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
Firstly, if you live in Leeds don’t worry – I’ll still be piano tuning at least four or five days a week in Leeds and Bradford – that won’t change. However, I will also be spending at least one day a week in my workshop down in the Ranmoor area of Sheffield, where I will be focusing on piano resoration as well – something I enjoy and find more rewarding than piano tuning. The workshop has been purchased but won’t be in operation until at least August of 2019, as I am in the process of buying the piano restoration tools I need. I also need to make sure it’s well-stocked with woods, polishes, action parts (different sized hammers, flanges, jacks, whippens, screws), piano wire, piano key coverings and so on, all of which will ensure I can carry out a full, thorough and first-rate restoration job on every piano that comes my way.
If you have a Leeds piano you’d like to sell or donate, I will accept pianos on the following brands for a restoration:
If you have a high-end piano of a different brand, I might be interested anyway. I am unlikely to accept a overdamped piano and will certainly reject straight-strung pianos (they’re not worth the cost of new parts) even if they have sentimental value to the customer. Piano restoration is a painstaking and arduous job, but when you bring a 100-year-old Bechstein back to life, it is certainly worth the effort!
– Richard, Piano Tuner Leeds.
On eBay and Gumtree I often see pianos that are overpriced, but also see many that are a great deal. Keep in mind that many piano sellers don’t know the worth of what they’re selling, so if you’ve done some reading up on the subject you probably know more than they do. I’ve seen completely worn out, untunable pianos from the 1890s priced at £500 or more! They should be paying people to take them to the skip! Before forking out money for a second hand piano it is always a good idea to try it out for yourself and/or to call the piano tuner to evaluate it – I charge a £25 call out fee to inspect pianos in Leeds or Bradford.
A common problem in old pianos is tight and loose centre pins. To see if the piano has this issue, press the sustain pedal and gently play several notes. If keys are sluggish or sticky there may be trouble ahead – with 264 centre pins in a piano, it could require extensive regulation work to bring it up to standard. I recently spent an afternoon after a piano tuning in Leeds replacing centre pins in a used upright and while it can be done, the more notes that are sluggish or sticky, the more work will be needed.
If the piano sounds relatively in tune with itself but one or more notes sound badly out, that’s a worrying sign of loose tuning pins. Loose tuning pins aren’t always a problem in themselves (there are fixes), but if there are a lot of them it’s a sign that the piano has not aged well (and an indicator there will be other problems). Also look for rust around the tuning pins, excessive rust could cause you problems down the road with strings breaking. If there are several or more strings missing that’s an indicator that the piano won’t be able to be brought up to concert pitch.
Take the front panels off and check inside. Check it’s not been ravaged by mice and that the pedals are working properly. Check that there are no cracks on the soundboard (the wooden area behind the strings which is the main resonator of the sound), as wide cracks will cause buzzing and tuning stability problems. Check the bridges (the part of the piano that the strings run over) are in good condition and that are no cracks (cracked bridges will ensure that the piano is out of tune again right away and causes buzzes). These structural problems will mean major repairs which often aren’t worth it on a cheaper instrument.
If you find the serial number, there are books and websites for you to date the piano. Sometimes the date of production is written on the side of the bottom key. I would advise against buying anything made before 1950 unless it’s a particularly high quality instrument like a Steinway or a Bechstein that has had extensive restoration work (when buying a piano: the newer the better in the majority of cases).
You also need to use your ears and listen to the tone! Get an idea whether it’s an instrument you could fall in love with. If the piano is badly out of tune this will be harder as it’ll be difficult to hear past the horrible tuning. But if you get a feel for the instrument before its been moved, once its at your house and been worked on by the piano tuner, it will become one of your most cherished possessions.