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.) 





Counting to 100: #20

Woohoo! This is my 20th tuning post on the blog. I am 1/5 of the way to 100! 

If you want to go back and read more tuning posts, here's some others: 

For this tuning I went back to the Kranich & Bach piano from tuning #10. It had been a few months past 6 months because we were having a hard time coordinating our schedules, but the piano still sounded pretty good. There's nothing unusual or new to tell you about this piano, or this tuning. So instead, for my 1/5 virtual party, I'll tell you how tuning is going now vs a year ago when I really started tuning seriously after finishing my course. 

1. I don't stress about each tuning. 

I used to worry about each tuning, and practice a little before it, especially if it had been a few weeks since I'd last tuned a piano. Obviously with 20 tunings in about 1 year, I am not doing them every day. I am also teaching, and playing piano, and being a mom and a housewife.  But now I am much more comfortable showing up for a tuning after a month off. 

2. I have an awesome tuning bag!

I used to keep everything in several random bags and felt like a bag lady hauling everything in. After doing some research on tuning forums, I found this bag: The Nantucket Bagg

It is meant for knitting, but is awesome for my basic tuning tools. A lot of technicians have a big (expensive) case that they carry with all their supplies that is designed just for technicians. I opt to just carry the essentials and leave the rest in the car (or at home). Most of the time I don't need them anyway. I've been meaning to write a full review of it eventually, in case other technicians out there are in search of a better bag. 

3. I have an awesome notating system!

The course I completed was written in the 90's so some of the stuff was really outdated, like: how to keep tuning files. Randy's instructions were to keep them on note cards. I started out that way, but I kept forgetting to bring the right card with me, so I'd take notes on one big legal pad and I wasn't good about transferring those notes back onto the note cards. Anyway, I got a smart phone and starting using OneNote. It is so much easier! I'll write a post on how I use OneNote for tuning and teaching soon.  

4.  I still worry about breaking strings.

Strings break. It is part of owning a piano. They get old and less flexible and they break. If a technician breaks a string on your piano, don't assume they are a bad technician. However, I do not enjoy replacing strings. It is a skill I really need to work on but replacement coils are really expensive! Buying a set of replacement strings and practicing is next on my things to do after buying a tuning device. In the mean time, it is always a nagging worry when I do a tuning that I will break a string and have to order a replacement.

5. I am better at fixing small things

I have fixed ringing notes, pushed parts back into place, adjusted pedals, solved buzzing noises... I am getting better at fixing those little annoying things that just need the right pressure in the right spot to end your piano playing misery. And I am not as afraid to try because I know the secret that most piano parts are harder to break than you might think. But, be careful what you push on without the right knowledge to go with it. Pianos are strong, fragile instruments.... kind of like every other instrument!

Counting to 100: #15 or Sometimes Heaters Are Good

Welcome to the Counting to 100 Pianos series. I am blogging my way through my first 100 tunings. For previous pianos, check out these:


Last year I completed one of the hardest tunings I've ever done. You can read about it here. When I arranged to go back this year, I was apprehensive but resolved. I managed to do it last time, surely this time it couldn't be worse. 

Well, it was better. Night and day better. A completely different piano. So what happened? What made those jumping strings even out and wonderfully easy to tune? I honestly don't know. Especially since I couldn't figure out why the strings were jumping last time.

But here's my best guess: something changed in the humidity of the piano. I just wrote about Where to Put Your Piano and said not to put a piano near a wood stove or similar heater. However this piano is in the same room as a wood stove, and I think in this case it was a good thing. Now, it wasn't RIGHT next to the heater, which would have been bad. However, the heat of the stove may have dried out the piano just enough that everything started moving properly again.  Another factor might be general seasonal humidity. Last time I tuned the piano in late August. This time I tuned it in mid-June. A summer of humidity could have played a significant role as well.  

The moral of the story is humidity (or lack thereof) has a HUGE impact on your piano.