Friday, February 27, 2009

Steinway & Sons

Another pin-up shot:

This is a classic turn-of-the-(last)-century Steinway upright that I had the privilege of reconditioning many years ago.  The case was refinished and is quite beautiful, but of course I prefer to admire the inner workings.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So That's Whose Piano It Was

He has so many lying around his shop that he just forgot:
PERTH, Jan 20 2009 AAP General News - A piano tuner accused of stealing a grand piano from a university 12 years ago will face court in Perth.

The 57-year-old from Mount Helena, near Perth's Hills, has been charged by the Corruption and Crime Commission with stealing a Steinway grand piano from the University of Western Australia's music school.

A CCC spokesman said the man allegedly stole the piano 12 years ago when he took it for maintenance at his workshop.

He allegedly sold it for $20,000.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Poole Piano Co

Isn't she beautiful?

I never tire of opening a piano up and gazing upon the action.  Those 88 hammers and wippens, those 230-or-so tuning pins and strings, just make my eyes happy.  My dad said that I was just like him in this regard.  When he was a kid, his mother would give him a handful of pennies to play with, a whole handful of identical objects.  He could play with them all day!

I also love those giant bolts and screws on the plate.  As a kid, I wanted the screwdriver that could fit those giant screws.  My parents wisely kept me away from the screws and focused my attention on playing the keys.  But now I own that screwdriver!  And I still play those keys!  I guess I couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To His Piano

Old friend, patient of error as of accuracy,
Ready to think the fingerings of thought,
You but a scant year older than I am
With my expectant mother expecting maybe
An infant prodigy among her stars
But getting only little me instead–

To see you standing there for six decades
Containing Chopsticks, Für Elise, and
The Art of Fugue in your burnished rosewood box,
As well as all those years of silence and
The stumbling beginnings the children made,
Who would believe the twenty tons of stress
Your gilded frame's kept stretched out all this while?

- Howard Nemerov

Related website:
The Music Lovers Poetry Anthology

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hammer Bubbling

This is the second part of a two-part post.  The first part is here.

The Baldwin grand was unplayable.  All I was supposed to do was tune it, but I couldn't even do that.  Every note was bubbling.  When the hammer heads hit the strings, rather than making clean strikes, the heads bounced against the strings, striking multiple times.  That is called bubbling.  Usually when it happens, it happens with a few notes, or with most of one section, but in this case it was over the entire keyboard.

What causes bubbling is that the keystroke is not matched properly to the hammerstroke.  When you press a key, it moves a certain distance - this is the keystroke.  The movement of the key causes the hammer to move from rest to contact with the string - this is the hammerstroke.  If there is too much hammerstroke, or too little keystroke, or too much free play between the key and the hammer, bubbling will result.

There are some quick fixes:  you can eliminate the free play (called lost motion), then increase the let-off, or raise the hammerline, or increase the key dip, or raise the key level.  The only problem is that each of these corrections may introduce distortion and unevenness to the action regulation.  Slight distortions are tolerable, but past a certain point you simply trade one problem for another.  Ultimately, bubbling indicates that the action needs a more thorough regulation.

Six months ago I had tuned this piano, and its action seemed fine.  Why was it so far off now?  I checked my notes, and found that I had had to eliminate some bubbling then.  I had also noted evidence of past technicians making quick, ad hoc adjustments to the action.  My plan was to regulate the action thoroughly this summer, when time and budget permitted.  But I had to do something right now.

There was no lost motion to eliminate.  Normally this is good, but I was hoping for a quick solution, and this is the first thing to try.  The keystroke felt too shallow, as if the entire key level needed raising.  Unfortunately, that's exactly what I did not have the time and budget for now.  At a glance I could see that the hammerline was all over the place; that could be quickly adjusted.  The let-off was fine, so I decided not to disturb it.  Nor did I disturb the front rail punchings under the keys.  Then I thought of something else.  One reason the regulation would change so drastically from one season to the next would be if the keyframe was not sitting securely on the keybed.  There are special bolts called glide bolts for ensuring this, and I made a quick guess that they hadn't been regulated in a very long time.  You can sometimes feel the poor seating in the action, a kind of bounciness, and it will change with humidity.

Regulating an action is like solving a Chinese puzzle - each move affects other moves.  Some moves need to happen at the beginning, other moves must wait toward the end, and a lot of moves will need to be repeated.  Typically the end moves are done regularly, but the beginning moves will be neglected because they necessitate moving through the entire regulation, for which there is often no time and insufficient budget.  Regulating the glide bolts is such a beginning move.  But today I decided to gamble on an unorthodox move; I would screw down the glide bolts far enough to actually raise the key level just a little.  It's a hack, but a creative one.

I adjusted the glide bolts, raising the key level just enough to help with the bubbling but not so far as to cause other problems.  Then I raised the hammerline as far as necessary to eliminate the bubbling, even at the risk of reducing the hammerstroke a little too much.  For a handful of notes there was cause to increase the let-off a hair.  The bubbling was gone, the action felt a little odd, but it was playable, and perfectly fine for a practice piano.  It had taken a little over an hour, thus preserving the budget and not eating up too much time.  But I will have to regulate it properly from top to bottom soon - any more creative hacking will just make things worse.  Thank heavens there won't be another technician after me to say "What the hell was this guy thinking!"