A piano has over 20,000 parts and is a very complicated invention of the 16th Century (Italy, circa 1600 AD) but it is a long journey from there to the modern piano which we see today.
Do you know how many tuning pins are in one piano? Tuning pins tie piano strings to pin blocks which are connected to the sound board.
Did you guess 88 pins, since there are 88 keys in a piano?
There is just a single string on some notes but most notes have two to three strings per note. There are some slight variations in the number between different manufactures, but on average a piano has around 220 strings in total!
When your tuner comes to tune your piano, they have to adjust the tension of each pin/string. If the note has more than two strings, they need to mute the others to hear the string that they are tuning. It is a very delicate job, so the next time your tuner comes to tune your piano, try to be as quiet as possible or just leave the tuner alone with the piano!
When the piano has been tuned, the tuning pins are twisted by the tuning hammer to get the correct pitch. If they’ve been twisted enough times, the holes get slightly bigger, and when the holes get bigger the tuning pins won’t be able to hold their position due to the high tension of the strings. At first the tuner will be able to tap the pins into the pin block. This is a temporary fix. But soon enough, you may need to get bigger pins installed.
Pins come in many sizes, ranging from size 0 to size 5, (smallest to biggest). Depending on how loose the current pins are, new pins should be two to three sizes bigger. After installing new pins, you may need several extra tunings. Also, when pins are replaced, they are always at a slight angle, never simply 90 degrees, and coiled a specific way. Believe it or not, there are many more tricks and rules in this process!
Last year I got a call from Fred who was looking at his dream apartment on the upper upper west side in a twelve story building with two smallish elevators.
Fred is a serious musician: he has a Yamaha baby grand and it has to move where he does.
For the really serious cases I carry a cardboard cutout of the piano to check if the piano will fit.
The elevators were too small to fit the piano and the stairs were extremely difficult if not impossible to negotiate.
The elevator looked brand spanking new and the super did confirm that the old one was slightly bigger.
This particular building is a half block long and has other entrances down the block and a light bulb came on in my head (it is pretty dim these days) I asked the super if the elevator in the other part was still original.
It was and my cardboard piano did fit, the only problem was that the buildings only shared access on the roof. The elevator brought us to the top floor but not to the roof the road to the roof went through a particularly nasty double flight of stairs up and once we were on the other side the same ugly stairs down. So what! The customer was happy and we got to swear like men while looking at the George Washington Bridge a stone throw away.
The reason why I write this now is because Fred just called me and said that he was moving out because he hated the apartment and could we move it again.
You would think that this time it would be easier. I am here to tell you it was not!
But again we got our aggressions out and had that lovely view.
This story is from a while back. It was the late 80s, disco was king, and we got a call at 7:30 in the evening from an excited gentleman, complaining that he had dropped something inside his grand piano, and needed a technician to retrieve it right away. The only technician left that night was Janet (a former flower girl from Woodstock) and she said that she would go do this job for 75 bucks, as the last call of the day.
The next day, Janet walked over to me and gave me some details of the previous night’s ‘repair’. After she arrived at the customer’s apartment, she had discovered what the customer had dropped in the piano, and why he was so eager to retrieve it so late in the evening. Apparently he had dropped his bag of cocaine into the piano and, needing a high at that moment, wanted a technician over right away. Janet could understand that, of course, and retrieved most of the spilled cocaine from the piano. She didn’t tell me whether or not she got a good ‘tip’ too. Needless to say, this story ended on a high note!
We were called to move a piano for an elderly man just a few days ago. Gus had just retired from a florist’s job and sounded very exited as he told us about the piano he found on Craigslist. The seller told him that all the piano needed was a good tuning. Gus wanted to get the piano picked up and delivered so he could start practicing right away. I asked him if he had hired a technician to inspect the piano to which he replied that he had checked the piano out and it was fine, “just needed a tuning”.
Old pianos are never fine, they need to be inspected thoroughly for any defects. How does one became an “Expert” by just looking at the piano? We recently moved a Baldwin Hamilton upright for a client who had also “inspected the piano himself”. Late at night some noises came out of the piano, and t0 his wife’s horror, he discovered a mouse living inside it.”Just tuning” turned into taking out the mechanism and all the keys to vacuum and scrub inside the piano, adding a pitch raise, and tightening all the hammer flange screws. The bill was quite hefty. Back to Gus and his piano, once I had a good look at the piano we were picking up the situation looked pretty sad. We were standing next to a 20 odd year old Spinet piano with several problems: 1) Three broken plastic elbows (they connect the key to the hammer for strike). 2) Pin block that was dried out (the piano would not hold a tuning for more than 3 seconds). 3) The hammers were unglued from the inner core (no sound) . Needless to say a piano like this is toast.
This is like the old guy method of kicking the tires on a car to see if it is good! Don’t do it get a technician to check it out! M
The heyday of piano building was in the early 1900s until two events happened. First, radio started to reach more and more homes and the piano ceased being the sole entertainment source in the home (especially the player piano). Second, the stock market crash wiped out many piano builders. The ones that were left enjoyed relatively good times until the arrival of imported pianos from Japan in the seventies. In the eighties Korean pianos started to arrive in showrooms around the country. They were well made with high gloss finishes and good sound.
This story is starting to sound like a summary of the automobile industry’s woes. The mid 1990 saw Chinese pianos arrive. Same lustrous finishes as the Japanese and Koreans were offering, but they were not as well built as their Asian cousins. However, at half the price of the competition US consumers were snapping them up. Now, even the venerable Yamaha and Kawai were starting to shift production to China in order to stay competitive. Most of The remaining US companies followed suit and started to manufacture in China. Marketing ploys were developed to disguise the origin of these pianos for the hapless average US customer using phrases like “designed with imperial German scale, with finest royal george felt” etc….In the mid 2000s production had shifted to Indonesia (presumably cheaper wages and raw material).
From a purely technical viewpoint, we prefer older pianos because of the quality of the materials and the workmanship. We have some 100-year-old pianos that are still very solid and I wonder if the new arrivals have even a tenth of that lifespan. Of the American manufactures only a few are still actually making pianos in the States. In fact Steinway and Mason & Hamlin are the only ones. Both of these brands are more expensive than most. Even Steinway’s less expensive models like Boston and Essex are made in Japan and China.
From the greatest numerical piano manufacturer, we are vanishing into stencil named pianos in unnamed countries.
That’s all folks!
Although it can be done it is not always advisible. Pianos weigh anywhere from 400-800 lbs and without a proper piano moving dolly and a piano board (in case of stairs) the move is going to be difficult and dangerous.
Casters on the piano are for moving the instrument a few inches in place, not rolling it across a sidewalk. The typical cost to move a piano for our clients in New York City ranges from $200 for a small upright in two elevator buildings, to more for more complex moves.
Do yourself a favor and hire piano movers, you will be glad you did. M
Are one or more keys sticking on your piano? Here are five things to try before calling a technician:
1. Check the front rail clearance (when you press the key down see how much space is in between the front rail and front of of the key). If the key rubs against it, pull back on the wood piece to see if that fixes the problem. For a permanent fix try inserting a thin piece of cardboard on each side of the keyboard.
2. Look inside to see if the piano hammers are rubbing together and not returning. This repair most likely would require a technician to tighten the hammer flanges.
3. If you have a spinet piano (spinet is no more than 37″ high off the ground) the plastic elbows under the keyboard should be checked out. Kneel down and look for spring-type latch(es) under the keyboard. Press up and pull the bottom board towards you from the top to remove it. Look at the elbows to see if they are disconnected from thin metal rods. a technician and new elbows are needed for this repair.
4. Open the top and remove the front board covering the strings (usually two latches on each side) to see if there are any pens or other objects on top of the keys that are stuck.
Remove to fix.
5. Open the top and look at the hammers while simultaneously pressing the soft pedal (left pedal) and slowly release the pedal. See if the hammers return or if they stay put. Most likely the mechanism is stuck from excess humidity. You can try to use a hairdryer gently passing it over the mechanism to dry it out. If not successful call a technician. M
I was recently called upon to check some problems with a one year old upright piano in Manhattan. The owners said that another technician had been there and the problem had returned in a very short space of time. This piano had a cracked soundboard, loose tuning pins and hammers that were hitting each other rather than the strings. I was surprised at the damage due to the fact that this was a quality instrument made in Japan. Upon further examination I saw a metal grill under the piano, as I put my hand next to it I could feel a blast of hot air from it. The heat from the vent had literally overheated the piano and dried it like a piece of toast.
Pianos do not like heat of any kind! Dry heat will destroy them in a very short time. Make sure you leave some space between any heaters and a Piano. And worst of all, the manufacturers warranty most likely wont cover the damage.
Here are five simple things to look for when buying a used piano from Craigslist:
1. Is the piano in tune or close to it? (If wildly out of tune look out).
2.Do all the keys work well? (Just the fact that they move up and down is not enough, sometimes expensive repairs are indicated).
3. Does the piano have a buzzing sound when played? (Soundboard problems).
4. What is the condition of the case? (Are there any broken legs, is the music desk intact and etc..)
5. Where is the piano located? (Any flights of stairs will cost $$$ to move).
You can find a great deal or a lemon on Craigslist, so please consider the details outlined above. Better yet, narrow your choices down to few pianos and then bring a technician to check them out, it will be worth it in the long run.
For more detailed buying advice you can read this article: