Do you really want to DIY?

In one of my early posts I wrote about the mysterious double-strike problem that I was having with my Kawai K-8. When my regular piano tech couldn’t get to the bottom of the mystery I started to do my own research and self-education about the upright piano action. I also bought a basic set of regulation tools to get my hands on the one that allowed me to more easily adjust the let-off distance. It was this action plus asking on PW that led me to believe that I had a fundamental problem. Robert Piano could not discover the cause of the problem, despite calling in two more supposedly very experienced techs. RP eventually replaced the K-8 (still under warranty) with a new one. It was the only thing they could do.

The book that I started my investigations with was Arthur Reblitz’s book ‘Piano Servicing, Tuning & Rebuilding’. From this and other sources I learned that there are three major aspects to keeping a piano in good shape: tuning, regulation, and voicing. Which of these, and how much of them should you consider doing yourself?

The one thing that I believe you should seriously consider doing yourself is tuning. It can be self-taught and be done quite simply with the aid of an electronic tuning device (ETD) such as Verituner Pocket. But it is time consuming, and you must do some reading about temperaments, mute positioning, and tuning hammer manipulation techniques.

I started to tune the K-8 myself because I was reading about how any mild Well Temperament will sound much better than the Equal Temperament that the vast majority of tuners in Singapore give you. (Actually by using Verituner Pocket I got a much better ET than what my regular piano tuner was giving me.) An ETD in the hands of an amateur gives good results. An ETD in the hands of an expert aural tuner can give spectacular results.

Piano regulation is another ball game. Assuming that the action was well-regulated to begin with the two aspects that you can easily check yourself and adjust are let-off distance and lost motion. And that’s it. You can do more of course, but it starts to get more and more risky. Some adjustments require you to take the whole action stack out of the piano. Do this only if you can afford to mess things up!

However, regardless of whether or not you do any regulation work you absolutely must educate yourself about the piano action and regulation. This is so that you know the difference between a piano that is playing well to one that is having problems in one or more keys.

Finally there is voicing. This is absolutely one thing that you do not want to even think of doing. It involves string work and hammer work, and is something for the piano tech to do (assuming that yours knows how to do it and has the ear for it).


4 responses

  1. Wish I had the free time now to read more about Arthur Reblitz’s book. I am running late on a 900 page tech upgrade manual + project. Sigh!

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing this DIY article.

  2. You are welcome! I know what you mean about being behind with work. I am also waaaaay late on writing up a major internal R&D architectural discussion paper, and two patent filings! Not having a piano in the house doesn’t seem to have made me move any faster! đŸ˜¦

  3. You don’t really know what you are talking about. There is no way you could tune your piano better than a professional. It takes hundreds of tunings to develop decent hammer technique. It’s not that easy.

  4. Jimmy,

    Please read my post carefully. I did not say that it was easy. I only said that if there was one thing that you can do yourself is to tune, but that it does require one to educate oneself. Perhaps I should have explicitly said that it is hard!

    What you probably don’t know is that here in Singapore, the quality of piano techs is very variable. The tuner who used to tune my K-8 was one of the most experienced ones that the dealer had. And yet his tunings had stretches that were consistently flat in the treble because there was insufficient stretch. I could get a cleaner ET with Verituner myself. Yes, I can hear the difference. He also did not set the strings/pins adequately so the unisons and the tuning as a whole would drift faster than they should.

    Most people would be happy with what the local tuners give. I just happen not to be one of them. And most tuners here don’t know how to give you anything but ET, which is also a temperament that I happen not to like.

    I am learning all the time. I get assistance from a couple of techs on PW and I also get tips from a master tech in Singapore. He’s watched me tune before and has suggested improvements to my hammer technique and the way I set the strings and pins. Furthermore, if you tune only your piano, you will eventually discover what works best with that piano. So far I have tuned two Sauter grands (including my own), a new K-8 and a very old Kawai upright (the model escapes me right now). Each piano’s pinblock feels different, and requires variations of the same basic hammer techniques.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: