Archive for the ‘Repairing, Regulating, and Evaluating Pianos’ Category

Buzzing Agraffe

  

This is a Kawai RX3. The middle string G3 was giving off a horrible buzz. I pressed on the non-speaking length and it went away. I added this little piece of felt and it didn’t come back.

Agraffe termination points are known for being troublesome.

How to Tune using the Sostenuto, when there is no Sostenuto

Many techs find that using the sostenuto to hold up dampers of keys being tuned, allows for better hearing of the partials. 

This photo shows how you can use mutes to hold up the dampers on pianos with no sostenuto. 

  

New Lesson – Regluing Hammer Felt

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 5.10.20 PM

Sometimes hammer felt comes unglued. I’ve just uploaded a video lesson that shows how I reglue hammer felt.

You can watch it HERE

Which are Better, Grand Pianos or Upright Pianos?

grand and upright

There are a few things that are inherently different between upright and grand pianos. But the answer to this question really depends on your level as a pianist, or maybe more appropriately, the level you expect to attain. (If you are already a high level pianist, you already know the answer to this question. 🙂 )

The main difference is obviously price, all other things considered. And size, in the horizontal plane, anyway. These two elements may immediately rule out the grand for you.

But what are the other differences, and how do they affect how the piano sounds and plays?

String Length
Because of something called “inharmonicity”, longer strings tend to have a more “pure” sound. It’s a fact that some large uprights have longer strings than some baby grand pianos. If bass tone is important to you, you may prefer a full size upright to a baby grand piano.

repeition lever

Repetition
In order to repeat a note on the upright, the key must be fully released so that the jack will reset under the hammer. On the grand, there is an extra lever called the repetition lever. The repetition lever raises the hammer a bit when the pressure is released from the key as it just begins to rise off the bottom of the keybed. At this time, the hammer rises, and the jack is able to reset under the hammer. This allows single notes to be repeated quite fast on the grand, compared to the upright. Some advanced pieces cannot be played on an upright because of the limitation on the repeatable speed of single notes.

Grand Dampers
Damping

When the key is released, dampers rest on the string and silence the ringing. The sound originates where the hammer hits the string, so the optimum place to damp the string, is where the hammer hit it. This is another big difference between the upright and grand piano; on an upright, the hammers and the dampers are on the same side of the strings while on a grand, the hammers are under the strings and the dampers are on top of the strings.

This means that on a grand, it is possible to damp the string at exactly the same spot where the hammer hit the string, which is exactly what they do on a grand.

On an upright, this is not possible because the hammers and dampers can’t hit the same spot; the dampers damp a little below where the hammers hit.

Also, on a grand, the dampers do not share their space with the hammers, so they can be as long as they need to be, and they will start at the top a little shorter, but increase in length quite a bit all the way down to the first bass note.

Hammer Rest Rail

On the upright, the dampers start at the top a little shorter, and increase in size as they go down, but something happens at the break where the bass strings change to tenor strings. You see, the bass strings are “over strung” which means they cross over the tenor strings. This means that right at the break, where the dampers need to be longer, they cannot be longer and have to be cut short on the bottom, to clear the bass strings.

Also, the hammers are above the dampers, so they cannot be made longer by making them higher, although on some pianos you will see the hammer line rising gently near the break. This alleviates this problem a tiny bit, but doesn’t make a huge difference.

In fact, the first damper in the tenor section is sometimes one of the shortest because of these space limitations.

The result is that, on the upright, when you play a staccato chord and let go, there is almost always a little ringing that is heard. But on a grand, even with some low quality grands, there is absolutely no sound at all after the keys are released. It is actually kind of eerie when you notice it for the first time.

Sostenuto

Una Corda Pedal (or Soft Pedal)

This is the left pedal. On a grand, it moves the whole keyboard, hammers, and action to one side. Despite the name, it does not have to move the hammers so much that they miss one string. The goal is just to shift the hammers enough so that the string is hit by fresh felt. This produces the soft tone.

On the upright, the keys and hammer action are separate pieces, so this system does not work. To achieve a softness, the left pedal moves the hammer rest rail forward. This produces “lost motion” which is usually bad for the feel. In addition, the introduction of lost motion almost always does not change the volume very much, if at all.

Sostenuto Pedal
This is the middle pedal on a grand. Most uprights do not have this function. Most grands do. Only the lowest quality grands are missing this function. The sostenuto pedal serves to sustain only the notes that are pressed down when the pedal is pressed down. Until the pedal is released, those notes will continue to sustain while all the others are staccato (if the sustain/damper pedal is not pressed).

It is not used much, but is a pleasing effect when used properly. It is called for on some advanced modern pieces.

So, as you can see, there are many features of the grand piano that make it a superior instrument for making high level music. If you have the space and budget, and anticipate playing at a high level, the grand piano may be preferred over the upright.

Regulating Lost Motion

Action

Regulation is the act of adjusting a piano’s action so that each key responds well, can play softly, and doesn’t hit twice or block on the strings. There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s a good basic definition.

Regulating a piano can be a complicated affair. Adjustments you make to one part, can affect the measurements of another. I have developed a concept that simplifies action regulation so that anyone can understand these relationships and know what adjustments to make to improve the feel of a piano, and if there is room to improve it at all. It is called “The Regulation Triangle”. At the time of writing of this post, I had not posted any description of it.

Before these analyses can be done, some basic adjustments must be made in order to have the action work its best, and have the regulation adjustments you make, not change as you work.

One of these basic adjustments is Lost Motion.

Basically there are three parts to a piano key action. The key, the wippen, and the hammer.

The key is the long piece of wood you press on, and pivots. As it pivots, the back end pushes up on the wippen, which is a moving part that transmits motion from the key, to the hammer.

The hammer rests on the hammer rest rail, unless the wippen is too high, then the hammer rests on a piece in the wippen, called the jack.

The jack is where the motion from the key is passed on to hammer; the jack presses up on the bottom of the hammer.

The jack slips out of the way when the key is pressed almost all the way down. This produces a “throwing” type of action the allows the hammer to be “thrown” at the string. It is a very natural feel.

In order to replay the note, the jack must “reset” under the hammer when the key is returned to its resting postion. (On grands, the jack resets must sooner. Grands do not have lost motion.)

Proper working of the key/wippen/hammer involves the key moving, the wippen rising slightly until the jack touches the hammer, and then the whole system moving together (until let off, but that’s another story).

There is a capstan at the back of the key that rises up to meet the wippen. It can be adjusted up or down, which moves the wippen, and hence the jack up or down.

If the capstan is too low, the key will move too much before the jack engages with the hammer. This is called “Lost Motion”; the beginning motion of the key does nothing.

Now, if the capstan is too high (the jack is too high), the hammer will be resting on the jack, instead of the hammer rest rail. After one playing, the hammer may fall down to the rest rail once the jack is out of the way (after let off) and leave no room for the jack to reset. When this happens, the key stops working. You can press it down, but the hammer doesn’t move, because the jack isn’t under it. This is sometimes called “Negative Lost Motion”.

Here is a simple way to adjust Lost Motion.

Gently pull back on the hammer rest rail. All the hammers should move with the rail, because they should all be resting on the rail, not the jack. If they are resting on the jack, they will not move with the rail; you will not see them follow the rail. For any that do not follow the rail, give the capstans a quarter turn down and retest with the gentle pull.

Once they are all moving with the rail during the gentle pull, pull a little harder. Now, they should all stop moving. This means there is a tiny clearance between the tops of the jacks, and the hammer. If the clearance is too much, the hammers will keep following the rail as you pull it back. If Lost Motion is excessive, the hammers will never stop following the rail.

Turn the capstans up a quarter turn for each hammer that won’t stop moving and keep following the rest rail on hard pulls.

With this simple procedure, you will be able to improve lost motion so that no keys stop working, and there isn’t any excessive lost motion between the key and the hammer that will affect the feel and the tone.

On some pianos, there may be a dimple up under the hammer, caused by the jack wearing away the leather under the hammer. This will result in clearance when the key is at rest, but not enough clearance to allow the jack to reset.

The only way to be sure that the jack has enough room to reset, is to trip it by using a screwdriver or something to push down gently on the jack toe. This will trip the jack. When you let go, it should return easily under the hammer.

Adjusting lost motion can be an easy way to improve a piano’s action and feel/response, and it is one of the easiest regulation procedures to perform; anyone can do it.

How To Easily and Quickly Tell How Many Strings are in Any Piano.

Ever wondered how many strings are in a piano? Here’s an easy way to quickly tell.

The piano starts in the bass with single strings; one string per note. Then goes to two strings per hammer, called a bichord, for about 10 or so notes, then the rest have three strings per note.

The total number of strings in a piano depends on where in the piano the notes go from single to bichord, and where they go from bichord to trichord.

Consider a standard piano with ten singles strings and a change from bichords to trichords at C3:

A0 to F#1 = 10 Strings
G1 to B2 = 17 x 2 = 34 Strings
C3 to C8 = 61 x 3 = 183 Strings
Total = 227 Strings

Now memorize that for a piano with ten singles, and where the strings change from bichords to trichords at C3, the total number of strings for that specific piano is 227.

Then to quickly figure out the total on another piano, count how many singles, where the change from bichord to trichord is, and make the following simple calculation.

Example:
Piano has 14 singles and changes from bichord to trichord at F3

14 singles means 4 less.
Change at F3 means 5 less.
Total strings = 227 – 9 = 218 Strings.

Impress your friends!

Evaluating FREE Used Pianos

There’s good news and bad news.

The bad news first. Pianos are going out of style. Due to the exceptional quality and workmanship in the early 20th century, and the huge proliferation of the instrument, there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of old pianos in the world that are not being used, sitting in people’s basements, waiting for the dump. Add to that, the fact that the demand for pianos has dropped, competing with video games and digital pianos. It’s hard to imagine that at one time, the lowly piano was the King of the home entertainment world.

The good news is, many of these pianos are still good instruments, and with some time and knowledge, you can pick up a good instrument for cheap. How does FREE sound? Go ahead and check it out. Go to kijiji.com or craigslist.com in your city and look up “free piano”. You’ll see what I mean.

Why are these pianos being given away? Surely they must be garbage, right? Remember what your dad said? “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, son.” Well, your dad was right. Except in this situation, you get your free piano (less moving and tuning and minor repairs) by spending your time looking at many different pianos, armed with knowledge, until you find that special piano, the one that will make an awesome instrument that the owner doesn’t want anymore.

Why would someone give away a piano with value? Well, there are a few reasons for this:

1) They don’t know the value of it. It may have been given to them by a relative who passed away. They’ve kept it for a while for sentimental reasons, but now they want a new flat screen T.V., right where the piano is!

2) They have to sell it fast. There is a small demand for pianos, and a huge supply. I tell people who call me about selling their piano, that if they need to sell it fast, like in less than four months, I suggest advertising it for free on kijiji or craigslist.

I created this checklist for my customers so they could evaluate their own pianos and see if there is any value in them. You can use it to find out if a piano for sale has any value and may be worth picking up for a dime, or enlisting the services of a qualified piano technician (Go to ptg.org and click on “Find a Technician”).

I hope you find the list helpful. I wrote it so anyone could use it. No need to know anything about pianos. It will help you increase the chances of finding that diamond in the rough, but will not eliminate the possibility of buying a dud. Make sure to get it checked out by a qualified technician to be sure.

Click the link below to view the document.
Used Piano Check List – Revised 2014

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