Counting to 100: 50-59

counting to 100 pianos.jpg

(If you're new to this series, I am writing about my tuning journey, counting my first 100 tunings. Check out previous posts here: 

#50: I made it to the half-way point in documenting my tunings! It has taken much longer than I anticipated to get here, but having two kids and being the primary stay at home parent will do that. In the past few years as I've been whittling away at my goal, I have gotten better and faster at tuning pianos. I still have much to learn, especially about taking them apart and fixing things. 

This tuning was particularly exciting because I finally managed to fix an issue that had been bothering me for a while. This piano is a friend's spinet. I knew there were several hammers that were "bobbling" or double striking and had tried a few things to adjust them. The hard part is that spinets are notoriously hard to take apart and put back together and I didn't really want to tackle that yet. This time so many of the hammers were terrible I began to suspect there must be a bigger problem. After checking a few things I found that the entire hammer rail that holds the hammer close enough to the strings was loose and not screwed on properly! Once I got it back in place and screwed on well the difference was miraculous. 

#51: My own Cunningham Piano needed another tuning only 3 months after I had last tuned it. Those three months were the difference between using A/C in our house and turning the heat on. Since my piano is currently not living in the best of locations (right under the A/C unit) I should not have been surprised by this need for another tuning so soon. 

# 52: Another Baldwin Acrosonic spinet that I have seen often.

#53:  A Young Chang upright piano.  This is a piano I play regularly and now tune regularly as well. This piano and location was an upgrade for me from a rehearsal in a restaurant back room playing a 5 octave keyboard. However over the years it has started to show signs of needing regulating. One hammer is rubbing on another, a few keys don't strike evenly or have a clear tone. I am taking some time to do research on the various ailments to prepare to fix some of them when I tune it next. It helps I see it each week so I have an idea of what needs to be done. 

#54: Lester Spinet. I did a pitch raise on this piano during the summer and should have come back to see it a few months sooner than I did. However, this time it was 11 cents flat- an improvement on last time. If it's been a while since the piano was tuned and you decide to go back to having it tuned regularly, one pitch raise often is not enough. It takes an extra tuning or two that first year until the piano strings stabilize and hold their pitch better.

#55: Kawaii Grand piano. The pianist at this church left me a note that one of the dampers was not working properly. Thankfully I had just watched someone else take the action out of a grand a few weeks prior so I was willing to take it apart and take a look. On a grand piano all the action is under the strings so you can't fix much without taking the action out. I oiled the damper and by the time I was done the tuning it was working well again. I actually took the action in and out a few times because I found a problem with the middle pedal after it was all put back together again the first time. It took a bit of searching to find the one loose screw in the inside of the piano that was making the pedal click and not catch correctly. 

#56: Lester Grand piano. Three strings broke while I was tuning this piano and I found two notes that had long been missing a fourth treble string. I replaced one of the strings but two others were on the understrung portion of the piano. On most pianos there are sections where the bass strings cross over the treble strings, hence the name "understrung". This makes it hard to reach the treble strings to take them out and replace them. They really just needed to be spliced but I didn't know the piano tuners knot yet. I had to leave the job for another day and assistance.  I did go home and teach myself how to make a square knot in piano wire the very next day so that I will not have this issue again. If for some reason you are like me and think that you are supposed to be able to twist these knots into piano wire with no assisting tools and therefore never learn because that is ridiculously hard- check out some videos. I made eight good knots in two hours after learning to use vice grips.  More of the story: don't be dumb, use youtube, watch videos. 

Left: Good knots                                                                                    Right: rejects

#57: Baldwin Spinet. This was a new piano for me, another case of an old piano needing a pitch raise. There were several pedals not working correctly but nothing a little screw tightening couldn't fix. When I was finished the piano was still an old spinet but sounded much better and all parts were functional. 

#58 Young Chang Upright: This is a piano I see all the time because I play it every week. I was aware that some notes were knocking and some keys were sticking, so I was able to come prepared to take it apart and with some fixes researched in advance. I took out the action, tightened a lot of screws, pushed some pins back in place, then put the whole thing back together again. A few months later, I can tell that some of the pins are working loose again, but the screws I tightened are not having any new issues. 

#59 Wurlitzer Spinet: A friend asked me to come tune his spinet. He told me in advance that it was playing a half step lower than it should be, so I knew to expect an extreme pitch raise. This spinet turned out to be an example of piano that should not be tuned and really should not be played anymore. Many of the pins were not holding, making a few notes completely unplayable. I told him it really wasn't worth the work, but he wanted to be able to use it a little, so I did what I could. If your technician tells you to trash a piano, please trash it and don't list it for free on Craigslist instead. 








Counting to 100: 41 - 49

counting to 100 pianos.jpg

(If you're new to this series, I am writing about my tuning journey, counting my first 100 tunings. Check out previous posts here: 

(Piano Tunings 41 through 49 all happened during the summer months - if anyone is following along, I'm playing catch up again) 

Tunings 41 and 42 were in Maine. I tune a few pianos there every summer when I am visiting family. This is the third year I've come back to these pianos, which gives me a good look at how I am doing better and what I still need to work on. In general I tune a lot fast than I did when I started. Most jobs take me less than two hours now. Tuning #42 is a piano that has one broken part. I've pushed it back into place before, but that isn't cutting it anymore. I'll need to see if I canibring a part and replace it next time.

Tunings 43 and 44 were two grand pianos at a church in PA. Tuning grands is similar to uprights, but different enough to make it take a bit longer for me. The strings and tuning pins are vertical instead of horizontal, there tend to be more strings, and there is usually a better tone making it easier to hear accurate pitches on the lower and higher notes.

Tunings 45 and 46 were both pitch raises. The pianos had not been tuned in some time and both were about a half step flat. I had to go through the tuning sequence several times to pull the string up to pitch. I will need to visit these pianos again soon. Getting a piano back to stable tuning takes a while and several tunings. 

Tuning 47 was a piano I've tuned before, now in a new home. It was nice to see it still holding up well. If you sell or give away a piano, let the next person know who your technician is so they can receive continued care. 

Tuning 48 is a friend's piano. I've seen this piano many times now as well. 

Tuning #49 was my own piano. This is a new Cunningham piano that I purchased in the last year. It's last tuning was done for free with purchase price, so I was surprised to find it fairly sharp when I started tuning it. I don't know how much of that was environment, or the previous tuning. I bought the piano right before we started some renovations so it has been living under an AC unit. (NOTE: This was foolish. Do not buy a brand new piano right before ripping up the room it is supposed to live in and then stick it under an ac unit. Buy the piano AFTER the room is done. However, we didn't plan for this to happen- does anyone?  I do love my new piano very much and am glad I didn't have to wait another year to purchase it.) 





Counting to 100: 31-40

(If you're new to this series, I am writing about my tuning journey, counting my first 100 tunings. Check out previous posts here: 

With two kids keeping me busy, finding time to rehash every tuning I do just isn't happening. Here's a review of the last 9 for anyone who may be keeping track with me. You might remember that I finally got an electronic tuning device (SAT I - it's a really old school one) to help me! It has definitely helped me improve my tunings and my speed as well. 

Piano Tuning #31: Our church's Baldwin upright with the SAT.

Every piano is slightly different in the way it needs to be tuned because of a lot of different factors (pianos are pretty complex). I consistently had trouble getting some of the G#'s and B's to fit when tuning this piano. Having the SAT helped me get them set in just right to fit the scale. I'm not sure why they were so much more tricky on this piano than others, but I was glad to finally start fixing the problem.

Funny note: I am pretty hyper aware of slightly out of tune B's because of my own struggles with them. Our church recently got a brand new grand piano and due to contract obligations it was tuned by someone else. I noticed immediately that a few of the B's weren't quite where I would want them. It makes me feel better that I am not the only one with this B tuning problem! 

Piano Tuning #32: a friend's Kimball spinet

  This piano has a double hitting problem, but because it is a spinet it is not an easy fix. Every time I tune it I look into it some more and try to fiddle with it to fix the double hitting. But I suspect I need to take it apart to really solve the problem. Since I am tuning it as a favor to a friend with both our little kids running around, I usually don't have the time to give it my full attention. Someday I'll take it apart and see what I can do. 

Piano Tuning #33: a student's Baldwin Acrosonic Spinet

These little pianos are workhorses. They don't always sound the prettiest, or play the smoothest, but they seem to last forever and hold up to abuse well. If you are looking for a used piano for your kid's lessons, a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet is not a bad choice. 

Piano Tuning #34: a friend's Kranich and Bach upright

This piano is old and not holding up well. The top notes were slipping this time that I tuned it. Sometimes pegs and pegboards just get worn out and won't hold a pitch as well anymore. That is a sign it is time to get a new piano.  

Piano Tuning #35: my own piano again. 

Yes, I tune my own piano, although it is a little like the cobbler's children. It is hard to schedule my own work in my own house. 

Piano Tuning #36: a Schumann upright

"Schumann" is not a quality name for a piano like it is for composers. This piano had several strings that were untunable, a broken flange, and badly needed a pitch raise. I did the best I could for it but advised them their piano did not have much life left. If your tuner ever has to tell you that, don't shoot the messenger. I understand it is disheartening to hear. However, better they tell you, than you continue to  pour money into an instrument that is just going to keep getting worse. 

Piano Tuning #37: Otto Altenburg spinet

I did a pitch raise over the course of 2014 when I first started tuning for this family. Now this piano is holding well and serving their needs perfectly. A little TLC for a piano goes a long way. 

Piano Tuning #38:  Kimball Upright 

This piano has been moved several times in the past 2 years and not happy about it. It takes a few weeks (or even longer) for pianos to stabilize after being put in a new environment. This affects pitch and necessitates more tunings for a time. 

Piano Tuning #39:  Back to my friend's Kimball spinet

This piano is still double hitting. I have several notes on it and I am going to make time in a few months to check it out more thoroughly. Since we have a special tuning arrangement, I haven't spent too much more time working on it.  

Piano Tuning #40:  Young Chang professional upright

I accompany a community choir and we hold our rehearsals and concerts at a local church. The church primarily uses an organ, so the choir hired me to tune the piano before our concert. I love being able to tune AND play pianos. Did you know that a lot of technicians don't actually play piano themselves? 

Phew I am almost up to date for this year. Stay tuned for pianos 41-50, coming in the next month or so. 

Counting to 100: 22-30 (Summer catch-up edition)

(If you're new to this series, I am writing about my tuning journey, counting my first 100 tunings. Check out previous posts here: 

I've gotten seriously behind on my blogging, so I am going to do a catch-up blog. And let's face it, I keep coming back to the same 10 pianos so there is only so much I can tell you about them. Hopefully I meet some new one's soon! 

Piano Tuning #22 was another spinet getting it's first tuning. Tuning with toddlers running around is always an adventure, especially when one of them is yours and you are tuning for a friend. My friends let me tune their pianos. Do you want to be my friend? 

Piano Tuning #23 was my own piano. Yes the piano tuner's piano does get tuned. Unfortunately tuning pianos only serves to make me more aware of when my piano needs work, which can sometimes be tricky to fit into my schedule!

Piano Tuning #24 was my church's piano. I tune this piano 2-3 times per year. It has a humidifier system in it which does a great job at getting us through the constantly changing temperature (and humidity). 

Piano Tuning #25 was another spinet. Please stop buying spinets. 

Piano Tuning #26 was another spinet for another friend. Read about piano #22 and toddlers. I need to get back to this house soon too. 

Piano Tuning #27 was a new piano! This one surprisingly did not need a pitch raise, although it had been some time since it's last tuning. I want to say something about why, but I really don't know why. 

Piano Tuning #28 was a return to an old client. I had not tuned their piano for a year, but it was still doing pretty well. They moved the piano from it's own room to a living room with a wood stove so I'm curious to see if there are any changes the next time I see this piano.

Piano Tuning #29 was my own piano. We moved! (Reason # 1 why I haven't done much blogging in a year). Pianos always need a good tuning after a move, but it usually a good idea to wait a few weeks so it can get acclimated to the new environment.

Piano Tuning #30 was my own piano.

In between piano tuning #29 and #30 I cut my hand, had nerve surgery to repair the damage, and then had a baby (reasons #2-4 why I haven't done much blogging in a year). So it was actually 6 months between those two tunings.  

Now I'm back!

And I'm happy to report that I have FINALLY saved enough and called to order a tuning device to help me refine my tuning skills. I hope to resume blogging and resume tuning as my life returns to some new semblance of normal. 

Counting to 100: #21

(If you're new to this series, I am writing about my tuning journey, counting my first 100 tunings. Check out previous posts here: 

How to Spot Drop Action Pianos

Tuning #21 was back to a house with a drop action piano. I've written a lot about drop action pianos, so this time I took some pictures to show what I mean. Knowing the difference between a drop action piano and a standard action piano is actually pretty important when you are shopping for pianos.  

The keys of your piano don't stop where the ivory (ok, plastic) ends. They extend all the way back into the piano. If you take off the front board (behind where the music sits), you should see keys extending inside the piano.

Now for some terminology: all the moving wooden parts in the piano are call the ACTION. 

The keys that you play actually extend all the way back into the piano and make the action move. However, that action can be placed above the keys (and connected with little dowels), directly on the keys (pictured left), or below and behind the keys (pictured right). The two pictures were taken right above the piano looking in, to show where the action is located.   



For the standard action, the parts sit right on the keys. 

For the drop action, there is a big drop and lots of wooden pieces going further down into the piano. The action is all hidden down behind the keys.

<------------- This is another picture of a standard action. The camera is sitting right on the ends of the piano keys, and you can see that the action is located directly on top of the keys.  

There are two basic problems with drop action pianos:

Something Breaks

Something that could be a simple fix on a regular action is much more difficult in drop action simply because there is very little room to work and it is all hidden down in the piano. Some technicians will actually charge more to work on drop actions.  

Sound Quality

Drop action is usually only put in pianos that are really short. These short pianos (called Spinets) are convenient because they are easier to move and fit into a home. However, a shorter piano means less space for strings, and that means poor sound quality. If you care about having a bass (lower end of the piano) that doesn't sound muddy, avoid a short piano. 

There is something else to consider: Not all short pianos have drop action. Spinet refers to the height of the piano (36-39 inches). I have a very short piano, but it does not have a drop action. It is a Console piano, and is 40  inches high. I bought it on purpose because I needed something that we could get into our apartment, but did NOT want a drop action to work on. So, if you don't have a lot of space, there are alternatives! That 1-4 inches makes a difference in what piano manufacturers can do inside a piano. 







<------------------ Here's another problem with this particular drop action piano

I can't leave the lid to the keyboard open all the way and see inside to tune the piano. If I open the lid all the way, I can't see the hammers hitting the strings to know which note to tune. If I close it to see the hammers, I can't press the keys. It winds up being half open the whole time so that I can access the keys and see the hammers at the same time. (I could avoid this by taking off the entire cover, but that is more work that it is worth.)