Notes on a Piano Service Call

I serviced a Steinway model L, 5’10.5″ Grand yesterday for a customer who purchased it in April of this year. The piano was up to pitch with the regulation stable, and voicing consistent. As this was the first service call after delivery, I had never heard the piano in its new space.

While I did the tuning to lower the low tenor back to pitch and touch up small variations here and there, I noticed that the room and the carpeting soaked up a lot of the brilliance — yielding a more ‘washed out’ tone of some high treble overtones and mostly lower overtones. Much like a person whose hearing is declining, the higher frequencies provide the ‘detail’ to allow the hearer to distinguish consonants from each other, etc.

This room did a similar thing to the piano. It sounded less rich, and full (although still a lovely tone) which created a more muffled type of attack. While one could hear the attack, it was not as crisp. I noticed the effect when talking to the customer and listening to the echo coming off the wall which sounded as if my hands were over my mouth muffling all the details (low frequencies mostly).

I suggested putting some hard surface underneath the piano cut in the shape of the lid in clear acrylic or plexiglass to bounce the sound into the walls and make a brighter sound. We got a thin piece of plywood but not big enough so I borrowed numerous magazines and put them side by side to create a harder surface for sound to bounce off.

Immediately, the tone was clearer, fuller and more ‘immediate and present’ to the ear. More feedback aurally to the player allowed more dynamic range. This is an interesting and inexpensive way to improve sound without changing your decorating.

Furthermore, the secret to creating a piano that maintains a stable, high performance regulation and voicing requires first all the work to be performed properly and stably first. Then, in successive servicing, while there to tune the piano; pay attention to go over the action regulation and voicing and take up for any ‘break-in’ from playing.

The advantage of an older piano is that the wood and other materials have stabilized mostly and therefore the dimensional changes caused by compression or humidity is mostly coming from actual playing but MUCH less than with a new piano where everything is moving and changing!

In actuality, one CAN achieve a much higher standard of performance AND stability when one pays attention to taking up for changes due to ‘breaking-in’ the piano due to renewed playing.
Usually this period lasts no more than 6-18 months depending on the player and how much hard they play.

A side note: Interestingly, the owner of the piano always notices a difference no matter how subtle and becomes much more attuned to the feel and responsiveness of their piano. This way, they are much more aware of changes that take away that necessary connection between fingers and the sound created.

In this way, I have become more supportive to my customer’s music-making and expression at the piano. There is NO better feeling than experiencing a musical instrument that responds to your every nuance and feeling while playing it!

Is this not why I started doing this in the first place — to support the joy of responsive musical expression for all and not just concert musicians?

Besides, why should professional musicians and performers have all the fun???????????

Music, being a truly democratic activity, is about PERSONAL EXPRESSION no matter how accomplished you are.

SO GO OUT AND PLAY MORE. You will also find that you will enjoy concerts much better as well!

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