KineOptics Stewart PTH-5-1 Piano Tuning Hammer

A couple of months ago, I received a brand new tuning lever to test out, the KineOptics Stewart PTH-5-1. I had previously been using The Shark from The Shark was the first high-quality lever I had ever owned, and I generally enjoyed using it. It sunk onto the pin well, was notably stiffer than my previous lever, and could fit into almost anywhere when used with a 20-degree head as recommended. However, I eventually realized that I had some issues with the lever:

  • The Shark is too heavy for me. Even though it felt solid in my hand, I think the significant weight of the lever contributed to fatigue in my shoulder and upper back.
  • It wasn’t as responsive as I liked. While not specifically an issue with the lever itself, using the recommended combination of a 20-degree head and Watanabe tip resulted in a significant feeling of “slop”. When I applied pressure to the lever, the tip would move around quite a bit before turning the pin.
  • I found the handle of The Shark to be quite abrasive. It was not unusual for me to have a blister or two after a long day of tuning with it.


Now, for the subject at hand. The folks at KineOptics sent me the Stewart PTH-5-1 back in January and I’ve been using it regularly since.

photo credit:

photo credit:

Let’s go over the basics.

The body of the PTH-5-1 is machined from a solid block of aluminum. It utilizes a single bolt to attach the press-fit 5-degree titanium head and a single bolt to attach the acetal handle. The simple construction and dark red anodizing results in a very sleek and aesthetically pleasing product. At just 8 oz (228 grams), the Stewart is the lightest non-compact tuning lever that I have found. With an I-beam cross section, the lever provides “positive rotational control” meaning that you will know the orientation of the lever just by feeling its shape in your hand. The head uses a standard Watanabe-style thread. The lever is supplied with KineOptics’ own tip which is Wire EDM cut. This is the first I have heard of this process, but from what I‘ve gathered it can produce extremely accurate results. All manufacturing is done in the USA and the lever retails for $355.

During my testing of the Stewart PTH, I’ve noticed a few features that really make it unique. First off, the minimal weight of the lever eliminates any shoulder fatigue that I usually feel. Even after a long day of tuning, I don’t get the knots and soreness in my shoulder that I get with other levers weighing up to 13 ounces or more. The standoff provided by the low-profile body, titanium head/tip combo, and 5-degree head angle is adequate to clear most plate struts and stretchers without sacrificing torsional rigidity. The acetal handle has yet to give me any of the abrasions or blisters that were commonplace with other levers and, together with the aluminum body, makes this lever feel practically indestructible.

On a more personal note, from my multiple phone and email conversations with him, I can say that the owner of KineOptics, Joe LaCour, is exceedingly amicable and helpful. He quickly answered any questions that I had and was able to offer many insights into the design of the lever.

The purchase price of the Stewart PTH is comparable to other high-end levers on the market. Upon notifying Joe that I intended to purchase his tuning lever, he informed me that he was looking to better ways to accept payments from international customers and, being the cryptocurrency enthusiast that I am, I was thrilled to be able to purchase the lever using Ethereum.

I have had to make a few compromises to use the Stewart PTH. The lever is very “What You See Is What You Get.” And by that I mean there is only one length of lever available, one head angle, one tip size, one color, one handle option. If you like to accessorize and customize, this may not be the lever for you (although Watanabe tips do thread on nicely, and I have word from Joe that other size tips are in the works). My only other points against are that I’ve found that the anodizing is prone to scratches and chips and that the lever does not fit quite as nicely into my Chicago tool case as my previous lever.

After testing it for a few weeks, the Stewart PTH quickly became my go-to tuning lever. I have yet to detect any hint of flex while tuning. It feels as stiff if not stiffer than the carbon fiber lever I previously used. I am looking forward to having different size tips because, in my opinion, there is way too much variation in tuning pins for a single tip to ever fit them all.

Big thanks to Joe at KineOptics for letting me test the Stewart PTH!

Learn more about the KineOptics Stewart PTH-5-1 here.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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