Tim Elwell Piano Tuning


Factors which affect the tone of a piano are as follows: (a) The hammers, (b) The size and construction, and condition of the soundboard, (c) The strings. Of these three factors, the hammers and the strings are the easiest to change should your piano not be sounding as you’d like.

(A) Hammers

In the case of the hammers, the hardness or softness of the hammer felts can have a significant effect. Hammers which are too hard give a harsh, ‘tinny’ sound, hammers which are too soft can give the piano a woolly, lifeless tone. The ‘Goldilocks’ tone – with a reasonable or good dynamic range – can be obtained when the hammer felts are neither too hard nor too soft.

The hammer profile has to be correct – badly worn hammers will never allow the piano to ‘sing’ as it should. The renewal of hammers, or the re-shaping and voicing of existing hammers, can make for a dramatic and very enhancing improvement to the tone of any given piano.

Even new hammers may not bring out the best in an instrument unless they are voiced.

Hammer voicing (or toning as some call it) is a process whereby the technician uses needles secured to a special handle (a voicing tool) pricks the hammers felts deeply in some places and shallowly in others. This is a long a skilled procedure, but can transform a piano from having a harsh, inflexible and ‘one-dimensional’ tone, into an instrument with a tone which is subtle, complex and enchanting.

(B) Stringing)

Even the best piano will not sound good when the strings need to be replaced. All pianos have strings which in the treble section are made from polished steel, and in the bass section the strings have a steel core and are wound with copper. In the treble there are 3 (plain) strings per note, in the upper bass two (or sometimes 3) copper wound strings per note, mid-bass has 2 wound strings per note and lower bass only one wound string per note.

If treble strings suffer from oxidisation or rust (due to having been kept in cold damp conditions for prolonged periods – usually for years at a time) this adversely affects the tone, as well as greatly increasing the risk of string breakages during tuning.

Older bass strings can sound dull and lifeless where the copper coils have become ‘clogged up’ with dirt and detritus.

Where the tone is poor due to poor string quality, the only proper recourse is to re-string the piano. Sometimes only the bass strings need replacing, sometimes only the treble strings, and sometimes only a section of bass and/or treble strings require replacement.

The improvement in tone after re-stringing is usually most marked in the bass section

(C) The Soundboard

The soundboard of any piano is convex. As pianos get older, the amount of convexity can diminish, due to the downward pressure of the strings over the bridges upon the soundboard. Some older pianos (for example pianos made around 80 or 100 years ago, or more) can sound lifeless, even after having been restrung and with new top hammers.

The original ‘sparkle’ of the tone can all but disappear. The solution to this is to take out the old soundboard and replace with a new one. However, this is very expensive and therefore not usually cost-effective unless looking at higher quality instruments such as Bechstein, Stienway, Bluthner, Bosendorfer, Grotrian Stienweg, etc.