The foundation of an excellent piano is tone. The finest piano – well prepared and in perfect tune – is able to produce a clean, bell-like tone with a long, blooming sustain. The foundation of that ideal tone resides within each individual string and its points of interaction within the piano. Ideal tone is achieved only when a specific set of necessary conditions are met – when these interactions are ideal. Small variations from these optimal conditions, by only a few thousands of an inch, substantially alter the tone of each string. These sub-optimal conditions are then amplified, cascading through the rest of the instrument as the more than two hundred strings sonically collide. The final effect is varying levels of “noise”, undesirable sonic information which effects the expressive potential of the piano. Only by addressing these many points of interaction can a piano technician realize the true potential of each piano.
STEP ONE – CONSULTATION
Our first course of action is to determine if the instrument is serviceable. We demand exceptional results for our clients – which are simply not achievable on very old or well-worn instruments. Assuming the instrument is serviceable, we determine a service plan – taking into account the individual needs and goals of the client, and the current condition of the instrument.
STEP TWO – SIP ADJUSTMENT
Assuming an instrument is serviceable, we have a specific, proprietary process we go through the very first time we approach an unfamiliar piano, this is part of what we refer to as “SIP adjustment”, string interaction point adjustment. This process generally takes between 1 to 5 hours and includes making small adjustments to the points at which the strings interact with the bridge, the tuning pins, the plate, and the capo bar. These points of interaction are adjusted/finessed – with the goal of eliminating errant noises and achieving a purer and more resonant tone.
STEP THREE – PIN SETTING, TENSION DISTRIBUTION, INITIAL TUNING
The third step is to complete a “rough” aural tuning. During this time the pins are set and tension is adjusted and equalized throughout the piano in stages. In our experience, many technicians simply twist tuning pins, but do not properly set them perfectly parallel with the pinblock. The result is that the tone wavers (as the pin quivers) and the piano begins to go out of tune almost immediately after it has been serviced. The second issue we often address is unequal string tensions. Unless the strings are struck with sufficient force, there tension will not be equalized between the speaking and non-speaking sections of the string. These issues are resolved in the rough tuning process.
STEP FOUR – THE PTT AURAL TUNING
The final step in our process is a fine aural tuning. We go through the piano a second time, correcting the drift that has occurred since the first rough tuning and setting the final temperament. Individual tonal adjustments are made to each section of the piano in accordance to the demands of the literature being played and the individual acoustics of the room. Sections of the piano may be brightened and/or dulled to make the piano “sing” within the space.
STEP FIVE – MAINTENANCE TUNING
Step five is to schedule a maintenance tuning schedule based on the instrument and the needs of the client. If scheduling permits and the instrument demands it, it may be necessary to schedule a follow-up appointment to ensure the new tuning is properly holding.
Maintenance tuning is generally less involved and requires less time to prepare and tune the instrument with each subsequent visit as the instrument has adjusted and stabilized.