Category Archives: Piano advice

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.

Happy New Year From Piano Tuner Leeds

Well wishes to all my piano tuning clients in Leeds, Bradford and West Yorkshire – I hope 2018 brought you lots of joy. As glasses are raised and fireworks explode in the sky I hope you spare your piano a thought. If it’s been longer than six months since your piano was tuned and serviced, it’s time to give piano tuner Leeds a call. While piano tuning in the Kirkstall area of Leeds I found an important message inside a 1970s Bentley piano:

What happens if someone spills a drink on my piano?

As New Years Eve approaches, many people are planning a party for family and friends. Don’t let them use your piano as a resting place for drinks and nibbles. I was chatting to a piano tuning customer in Alwoodley, Leeds earlier today who told me a dreadful tale of how he once spilt can of coke all down the interior of his 1929 Steinway upright. The hammers, jacks, flanges, wippens, centre pins and dampers were drenched! He immediately phoned the piano tuner who came round and told him off. When someone spills a drink inside a piano the damage is often irreversible, so prevention is better than cure. Your Bradford and Leeds piano tuner will have the appropriate cleaning tools to clean the piano action and reduce the damage, although some regulation work will probably be needed if sticky liquids have come into contact with the centre pins. Whatever you do, be careful!

How to become a Piano Tuner

Have you ever thought about a career in piano tuning? The 1988 Jobs rated almanac rated Piano Tuning as the second highest in a list of high-paying/low-stress jobs, ranking it above petroleum engineer and historian and just below actuary. In that year in the USA the average salary of a piano tuner was $43,600 a year… It should be noted that with the growing popularity of digital pianos, the trade isn’t quite what it was in 1988! And there’s certainly some stress that comes with piano tuning but that’s part of any job.

Large, densely-populated cities are gold mines for the piano tuner – Leeds seems to be a very good location. I’ve also heard that London is good place to work, if you can afford the living costs. You need to be willing to travel and prepare to work long hours if you are to earn a living. I’ve not found much piano tuning work in Manchester or Bradford yet – perhaps I need to promote myself more in those cities.

To become a piano tuner you’ll have to study a course in the subject. The only one I’m aware of that’s still running in the UK is the piano tuning and restoration course at Newark college. That is three years but it will give you a thorough grounding in the field and teach you most of what you need to know how the construction of the piano and how to regulate the action. A basic knowledge of music theory will certainly help in the early stages of learning, as will a musical ear and a love of music. If you play the piano you might progress quickly than those who don’t, but contrary to popular belief most people can become very good at piano tuning with a lot of practice – 10,000 hours is the oft touted figure.

You’ll have to accept that for the first one to three years working in the trade you won’t be earning very much money, as it takes a long time to build up a client base. Working in music shops; buying, restoring and selling second hand pianos, or teaching an instrument are possible part-time jobs that could sustain you through the hard times. If you live in a big city like Leeds it might be easier to find part-time employment. You’ll need some money coming in to buy the tools needed for the job. I must have spent at least £2000 on tools, parts and reading materials in my first three years on the job.

Hope that advice helps. If you do become a piano tuner please don’t work in Leeds until I retire as I don’t need more competition!

What happens when my piano breaks a string?

In about one in a hundred piano tuning jobs, the piano technician is faced with a rusty or worn-out string which snaps as the tuning pin is tightened. When faced with this problem, we have a few options…

If it is on the bass, the customer will be charged for a new string which is hand spun by a professional and sent back to me within ten days. I then charge the price of the new string (which is usually in around £20 – £25 depending on its thickness and amount of copper required) plus £20 labour to fit the string. There are no specialists in Leeds or Yorkshire that I know of, so the string has to be sent to Bath in order to be remade.

There are three different types of strings on the piano: monochord, bichord and trichord. The lower middle and bass section of the piano consists of copper wound monochord and bichord strings (the hammers hit either one or two strings in this section), which have more length and thickness than the upper two thirds of the piano. In the treble section of the piano we find trichord strings at which each hammer hits three strings, creating a richer sound. The farther up the piano you go, the shorter the strings are as obviously the shorter the string the higher the frequency. One of the most important skills that a piano tuner needs to master is tuning the bichord and trichord strings so that they are exactly the same pitch (we call these the unisons). If they are even slightly out of tune with each other it creates a horrible chorusy sound, which ruins the tone of that particular note.

When I pack my car to each morning before driving into Leeds, I have a box of different sized piano strings, which I keep as back ups for emergencies. I have a selection of hexacore bass strings which can be used as a temporary fix, but the pitch and intonation of a piano string never sounds quite right unless the string is exactly the right size. If the diameter of the new string is even a few millimetres off, it can give that particular note a nasal or thin quality, so this is usually done only for emergencies until the replacement string has arrived. For the trichord strings I have lots of different sized plain wire which can be measured with a micrometer and fitted after the piano tuning.

It is rare that every string on a piano would need to be replaced, but in a full restoration job it could be worth it if the piano is of a sufficiently high quality. Seeing as there are 230 strings on an average-sized piano, the cost of labour and materials is usually upwards of a thousand pounds, but there are some very old pianos that have benefited from this as part of a full restoration – and have greatly increased their value in the process.

As always, call your local piano repair man (hopefully me) – don’t try and do it yourself! Piano tuners go to college for three years, this isn’t a job for an amateur!

Another 8 maintenance tips from a piano tuner

Another eight maintenance tips from your favourite Leeds piano tuner that could help your piano live longer:

  1. A piano is very heavy and awkward to move without proper equipment. You will avoid possible damage to the instrument and injury to yourself by having an insured professional move it. Get advice from your piano tuner and technician (hopefully yours truly) for a qualified mover.
  2. Never put thumbtacks on the hammers to achieve the rinky-tink or mandolin sounds they will ruin the hammers. You can purchase attachments, commonly found on player pianos, which will produce these effects without ruining the hammers.
  3. If a piano is to be stored for a long period of time, be sure the storage facility is adequately climate-controlled. If this is unavailable, at least have a piano dehumidifier and control system installed inside the piano, and be sure that it remains plugged in. The piano may need cleaning and lubrication after storage.
  4. If buzzes or rattles suddenly develop, check for objects on top of the piano or in the room that may be vibrating sympathetically with certain notes, such as lights, framed pictures, etc. Check to see if objects have fallen behind the vertical piano, or onto the soundboard of the grand.
  5. When the piano tuner arrives to tune the piano, please maintain a quiet environment for him to work in. While piano tuners don’t always require complete silence, loud noise can be very distracting when try to listen to very small pitch changes. Try not to book the builder and the piano tuner on the same day!
  6. Pianos are heavy and can leave permanent marks on floors and carpeting. Caster cups are available which will save the surface from some of the strain.
  7. A ceiling fan above a piano can give the instrument an unusual “warbling” or “beating” sound. The frequency of the fan blade oscillations can clash with the frequency of the vibrating strings, especially when set at higher speeds.
  8. Discourage smoking around the piano. Cigarette burns mar keytops and woodwork. Smoke and ash can permeate the action, causing discolouration and sluggish response.