Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for ... Piano

How's my mental health today?

The sun is shining; my Wednesday 6 a.m. coffee meeting with a group of guys from church was great; today is shaping up to be very good.

I'm more than halfway through this A to Z challenge.

Day 16 (10 more to go) - P is for Piano.

In the early 1980's I did an apprenticeship as a piano technician. I learned how to gut a piano and completely rebuild it. This also included stripping and refinishing the exterior of the instrument. It was a great learning experience and job and I was able to be self-employed for a number of years. I had to give it up because of my allergy to wool (all the felts in the instrument produced a lot of wool dust) and the instability of my mental health inhibited my ability to concentrate consistently. Concentration is a "must have" when you are tuning a piano.

During the time I worked on pianos, I learned some useful things.

Prior to my apprenticeship I had worked in the music retail industry selling all sorts of musical instruments, including pianos. As sales staff we were taught that the major selling point of the piano line we sold was the lifetime guarantee on the sound board. According to the trainer, a piano was done if the soundboard cracked. When I did my apprenticeship I learned that a cracked sound board is an easy fix - all that was required was making certain that the soundboard was solidly connected to the ribs at the back of the board (on upright pianos - grand pianos had the ribs on the underside of the soundboard). If there was  a gap between the board and the ribs an annoying buzzing sound could be heard. The only reason the soundboard (of the pianos I sold) had a lifetime guarantee was because the board was a piece of plywood. Plywood does not produce the quality of sound that comes from a solid piece of spruce. The spruce would crack, especially if the temperature and humidity it was subjected to kept changing.

One of the most frustrating situations I faced as a piano tuner was when a customer told me their piano was of exceptional quality because they had not needed to tune it for X number of years (sometimes decades). That was a piano I didn't want to touch because it would take 3 or 4 tunings within several months to get the tuning stabilized. The longer the piano stood without tuning, the more the strings wanted to return to the tension it had been at for so long. Unless the customer accepted that information I declined tuning the instrument because I knew I would get nothing but grief from the customer when the piano went out of tune very quickly.

I advised my clients to get their pianos tuned at least twice a year or more. The change of seasons would bring about changes in humidity and these changes would affect the piano. When the humidity is high the soundboard expands increasing the tension of the strings, when the humidity is low the board dries out reducing the string tension. The movement of the soundboard changes the tuning. Even if the piano was kept at a stable level of humidity, it is best to tune the instrument annually.

Some people saw the tunings as an undesirable expense and would avoid it as much as possible. A piano is a mechanical instrument; mechanics that require regular maintenance. A lack of regular maintenance decreases the quality and value of the instrument. Pianos are pricey; looking after them is the only way to protect your investment.

Many people, new to owning an instrument, for the first time, 
feel that having paid their money the instrument will last forever, 
without regular service. They don't!


1 comment:

  1. Glad you're having a great day today! I am guilty of not tuning our piano regularly. Somehow I thought the less it's played, the less it needs tuning. Since my kids have almost all left the nest, it's not played too much anymore. Maybe I should take it up! :)