Category Archives: Piano Tuning in Leeds

Broken hammer cords?

Today I received a polite message sent to me via Piano Tuner Leeds, asking about a full replacement of broken hammer flange cords on a second hand Yamaha U1. Needless to say, this will have to be discussed with the customer before pricing is decided upon. If you ever find yourself in his situation, it is highly advised that every cord is replaced. As with many broken action parts (particularly springs, tapes and cords), the breakage of one is a sign that others will soon follow. However, I always keep some spare rolls of cords in the car for emergency repairs. At a piano tuning visit to Headingley, Leeds I was urged to make a ten minute fix at the end of the booking, as is usually the case. In this instance, only one cord on the piano had broken – much to my relief.

Another job that occasionally comes up is the replacement of bad hammer butt felts and catcher leather on upright pianos. This is particularly important on older uprights, as the material tends to harden creating annoying clicks across the piano. As with many piano tuning and repair tasks, if only one or two need to replaced it can be completed for free after your tuning. I did not start a career in piano tuning to squeeze every penny out of the customer, but I do have bills to pay. That said, I want all my piano tuning clients to feel like they’ve been given a good deal as well as a first class service.

– Richard, Piano Tuner Leeds.

A question for the Leeds Piano Tuner. What is meant by minor piano repairs?

Q: To Leeds Piano Tuner. When you say minor piano repairs what distinguishes this from major repairs?

A: When I say I carry out minor repairs and regulation for free after the piano tuning, I am referring to the standard maintenance that must be carried out to keep the piano playing at it’s best. Pianos are subject to changes in humidity which inevitably takes its toll on the action parts (particularly felts and wooden parts) over the years. If the parts become too worn or too swollen (with excess humidity) they have to be replaced – that would constitute a major repair job as I’d often have to order in new action parts. However, it’s often a matter of re-adjusting parts of the action to restore it to it’s past condition.

A quick, minor repair job could be anything from lubricing the key bushing with teflon power (allowing for smoother playing), as shown here:

To replacing one or two bridle tapes that have disintigrated or snapped (replacing every tape on the piano would fall under a major repair job):

Or regulating the capstan screw to stop hammer warbling (not an offical term):

One of the most common job of all is realigning any hammers that have come lose and re-tightening the flange screws or replacing lose centre pins:

Re-positioning the back checks so that the hammers check at an equal distance (another big problem that adds to unevenness of touch across many pianos):

And of course, making sure the pedals are as responsive as they can be is always a priority for the customer (sometimes by oiling, sometimes by regulating and sometimes by re-fitting the lift rod):

All highly technical. You could say some of them fall under the category of ‘piano regulation’ but I see repairs and regulation as one and the same. It’s a matter reversing atrophy. If a piano has been neglected for a number of years I focus on piano tuning first and foremost as there will be a lot more work in that regard. Then on the next visit I focus on jobs that could be considered secondary, but that will greatly improve the touch and sound of the piano, such as voicing, regulating the touch and cleaning out dirt and debris that’s clogging the action.

If you are unsure about the work your piano needs, send me an email at richard@pianotunerleeds.co.uk and I will be happy to answer any questions. Sending pictures of your Leeds piano (particularly close ups of the action, the wrestplank and the strings) will give me a good indication of the amount of work your piano will need and whether or not it’s worth paying for extensive repairs (if needed) or whether you might want to invest in a newer piano. The majority of the time a first piano tuning visit costing £45 will go a long way in bringing your piano back to life.

The healing power of A432

Some good news for the clients whose pianos can’t be tuned to concert pitch (usually due to age and their poor condition) and had to be tuned thirty cents flat; I have left your piano with special healing powers! If you ask Winfried Otto Schumann that is who believed music played at A432 was more in tune with nature (see this article at attunedvibrations).

The gist of the article is that the fundamental resonant frequency of the universe is 8hz, a pitch inaudible to the human ear but is the frequency of much electromagnetic activity on our planet. If a piano’s bass section had more octaves and I were to tune the whole piano starting from an extremely low note which resonated at 8hz, we’d find the A above middle C to be 432hz rather than 440hz (440hz being the agreed upon standard since the early twentieth century), which interacts more harmoniously with the natural world, creating soothing effect on the human mind and body.

Historically the agreed pitch standard of Orchestras has tended to be lower than A440, with the tendency being for the pitch standard to rise over time with efforts to produce brighter and more brilliant sounding music. It was only in the early twentieth century that musicologists decided upon the A440, much to the dismay of singers who found this higher pitch standard vocally straining and other critics.

Perhaps the opponents of A440 were right all along? Speaking from personal experience I’ve found many pianos I’ve tuned sound better at A432 or A435 – although these tend to be pianos from a different era. Modern uprights clearly lose character when they’re too flat of A440.

You decide:

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.

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

Recommendation from MP Andrea Jenkyns

Thank you to Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns for recommending me on twitter today to her 45,000 followers. I spent a good two hours tuning and regulating her recently-moved piano in Wakefield this afternoon, finishing a full day of piano tuning in Leeds and Sheffield. Word of mouth helps hugely, so a huge thank you to her and anyone else who has helped to spread the word.

– Richard, Piano Tuner Leeds

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.

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.