PianoExchange FAQ's

What is Action Regulation

How often should routine tuning & maintenance be carried out?

Why maintain a piano?

What should the tuner be expected to do

What is "tuning"

What is "Voicing"

What is pin tightener?

Purchasing a second-hand piano.

Overdamping - underdamping

What is Overstringing or crossovering.

How Old is my piano


What is Overstringing or crossovering.

This is where the bass strings are set at a diagonal across the piano running from the top left to the bottom right, running over the top of the steel wires which themselves are set diagonally from bottom left to top right. However, the steel strings are not at as greater angle as the bass strings.

The reason for this is, theatrically, the longer the bass string the nicer the tone of the piano. Overstringing also allows manufacturers to gain a longer string length using the same size of case than with straight stringing permits. Over strung pianos grands and uprights are considered modern pianos.

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Overdamping - underdamping.

Overdamping is a system whereby the piano damping mechanism (the bit that shuts the piano up) is situated above the hammer strike line.

Underdamping is where the piano dampers are placed below the hammer strike line.

Advantages and disadvantages. Overdamping. Imagine an elastic band three foot long, you twang it and then put your finger near to the end of the elastic band, to stop it vibrating. This is overdamping. Take the same elastic band and place your finger near the center to stop it from vibrating this is underdamping, which of course is more efficient.

Overdamping is controlled by gravity where as underdamping is controlled by adjustable springs so on the whole underdamping is far more efficient than overdamping. However, there is one disadvantage with underdamping. That is, if the dampers are incorrectly aligned to the nodes and antinodes of the vibrating string this will result in, the dampers when they come in contact with the string, they will emphasis certain harmonics on the piano, thus giving you a harmonic ring, this is more common on small uprights and small grands as the margin of tolerance decreases as the piano becomes smaller.

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In todays climate with the abundance of central heating and modern insulation, pianos before the 1960s were not designed to withstand the dry heat found in some homes in the UK. This can result in splits in the soundboard and the drying out of the wrest plank which effectively keeps the pianos tuning pins nice and tight therefore, holding the piano in tune. To combat this we recommend the placing of hydracell units inside the piano placed at the relevant points. However, a large container placed in the bottom of an upright piano filled with water will nearly do as good a job but of course, will cost you considerably less. Grands, on the other hand do require the fitting of hydraceel units ®.
A third alternative might be the use of radiator pans which are easily obtainable from a local D.I.Y. store.
Consult your piano tuner for more information as extreme moister can also have an adverse affect on the play mechanism.

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Why maintain a piano?

The piano is a highly developed, complicated piece of equipment. It contains about 240 different lengths of highly tensioned wire. (Approx 160lbs per note and a 15% increase in the bass giving you an overall strain on the frame of 21 tones approx .) These lengths of wire go to make up 85 to 88 notes spread across the musical range. Plus, for each note, there exists a mechanism which in the case of an upright piano contains up to 14 different moving parts. In the case of a grand up to 22 per note.

Since the piano must be maintained at a specific tension to achieve a good musical sound, the matter of maintenance becomes an on-going process. Since a piano consists mainly of wood and iron, all of this is subject to movement. The movement of the wooden sound board, framework, cause the wires to change tension without prompting by the user. Thus, it becomes necessary to set up a minimal schedule of tuning of the instrument to ensure reliable, and pleasant results. Of course, this schedule can't be, nor is it a hard and fast one. But, we can make recommendations and set out guide lines. You should evaluate your piano usage in terms of your own experience.

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For example, if you play the piano several hours a day, and work to a performance standard, it is quite likely, that for your own piece of mind, and that of your listeners, you may need to have your instrument tuned frequently. This could be as often as once a week. But, experience can be a good guide. If you are a parent with a child in school who is learning to play the piano, routine maintenance becomes important. For, a student feels frustrated if his or her attempts are foiled by clashing notes, or poorly function and badly regulated action parts. We recommend for a family with a piano in general use that the tuner visit no less than every 6 months. Often more frequent visits may be counseled this isn't out of the ordinary.

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What should the tuner be expected to do and why?

Assuming that the piano has been maintained to a quality standard down the years, the tuner should be prepared to maintain the piano at "Concert Pitch". This is what has been accepted as the pitch to which all musical instruments are to be tuned. In this case, the note a should be set to 440hz. That's 440 cycles per second. If the tuner can't produce this result, he should explain why. It may be necessary to perform more than one tuning to achieve this result.
This may be due to long-term neglect, or a move of the piano to a different environment. Again, this isn't unexpected. The tuner will do his utmost to keep the piano in as stable a condition as his are will permit. But, on occasions, conditions caused by weather, and the internal environment may cause the piano to be affected adversely. Again, the tuner should be prepared to advise accordingly. The tuner should be prepared to check the overall performance of the action. This is the mechanism which turns your key-strokes into sound. If he finds out that there's a problem, he should be prepared to discuss additional maintenance.

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What is tuning?

Tuning is the process by which the piano is brought into sonic regulation with itself. The process of tuning is a multi-stage process. The tuner begins by setting the instrument to the pitch to which it is to be tuned. He then performs the setting of the "temperament." This is the 12-note pattern that governs the entire tuning of the piano. It is based on a mathematical formula that dictates that all the notes in this 12 note pattern be spaced equally apart in distance from each other. This "scale" has been worked out by musicians down the years, and become to be known as "Equal temperament." This is the formula by which instrumentation in the west has been tuned for the last 150 years. The tuner accomplishes this task of setting the temperament by applying a series of tests that are part of his training. Thus, a good aural tuner can set up a piano from but one reference point. A good aural tuner needs no additional instrumentation, but some have resorted to meters, and scopes. This isn't to infer that these are inferior, but it is suggested that a tuner have a strong degree of training in aural tuning before attempting to rely on such.

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"What is Action regulation"?

Action regulation is the process by which the tuner maintains the moving parts to work as they are meant to.

The inner playing mechanism, called the "action" of a piano, is an amazingly complex and sensitive machine. Like any other machine, it needs to be kept in adjustment so that it works the way it was meant to work when it was built. Each key on your piano has over 25 points of adjustment which need to work together to produce the sound you hear when you play just one note!

In order to compensate for wear, compacting of cloth & felt, and changes in wooden parts due to humidity, periodic adjustments must be made. Keeping the correct relationship between every part will prevent unnecessary wear, and will make the action "feel right"- that is, each key will function smoothly and evenly throughout the whole keyboard. No more sticking keys, uneven feel, notes that don't do what you want them to do, pedals that don't work properly, squeaks, clicks, rattles, buzzes and so on.


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What is voicing?

Voicing is an extremely difficult area. It's subjective in the extreme, and has caused endless discussion in piano maintenance circles. But the final goal of voicing is to have the hammers striking the notes of the piano to offer a uniform sound from the bottom to the top of the instrument. Goes without saying that evaluating this capability is governed by the capability of the piano, and the construction of the action parts. But, often a technician will find extremes in voicing, such as a particularly hard hammer which may result in a note sounding louder than the rest. But, this, too can be laid at the door of regulation. This is where the tuner's skill comes into play here. Voicing can be accomplished by pricking the hammer with a set of needles. This pricking changes the structure of the felt, and softens the hammer to a degree.

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What is "toning" This is the reverse of voicing, and accomplishes the inverse sort of thing. May be necessary to bring up a particularly soft sounding hammer, and bring it into line with its neighbors. This is accomplished by applying a special material to the hammers or ironing with a special tool.

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What is pin tightener

This is a procedure that is deemed as controversial. What happens is, a piano's pin block the piece of wood into which the tuning pins are driven that the tuner adjusts becomes so loose that a piano can't be tuned. In a good many cases, the recommended procedure would be to rebuild the piano. This necessitates in most cases, restringing, and repinning with larger pins. However, this is a lengthy, and expensive process. In some cases, the piano just isn't worth restoring, or rebuilding. This is a decision that must be worked out between the technician, and the piano owner. In some cases, a piano may be deemed not to be worth rebuilding, but due to sentimental reasons, the customer requires that this task be done. But, where this isn't the case, a "quick fix" is the use of a substance called "Pin tightener" In the case where the pin block has become too loose to support a tuning, the wood has dried out around the pin. So, the technician may elect to add a solution of glycerine, and water. This solution causes the pin block to attract moisture. the hoped for result, a tuneable instrument. The down side of this procedure is, that the pin block, or wrest plank can't be used for repinning. but, in some cases, it may add a few more years to the life of an old instrument.

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Some thoughts on purchasing a second-hand piano. The short answer is:

Proceed with Caution!

This council comes from many years of visiting instruments that have been purchased with the hopes and dreams of a disappointed family who has just been told that the small fortune they just spent on a beloved piano has turned out to be a worthless, antiquated, unmaintainable pile of rubbish.

This for several reasons.
There are those out there who are making a lot of money playing upon the ignorance of the piano buying public. They have found that they can take and clean up an old instrument, make the metal work shine, polish the wood, and in general tidy up the appearance of an otherwise useless piano, and place a high price tag on it. There seems to be a sense, that the higher the price, the better quality the instrument, which may have some relevance. But, these charlatans have turned this into a lucrative practice.

There are several things you can do.
Avoid the down-market piano vendors. These are the people who in general have no training in the trade as technicians. Ask for their certification if any, and ask some hard questions about the piano you are proposing to buy.

A. Will it be tuned to concert pitch before you take it away.
B. "Will I get a free tuning in my home"
C. "What kind of warrantee are you prepared to make"

The answer to these questions should help.
Wherever possible, bring along another technician of your own choosing to vet the choice for you, or to help you make an appropriate one.
Try the piano.
Use your common sense. Don't get fooled by the case.
Often the case holds a host of obnoxious surprises.
Feel the keys, are they uniformly distributed across the keyboard, are they in alignment?
Are they clean, chipped, or not?
Do they all work (a minimal requirement).
Do all the notes feel uniform across the keyboard?
Does it "sound" like a piano?
I'd expect anyone, or shop to sell me a piano that had been basically prepped before it went out the door.
Is it on pitch? Is the shop owner prepared to assure you this is the case?
Then, sleep on it, look at a few more instruments before putting down hard cash.
Butt most of all get advice, your local piano tuner will be glad to help.

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How Old is my piano.

You can take the serial number of your piano and have us match it to the date when it was manufactured

Where do I find the serial number. On uprights first place to look is lift the lid up and look at the edge of the case work at the treble end of the piano, some manufacturers stamped the serial number on here. The second place to look is just above the tuning pins in the top treble or bottom bass. Some manufacturers place the serial nunmber in the centre of the piano in a little well in the iron frame. Next placer to look is on the sound board in the bass of the piano. (you may have to take the action out for this not recommended unless you know what you are doing) The next place is to take off the bottom pannel this normally has either a central fixing locking device or to extreme locking device. The serial number will be on the soundboard at the base.

Some manufacturers however, did not put serial numbers on their pianos or kept acurate records regarding the dating of their serial numbers. Action finishes sometimes use to sign the bottom "A" key in the Bass and date it. This was a tradition with British and German Piano manufacturers. Below are some silowets of pianos, this will give you a rough guess of their age from the shape of the piano.

Grand Pianos.

Serial numbers can be found on the frame in the top treble just under the music desk, also in the top treble stamped on to the soundboard just above the bridge. In the bass the serial number sometime can be found on the edge of the soundboard just under the frame. The legs and key blocks of some Grands were also stamped the legs on a Grand are also a good indication of its date they generally come in three types, Turned octagonal taperd legs from 1860, double square. (also known as gate legs) from 1900 and Square legs from 1930.

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