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Piano Cleaning – The Keyboard

Piano keys

One of the most common areas to collect grime and dirt on a piano are the pianos keys. If the piano has ivory keys, they are porous. They tend to absorb oil and dirt from our fingers and considering the fact that they are white, it shows up. While plastic keys are not porous, they get dirty in much the same way. If you are wishing to see your keys cleaned up, a simple solution of water and vinegar can do the trick. Find a clean rag and moisten the rag with the water and vinegar solution. Don’t put so much water in the rag that the water drips down the sides of the keys. Wipe the keys down with the rag from back to front. It’s a noisy procedure but one from which you may derive some inner satisfaction. In the event that your piano’s keys are dubiously grubby, you may need to contact a qualified piano technician . These keys may need sanding or polishing. Enjoy the feel of your newly cleaned piano keys.

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Piano Tuning with iPhone 4

Tunelab tuning screen

I have tuned pianos by ear ever since I was trained at The University of Ontario’s Piano Technology program seven years ago. I’d never had interest in electronic tuning aids. The last year though, I was noticing that my pitch raises weren’t sticking as well as I would have liked them too. A pitch raise is required if a piano is a certain amount off of the standard tuning pitch of A = 440 HZ which is concert pitch. If a piano overall is below pitch a considerable amount, then a piano needs a preliminary tuning (pitch raise). The problem with a pitch raise is that the tuner needs to compensate for the fact that by the time he is done the pitch adjustment, the piano will have gone flat. So I would tune it sharp, the best I could by guessing, hoping the pitch would end up where I needed it to end up. It was haphazard and terribly inconsistant. Some times the piano would need a second pitch raise at my expense.

Earlier this year, I happened upon a piano tuning application for the iphone. It was one that has been around a long time for certain pocket PC’s and such. This tuning application by Tunelab has a very sophisticated pitch raise software included in it. The software calculates the amount the tuner needs to tune the piano sharp for it to remain at pitch when he is finished. It takes the guess work  out of the whole pitch raise scenario. The final tuning is done after the pitch raise and checked by ear. I have to say, I have been a far happier person since implementing this pitch raise app in my practice.

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Piano Hammer Blow Distance

Piano Hammer blow distance is the distance between the piano hammer at rest and the piano strings.  As the piano hammer strikes the strings, the hammer felt compresses, increasing the distance between the piano hammer at rest, and the strings. To remedy this, the hammer rest rail is shorn up with felt which shortens the distance between the piano hammers and the piano strings. Now the hammer is at the prescribed distance from the string.

If your hammers are double hitting the strings, there’s a good chance this is one of the reasons why.

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Piano Regulation Series

I am starting a series on piano regulation to help educate my customers about this very important aspect of piano maintenance.  Have you ever wondered why a note won’t sound? Or it’s sluggish and won’t repeat as fast as you’d like?  Perhaps the note is double hitting the string?  Perhaps you’re wondering why your piano scales aren’t even as you play up and down the piano.  It may be that your skills and technique are just fine and that your piano is in need of some serious regulation from years of use.

I am experimenting by putting this regulation information in a video format.  Hopefully it helps to illuminate these issues that might have been previously thought to be just a “condition” of your piano.

Look out for the first video entitled “Piano Hammer Blow Distance”

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When hammers need to be carded

If your piano is sounding less then satisfactory there is a good chance the hammers have worn deep grooves in them. These worn grooves lead to a flattening out of the hammer which produces a harsh or unpleasant tone. In some instances it may lead to the opposite, a dull and muffled tone. In either case the solution may be to have the hammers filed down and voiced. This removes the deep grooves in the hammer and restores the hammer to it’s original pear shape. Here is a picture of the process. If you notice your hammers looking like this there is a good chance they need to be carded. Piano maintenance outside of tuning should be performed every 5 to 7 years depending on the use of the piano. Keep this in mind if you wish to keep your investment in tip top shape and if you wish to enjoy the tone of your piano all the time.hammers_before_after_close

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Summer Months For A Piano In Southwestern Ontario

The humidity has finally hit Southwestern Ontario and unless your piano has humidity control, there’s a good chance it’s gone out of tune.  The wood swells from the saturation of moisture in the air causing the strings to stretch sharp especially in the middle section of the piano, right where most of us seem to play.

If you wish to enjoy your piano over the summer months, get it tuned and wipe that sour sound away!

Book your summer tuning for $85 +PST with Joshua Richardson 519-697-1385

As well, you may find that some keys begin to stick for the very same wood swelling reason. Have a certified piano technician examine the piano and make any fixes that need to be made for you to enjoy your piano all through the summer months.

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Maintenance of Piano

Piano maintenance is an often overlooked aspect to piano ownership.  One may ask, “isn’t tuning the darn thing once a year good enough?” Perhaps. Though a tuning may be compared to oil changes on a car.  It merely keeps the thing running.  Though if you are looking for performance, further maintenance than tuning will be required.  One may not realize the lack of performance one is receiving from one’s piano except when compared with a properly regulated and voiced piano.  If you are finding your piano is not providing you with the enjoyment you are hoping for, a regulation and voicing may be in order.

Signs of a piano needing maintenance:

  • Brash or harsh sound
  • inconsistent tone or touch
  • keys which are not level
  • Squeaks or strange noises not normally associated with the piano

It often surprises owners the difference in sound the piano produces after even a minimal regulation.  It makes for an entirely more pleasant playing experience.  You will thank yourself.

In 4 hours your piano can have it’s hammers carded and voiced sounding immensely better.  If your piano needs more substantial work a quote can be given.

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Looking for a Quality Used Piano

I’ve fielded so many calls regarding this subject that I thought I better address the topic.  It’s mostly for selfish reasons, though good selfish reasons.  When looking for a used piano ensure you yourself go look at the piano.  It is a terrible idea to blindly accept a piano you’ve never seen.  I would be hard pressed to find someone who would do that with a car, so I would suggest you take the same care with a piano.  When looking at the piano, assess whether all the keys work properly.  Play every note.  Does it sound terrifically out of tune?  Ask when the last time the piano’s been tuned.  Have the owners maintained the piano?  Check the pedals, do they both work properly.  Is there any strange buzzes or noises coming from the piano?  Take the lid off if you are able and look at the hammers.  Are there deep grooves where the hammers strike the strings?

For a used piano that has received a minimum of attention I would suggest the following,

1. A full regulation- Which takes 6-8 hours to perform. ($300 or so) This precedure ensures the piano will play and sound the best that that particular piano can.  It includes filing of the hammers (If the hammers are capable of receiveing such a procedure ie. not worn too deep.  If the hammers are worn too deep the piano requires NEW hammers, a costly procedure, upwards of $1600)

2. A Pitch raise and tuning – ($150) The twice tuning of a piano to maintain stability.

I’m giving these costs so one who is looking for the piano can do some number crunching.  If you go to a quality used piano sales store like D&S pianos you will be purchasing a piano that has already received these wonderful services and you can be assured it is in tip-top playing condition.  They also include the cost of the move. ($150 and up)

So keep these costs and questions in mind while piano hunting, it will save you dollars as well as heartache!

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Some Piano’s May be passed the point of Repair

The best solution for any scrapped piano is of course to Shred it. Watch this interesting youtube video of a piano being disposed of.  It is a very creative way of piano disposal.

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Regulation – Keyboard Leveling

I am going to do a small series of articles on piano regulation.  Many people do not understand what this is and therefore do not recognize the value of a regulated piano.  The first article will deal with key leveling.

The first thing a piano technician will most likely do in a piano regulation is level the keys.  They are made of wood and sit on small pieces of felt and paper called punchings.  They wear and warp over time so they need to be adjusted every so often.  As the keys go out of level, the entire geometry of the action mechanism goes out with it.  Not only does a level keyboard feel better to the pianist, but it also helps the piano perform better.  The black keys must be at the proper height above the white keys otherwise your fingers are thrown off with having to reach too high and stumbling or not having to reach high enough.

In my opinion there is not much else so beautiful as a perfectly level set of keys.  (Perhaps only a piano technician would say such a thing.)