert instrument that got praise from the pianists. It was all in the regulation.
I have helped older players with older pianos be able to play again. They thought they were getting too weak or their fingers were arthritic, but it was their piano that was out of regulation just from long use or neglect. A well regulated piano should "nearly play itself".
Silent or stuck notes, clicks, buzzes, and things that go thump in the night
Many things can go wrong with the action in the piano. There are a couple thousand parts. Any one can get stuck, or get loose, even fall out or break off. Many times these problems are rather minor and can be repaired at the time of tuning. If they are extensive, it may be time for at least some reconditioning. This can often be done much more quickly in my workshop. I can take the action out of most pianos in a few minutes and take it to my workshop and correct all of the problems at once. I will be happy to give you an estimate before doing any work. Just call.
Tuning pins get a great deal of stress and abuse in a piano. Together, they carry up to 20 tons of string tension. The only things that holds them is the friction of the 2 inch long pin in the thick wooden pin block. With age , use, and changes in temperature and humidity, the pins can become loose in the pin block. I have a number of good techniques to correct this problem short of replacing the pin with a larger pin. I rarely have to do this. These techniques will usually hold for many years and the cost is low.
Soundboard cracks and bridge separation
The soundboard is the heart of the piano. It is the 3/8" thick large board behind all of the strings. Think of it like the moving cone of a loudspeaker. It moves and amplifies the sound of the strings. The sound of the string is transmitted to the soundboard through the bridge (the curved wooden board with many pins through which all the strings pass. Much is made of cracks in soundboards in a piano. The truth is that soundboard cracks are common and only occasionally cause a buzz or distortion of the sound from the piano. Steinway has demonstrated this by taking a circular saw to a soundboard and cutting a long slot without causing any noticeable change in the sound. When cracks go under the bridge that carries the sound from the strings into the soundboard, there can be a rattle or buzzing sound from the loose connection I have successfully repaired many soundboard cracks and loose bridges that caused buzzing without taking the piano apart. By using special techniques and modern glues, it is possible to make long lasting repairs and save thousands of dollars when compared to replacing a soundboard. This is no longer a death sentence for most pianos.
Is your piano's finish dull? Is the finish crazed from sun exposure? Has a cat or dog scratched it? Did a small child run a toy truck over it and leave scratches? Did someone leave a potted plant on the piano and make a white spot or even worse, did the finish start to peel? Did you piano get spattered with paint or a solvent when the room was painted. Would you believe that most of these problems can be repaired in an hour or less in your living room and you will not even see the repair. There will not be any strong smell of solvents either. I have 50 years of finishing experience. I actually started refinishing and repairing antiques for my mother when I was 12. I know hundreds of professional techniques for dent and scratch repair and French polishing. You will not believe your eyes when you see the results. Just call. I can give you many references.
Ivories get chipped from time to time and sometimes many get chipped out of abuse. You can't buy new ivories because of international laws protecting elephants. Old ivories can be replaced with other old salvaged ivories. I have a collections of used ivories for such cases, but often there is a different color or grain in a different set of ivories. I have a better solution. I can repair those chipped ivories in your home. I use a technique just like your dentist would use to make a cosmetic dental repair in a chipped front tooth with a matching acrylic ivory cement. You will probably not even be able to tell which key was repaired. It will make your keyboard perfect again. I have many happy customers. Give me a call. I can also repair chips in modern plastic keys with the same technique.