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How to Splice Piano Wire

Replacing a piano string is not as simple as it first seems.  New piano strings are very unstable and need time to stretch before they will hold a pitch for an extended period of time.  Often times, a new string will require upwards of five or six tunings before it is acceptably stable.

Because of this, it is often a better idea to splice a broken string rather than replace it completely.  This is especially true for wound bass strings which are both more expensive and have greater tonal variation than plain gauge strings.

Strings will almost always break near the tuning pin or the hitch pin.  I have never seen a string break in the middle.  This is helpful because it means that we can remove the short piece of the broken string and tie in a piece of new piano wire.  This new length of wire will stretch just like a full new string would, but since the stretch will be limited to a short section it might only take one or two tunings to stabilize.

To splice a wire, we will use the piano tuner's knot.  This knot is very simple, however it can be a bit difficult to actually tie due to the stiffness of piano wire.

Photo Dec 20, 12 54 04 PM.jpg

To begin, make a clockwise loop in the lower wire.  Be sure that the working end of the wire passes underneath the standing part of the wire.

Photo Dec 20, 1 36 45 PM.jpg

Next, make a counter-clockwise loop in the upper wire.  Again, be sure that the working end passes underneath the standing end.

Photo Dec 20, 1 39 03 PM.jpg

In the lower wire, fold the loop 90 degrees downward, so that the tip of the wire is inside of the bend.

Photo Dec 20, 1 39 25 PM.jpg

Hold the upper wire across the lower wire with the end pointing upwards.

Photo Dec 20, 2 10 00 PM.jpg

Pull the upper wire across to interlock the upper wire loop with the standing part of the lower wire.

Photo Dec 20, 1 40 38 PM.jpg

Rotate the upper wire so that tips of the two wires are pointing in opposite directions.

Photo Dec 20, 1 41 12 PM.jpg

Bend the upper wire in order to feed the standing end through the loop of the lower wire.

Photo Dec 20, 1 42 32 PM.jpg

That is the piano tuner's knot!  When this knot it pulled tight during tuning, the two loops will lock against each other and hold tension.

When tying this knot in a piano, you want the knot to end up in a location where it wont be touching anything (i.e. the plate, tuning pins, other strings).  Sometimes it might take a few tries to get the knot to be in an acceptable location.


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How to Deep Clean an Upright Piano

It is not at all unusual for me to open up a client's upright piano in preparation for tuning only to discover a thick layer of dust, a handful of pencils, old business cards, and assorted trinkets that have somehow fond their way into the piano cabinet.  The enormity of dust bunnies contained inside an old upright can horrify the unsuspecting.  This is an area of the home that can go decades without being exposed to daylight.  Although the inside of an upright piano is rarely seen, this kind of debris inside the piano can adversely affect your piano's function. Because of this, I recommend a yearly deep clean of any upright piano.

If your piano is particularly dusty, I highly recommend wearing a dust mask or respirator.  If you find any rodent droppings in your piano, please read my post about Hantavirus before continuing.

Photo Nov 28, 3 20 15 PM.jpg

No two upright piano models will disassemble in exactly the same way, but most tend to come apart in the following sequence:

Photo Nov 28, 3 20 38 PM.jpg

Lift the lid.  Some pianos will have a hinged half-lid like this one.  Some will have a hinged full lid that you can lean against the wall behind the piano.  Very occasionally, I will come across one that has the lid hinges at one end of the cabinet, instead of in the back.  Often times upright lids will have a small "catch" that will require you to give a firm pull upward on the lid in order to pop it loose.

Photo Nov 28, 3 21 44 PM.jpg

The front panel of the piano can now be removed.  Both the left and right sides of the cabinet will have either a protruding metal pin covered by a small wooden latch, or a protruding screw secured by a small metal latch.  Open the latch and tilt the front panel toward you.  Grab it by both ends and lift it out the piano.

Some studio uprights won't have any latches.  The front panel of these pianos will simply lift up and out of the cabinet.

Photo Nov 28, 3 22 23 PM.jpg

Using a vaccum, remove any accumulated dust from on top the the hammers and dampers.  You can also vacuum around the tuning pins.

The next step is where there will be the most variation between pianos.  A spinet piano may be sufficiently disassembled for deep cleaning at this point, while an older studio upright may still have several steps to go.  If you can vacuum the tops of and in between the keys, you have disassembled far enough.  If not, you will need to remove more cabinet parts.  

Some large upright have a decorative column on each end.  Remove the two large screws holding these columns to the cabinet, and set the columns aside.

The next part to remove is what I like to call the "sill".  This is the horizontal board just above the fallboard (the piece that covers the keys when the piano isn't in use).  This will also often be secured with a large screw on each end. Remove the screws and remove the sill.

Photo Nov 28, 3 23 16 PM.jpg

No matter what kind of upright you have, you should at this point be able to see the full lengths of the keys and be able to remove any debris that has accumulated on top of them.

Photo Nov 28, 3 25 02 PM.jpg

The next step is to remove the lower panel.  This is usually secured with one or two metal springs. The piano in the photo actually uses a wooden spring.

Photo Nov 28, 3 25 40 PM.jpg

Push upward on the spring(s) and pull the lower panel towards you.

Photo Nov 28, 3 25 56 PM.jpg
Photo Nov 28, 3 26 03 PM.jpg

Once the lower panel is removed, run the vacuum along the strings, bridges, and hitch pins. 

Photo Nov 28, 3 27 14 PM.jpg

Remove any large debris from the bottom board of the piano and continue vacuuming around the pedal brackets and into the corners of the cabinet.

Photo Nov 28, 3 27 23 PM.jpg

That's it!  Re-assemble the cabinet and your piano can play smoothly for another year


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How piano tuning can change your brain structure

I came across this interesting article from 2012 today that I thought I'd share.  The article is about a specific study that found significant differences in the areas of the brain related to memory and navigation when comparing piano tuners to control subjects.

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1208/29082012-Tuning-the-brain-piano-tuning-changes-brain-structure-Teki


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How to Amplify a Piano

I recently tuned a baby grand piano for a local, well-known performance art venue. The venue was about to host a multiple Grammy Award winning artist, and called me in to tune and check over the piano. The piano wasn’t in the greatest shape, but the tuning went smooth enough. As I was finishing, an employee of the venue walked over to the piano with a vocal microphone in hand, stuck the mic in a random spot inside the piano, and asked me to play something so that they could sound check.

I looked at him quizzically, played a quick tune, and then started to gather my things. Before I left, I found my contact person at the venue and attempted to explain to him that “That…. is not how you mic a piano.” I gave him a few tips and left. I returned later that night to see the show and was wholly unsurprised that anything outside a small range in the treble section was practically inaudible, not to mention being able to hear the vibration of the plate that was being transferred directly to the mic.

A piano is a very difficult instrument to amplify well. There are many reasons for this. Pianos are not built with amplification in mind; they work best as a solo instrument in small to meduim size spaces. When playing along with other instruments or in very large spaces, the sound of an acoustic piano can very easily be lost.

The area that a piano’s sound is emanated from is almost as large as the piano itself. There is no obvious placement for a microphone like there would be for a guitar or a trumpet. Additionally, high and low frequencies are located at opposite ends of the instrument and cannot both be captured well by a single mic. During performances with other amplified instruments, the piano, even at close range, may be quieter than the ambient noise in the room which will basically cause any acoustic microphone to amplify the room instead of the piano.

I am not a sound engineer so I won't get into all of the ways that professionals amplify their pianos, but many other piano technicians that I’ve spoken to recommend the Helpinstill piano microphone. This system utilizes multiple magnetic sensor bars placed in close proximity to the strings that act similar to an electric guitar pickup. This system results in zero feedback and clear sound from the full length of the keyboard.

Since a Helpinstill system is not cheap, it can be cost prohibitive to install one. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there describing ways to get good sound out of a piano using a type of microphone you are more likely to already own. This website has an almost-overwhelming amount of information on the subject.


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