Piano Technicians Glossary

Or, what do you mean when you say…?

Tuning

Tuning, like just about everything else and the piano depends very much on the instru­ment and the play­er. All things being equal on an instru­ment there's the gen­er­al pitch and then there is the tem­pera­ment.

Generally a piano is designed to be tuned to the International Pitch Standard of A440 which is 440-wave cycles per second for the note, A above middle C. If you scratch the sur­face of that idea you'll dis­cov­er a whole world of pitch stand­ards.

Back when Handel wrote his Messiah he tuned the orches­tra to A423, we know this because his tun­ing fork is still around and it was a very early tun­ing fork at that, since it had only just been inven­ted by Handel's main trum­pet play­er, John Shore.

Most pianos made in the last 100 years are engin­eered for A440, but tun­ing to slightly dif­fer­ent pitch stand­ards is not dam­aging to the instru­ment.

Tuning tem­pera­ment is the way the 12 notes of the scale are dis­trib­uted with­in an octave and almost without excep­tion most pianos in the 21st cen­tury are tuned to Equal Temperament, which just means the pitches of the notes are equally far apart. Wasn't always that way and still isn't, as some pian­ists spe­cial­ize in play­ing music from dif­fer­ent his­tor­ic­al peri­ods and want to hear the music as it soun­ded under tun­ing sys­tems of the time.

From a tech­ni­cians point of view I can't recom­mend get­ting away from A440 and Equal Temperament unless you plan to keep the instru­ment that way. Changes in pitch and tem­pera­ment can be destabil­iz­ing in the short term.

Pitch Raising or Lowering

This is a situ­ation where the piano has not been ten­ded to for quite a few years or it's been liv­ing in an unsuit­able envir­on­ment. It is sub­stan­tially off stand­ard pitch and requires sev­er­al tun­ings then and there.

It is destabil­iz­ing for the instru­ment, so reg­u­lar care and atten­tion is best.

Repair

Piano tech­ni­cians divide the idea of Repair into two areas — Reconditioning and Rebuilding.

Most pian­ists can bene­fit from some level of recon­di­tion­ing for their instru­ment but some pianos, while they still make music, are no longer can­did­ates for any­thing oth­er than a tun­ing.

If there are ser­i­ous struc­tur­al faults then rebuild­ing ser­vices are required if the instru­ment is to con­tin­ue to make music. This sort of area requires a very clear under­stand­ing between the tech­ni­cian and the pian­ist about the value of the instru­ment before and after the rebuild­ing.

Regulation

Making the mechanism's thou­sands of parts func­tion as evenly and con­sist­ently as pos­sible.

Sometimes this involves minor adjust­ments made dur­ing the tun­ing pro­cess and at no extra charge, oth­er times it can require many hours of work. Everything hap­pens 88 times on a piano.

Voicing

This is mak­ing adjust­ment to the ton­al qual­ity of indi­vidu­al notes, again seek­ing even­ness and con­sist­ency across the key­board. Also, a highly sub­ject­ive area of piano tech­no­logy so com­mu­nic­a­tion is crit­ic­al.