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MMD > Archives > March 2002 > 2002.03.28 > 07Prev  Next

Stringing a Piano
By Craig Brougher

D.L. Bullock gave us the worst case scenario of what could happen when
stringing a piano in a customer's home.  The times I have done this
they needed only bass strings, but I've repaired the bass bridges at
the same time, and replaced the pins and bushings.  It's always been
just fine.

The point is, before you try it first, inspect it thoroughly first from
the back and the front, and see if it's possible to do a complete job
that you can then guarantee.  Don't start something that you can't
finish.  That would include the condition of the soundboard.  Moving
a piano is expensive.  I try to oblige the customer if I can.

As far as refinishing is concerned, none of that is necessary.  It's
all cosmetic.  And as far as tuning it six more times in the next month,
I frankly have never figured out why piano tuners who also do rebuilding
and restringing work need to make all those extra tunings.  I chip up
my strings just once after I have strung the entire piano and put them
all "in the cracks."  That means about 20 cents sharp.  Then I tune it
down (in general) to A=440Hz +5 cents, and quite often one tuning would
suffice.  It stays there when you raise the string a few cents above
pitch and then pound the key while coaxing the tension down with the
lever.  This is the best way to set a string.  Too many tuners tune
like a store tuner does it.  No piano is going to stay in tune for long
that way.

No one taught me how to string a piano.  I looked the situation over
in 1967 and saw what I would need to do it, and where the parts of the
string were that were going to be unstable, so I made sure that each
segment of string in the line was smooth and straight.  I also bring
each string up above pitch as I string.  I don't use a "roller" or any
kind of gizmo, as this slows me down.

The old idea that "strings need to stretch first", and that it takes
them a long time to get set before they will stabilize, is pure
nonsense.  There is a property of music wire called elasticity and it
is a constant (any physicist out there will back me up on this).
Engineers call it "Young's Modulus," and all it means is that within
certain limits of tension, the elastic constant remains the same.  Good
thing, too, because once the elastic constant is exceeded, the string
begins to extrude, and at that point it will snap.  Those are textbook
principles.  Anybody who tells you otherwise doesn't know what he's
talking about.

The point is this: As long as the strings still maintain their
elasticity, the piano remains tuned.  It's not the other way around!
All you tuners out there who think this is a "given" for all pianos,
don't blame the piano wire for the six to ten more tunings it will need
in the first month.  Blame yourselves, and learn something.

So I'd like to know what so many rebuilders and especially tuners are
doing wrong, that require so many tunings to allow their stringing job
to finally stabilize.  I've heard this story for the last 40 years, and
everybody swears that I cannot possibly string either a section of a
piano or the entire piano and tune it once and that's it!  I've heard
that it's the pins, or it's the new (or old) plank, or it's the
soundboard that takes at least a month to settle after being
retensioned, etc. etc.

All we have to ask is, "How many times do piano manufacturers figure on
tuning a new piano that really does settle down as its new joints are
being compressed and its new soundboard wood, sides, bedding, and
bridges receive tension for the first time in its existence and the
bridges have to dent?"

Now to be perfectly in tune and also stable, my rebuilt pianos usually
require a second "minor touch-up tune" to put them smack on, but that's
a week after they've been played as hard as they will ever be played in
their lives in any given week.  I voice the hammers on that first
tuning.  That's how stable it is.  After that, I have gone to those
homes to either look at another instrument or fix something on that
one, and will always ask when they last tuned their piano.  That's how
I know what my pianos do on one or two shop tunings.

There's a lot of "old wives' tales" in regard to pianos.  My favorite
is the one Dr. Hickman told about the piano tech who corrected him
about ever using an electric drill on a piano.  He was told, "Always
use a 'hurdy-gurdy' drill.  Electric drills will ruin the tone."

 [ A visitor at the Boesendorfer factory in the 1980s asked,
 [ "Wouldn't an electric drill be faster?"  He got the same reply
 [ that Dr. Hickman received in the 1920s!  ;-)  -- Robbie

Almost four decades and hundreds of pianos later, I have never, one
time, had a piano I had to tune more than once to reach stability so
I'm pretty sure of myself on this question.  But I really would like
to see someone else string a piano sometime and see what they are doing
(or omitting) that requires ten more tunings.

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Thu 28 Mar 2002, 16:28:01 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Piano, Stringing

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