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 pianotunertools.com. 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.
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.