A frequently asked question by many of my clients during a piano tuning is “will my piano ever need new strings?”
If a string snaps during the tuning process a small charge is made for a new string around £20 for a new string if it’s in the bass (a bit less if in the tenor or treble section) and £20 labour to fit the string. Putting a new string on takes me about 20 minutes. I would say a string breaks in about one in every hundred jobs so it’s not uncommon, but not something to be unduly concerned about.
If a string is missing from a piano it isn’t ideal, but one string missing isn’t going to effect the overall tension enough to cause problems. It can take between a week and a month for a bass string to be remade and sent back to me. If it’s in the very low end of the piano then the note won’t strike as the hammers for those keys only strike one string each. The upper bass the note will sound slightly weaker as the hammer will hit one string instead of two.
In the middle and treble sections things get a little more complicated and regular piano wire is used up here. Some of them are connected to the hitch pins with a coil at the other side of the string. Most of them wrap around the hitch pin meaning that if a string snaps in this section the hammer effectively hits two strings or one string depending on which string has snapped.
Re-stringing a whole piano is expensive (£2000+), but if it was part of a restoration process for an old but high-end piano, it might be worth it if done in conjunction with the replacement of a dried-out wrest plank and loose, rusted wrest pins. As a general rule, most pianos on the market would not benefit enough from such a process to be worth such an expenditure. I have found that many of the pianos I’ve encountered while piano tuning in West Yorkshire have some rusty strings and while this will negatively effect the tone, there are other much worse factors in tonal degradation. Rusty strings can also be cleaned on request, though again, much care has to be taken with health and safety plus the fragility of certain strings.
New strings do have an impact on the sound of a piano but there are so many other factors that contribute to good tone. And do you know what the most important one is? You guessed it: having your piano tuned and serviced regularly. Please get in touch with the Leeds piano tuner today to book your piano tuning: 0754 266 7040
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!