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MAINTAINING YOUR PIANO YOURSELF
this is a very large chapter, you might do well to copy it to a file, or print
However; it is copyrighted so mass producing it or printing a copy for a friend is illegal.
Here's where the rubber meets the road, where the caster meets the carpet, and where the wool meets the wire? The foregoing was fun and useful, and I hope that it helps to you take better care of your piano. But now you are really serious because something just went fooooing inside the old upright, and you are desperate to fix it before the meeting of the literary club this Saturday, right?
The following is as "Top Secret" as anything the CIA has stashed away in its files, and infinitely more useful. This information is well guarded by America's 4000 tuners, so this is the part of the book that will be of the most help to you-- either in maintaining or repairing your piano.
We have talked about taking care of your piano as furniture. This chapter will be about the bits and pieces inside of your piano. My first admonition is this-- do not be in such terror of entering the inside of your piano. Tuners' secrecy over the years has left most folks terrified of their pianos. I shall try to help you along the way, so here goes.
1. Tuning Your Piano
Why do pianos go out of tune?
First, wires stretch slowly all of the time. Technically speaking, the piano is going out of tune as the tuner leaves your home after tuning your piano. This is a piano tuners' chief job security.
Second, weather and climate changes work against the piano. In the winter you heat the house up. The relative humidity goes way down, and the wood frame of the piano shrinks. In the summer, the humidity goes way up at times, and the wood frame expands. The result is that the wires and tuning pins slip as the piano goes through these cycles. I am told that some concert grand pianos can go through extremes of as much as a half inch in their overall length. That's a lot of movement.
Third, you pound on it, and you may move your piano around from time to time. Playing a piano is not the worst thing for it. The weather changes are the worst. Of course, if you have a big fisted virtuoso beating out top volume all the time, that is sure to knock it out of tune in several notes.
Fourth, age gets to a piano. The tuning pins are not mounted in the metal harp as it appears when you look at the inside of the piano. The pins go through those holes and are mounted in a big block of wood.
The holes in the wooden pin block swell and shrink hundreds of times during weather changes. Add many tunings, which eventually take their toll as the pins are moved over and over. The resulting enlarged holes allow the pins to loosen, slip, and drop a wire here and there, especially in dry weather.
Entropy is Getting us All
This may sound serious, but it's all because of entropy. Contrary to Charles Darwin's theory, everything runs down over a period of time. Entropy even got to Darwin in spite of his good intentions. Thus, pianos go out of tune. Some of us clever fellows have figured out how to make a living out of this-- we are the world's piano tuners-- kind of high class clock winders if you like.
Grab hold please-- the next statement is highly important and free of all controversy. You CAN tune your own piano. I imagine some piano tuner is screaming blue murder right about now. The point is this-- tuning a piano is a skill all its own. It is difficult up front when you are learning the skills, but I have a good number of customers who are now tuning their own pianos. I offer brief touch up instructions later in the book, and on the CD I give you complete professional instructions.
Having "perfect pitch" (which is very relative and usually claimed by novice hillbillies) is perfectly useless, in fact, a liability, when tuning a piano. Let me give you the picture in a sort of somber and bleak way. If this does not discourage you, then you may well be tuning your own piano one day soon.
To tune a piano, you have to learn to block out tone and substitute some basic mathematical principles. Then you have to learn to hear beats in the air which at first seem to be non-existent, and you have to be able to count them. You then have to learn how to cheat on the theory because the human ear is intolerant of perfection. Finally, you have to learn to massage each whole tuning session around to compensate for the imperfections of each individual piano.
There are not enough tuners in the world for a very good reason-- it is tough to learn. You should also find another tuner who has the time to mentor you through the rough spots, and you must be a person willing to totally submit to his counsel. Piano tuning instruction is doled out very sparingly. The man who helped me in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a very patient and generous man. For that reason, my first formal attempt to tune a piano only took ten hours!
As a trade, there is a loneliness factor to tuning pianos. If you are a social being and need people and a team environment as you work, forget piano tuning. Tuners often run everyone away before they tune. You have to LIKE this work environment.
If you have a good tuner, don't tell him you want him to teach you to tune your own piano. He will have a hard time to be gentle and patient with you. If he is any good, he doesn't have the time, and he also has the right to guard his skill for the purpose of supporting his own family. Why should he generate competition for himself?
If your tuner gets upset because you have bought this book, and you fixed a broken hammer shank yourself, well, that's a bit rich. He will very likely punish you for your independent spirit by pinching you a little extra on the invoice. You might want to look for another tuner, or just don't tell him about your do-it-yourself efforts.
Let me tell you a true horror story. This guy in Michigan, a penny pinching Hollander like me, decided to tune his own piano. He borrowed a guitar tuning meter, got his trusty Vise Grips out of his tool chest, and he tuned his own piano-- well, sort of. Anyway, his wife, the real musician, was not too pleased with the results, in spite of the price. She called me to, "touch it up a bit."
By the time I was done, I was the one who was "touched." The tuning pins were worn down from the jaws of the Vise Grips slipping off of them, and I had a bear of a time tuning that piano. I refused to ever go back, and I rarely ever refuse to return.
If you want to learn to tune your own piano, order our CD with tuning instructions included, and order a Tool Kit in my Online Catalogue at the end of the book. Follow the instructions in Appendix One. Many of our past customers are doing this.
2. How often should a piano be tuned?
Most tuners suggest every six months. This is a great ideal, and it's real good for the tuner's budget. If you can afford it, do so. It will be good for your piano. I suggest once a year very faithfully at the same time every year. Churches and music performance areas must tune more often for professional reasons. Some churches have slim budgets, and the music suffers. Military chapels can't figure out who is supposed to pay the bill, and years can transpire while they debate this great defense budget question. This kind of decision is especially difficult at Military "Intelligence" Installations.
A music teacher also should be tuning at least every six months to be sure her students are hearing correct pitch. A music teacher who tunes less than once a year is-- well, what nice thing can I say? She is just not very serious about teaching.
If you are in an area of extreme humidity swings through the year, you should consider six month tunings. If you wait until you hear obvious twangs in your piano, you are waiting too long. Your piano is loping through extreme swings of pitch, and it will never hold pitch well.
I call customers after a year, to remind them to re-tune, and some will say, "It still sounds good. Let's wait another year." I say this lovingly and gently my dear friend-- that is real dumb. Anyone who waits to change the oil in his car until he hears metal grinding deserves all the pain he gets. Tune your piano regularly-- minimum, once a year.
One more note about tuning-- spinets and consoles go out of tune much quicker than uprights and grands. The short wires and light frame of the spinet cannot hold the tension nearly as well. A piano which is up to pitch with the world (A440) has as much as twelve tons of tension on it. That's a load for a dump truck. Think about that when you consider buying one of these little runts that will look so subdued and cute over in the corner of the den.
3. When should a piano be tuned?
Any time you tune a piano, it will go through another weather change in about three to six months. Pick a time just before your favorite family gathering, just before piano lessons start, or when the music major comes home from the university, and stick with that time every year. If you tune in January, you will get a tuner at once since most people are broke from Christmas frenzy that time of year and put off tuning. July and August is good since many folks are on vacation, and the tuner may be offering a discount.
Pick a time when the tuner will not be rushed, and he might adjust your action free. Take the last tuning of the day if possible, and bribe him for the action adjustment with tamales or steak. I once was victim of such a bribe-- the master of the house ran a small grass-fed feeder lot, and he broiled me a big steak. I really worked that piano over in appreciation.
4. Hints to help make the tuning last through the year
First, don't move the piano around when you re-arrange the living room. I know some ladies like to move furniture every six weeks, but please leave the piano out of the ambiance shuffle. OK?
Second, keep the piano away from hot and "swamp cooler" air registers. It will not hurt for it to be near a return air register. Also, and especially in very cold winters, do not place the piano where an outside door opens to let it get regular blasts of freezing air.
Third, on damp days, don't throw all the windows open in the room where the piano sits. Consider a dehumidifier in the piano room if you have high humidity, and try to isolate that room.
Fourth, keep the piano locked when any neighborhood brats visit. A child is at such a height that he can double up his fist, and when he comes down on the keys, his blow hits with unbelievable leverage. Ask your tuner for a piano lock key if you don't have one, and lock the piano. Teach your own kids to touch the keys with spread fingers to make music. It can be their first lesson on the way to making real music later.
5. Courtesy to your tuner:
The Best Piano Tuners Blunder:
How you respond, and how the tuner responds, will make all the difference. If something goes wrong, and the tuner assures you that he will make it right, please let him have some space to make it right. Some blunders are small, and others are tragic. Most things that break, explode, and fail to respond to the tuner's efforts are due to the piano's condition or a manufacturing fault. Try to be reasonable if the tuner seems convinced he did not caus the problem.
Example: Your piano is over 60 years old, and a string broke while the tuner was tuning. This is normal for old strings. Don't act like the tuner is at fault. You will only terrify him, and if he puts a string in free, you can be sure he will never come back near your home. The fair thing is to pay for the string and labor since the piano is very old, and old piano wire does not stretch well when the tuner needs to raise it a lot.
Example: A lady in the woods in Michigan called me to tune. As I was tuning, she asked if a man who was 75 should still be tuning. I asked her why she wanted to know. Some tuners should have quit the day after they started, while some very old gentlemen are still doing great tunings. She told me the old fellow before me had pulled the action on her grand piano, and as he put it back in, he broke a hammer off. I asked her if he repaired it. Yes, he did. I told her that the best tuners break hammers off of grand actions. It is very easy to do. I also suggested she not stand and watch a technician / tuner as he does a diffecult task like that because some men are troubled by being watched. She did not like that. I tuner her piano and told my wife to pull her card out of the file. I never went back.
My mentor, Jerry Peterson, was a tester for the Piano Technician's Guild in Michigan. He was good. He told me one time that he failed to check the bolts securing the top of the tuning pin block, open faced type, on an old Kimball upright. As he was tuing, the pin block ruptured and came out of the piano suddenly and destroyed the action. The piano was instant junk. The customer was patient, and Jerry was able to find a piano of similar quality, a bit better actually, and the customer was happy.
My turn: I was trying to bring back an aging upright in Michigan. I had raised pitch with a great deal of struggle due to the piano being neglected for many years. All sorts of bits and pieces were loose and needing attention. Finally, I was done, the piano sounded quite good, and I was assembling the thing again. The wood bracket which held the desk, where it hinged at the top, was clear off, and I decided I would re-attach it for the people. The screws were stripped out of the wood, so instead of filling the hole with wood and glue (the correct method), I grabbed a longer screw. Duh! I ran that screw right in there tight, and it held great. Then I looked around the side of the cabinet, and about a half inch of the screw was sticking out of the outside of the cabinet. The customer actually laughed, but I was not so merry. I felt like the fool of the hour. The customer told me the piano was old anyway, and all they really wanted was good sound, which they now had. I still thank God that I was not working on a new Steinway in the Catalina Mountains above Tucson when that happened.
Here is the true confession of a great professional:
How about this one.
Giving a free lecture, to a bunch of piano music teachers. By the way a good way to get your name known. One of them asked about a crack in the soundboard, so I turned the piano around to show all of them the soundboard, and where a crack would be. I continued talking, and nonchalantly, pushed the piano back into position with one hand. Wrong, wrong, wrong, the caster didn't turn as it was a carpeted floor and the piano started to fall. Next mistake, I tried to catch it, it landed on my big toe, which I thought I had pulled out of the way in time. I didn't, four fractures, in the end segment. That is why I was hobbling around at the convention, in Dearborn. I told the class that was not the way to do it, that to always take care when moving a piano. And, yes I did gain some customers from it.
Regards, John ________ Windsor
Example: This is a sad story. A new technician, who was the son of a well know piano tuner in Michigan, found an old grand piano with very loose tuning pins. The customer asked if he could do anything about it. The tuner asked if anyone had already treated the tuning pins. The customer lied and told him the pins had never been treated. In fact, another tuner had treated the pins. The new tuner treated them, and there was a chemical reaction between the original pin treatment and the solution he applied. The result was that the tuning pins were lubricated and released tension and were impossible to tune at all. The customer sued the fellow, and he had to buy them a new piano. He was undoubtedly in debt for years over that situation. You MUST understand that the piano technician is not at fault every time something goes wrong. The party who sued in this story is a devil and worthy of the wrath of God for such a trick.
The first step in tuning courtesy is to book carefully. DO NOT book a tuning right ahead of a big appointment or dinner party. Sometimes things break and repairs must be made, and a tuner does his worst work under threat of impending activity.
Try to book so that the tuner can be late. In virtually ALL in-home services, the previous customer's problems can cause the serviceman to be late getting to you. In piano tuning this is very common.
"You're late stupid":
If the tuner is late, and if you want to keep him as your tuner, DO NOT greet him at the door with, "You're late." If you are a fanatic for punctuality, you will never get a good tuner. The terror of your wrath will cause the tuner to simply turn you down next time. The man you get will be desperate for work, probably due to his poor tuning skills, and he will take the guff from you. Tuning is by nature a tension oriented activity-- Not a bad pun, eh? Why should the man receive more tension from you? Behave yourself, OK?
A courteous tuner will usually call if he is going to be late, but even that can be impossible if he is tuning in a big public building or in an outdoor setting. BUT, there is a limit to the sorrow the tuner can expect you to suffer. If he says he will be there, and he never shows, and never calls, you should look for another tuner.
You have to cancel:
If you think it is small thing to cancel a tuning at the last moment, you are rude in the extreme. Refrigeration, heating, and plumbing services are usually booked way ahead. If you forget an appointment and go bowling, they may be able to fill in from a customer waiting down the list. They will still be upset though because they lost the time and gas traveling.
However; piano tuners are often only booked ahead a few days or a couple of weeks. Trying to fill in for a no-show customer is virtually impossible on the spur of the moment. You have actually robbed your tuner of his fee and hurt his home, and he will end that week that much poorer. I NEVER go back to a customer who does that to me. Not so much to punish them, but why should I risk doubling my losses for a dip head who thinks so little of me and my kids? Kindly meditate on this one please! Your tuner may be polite about it, but I hope this discussion makes life a little better for him.
If you have to cancel a tuning, do it as soon as you find out you have a conflict. The night before is too late, so get a friend or a family member to be in your home to sit with the tuner and pay him. Too much trouble? If so, please don't call me to tune for you, even if you play for the New York Philharmonic.
A "Lying spirit":
DO NOT lie about the last tuning. If it was ten years ago, and if you lie and say it was just a couple of years, your tuner WILL catch you when he gets there. A piano drops pitch over the years in rather predictable patterns, and a customer who lies easily about these things will be dropped by the tuner in favor of honest customers.
Lying is now epidemic in our American culture, and I reward my lying customers by charging them the max-- no mercy, and I know other tuners who do the same.
The reason-- the tuner books you thinking your piano can be tuned in one tuning. After he gets there, he realizes he will have to tune it twice in that visit (called "raising pitch"). If you had not lied, he could have put you last in the day to allow more time to tune, and, chances are, he would show some mercy and do a better job
Professional men and their wives are the worst at this. They think of the piano tuner as just another grunt in the service industry. Many professionals spend their whole career lying every day, so they lie quickly about when the piano was last tuned, thinking somehow that they are making the tuner feel better.
Take notice please-- there are only 4000 of us tuners. We can afford to be picky, and you can pay quite a bit more for your uncharitable dishonesty. Thankfully, this is not a common problem, but common enough that I feel I must hit it hard. As for myself, I make no distinction in pricing (though I often cut price for the aged on fixed incomes), EXCEPT for this "lying spirit." I hate it. You will pay dearly for lying to most tuners.
Cut out the noise:
I tuned recently in a nice home. The folks there were not noisy because of rebellious teen agers, nor because of fighting New Joisey oldly weds (for noise, they is the woist). This home had a cockatoo that screamed a flat E all the way through the tuning, the lady of the house tried to vacuum the house in C# while I tuned, and the daughter turned on musical cartoons while I was trying to do the treble.
Now, most tuners don't mind having to ask you to be quiet once, but three or four times is just plain rude. You call this fellow once a year. Can't you behave yourself for two hours a year :-) ? I will not go back to the above home unless we are desperate to pay our bills.
You may be confused that the tuner lets you and your dear brats talk, even rather loudly, but he demands the merest music to be turned off. The human talking voice is not at all musical, and interferes very little with the tuning. But the lowest humming is a conflicting tone, and will make tuning impossible. I have a terrible time with happy little kids who hum along while I'm tuning. I hate to stop them if they are happy and otherwise being good, but it has to be stopped, especially in the higher notes.
While the tuner is at work, beware of mowing the lawn, tuning the Ford, whistling along to help the tuner find the note, humming, running any motor driven device that makes 60 cycle hum (pull the plug on the refrigerator), doing the laundry, and, of course, don't play music on the radio.
If you have a teen ager you have used as an experiment in positive milque-toast Infirmative Action discipline-- one who makes everyone around him miserable by doing his own thing on the stereo, don't call a piano tuner. Sell your piano, and buy a Kamakazi key board.
6. Adjusting the Action
Later, in the trouble shooting area, I will tell you how you can do some of the easier adjustments on your own piano. However; a piano needs a professional adjustment every few years, so either study Regulating Technique, or plan to have your piano regulated (adjusted) from time to time. Like a tune-up on your car, the piano can keep making music without a professional adjustment, but, like your car, the result can be very frustrating along the way. If you wait until the hammers are hitting twice per blow, you are waiting too long.
Many tuners don't like to adjust actions. I heard recently of a tuner in Tucson who refuses to adjust actions. He tells the customer to call another tuner or technician to adjust the action. This is weird indeed. The real reason is often bucks. If a tuner books customers close, then tunes and runs, he will make more money than if he stops to make adjustments, even if he charges for them.
A thorough adjustment is a somewhat major event. On an old upright it can be done during the tuning. If your tuner does this, don't think he has cheated you if he adds something to the bill for the adjustment. It may look like the adjustment was part of the tuning. IT WAS NOT.
A spinet takes more time to adjust because the action is down in a hole, and it is easier to break parts while adjusting. Think about that before you buy a spinet.
The worst piano to adjust is a grand piano. I have heard of tuners charging as high as $500 to adjust a grand action. That, of course, is more robbery than adjustment, but, you need to do it, so start saving up. Also, think about that when you get to craving a grand piano. Some tuners adjust actions free with a regular tuning-- "EXCEPT grands."
Why is a grand action more trouble? To adjust that action the tuner has to drag it out of the piano, make adjustments, then shove it back and test it. This can happen many times in one session, and the grand action is quite easy to damage. Don't stand and look over the tuner's shoulder if he is removing your grand action. Also, don't jump in and try to help him. Go bake some cookies for him, OK?
Try to get the last tuning of the day so that the tuner is not pushed to get to another customer. Be ready to serve a nice meal so that he gets to like you and your piano. You might even invite his wife along for the evening. Most tuners are social beings, and they like friendly people. Even if it takes some bucks to get a good job, at least you will know he took the time to get it right.
Again, later in this book I tell you how to do some basic adjusting which will definitely hold you over until the next tuning.
Here are some clues your piano needs adjusting:
First symptom, hammers are hitting twice. This is caused by wear in the action. Correction may include replacing some parts-- that will cost some money. Ask the tuner to tell you as he goes along if that is happening. If he says you need new bridle straps or buck skins, have him do it. If you want to install them yourself using this book, be kind enough to just decline without telling him you will do it later. Write or send E-Mail to order the parts from my Online Catalogue, and see Chapter Seven for guidelines.
If the tuner wants to buff (voice) the hammers, beware. This can be a make-work item. Only agree to buffing the hammers if you can see that they are deeply grooved on the fronts. Then it SHOULD be done. It helps to have a tuner with a reputation for professional honesty. You can do this hammer buffing yourself also as directed in 29. Voicing Hammers.
Second symptom, you need your piano regulated if your keys don't feel like they are going down very much when you play. Again, parts are worn out, or, in an old piano, mice and moths may have gotten into the key bed area and eaten some felts. In the latter case, the keys may drop too much, and the hammers act like they are sticking to the wires when you play. Do not put off correction, and ask the tuner to spray for moths. Have a can of "RAID" insect spray on hand. You can level the keys yourself with a minimum of materials and instructions online here in Key Leveling.
Third symptom, in a grand piano, hammers will act up spoiling the touch and movement. Dampers may hang up letting notes "ring on" instead of stopping when you let off the key. This can happen in uprights also.
Fourth symptom, pedals may be loose or out of adjustment. The sticks may have fallen out, and the sustain may not work. A tuner will often adjust pedals quickly and free if you have already asked him to tune the piano also, but if the pedals are loose, and the screws stripped out, he will want labor payment, and he deserves it.
Fifth symptom, some of the keys stick and won't come up right. This is usually not called an adjustment problem, but to you it all seems the same. Make a note which keys are acting up or sticking when they are doing it. Very often the tuner comes on a dry day, and they all work just fine. Don't expect him to divine which ones need loosening. This correction will cost you a few dollars.
Sixth symptom, one or more keys are down, won't play, or they just stay down. You have major damage to the key levers. I will tell you how to repair it later in Chapter Seven (In the neighborhood of 37. Key Repair and Replacement). If you or a family member are not mechanically clever, call the tuner to make the repair. Please tell him ahead of time what to expect so he can bring his bag of tricks. Don't call me to ask about replacement keys-- there aren't any.
Some rare folks take the attitude that, once they get a regular tuner, it is his fault if something goes wrong after he worked on the piano. If you had your car engine replaced, and the day after you took delivery, the tail light fell out, you would realize that the light problem was not your mechanic's fault. The same applies to pianos. Do not be unreasonable. I realize that pianos are mysterious, but if you are unfair when problems arise in the piano, your tuner will drop you as a customer. I never went back to customers who tried to blame me for things I didn't do. I always figure it was not long before they would sue me, and there are too many sweet people in Nogales, Arizona, with plenty of money and a nice attitude, so that I don't have to run to chiselers to get me a living.
7. "Honey, let's move the Piano."
Moving a piano across the room is not so difficult. But moving it across town is another story. However, with a few blunders, moving it to another room can also result in damage to the piano, the house, the movers, and the cat. So, here are some guidelines:
Moving an upright piano:
When moving an upright, remember that 80% of the weight of the thing is in the back 8 inches of it. If you tip it backwards and lose control of it, it will go down instantly. Make sure two husky men have one hand around back firmly grabbing the handle provided in the frame, and be sure they have their shoulder into the piano for control. NEVER roll an upright of any size front, or back, moving forward. Read that again please.
Many well stocked rental places have piano dollies. It is pretty risky to use one of those four caster dollies that is only about 18 inches square. I recommend the two dolly system which straps to the two ends of the piano. The pros use a monster which you will not likely be able to rent or find.
Never move an old upright up or down stairs without someone supervising who is experienced at moving large objects. If you lose control, it can easily turn turtle, or turn run-away, and someone WILL get hurt. The piano can actually end up going through the wall and out onto the lawn. I heard of that happening once. Of course, that would make a spectacular entrance for a concert on the lawn.
Have two people hold a piece of carpet around each doorway frame right at the height of the keyboard as you go through. This will prevent scratches to the piano and door jam. Never try to set an upright up on its end. It is very dangerous. Also, consider using two pieces of plywood to roll it on, alternating and lapping the plywood as you roll it along. We sell a trolley which you can use to cross lawns and gravel driveways.
When moving an upright across town, rent a U-Haul trailer with sides high enough to hold the piano tight. Brace it well inside with tires and blankets. Avoid moving an upright with a pick up truck. There are many sad stories about uprights that flipped out of a truck when they hit the bump at 5th and Main.
Also, beware of rolling an old upright with metal wheels across tile and floor covering. It can score the floor for ever, so use the two pieces of plywood mentioned earlier. Or, replace the old iron wheels with double truck rubber casters, AND read How to Install Casters in the Table of Contents. Lap the plywood each time you lay a piece down so that the piano rolls off of one sheet onto the next.
If you are using the old upright casters for a short move, lay down on the floor, and squirt some WD-40 into the casters to be sure they move freely. If they are cocked at an angle, beware-- they may be bent and will not trail correctly-- They will cut the carpet most likely.
The upright has a skid board on the bottom. If you want to, you can slide it over door ledges on the skid board, but DO NOT tip it off of the vertical, side to side. Many uprights get broken pedals at this point since they can catch and break easily. You might want to open the bottom and remove the pedals if you are worried about it, but that's quite a job.
Oh, by the way, don't forget to load the bench in, OK? Many a sad soul has moved to Dubuque, only to learn that they left the piano bench back in Kalamazoo.
A Grand Movement:
To move a grand, please rent a piano skid to control the piano. We sell them in our Online Catalog also, along with other moving materials. The very first thing to do is remove the lyre or pedestal which holds the pedals. Also, remove the desk, and if the key cover lifts out, as some grands do, tip it at 45 degrees and lift it out toward you. Remove the top cover by tapping out the hinge pins, and secure down the lid prop, or remove it. Please don't lose any of the bits and pieces. Wrap the wood parts in quilted material and tape the bundles tight. We sell Leg Covers in our Online Catalog.
Next, you need to take off the legs, sometimes called the grand hokey pokey. Facing the grand, and with your two friends holding the left corner, and promising them a pizza if they don't drop it on you, take the left leg off. After removing the screws, or the wedges, or tapping the swivel out of the way, the leg may have to slide about one inch sideways to free it from the plate holding it into the piano. Tap it with something that will not mar it. Tighten the screws in the plate in the piano box and in the top of the leg while you have this rare opportunity.
After the left leg is off, lower the left corner of the piano to the floor with a moving pad under it. You can set the corner right onto the skid with care. Next, remove the the leg at the far end, NOT the right hand leg. After you lay the end down on the floor, you can tip it on over on its side-- preferably on the skid you rented.
Take off the third leg last, wrap the legs in plenty of padding, and strap the piano criss-crossed to the skid with the web straps provided. It is then up to you and your friends to try to get it into the pick up truck or onto the donkey-- whatever you like, and across town.
If this seems too risky to you, call the professional movers. In New York City there is a crew of black gentlemen who can move a dozen pianos a day and never scratch one. They are quite famous. Watching these guys work makes it look easy, but don't let looks deceive you. If you have to go up to the third floor, the 40th floor, or up the canyon in Bisbee, Arizona, don't try to do it yourself.
But, many people have moved their own piano in easier situations without harm to it or them. The worst risk in moving a heavy piano is injury to the movers if they are amateurs. Take your time, and talk out each maneuver before it happens, and you should be all right. Brute force with no planning and communication is deadly with this amount of weight.
We sell a skid with wheels at the lower end, a unique invention by our supplier, and we offer an adjustable skid on four wheels, which is, again, unique anywhere in the world. CHECK IT OUT
Moving a spinet:
As mentioned elsewhere, when moving spinets, don't roll them on their own casters. Use a piano dolly-- the 18 inch square one is acceptable. See our steel four wheel dolly. The front legs, which hang down in space on a spinet, are often broken off, leaving the piano cocked forward. It is very hard to play a two part invention on the bias. Also, it is almost impossible to put spinet legs back on like new, so please don't cheat on this one. Remove them if they will come off.
The hardest think on the tuning of a piano is when you roll it across those metal strips on the floor between carpet and floor covering. That quarter inch dead fall is murder on the tuning. It won't do any permanent harm, but it sure gives me job security.
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8. Know Thy Tuner
How do you know you have a good tuner? Ask for references. The fact that a tuner is in The Piano Tuner's Guild is no assurance that he is a good tuner. Once a tuner has passed the exam to be in the Guild, he may never in his life be policed or re-tested. As he gets on in years he may become careless or lose his ear. No one checks. Only his customers can tell you. I have cleaned up many a piano tuning after a Guild member was there. In all fairness, it should be said that a tuner has to have some degree of competency to get into the Guild, so it has to be worth something.
Call piano teachers in your area, and ask if any of them use the tuner. If your tuner is new in the area, piano teachers may not know him yet, so be fair and take that into consideration. Churches and school music staff may also know him. Don't only ask about tuning-- ask if he takes the time to do repairs and adjust actions. And, ask if he smokes big black cigars, or does he have some other obnoxious habit, like getting fresh with the ladies or cussing all the time?
If a tuner tunes for his primary living he will be more attentive to your needs. Part time or side-line tuners will not keep records of your piano's needs, and they will not call back every year to remind you to tune. Do you crave a tuner who is very sophisticated and tunes for concert halls and universities? You don't need to pay their lush prices to get a good tuner. The lesser known fellows are often very good tuners.
Beware of Speedy:
If a tuner is in and out in 30 minutes and off to the golf course, he is not tuning your piano. He is getting rid of the twangs, and he may clean up the octaves, but he did NOT set the temperament, and he probably tuned the treble high and the base low to cover his sins. This is getting more and more common these days, and Piano Tuning Guild members are the worst at it. It is a form of snobbery that says, "Hey dummy, you're not very sophisticated at music-- You don't deserve my high class skills." Caveat emptor.
A tuner who has a good record of tuning accuracy, but who is a perfect jerk, is just that. No one earns the right to be a pest just because he is good at his work. If he smokes big black cigars, and won't quit it in your house, run him off. When I first started tuning I was s-l-o-w friend, but I cleaned up on two tuners in my area because, in one case I didn't smoke Dutch Masters, and in the other I didn't look like a fugitive from a Halloween party. Ironically, they were both better tuners than I.
Once you find a good tuner, stick with him unless he really lets you down. Don't turn against him if he blunders once. If he takes care of his mistakes, that alone is getting to be rare.
Plan plenty of time for the tuner to finish before a dinner party or gathering.
Tunings vary in length, and wires can break unexpectedly. By the way, when a wire breaks it is almost never the tuner's fault. DO NOT get all fussy about this and accuse him. You will never see him again.
Tuning Fork or Meter?
If your tuner uses a tuning fork that is fine, but it is not more noble than using an electronic meter. In fact, contrary to whatever legend you may have heard, a meter tuning is just as accurate as a tuning fork, and it can take a lot less time. If you don't know what you are talking about, and I say this charitably, SHUT UP. The tuner will only lose respect for you. Ultimately, the quality of any tuning is finally determined by how well the tuner uses the tuner God gave him-- his hearing skills, his brain, and his reasoning powers.
I admonished you earlier not to treat your tuner like common labor. Let me stress that again. Traditionally, piano tuners are often the mascots of great musicians. Horowitz would not perform without Franz Mour present. He really loved Franz, and he would invite him to parties. Though Franz was a Christian and Horowitz was a Jew, Horowitz would ask Franz to pray just to hear Franz's tender heart and love for the Lord. Your tuner can become a very close and special part of your life.
Tuners tend to be more contemplative than many people, and they glean all sorts of valuable information as they go from customer to customer. You may learn a lot about bargains and treasures in your own community from your tuner, after all, he is getting into hundreds of homes and hearing the gossip.
Some tuners are rather impersonal. A few are sort of savants with a touch of the lunatic. If that doesn't interfere with the tuning, help yourself. However; I know of one lady tuner who may get half way through a tuning, get mad at the piano, and walk off. Maybe that is why 99% of all tuners are men. It is one job where you cannot let emotions rule.
9. Checking the Tuning:
Check the tuning before the tuner leaves.
While he is writing out a bill, sit down and play something. A good tuner will actually appreciate this. If he has missed something, he will be glad to get it right for you before he leaves so that he doesn't have to come back. Two thirds of the tuners don't play the piano fluently, and they may really like to hear music to see if they like the tuning job themselves.
I had a lady in Michigan who played swing songs in every key for about 20 minutes before she would let me go. It was by this pickiness that I learned that she needed to hear the bass fully 20 cents (a tuning measurement) below normal. My patience was rewarded because she said that I was the first tuner to please her.
AFTER the tuner leaves, if you are very picky, here is how to check him out more carefully.
The easiest thing to check are the "unisons." This is the name given the two or three wire notes. When you hit one of these notes there should be no beats-- waaooo waaoo waaoo. Such beats result when the tuner gets one of the wires slightly out with the others in the same note. (Each wire in a note should be vibrating at exactly the same frequency of beats per second.)
In the last notes in the treble, there are over 1000 beats per second, and getting all three wires per note to beat in "unison" is a bear of a task. That is why your tuner may labor long over the treble.
Now, if you hear a very slow beat somewhere, I suggest you forget it. Those listening to you play the piano later will seldom hear this, and it might be asking too much for the tuner to come around to correct it. If you hear these beats in several individual keys, ask him to come back and touch it up.
There is one thing you must understand about beats. Some wires, and some octaves, will set up "false beats" or "inharmonisity." This is a high pitched beat caused by a deteriorating wire or by a poor design at the factory. It may be between two wires, or it may be in a single wire bass notes. Your tuner usually cannot get rid of this. If you cannot distinguish this from a tuning beat, make a note of what you heard, and ask the tuner to explain it to you next time he comes. You MUST NOT call a tuner back to fiddle with "inharmonisity." It is not fair, and he will probably drop you as a customer.
The next thing you can check are the octaves. They should be clear with no beats through the whole piano until you get to about the top third of the treble section. If you hear a slow beat here or there, forget it. If there are several octaves with beats that are pretty fast, call the tuner back to correct it.
Again, octaves or chords can set up "inharmonisity" of a high pitched nature sometimes called "high partials." Don't try to figure this out. This is one of the "imperfections" that make pianos genuine and acoustically authentic.
Do not delay checking the tuning. If you wait even a week to do this, whatever imperfections you hear could easily be caused by weather changes or by your playing the piano. It is rude and cheating on the tuner to expect him to come back then to take responsibility for these things as if he blundered. I don't care if you are a first rate musician-- you do not have the right to play tricks like this on your tuner. Be ready to pay for such a visit.
The last checking is the toughest because you have to count beats. You can check the temperament (the foundational octave) by checking "thirds." If you cannot hear these beats it is not because the tuner stole them and took them home in his grip. It is because you cannot distinguish what is there. Just forget it. However; since "thirds" are the easiest to hear, here goes:
1. First, check the octave over middle "C" from "F" to "F". Is it clear and beatless? Yes? Good.
2. Now, start with the lowest "F" in that octave and hit it with "A" above it (called a "Third"). Is there a beat? There should be-- at the rate of about 6 beats per second.
3. Now, go up the octave hitting the progression of thirds all the way up. I.E.-- F with A; F# with A#; G with B; G# with C, and so on until you reach the top "F". The beats should start at about 6 per second with the bottom "third" and progress evenly, speeding up, until in the last third in the octave you are hearing about 11 to 13 beats per second.
If one of the "thirds" is slower or faster than it should be in the progression, but it is not severe, forget it. But, if there is no progression at all, and the beats are all over the place, it sounds like you do not have a piano tuner. There is still a possibility that something drastic happened which messed up a good tuning. But if you check right after the tuner goes out the door-- well, what can I say?
At that point don't call that tuner back. He cannot (or refuses to) tune right. What use will be served by letting him tinker with it again? Experience can be a rough teacher at times. Do go shopping for another tuner though.
If you cannot hear any beats at all, again, the tuner did not throw them away-- they are there, right or wrong. So if you cannot hear beats, kindly mind your own business and rejoice. You must assume that the tuner got it right.
If this section of this book is too complicated for you, fear not, life will still be worth living without this deeply crucial information. Give it to your friend to read and see if he can figure it out. If not, I love you anyway.
Let's test the treble pragmatically. I want you to play "F' below middle "C" with "F" in the treble area, third octave from the top. Does this sound sweet to you. If so, play on up the scale like that with the left and right hand progressively, same note in each hand. Just listen. If the treble starts to sound like it is wimping out and going flat, it probably is. If it stays clear and sweet all the way to top "C", you better keep that tuner my friend!
There is a trade secret we tuners have. We tune the treble slightly sharp. It is called "stretching the treble." This is because perfect octaves in the treble sound flat to the human ear, so we raise it a bit, and we never tell you about it because it sounds crazy. This is absolutely missing in these whizz bang electronic pianos. Until they deal with this, they are musically illegitimate.
Try the above progression again tomorrow morning. If the treble still sounds flat, ask the tuner to drop by and stretch it higher for you. It could be that your ear demands higher treble. It could be that the tuner blew it. You may never know, but remind him about it next year when he re-tunes so he can tune to your ear. Any tuner who refuses to tune to your ear, rather than the music community's notions, is a boor. Run him off.
Regarding the bass, only a real klutz would miss the bass, but if by chance you hit two notes side by side, and they are both exactly the same, don't panic. Either a pin slipped, or the tuner just missed it. Ask him to drop by and correct it.
Don't be too hard on your tuner. The unforgivable sin of a tuner is not that he should err, rather; it is to refuse to correct his mistakes. Perfection is the objective in every tuning by every good tuner, whether the concert hall or the kindergarten classroom. But, it would be absurd to say that even the world's best tuner can tune forever without blundering. If you call him, or worse, his wife, and cuss him out real good, he will probably return your money and never go near your piano again. Is that what you really want? I have had some of this "In your face" treatment from culturally deformed slobs. I just decline going to them again.
I once tuned a piano, checked my work, concluded it was a great tuning, closed up the cabinet, and went home. The owner called me later and told me I had wrecked his piano. Well, I raced over there, and it did sound terrible. I had forgotten to put the practice mute back right, and after I left it fell down in front of the hammers and muffled it so bad it was almost dead. All was well in three minutes, and the owner felt a bit absurd for accusing me. I felt sorry for him-- it did sound terrible, and it frightened him bad. We are good friends now.
Does your music teacher's piano sound better than yours after you get yours tuned?
Don't be too quick to blame the piano tuner. It may be because your piano has deteriorated or was defective from the beginning. The tuner will not tell you your piano is cheap and tinny, so be careful.
We Americans are prone to think anything we own is the greatest because it is the one we chose. Ask any Edsel owner. He thinks, "It was ahead of its time." I've got news for you-- the Edsel was a piece of junk. If the battery went dead, you couldn't even take it out of gear to tow it-- again, it was a piece of junk! You may have bought an Edsel type piano. Don't blame the tuner if he cannot bring it around to sound like a Steinway.
Having said that, if your recent Steinway sounds worse than your church's klunky little Laughead, well try another tuner next year. It may very well be that your tuner is a fraud.
10. Free Words of Wisdom Department
Many people include their piano tuner in their close circle of friends. They may take him into their confidence in a way that they never would with the plumber. I have had many times of closeness that almost shocked me as people asked me for advice in family problems. A good tuner will never pass these confidences on. I personally like to pray with customers who are suffering some sorrow or heartache, and it has been a real blessing to them and to me in The Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, if your tuner shows signs of a depraved life, or if he gets fresh with the ladies, well, caveat emptor, right?
Most tuners warm up to the personal touch, and the result is little favors to you here and there along the way. As I noted previously, if you have this world's wealth in a goodly portion, and you maintain a snobbish attitude toward everyone who works in or around your home, be prepared to shell out big bucks for everything your tuner does. You have kind of broken an unspoken code in music circles.
Also, snubbing a tuner may make him feel he is under pressure. He will not do his best work. So you're rich? So what? Behave yourself, OK? See what I mean? We're an independent lot aren't we? :-) I suggest, regarding your next tuning session, and in the words of the Jews on the Lower East Side of New York City, "Enjoy".
Oh yes, and park the BMW in the garage please instead of in the driveway. The price could be a bit lower :-)
Well, this book is getting steadily more technoid, right? From here on, it gets more mechanical and sounds like a repair manual. I shall try to keep it slightly nutty and simple. Like I said earlier in the book, "If you can get this into your head, you've got it in a nut shell." Shall we pro-seed?
On to Chapter Five
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