The piano is now in tune, but you find it difficult or uncomfortable to play.
Many times my first question to a customer is, what is the piano used for: a beginner student, a serious student, hobbyist or concert pianist, or just Oh Canada once a year?
Both Yamaha and Steinway count some 12,000-plus parts in a piano and they ought to know given they’ve both been making some of the finest instruments for more than a century. With 88 notes on most pianos there are more than 200 strings from low A to high C. The cast iron frame has to support tremendous tensions, depending on string length and gauge, that can be upwards of 20 tonnes.
Each note of a piano has numerous points of adjustment just a few of them are:
- how far the key goes down
- how much force is required to depress the key
- how much ‘play’ is required to allow the mechanism to work
- how far the hammer is from the string
- how soon does a damper engage
All those and many others contribute to the playing experience. The human hand will often give the brain much more information than the eye and if the touch is not pleasant I can guarantee you won’t want to practice no matter how beautiful the piano.
A piano right out of the factory is a wonderful thing as the parts are all new and everything is to spec, but after not too many hours of playing those brand new parts need some minor adjustments to give a consistent touch for the pianist. On a new piano I can make a lot of those adjustments as I’m tuning at no extra cost.
With an older or neglected instrument many minor adjustments can be done as the tuning process goes ahead as well, but if parts are worn or damaged through use, more than tweaking may be necessary. At this point it is important that we talk about the piano and what you want so we understand each other before any work is undertaken.
I never cease to be amazed by the piano and the fact that it can be more than a century old and still making wonderful music. There are very few, if any, mechanical devices that age as well as a piano. It will function and make music under a wide range of conditions and it is really a question of how well the instrument has to perform.
So the piano is now in tune and feels nice to play but you’re still not sure about the sound; it is brittle, tinny, muffled, or inconsistent.
This brings us to voicing, or making the instrument sing. Voicing is complex and very subjective, so we have come back to the need for complete understanding between us. Every situation is unique, and it is important for me to strive for a common understanding before changing the tonal quality of a piano.
So if you say the piano sounds too bright we can then talk about whether you mean metallic or just too loud or, whether you feel the sound is too shrill. It’s a bit like nailing jelly to a wall at times but it makes the difference in your satisfaction at the end.
“The goal of a technician is to make the piano invisible so there is nothing between the artist and the music.”
I wish I could say I came up with that line but I would have to credit a technician from a seminar I took some years back. It stuck with me as an admirable kind of goal even if some pianos are more or less opaque than others to begin with.