When I service a piano, I tune it and also evaluate and inspect it, and inform the customer of any further work it may need. I do minor adjustments and repairs for free when I'm there. I only charge extra if I need to spend a significant amount of time in addition to the tuning.
In addition to tuning, I regulate, voice, clean, and repair instruments. Piano repair can range from fixing minor issues in keys to completely refurbishing actions.
There are dozens of problems that can cause a key to get stuck. Most of the time they are minor repairs.
Regulation is adjusting the action (all the mechanical parts) of a piano so that it plays optimally. This includes the keys, hammers, all the parts that couple the keys to the hammers, and the pedals. The wood and felt in an instrument always changes over the months as it is played, and regulating the action returns the ability of the player to play its full dynamic range.
Voicing refers to adjusting the tone of the piano to be even throughout its range and pleasing to the customer. This can involve steaming or needling the hammer felt to soften the tone; or adding a hardener to brighten it. It also involves making sure the hammers are striking each string solidly. Different playing situations and different customers demand different voicing, and my intention is to listen to the customer and to my own ear to get the best tonal sound.
The rule of thumb is 6 months. If the piano or strings are new, or if a large pitch correction has been done, it will probably need to be tuned sooner. All pianos are specifically designed to the international pitch standard of A-440 cycles per second and will not sound their best when not in tune. Regular maintenance also can prevent expensive repairs in the future.
It’s important to keep your piano away from heating registers, air conditioning vents, fireplaces, doors, windows, and direct sunlight. Try to maintain a constant temperature and humidity in the room where it is placed.
Changes in humidity are the enemy of wood, of which many important parts of the piano are made: the pinblock, the soundboard, and the bridge. Minor cracks can cause difficulties, and major cracks could cause catastrophes. Also, an important reason pianos go out of tune is because of humidity changes.
When Leonard Bernstein was asked what type of music he liked, he said: “If it sounds good, it is good.” Similarly, if you are pleased with the way your piano sounds, feels, and looks, then it’s a good one.
Having said that, often a little bit of regulation and voicing can improve any piano in its sound and feel. Don't be afraid to ask about this if you think your piano isn't performing as well as it could. Keys that are too heavy, or pianos that make unpleasant sounds can frustrate a student. If you are in the market for a piano, keep in mind that this is an instrument you and/or your children will be making music with for many years.
Both of the above. I can tune aurally, but tuning software can be very useful, especially when a pitch correction is needed.
I was at a seminar recently given by David Andersen where he summed up his business philosophy very simply: The Golden Rule. Mr. Andersen has a thriving business not only because he is very talented, but also because he is always honest and treats his customers with respect. It may take me a few years to gain his vast experience, but I can live by his philosophy right away. I treat each customer's piano as well as I do my own (sometimes better, actually). If I can't solve a problem, there are colleagues in town whose wisdom I can tap into.
Larry Fine's "The Piano Book" is loaded with information about piano buying and manufacturers.
Keena Keel's book "Piano, How Are You", is an informative and entertaining book for buyers and owners.
Annie Grieshop's web site has a great explanation of how actions work.
Five Lectures on Piano Acoustics from the KTH Institute of Technology in Stockholm, is about the physics of pianos, for those who are mathematically inclined.
Watch my video Harmony and Piano Tuning
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