Category Archives: Piano advice

Roadmap out of lockdown and piano tuning (a topical posting)

It would seem the lifting of the lockdown has not increased the number of enquiries just yet. I have clients who are waiting until after the lockdown before looking for a Leeds piano tuning. If you get in touch this week you can rest assured that you won’t be on a waiting list and you’ll have plenty of choice for the day of your piano tuning. Some piano tuners are slightly better with advertising and have probably fared better over the last thirteen months (I had time off work also). I eagerly await your enquiries!

Piano Tuning Dip

It seems like next week will be very slow. It’s a good time to get in touch with me about a piano tuning in Leeds, Bradford or Wakefield (I work in all West Yorkshire). I’m piano tuning in Sheffield on March the 8th all day (regular customers), but other days I’ll be ready and willing.

My current rate is £50 for a piano tuning. If the piano is flat of concert pitch (more than 7 cents on average) an optional piano raising service is offered for another £20. It’s entirely dependent on what the pianist needs from the piano and the piano tuning. Concert pitch (A440) is the pitch standard at which modern music is played to, but there are lower, historical pitch standards that work better for pre-1930s pianos (A432, A435). I’m open and transparent about the options before each piano tuning is carried out.

Minor repairs and regulation can be performed on the day for no extra charge. More extensive repairs/restoration depends on the price of the parts and the amount of labour it entails. I didn’t become a piano tuner to make the maximum profit, I like to give people an excellent deal and to help people.

At present I do not have the workspace for restoration jobs involving the cabinet, such as polishing/refinishing and have not performed such tasks since my training (2011 – 2014). My forte is in the piano tuning and in repairing and regulating the mechanism and the keys, much more than the aesthetics (although I do have a complete piano cleaning kit). If you’re looking for a refinishing service, many of my customers have an stellar experiences with this company.

 

Many happy returns from Piano Tuner Leeds

A happy new year to my cherished and valued customers (that’s all of you). A sincerest thank you to everyone who was kind enough to book my piano tuning services during the turbulent and rather frightening 2020. While I received some financial assistance via the self-employed grant, I only managed to keep above water due to people occasionally needing my piano tuning skills in Leeds and Bradford. One would think with people having more “leisure time”, pianos would be popular again, but that hasn’t been the case from what I’ve seen. Many children begin on digital pianos, which is no substitute for the real thing as far as I’m concerned. Call me old-fashioned, but if you are serious musician, nothing can compare to the touch of a well-regulated and finely tuned Schimmel or a Kawa acoustic piano. Digital pianos and keyboards have their uses (headphone practice and live performance), but an acoustic piano should be the mainstay of your piano playing.

Now I’m just sounding old and cranky. Enough of that. Let’s keep positive and hope 2021 is a much better year for all of us.

Pianos for sale?

In a desperate attempt to garner traffic to this moribund page (an overhaul is imminent), I’ve decided to start posting advertisements herein. If you have a piano for sale in Yorkshire and can prove it’s an overstrung or under-damped piano (pictures of the mechanism and the strings would be sufficient), in reasonable condition and built after 1950* I would consider making a post for you. Sending me an email at richard@pianotunersheffield.co.uk is your best bet.

If you’d like me to evaluate your piano, I charge £25. Evaluation involves me looking over the case, the mechanism, the strings, the soundboard and the bridges to assess their condition. I also check the relative pitch of the piano to see what sort of future piano tuning would be required, and whether it is capable of a pitch raise. Finally, I give you a price that is both reasonable and competitive.

 

* Pianos made before that may be considered, although it would have to be a reputable brand (Steinway, Bechstein, Bluthner), in good condition and being offered at a sensible price. My inclination is to dissuade clients from purchasing older pianos even if they’re a high-end model, as the tone and feel is not worth paying £500+ for. Some piano tuners disagree with me, and if you have a Bechstein from 1880 that plays well and you enjoy, more power to you.

– Richard, Piano Tuner Leeds.

Further Covid-19 Precautions

The Leeds Piano Tuner is having face masks made to carry in his Piano Tuner’s case. If you would like him to wear one, please ask him during  the booking process. His other precautions include rigorously washing his hands and using anti-bacterial hand-wash after before and after each piano tuning and following social distancing guidelines. It would seem many of the general public have gotten used to the pandemic and forgetting its dangers, but the Leeds Piano Tuner will not. If you could wipe down your pianos keys before the piano tuning visit, that would also be appreciated.

– Piano Tuner Leeds

What is a Pitch Raise? Does Your Piano Need a Pitch Raise?

An excellent video, succinctly describing the pitch raise:

If you are a new client, don’t be scared if you are told your piano needs a pitch raise. Often when I see a new piano tuning client in Leeds or Bradford the piano will be far from A440 – particularly if the piano has not been tuned in many years. My philosophy is that any piano that can be brought up to concert pitch should be brought up to concert pitch as it will not only allow you to play ensemble but will greatly improve its tonal quality. On pianos unable to withstand a huge raise in pitch (many pre-1950s are in this camp), there is the cheaper option of ‘tuning the piano to itself’ – the piano will sound much, much better even with this type of tuning, but if the piano was constructed to be tuned to A440 then its tone will be at its best once it is tuned to that pitch.

For a pitch raise I have to make two seperate visits, two weeks apart. For the first tuning I do a overpull, raising the bass section slightly sharp (between 1 – 3 cents) and the middle and treble sections further sharp (usually 8 – 15 cents depending on how flat the piano was). A pitch raise always involves at least two tunings – an overpull tuning and a fine tuning. Some piano tuners do both on the same day, but I and many others have found better results if you space the two over a couple of weeks. This makes no difference to the pricing either, as a pitch raise generally costs an extra 50% of a standard piano tuning.

My pricing for a pitch raise:

  • Vist number one, overpull: £45
  • Visit number two, fine tuning: £20

 

I hope this clears things up. For further questions call me on 07542667040 or email me at richard@pianotunerleeds.co.uk

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.

 

Are there any jobs the Leeds piano tuner won’t undertake?

For the last five years I have dealt primarily with piano tuning, repairs and regulation – these are the areas I feel most comfortable with and are the jobs I carry out on a day to day basis. While training at Lincoln College in the early part of this decade, I also studied piano restoration extensively – these lessons took up a third of my study time, and while piano restoration requires a full workshop, I have these skills ingrained in my memory. During my career as a Leeds piano tuner, there have been one or two jobs in area of restoration that I have declined to carry out, chiefly because I lacked the tools and/or work space to carry out the jobs to a sufficiently high standard. However, once I have access to my new workshop (late July 2019), I can start to rejig my memory on how to perform several frequently requested restoration services (mainly linked to aesthetics). Two of the most popular that spring to mind are:

  1. Re-finishing are re-polishing. I can do this once I have access to a workshop with an array of high gloss, french and spray polishes. If your piano’s case is scratched or damaged I can bring it back to life.
  2. Fitting piano castors – a frequent request I have to turn down until I’m in possession of piano lifting equipment (all of which are extremely expensive to buy). One of the first things I will buy for my workshop will be a portable bench truck – this will allow me to tilt a piano on its back in order to change the castors. I can then offer this service to my Leeds and Bradford clients – many older overdamped pianos are often in need of new castors. I can re-fit them at the end of the piano tuning once we’ve discussed the extra cost.

Keep reading my Leeds piano tuning blog for more information.

– Richard.

Why do you only charge £10 an hour for repairs spinet pianos?

Spinet pianos are the smallest types of pianos available and account for less than 1% of the ones I see as a piano tuner in Leeds and Bradford. At such a short height (typically 36 inches tall) the short strings and small soundboard do have the same tone quality as an upright or grand piano. They are leftovers from a period when manufacturers competed to make pianos smaller and cheaper for the customer, and while I have encountered some reasonable-sounding ones (such as an early Baldwin spinet piano at a Leeds home) I wouldn’t recommend spending money on them as they aren’t worth anything anymore. They are only convinient for the Leed and Bradford piano tuning clients who have limited space and aren’t looking for a powerful bass tone.

The main reason I charge just £10 for repairs on a Spinet piano is that they have different type of action to the typical upright piano. A spinet piano has a drop action which is extremely time-consuming to work with. To remove the action, every key has to be disconnected from its sticker and removed from the piano. Then the stickers have to be tied back (in some cases they have to be removed from the action) before the action is unscrewed and carefully lifted out of the piano. It usually takes 2 hours just on removing and putting back in the action. Considering the piano itself is not worth anything monetarily, I will only work on these pianos if the customer has an emotional attachment to the piano, such as it belonged to a deceased family member. If that’s the case, I don’t want to charge £25 an hour for a job that could take 4 – 5 hours, as the repair work would be more costly than the price of a better piano. If your spinet needs repair work that involves removing the action (such as a damper spring replacement) I will be extremely open and honest about the amount of work that is needed after your Leeds piano tuning and I will discuss this offer with you if you think it is worth the time and money.

I have a beautiful Victorian piano in the family – would the piano tuner be willing to restring it for me?

The piano tuner has recently received several enqueries from piano owners in the Leeds and Bradord region requesting a complete piano restringing of an antique piano. Now, if a piano is in a condition where it needs a complete restringing then it will almost certainly need other extensive repairs on the action, pinplock and soundboard.

Pianos made before 1950 can be nice to look at, but unlike other instruments such as guitars and violins, pianos unfortunately do not increase in value (or tonal quality) as they age. Even a top tier Bluthner or Bechstein will likely not hold much value today if it was made before 1930, even if it’s in good condition. If you live in the Leeds or Bradford area, then the piano tuner will be willing to tune and tighten the wrest pins for a modest £40. But if you are going down the expensive road of restoring an aged piano, you first need to be aware of the pianos worth. I’m certainly not averse to a partial or complete restoration job, but I need it to be cost effective for the customer before I can start it in good conscience. The price of restringing a piano will be in the range of £1000 to £1200 when taking into account the price of a set of strings and wrest pins plus labour costs – and as I say, it will likely need other extensive repairs to the action and/or the soundboard and pinblock.

One can usually tell a pianos age by certain features that date it from a certain peroid. For example, a typical Victorian piano may be adorned with candle holders on a tapestried front panel or it might have quaint London or swan legs on the front of the keyboard. Failing that, a serial number is often found inside the piano, which enables the Leeds piano tuner to identify the exact year of manufacture.