Often when on my travels in Leeds and beyond, I regularly see pianos in desperate need of cleaning. Most customers never see the interior of their piano, but have to live daily with the sight of the keys and case, and when the case gradually loses its shine or the keys become yellow or grimy, the owner will be discouraged from playing as often as they should. For the piano to work at its best, it’s important that the action and the keys are cleaned to a high standard (and kept that way!). Although I primarily work as a piano tuner and technician, I offer various add-on services outside of my regular piano tuning, repair and regulation work – one of which is cleaning, for which I charge an extra £25. This is purely an optional extra which I will often recommend (politely) to clients who are looking to get their piano tuned and regulated to the highest possible standard.
In my piano tuner’s tool kit I keep some cleaning materials: a bottle of Key-Brite Key Cleaner, a 100ml bottle of high gloss piano polish, and a set of cleaner and polish cloths. These are primarily used to keep the exterior of my client’s pianos looking brand new!
For the piano’s action I target each area with a different cleaning product. If I’m contacted before the piano tuning about cleaning, I will bring my own hoover which has enough power to remove the overwhelming majority of dust out of the interior of the piano. For the soundboard, bridge, frame, pin block, hammer shanks, hammer butts, dampers, flanges and key tail, I will use both a duster and a variety of very soft cloths with different textures.
For the white piano keys I use a solution of vinegar and water or lemon oil. If your piano has ivory keys then different cleaning products will be needed. Ivory is essentially dental bone and using vinegar or lemon oil will wear it down over time. I recommend a damp cloth (dampened with water or milk) followed by a dry cloth, rubbing vertically to prevent excess dirt and debris falling down the sides of the keys.
Did you attend the Leeds International Piano Competition last week? I did. And I witnessed some of the most marvellous piano playing I’ve ever heard. Piano playing and piano tuning at its finest – what a shame they didn’t book me! Sadly, Steinway have their own piano tuner-technicians, so there’s little chance of me getting that gig in the near future. However, I can make myself available to tune your piano at the next opportunity to make sure it sounds the way it should. All pianists deserve their piano to sound at its best, no matter what their level of ability, so don’t forget to get yours regularly tuned. Regular tunings every six months are good for the piano – they ensure it stays close to concert pitch so that future piano tunings are more stable.
Hats off to the magnificent Eric Lu for winning first prize, but let’s not forget all the other talented pianists who shared their playing with us over the week. When it comes to music, there is no set hierarchy- in my job as a piano tuner in Leeds I regularly hear astonishingly skilled pianists (my own mother is one of them, even though she never practices!) of different ages and backgrounds who are able to play beautifully. Whether you have ambitions to win the next competition or whether you just like to entertain yourself after a long day, regular tuning of your piano is crucial. Don’t forget to check this website Piano Tuner Leeds for regular updates and a list of my available hours.
If you missed the competition here’s a wonderful snapshot – Eric Lu playing my all time favourite Chopin piece, Prelude in E Minor. I could never get my left hand subtle enough when I tried to learn it, but luckily I’m not a professional! From youtube:
Busy weekend ahead! A quick reminder for anyone in North Yorkshire that I’ll be in the area piano tuning on Saturday evening. I have two piano tuning jobs in Scarborough this evening (one at Scarborough sixth form college), one in Filey and then one in Ravenscar tomorrow morning at 10 AM. I’ll then be driving to Weatherby for a single piano tuning booking at 2 PM and am looking to make a booking at 5 PM and 7 PM tomorrow in North Yorkshire. If you are in the area and need a piano tuner, please contact me.
On eBay and Gumtree I often see pianos that are overpriced, but also see many that are a great deal. Keep in mind that many piano sellers don’t know the worth of what they’re selling, so if you’ve done some reading up on the subject you probably know more than they do. I’ve seen completely worn out, untunable pianos from the 1890s priced at £500 or more! They should be paying people to take them to the skip! Before forking out money for a second hand piano it is always a good idea to try it out for yourself and/or to call the piano tuner to evaluate it – I charge a £25 call out fee to inspect pianos in Leeds or Bradford.
A common problem in old pianos is tight and loose centre pins. To see if the piano has this issue, press the sustain pedal and gently play several notes. If keys are sluggish or sticky there may be trouble ahead – with 264 centre pins in a piano, it could require extensive regulation work to bring it up to standard. I recently spent an afternoon after a piano tuning in Leeds replacing centre pins in a used upright and while it can be done, the more notes that are sluggish or sticky, the more work will be needed.
If the piano sounds relatively in tune with itself but one or more notes sound badly out, that’s a worrying sign of loose tuning pins. Loose tuning pins aren’t always a problem in themselves (there are fixes), but if there are a lot of them it’s a sign that the piano has not aged well (and an indicator there will be other problems). Also look for rust around the tuning pins, excessive rust could cause you problems down the road with strings breaking. If there are several or more strings missing that’s an indicator that the piano won’t be able to be brought up to concert pitch.
Take the front panels off and check inside. Check it’s not been ravaged by mice and that the pedals are working properly. Check that there are no cracks on the soundboard (the wooden area behind the strings which is the main resonator of the sound), as wide cracks will cause buzzing and tuning stability problems. Check the bridges (the part of the piano that the strings run over) are in good condition and that are no cracks (cracked bridges will ensure that the piano is out of tune again right away and causes buzzes). These structural problems will mean major repairs which often aren’t worth it on a cheaper instrument.
If you find the serial number, there are books and websites for you to date the piano. Sometimes the date of production is written on the side of the bottom key. I would advise against buying anything made before 1950 unless it’s a particularly high quality instrument like a Steinway or a Bechstein that has had extensive restoration work (when buying a piano: the newer the better in the majority of cases).
You also need to use your ears and listen to the tone! Get an idea whether it’s an instrument you could fall in love with. If the piano is badly out of tune this will be harder as it’ll be difficult to hear past the horrible tuning. But if you get a feel for the instrument before its been moved, once its at your house and been worked on by the piano tuner, it will become one of your most cherished possessions.
I had two piano tuning jobs in the Leeds this morning – one in Beeston and one in Kirstall, just across from Kirkstall Abbey. Both pianos were very old, very well-loved straight-strung over-damped pianos with several on-site repair jobs needed to bring them up to standard. On the second I found lot of clicking noises which I fixed, but it reminded me of how common a problem this is in old upright pianos. Clicking sounds could have a multitude of causes, but as a piano tuner it’s my job to diagnose the problem and solve it for you after the tuning. If this is happening to your beloved piano, it could be caused by one of the following issues:
Loose hammer head or hammer flange screw
Loose whippen flange
Loose key top
Worn or missing hammer rail cloth
Loose centre pins in hammer butt
As always, I would advise against trying to fix this yourself! If you live in Leeds or Bradford and need an experienced piano tuner, please give me a call: 07542667040
I popped into Stocksbridge christian centre today on the way to Leeds to give their upright Murdoch piano some much needed TLC. It reminded me once again that a crucial part of piano tuning is making sure they are tuned regularly (once every six months ideally)! I spent at least twenty minutes cleaning out bits of string that were obstructing the action (derelict pianos make great homes for mice) and wiping the ancient dust from the hammer shanks and felts. Thankfully one of the staff was kind enough to help me! Once that job was completed and I’d tuned/regulated the piano, they were thrilled with how much better it sounded and felt.
It also reminded me that pianos in churches are often neglected for many years before a piano tuner is called in. I know finances can be difficult for churches, schools and hospitals which is why I will always offer discounts to them. If your local church or meeting house has a piano left gathering dust, please get together the small funds needed to pay for a tuning and call me in! When you hear the difference in tone and tuning, you certainly won’t regret it!
It’s a new school year! Piano lessons are back on track. Don’t hold your child’s progress back by letting them practice on a piano that’s not in tune! Learning on an out of tune piano can be very discouraging and will spoil a child’s sense of pitch. It’s hard enough getting some kids to practice as it is without expecting them to practice on a piano that’s not as good as it should be!
If you live in Leeds or Bradford my opening offer still applies – just £40 for a first piano tuning, which is well below the average rate in the UK. If you book me in to tune your child’s piano, I may offer another small discount if you agree to pass on some business cards for me as a quid pro quo.