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View Full Version : Enough guitar, Let's talk piano



huisjen
02-23-2007, 12:41 PM
I just got mine tuned. This was the first time I've had it done, and the piano tuner said he'd guess it's been 25 years since it's been done. It was about a full step flat, and he brought it up to about a half step flat. You can't really tune it up a full step in one go and expect it to be in tune, so I told him that as long as something was close to 440, even if it wasn't the A key, and as long as it was basically in tune with itself, I'd call it good.

He took the face of it all apart, so that he had access to all the works. He adjusted a bunch of the dampers and keys, then set to work tuning. While he worked, I looked in a book he had and found, based on make and serial number, that my piano was made in 1913.

So the plan is to get it tuned once a year. In three or four years it should really be back in tune. He also advises getting the keys re-surfaced, as 3/4 of the ivories are gone, and about six keys really have some wear on them. Tuning ran $100, but the key top replacement would be $350, which is more than I'm ready to put into a free piano just yet.

It sounds great now though. Maybe now I'll learn to play.

Dan

Memphis Mike
02-23-2007, 12:46 PM
If you can't tune a piano, tuna fish.

TomF
02-23-2007, 12:55 PM
You can put new keytops on yourself ... I've done it. And there's even a fair bit an amateur can do to take up extra movement in the action, so it feels better. On old uprights like mine ... and I suspect yours ... those adjustments are usually a simple screw on the tail end of the key.

I went so far as to do some work re-shaping the hammers with an old emery board, and pricking them ("deep needling") to make the tone less brassy, and more even from note to note.

There are some decent resources on the web for how to go about this, and so long as you go cautiously and slowly - stopping when you need to - there's quite a bit you can do to make such pianos more playable.

About learning to play ... well, that I can't teach you over the web. But just in case you're serious, I can point you to a really good pedagogy site for piano teachers, and you can walk through it yourself.

http://www.serve.com/marbeth/piano.html

t

Figment
02-23-2007, 02:09 PM
What are we talking about here? Baby-grand? Upright? Spinet?

I've dealt with a lot of "free" pianos, and most turn out to be pretty far-gone. It sounds like yours is in better shape than most already.

Bruce Taylor
02-23-2007, 02:20 PM
So the plan is to get it tuned once a year. In three or four years it should really be back in tune.

If you're lucky.

I spent many years and many hundreds of dollars trying to get my old Heintzman upright Grand up to concert pitch. The piano had sentimental value (it was bought for my great grandma in 1905), and had been a fine instrument in its day, so I figured it was worth the struggle.

It wasn't. Our technician approached the job with great delicacy, but he still couldn't get the damn thing to settle down. Eventually, it became clear that nothing short of new pins and strings, new felts and a complete overhaul of the action was going to bring the old girl back (and I had my doubts about the pin block).

So, a few months ago I gave it to a friend and bought Maggie a new Yamaha for her birthday. I wish I'd done it five years ago.

TomF
02-23-2007, 02:25 PM
Yeah. Unlike well put together grands, uprights weren't meant to be rebuilt. There's more labour in replacing an upright's pinblock (so I'm told) than in doing the same to a concert grand. Mostly because concert grands are expected to be tuned so frequently that they'll go through a few pinblocks in their performing life. Often the pinblock will give out well before the bass strings need replacing.

Home pianos weren't intended to have the same rigours imposed, or the same maintenance schedules observed. So there are a lot of piano-shaped-objects out there, that once sounded pretty good.

Bruce Taylor
02-23-2007, 02:29 PM
A book every piano owner should have:

http://ec2.images-amazon.com/images/P/1929145012.01._BO2,204,203,200_PIlitb-dp-500-arrow,TopRight,45,-64_OU01_AA240_SH20_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg

TomF
02-23-2007, 02:30 PM
Yes yes yes yes.

huisjen
02-23-2007, 03:07 PM
Larry Fine? Didn't he used to work with Moe and Curly Howard?

Mine is a Kohler and Campbell upright. The tuner did those key end screw adjustments before he started tuning. He also said that there was only one pin that didn't seem to be holding as tight as he'd wish, but overall he thought it was a decent piano.

I'll have to look at the link and the book.

Dan

Canoeyawl
02-23-2007, 03:35 PM
Early Pianos had wooden harps. Your date is close to the cut-off when most manufacturers were using cast iron harps. An old wooden harp is almost impossible to keep in tune.

Bruce Taylor
02-23-2007, 04:45 PM
but overall he thought it was a decent piano.

I'm sure your technician is an honest guy.

Mine, I now realize, wasn't. He was always full of extravagant praise for my piano (which had, indeed, been a gorgeous and tuneful thing in its time). However, he must have known that the prospect of keeping it in good playing form, without putting in three or four thousand dollars worth of work, was not good. Instead, he kept assuring me that the "patient," as he insisted on calling it, was recovering nicely and would soon be well.

Needless to say, a piano that needs to be tuned every time a cloud passes in front of the sun is a steady source of income to a guy like him...

P.I. Stazzer-Newt
02-23-2007, 05:28 PM
Early Pianos had wooden harps. Your date is close to the cut-off when most manufacturers were using cast iron harps. An old wooden harp is almost impossible to keep in tune.

No "Almost" about it - been there done that - and burned the barsteward afterwards.

Gem Realpiano Pro 2. Push button tuning! - two clicks and its in B flat...

seedtick
02-23-2007, 05:40 PM
Those old pianos were in houses long before air conditioning, central heating or any kind of humidity control. It's difficult to find one that can hold tune at A=440. The reality is that most folks' ear isn't good enough to tell the difference and you can still have a lot of fun with those old pianos.

My first upright was given to me in 1982, the owner was moving it and it fell of the truck. I brought it home, got in touch with the man at the LSU School of Music that takes care of the pianos. He told me to get the book "Piano Servicing Tuning and Rebuilding" by Arthur A. Reblitz and put the piano back together. At one time I had nine uprights in my house - I'm down to two now. I fix them up and give them away.

If you have any mechanical aptitude at all, you can work on a piano. Parts for the old uprights are available - maybe not exact replacements but they can be adapted.

TomF is correct, keytops are available and can easily be glued on, other action adjustments are usually easy once you understand how the action works.

Remember they were put together one piece at a time and they come apart and can be put back together one piece at a time

Gary E
02-23-2007, 05:53 PM
It was about a full step flat,
Dan

Ok.... so I only tinker with a guitar sometimes and have no idea what you mean...

SO WHAT is a FULL STEP ???

Backfin
02-23-2007, 06:38 PM
A friend of mine used to sell pianos and once said that the German pianos would arrive from across the Atlantic perfectly tuned a quarter step down from concert, the Japanese pianos would arrive from across the Pacific perfectly tuned to concert pitch, the American pianos would arrive from 300 miles away completely out of tune.

Bruce Taylor
02-23-2007, 07:20 PM
Ok.... so I only tinker with a guitar sometimes and have no idea what you mean...

SO WHAT is a FULL STEP ???

The interval between notes -- say, D and D# -- is a half step or semitone.

Two semitones -- a whole tone or full step -- will get you from D to E, D# to E#, etc.

If the piano is tuned a full step low,the A in the octave above middle C (which is customarily tuned to 440 hertz in American Standard pitch) will play as G (392 hertz).

Edited, after Lazy Jack's post.

Lazy Jack
02-23-2007, 07:47 PM
The interval between notes -- say, B and B# -- is a half step or semitone.

Two semitones -- a whole tone or full step -- will get you from B to C, B# to C#, etc.

Careful! B# and C are the same note! A whole tone or full step will get you from B to C#. B# (C really) to C# is a half tone. Same goes for E to F

Hwyl
02-23-2007, 08:07 PM
Here's a simple tune, but beautiful. I've been playing this almost every morning for a couple of weeks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIMOdVXAPJ0

Nanoose
02-23-2007, 08:11 PM
beat me to it, Lazy! The B/C and E/F half steps don't make for good examples. Try D/E, or G/A. That'll work! :)

Bruce Taylor
02-23-2007, 08:37 PM
Careful! B# and C are the same note!

Oops, sloppy.

Yeah, poor choice of notes.

Thanks...edited the above.

stumpbumper
02-23-2007, 10:44 PM
Here's a simple tune, but beautiful. I've been playing this almost every morning for a couple of weeks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIMOdVXAPJ0

Thanks for that. Allison Crowe is fantastic.

huisjen
02-25-2007, 07:45 AM
Ok.... so I only tinker with a guitar sometimes and have no idea what you mean...

SO WHAT is a FULL STEP ???

Put in guitar terms, a half step is one fret different. A full step is two frets.

Dan

Phillip Allen
02-25-2007, 08:04 AM
I just got my baby grand de-tuned last Thursday... :(

huisjen
02-25-2007, 08:08 AM
Ouch. How bad was it burnt?

Dan

Phillip Allen
02-25-2007, 08:40 AM
not burnt...soaked

TomF
02-25-2007, 10:56 AM
If possible, that's worse. At a minimum, all the felts in the action will need work. If the water damage caused warping in the other parts of the workings, well ...:(

Phillip Allen
02-25-2007, 11:33 AM
It's the one I got from my sister when she got the Bosendorfer (however that is spelled)

TomF
02-25-2007, 11:48 AM
If it was covered by your homeowner's insurance, then the restoration work likely will be also. It's hard, I'm told, to get the smoke out of a piano ... but an action rebuild might just do it. If so, have them re-calculate the scaling especially for the bass strings ... these are all done custom in any case. If you're very lucky, your re-scaled bass strings with new hammers might even sound better than the bosendorfer ... your sister may not be pleased 'bout that!