Category Archives: Diary

The Piano Tuner’s Library

What does the Leeds and Bradford Piano Tuner do in his time off? Tonight I’ll spend the evening engrossed in study. I always learn something new about pianos every time I pick up one of these fascinating books – there’s always something that didn’t register on the first, second or third readings. The above image shows only half of my collection, there is another box with other engaging reads such as Five London Piano Makers (a charming history of five well-known piano firms: Brinsmead, Challen, Collard, Danemann and Welmar), the definitive Piano Servicing, Tuning and Rebuilding by Arthur Reblitz (every piano tuner must own this book), the PTA’s Handbook of Piano Regulation, and several of Brian Capleton’s concise studies of piano tuning and regulation (which are interesting from a more scientific perspective, particularly if you’re interested in the physics behind beats, harmonic overtones, etc). The Reblitz book actually stays with me in the car at all times, so that if I arrive early to a Bradford or Leeds piano tuning, I can dip in and read it for ten or fifteen minutes to pass some time. Even after working in the piano trade for several years, one can always pick up some second-hand knowledge from these books which helps one repair or restore pianos more efficiently.

 

If you’re a trainee piano tuner (hopefully not a Bradford or Leeds Piano Tuner! I don’t need more competition) who has found this blog post via a search engine I’d start with the Reblitz book and then move on to the Carl-Johan Forss books. Obviously they won’t substitute first-hand experience, but they’ll be an excellent way to supplement a part time piano tuning course. If you’re computer-savvy there are lots of other options online, but I’d be more skeptical about things you read pertaining to piano tuning and repairs on the internet. At least on a piano tuner’s forum other technicians can dispute any misleading information until you’re aware of the general consensus. I have found the advice forum on piano-tuners.org and the piano tuner-technician’s forum at Pianoworld to be useful in this way.

The tools of the trade

The Leeds piano tuner must always have the right equipment at hand to perform each job. When I first began piano tuning in Leeds, my tool kit was much lighter than it is today. Many rudimentary jobs can be performed with a piano tuning lever, a paps-wedge, a pair of plyers, a set of screwdrivers, some oil, some glue – and, of a course, a decent pair of ears and the sufficient know-how. If you’re considering following in the footsteps of the Leeds piano tuner and becoming a piano technician yourself, there are many things you’ll have to buy to be fully equipped for the job. I recommend starting with the basics and building up your kit as you progress. Once you’ve bought a tuning fork, a lever and a paps wedge, you could start building up your ‘piano repair’ kit with the following items…

 

An assortment of balance and front-rail washers for levelling the keys (this will ensure optimal touch across the piano):

 

A selection of different felts. Hugely important for replacing worn out felts after finishing the piano tuning. A piano with worn felts inside the action will not be regulated as well as it should be:

 

 

 

The number one most frequently-encountered mishap on a piano is sticking keys! A new piano tuning client will often sound worried on the phone, because some of the keys on their piano are sticking down i.e. they won’t return after playing. In actuality, this is one of the easiest things to fix. It can usually be remedied by lubricating the key bushings with PTFE (teflon) powder and adjusting the keyslip:

Another lubricant I keep with me is Protek CLP. I use a syringe to cleanly lubricate the centre pins in the hammer, jack and whippen flanges. If the note is still sluggish I will replace the offending centre pin with one of a narrower diameter (with a difference of 0.25 mm). Alternatively, if the key is wobbling or mis-striking due to a loose centre pin, I replace it with a thicker centre pin. Simple:

Regulating the set-off buttons so that the hammer is released from the action at the right distance from the strings (3 mm is the standard) is an important part of regulation. Badly regulated set-offs makes the piano ‘feel’ horrible. This set-off regulating tool will come in handy for fixing this:

Once the hammer blow distance and set-off has been regulated, it’s time to turn to the dampers. If the dampers lift from the strings too late or too early (for optimal heaviness of touch it should be when the hammer is half way towards the strings), you’ll need to reach for a damper regulator:

A set of Hexacore bass strings are supremely useful. While it’s better for the unison to have a bass string hand-wound to exact size, if a monochord breaks at the bottom of the piano, one of these Hexacore strings could save the Leeds and Bradford piano tuning customer a bit of money as it can be carried out on the day as the piano tuning:

Various glues are needed (I carry PVC-E, super glue, wood glue and hide glue – different glues for different needs), but the most commonly used is wood glue. In older pianos the wood is extremely brittle and you’ll often find parts broken inside – be they flanges, hammer shanks or even part of key:

A bottle of pin-tite comes in handy when you find many loose tuning pins on a 70+ year old piano… which is often the case. The tightness of the wrest pins plays a hugely important role in tuning stability. If it’s a higher-quality upright or grand piano you’d be better off replacing the wrest pin with one of a slightly larger diameter as pin-tite can be a pain to clean up in the long run:

If you’re booked in for a piano tuning at a Leeds or Bradford school, you’ll need a set of keys. School pianos are often locked and the staff rarely know where the keys are! I found this out the hard way (although in some cases you can remove the lid by unscrewing it from the back):

Finally, an appropriate file for hammer voicing certainly won’t go amiss! It’s astonishing how many piano tuners and technicians ignore this aspect of the job, as many pianos benefit tonally from voicing/toning just as much as they do from tuning (though tuning does improve the tone as well). Basic voicing skills should be learned as quickly as possible:

 

There are many hundreds of things that can go wrong with a piano and this blog only covers a fraction of them. That said, if you’re just starting out as a piano tuner, the aforementioned tools/equipment will go a long way!

– Richard Lidster, Piano Tuner Leeds.

 

All work and no play for the Leeds Piano Tuner

What a change of fortune – he’s had so many requests that the piano tuner is almost fully booked. Almost.

If anyone urgently needs the Leeds and Bradford piano tuner, he’ll be available across West Yorkshire on Sunday from 2 PM. Please bear in mind that he also has an extensive customer list in Sheffield and South Yorkshire so isn’t available every day for piano tuning in Leeds. If you’d like to contact him, it would be more convinient to arrange something for the week beginning April the 15th.

In the meantime, keep on practicing your scales and try to keep a Handel on it.

– Piano Tuner Leeds.

December hours for piano tuning

I hope your piano is in tune before your relatives come over for Christmas – Christmas carols sound so much better after your piano has been tuned. Keep your eyes on my availability page as I will be piano tuning in Leeds (and West Yorkshire) throughout all of December except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As always, a last minute booking is perfectly fine, as long as I have the space in my diary it’s never an issue.

Piano tuner’s case – what’s inside?

Every morning before I set off to work with my piano tuner’s case in hand, I have to pack the boot of the car with four boxes of spare piano parts – strings, felts, washers, wires, oils, bridle tapes, centre pins, etc. In my main piano technicians case I have three levers, a tuning fork, several different screwdrivers, pin tight, two knives, pliers, protek CLP, teflon powder, super glue, wood adhesive, and several other different-sized regulation tools which are all used regularly. Most piano tuning and regulation jobs can be done with the tools found in the case, but packing the car with spare parts can help safe time with more extensive repairs.

Some of the items in my case were purchased from hardware shops around Leeds and Bradford, but many had to be ordered online from companies who only sell to qualified piano tuners. Should you decide to pursue a career in piano tuning be prepared to spend a lot of money on hardware!

A day in the life of a Leeds piano tuner

Have you ever wondered what a typical day looks like for a piano tuner-technician? Let’s find out.

While I usually refer to myself simply as a ‘piano tuner’ (the term is more recognisable to the public), tuning pianos is only a fraction of my daily workload. While I’ve technically been piano tuning professionally for four years, the first two years were not particularly fruitful as I’d yet built up my client base, and therefore had to rely on part-time work (mainly around Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield). It was only the middle of 2016 that I began to earn a living as a piano tuner, but even then I had slow weeks and the summer months slowed significantly when customers were on holiday. As of October 2018, I currently tune 2 – 3 pianos per day, averaging about 10 – 15 jobs a week (I hope to get this number up to at least 20 tunings a week in two years), with most sessions involving minor regulation and the occasional repair job thrown in as well. Once I’ve finished tuning the piano I find myself performing one of the followings tasks to get the piano as close as possible to concert standard (both in pitch and regulation):

  • Re-pinning loose hammer and whippen flanges.
  • Regulating the capstan screws to increase or decrease lost motion as the need may be.
  • Lubricating and compressing the balance and front rail bushings (usually with teflon powder) to free up sticking keys. Alternatively, if the keys are loose and clicky I will replace the bushings with a slightly thicker felt.
  • Regulating the dampers: replacing hardened felts, re-allinging the damper blocks, replacing broken damper springs, adjusting the damper wire, and adjusting the damper spoons if the customer desires a lighter or heavier touch.
  • Adjusting let-off/escapement i.e. the distance the hammer is released before it hits the string – generally around 3.1 mm – to allow for a more even touch across the keyboard).
  • Levelling the back checks so that the hammers fall back evenly to their proper resting position.
  • Replacing the bridle tapes (on very old pianos) so that the hammers fall back and stay in their proper resting position.
  • Tightening or replacing wrest pins (on very old pianos) so that they actually stay in tune!
  • Replacing hammer butt buckskin or catcher buckskin (a common cause of clicking sounds is worn or missing buckskins).
  • Regulating the keydip to allow for sufficient aftertouch.
  • Replacing broken or discoloured key-tops.

(Important note: please do not undertake these jobs on your own piano! I charge just £25 an hour for regulation and repair work – that’s cheaper than a round of drinks in most places.)

There are many more regulation/repair tasks involved in a typical days work, but these are some of the most common. Probably the most difficult job I find myself faced with is replacing piano strings. I have about one string replacement per month and it generally takes me about twenty to thirty minutes to replace a string. Someone in a piano workshop who replaces strings every day could do this job a lot more quickly, but most piano tuners have to take their time with this particular job as it requires a lot of concentration. Upright pianos are considerably easier to re-string than grand pianos – probably because you have gravity on your side.

If I have a day without many bookings I try and use the spare time to do whatever I can to push my business forward. Last week I had a day when I only had one booking at 9 AM, but spent the rest of the day driving around Sheffield and north Leeds putting cards on advertisement boards and in newsagents, then updated my books in the evenings, sent texts/emails to clients and, of course, updated my blog so that fellow piano enthusiasts would have something new to read. I also find myself undertaking a fair amount of self-study in the evenings – when it comes to pianos, you can never know enough. If you’re thinking about a career in piano tuning because it seems like a relatively low-stress profession, I would bear this in mind – there is a lot of hard work involved outside of tuning pianos. You can never waste a day. Even though it pays well (at times), I also find myself with a lot of expenses re petrol and new piano tuning/regulating tools. That said, it’s a job I love and get a lot of satisfaction from, so I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from becoming a full time piano technician.

Just be prepared!

– Richard Lidster, Leeds Piano Tuner.

Piano Tuner in North Yorkshire this weekend

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.

– Richard Lidster, Piano Tuner Leeds.

Piano Tuner Diary 13-09-18

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

Piano Tuning Diary 10-09-18

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!

– Richard Lidster, Piano Tuner Leeds.