Don Rose Piano Tuning
3004 Grant Road
PIANOS ON TRIAL
When was the last time your piano had a fair 'hearing'? The following information may be helpful when building a case for service or replacement.
NEW OR USED?
Will the piano be new or used? Which make? Finding a good used piano does take time. Many questions have to be answered before purchasing a piano. The advantage of buying a brand new instrument is insurance - a warranty and new materials. Most salespeople will be delighted to tell you about the many features for their particular make. Usually, the larger the overall size of the instrument the larger and more refined the sound. The cost of the instrument may include delivery within the city. New pianos are generally sold with a 'free' tuning. This allows a representative of the store to inspect the piano and correct any deficiencies. Some stores will allow you to use the piano technician of your choice for the initial service. This is a good practice because the technician is working for you, and not for the store.
New pianos do have some disadvantages, too. Obviously, you will pay more for a new instrument than for a used piano. New instruments tend to have less tuning stability because the strings are still stretching. Most manufacturers recommend four tunings the first year, and two to three per year for the next five years.
You might only buy one piano in your lifetime, so it makes good sense to go to all the piano stores and comparison shop. Different makes have different tonal qualities. Tone colour may be affected by the tuning of the instrument, so to make a comparison; instruments should be at the same pitch. Brand X and Y may both be well built instruments, but one may be 'thin' sounding and the other 'fuller' sounding to you. Remember, this piano may be used by your grandchildren.
In two words, be careful. You may be buying an instrument that will cost more to fix than its fair value. Be prepared to look and look and then look some more. Unlike wines, pianos tend to deteriorate with age. The tone in the last stages is soft and dies away quickly. There is no such thing as a piano that is 'good enough to start on'. When Johnny quits his lessons, it may be because it was too hard for him to practice on the old clunker that someone gave you. Many pianos have had hard use, and infrequent service for most of their lives. How long would a new car last if the oil was never changed? Would you want to buy such a vehicle second hand?
It may be wiser to buy a used piano privately, and have it restored than to purchase a 'reconditioned' one. Finding the one good old upright is the hard part. A quality used upright may exhibit good tuning stability after it has acclimatized to your home.
TYPES OF PIANOS
The terms 'upright' and 'grand' refer only to the materials used in the construction of the piano. The hammers in a grand piano are returned to rest by gravity and the mechanism has many more parts, which allow for much greater repetition speed.
My personal choice is a grand piano. For beginners I recommend large studio model uprights of at least 45 inches - with pianos, bigger is better. I do not recommend 'furniture' models, for a piano should be a musical instrument. It is possible to find an excellent furniture model - but the cost for an instrument may be much higher.
It may not be wise to purchase a 'drop' action or spinet piano. The repetition of the action is often too slow for all but the simplest pieces. A repair that takes only a few minutes on a full size piano may take over an hour on a spinet.
Satin finishes are generally easier to care for than high gloss. Most pianos being manufactured today have polyester finishes. Furniture polish should not be used. Consult a dealer for specific information as to exterior care products. If the piano is not currently being manufactured, try a small area under the lid, or the inside of the kick plate, before applying polish to the exposed areas.
SIMPLE TESTS FOR NEW AND USED PIANOS
The eight second test: Play the note C6 (C two octaves above middle C). The sound should last about eight seconds. If it does not, there may be a serious wood problem.
In all pianos, metal struts reinforce the plate. The action of a piano has a separation with one hammer striking on each side of the strut. These are called the bass-tenor and the treble breaks. If you play the two keys on either side of the break simultaneously, the sound should die away evenly on both notes. In the case of the bass-tenor break, the sound should last around 24 or 25 seconds. IF the sound decays quickly on one note, there may be a wood problem. Repairs may be expensive or impossible.
TESTS FOR USED PIANOS
Look at the case. Is it in good condition? Are the keys chipped or are keytops missing? Remove the kick plate (the board just above the pedals), look for a water line. If the piano has been flooded, it may be a bad buy.
Play each key several times in a row. If a note fails to sound or will not repeat, the mechanism may need repairs or adjustments. If there is buzzing, the soundboard may be cracked.
Play each note in turn from the bottom to the top. Are there any dramatic changes in pitch or tone colour? If there are, the instrument may need to have strings or hammers replaced.
Stack a dime and six pennies on a played white key (careful, it's not a piggy bank). Gently depress the key. If the surface of the top coin is below the neighboring white key, the action may need adjustment.
The dial tone of a telephone is the same note as the F and A above middle C on the piano. By listening to the dial tone and striking these two notes in unison, you can compare the pitches to determine if the piano is out of tune. The farther out of tune the instrument, the less desirable a purchase it may be.
BEFORE YOU BUY A USED PIANO A piano technician can appraise an instrument using specialized tools to check the torque of the tuning pins. The minimum recommended torque is 40 inch/lbs. Anything lower may not allow good tuning stability. Replacing tuning pins is a major repair. The tuner should evaluate the piano and give the prospective buyer a list of necessary repairs.
It is wise to employ a recognized tuner-technician - one you can trust. The letters RPT signify craftsman membership in the Canadian Association of Piano Technicians. Members have access to the latest mechanical and technical information. The high standards of the Association are in the interest of all piano owners.