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Member of the Piano Tuners Association

Piano Toning and Voicing

 


The fundamental characteristics of a piano’s tone are defined by the design and construction of the ‘strung back’ – the frame, soundboard, bridges and strings. In the past, makers took great pride in refining their own unique sound. The mellow gentleness of a Bluthner contrasted with the rich woodiness of a Bechstein, the warmth and clarity of a Bosendorfer with the power and ring of a Steinway. Sadly, much of this individuality has been sacrificed by modern makers in pursuit of power and brilliance.

Within the parameters of these basic tonal characteristics however, the skilled technician can make significant changes to the tone of the instrument by working on the alignment, shape and hardness of the hammer felt. By aligning the heads, and by shaping and needling, the technician can manipulate the compression and tension of the felt so as to increase the dynamic range, and to make the sound more ‘bright’ or ‘mellow’ , ‘hard’ or ‘warm’.

The repeated striking of the hammer head against the strings not only causes the felt to compress and harden, but also gradually wears the top of the hammer flat. This makes the sound hard, and narrows both the dynamic range and the spectrum of tone colour. Eventually it becomes necessary to reshape the hammers so as to restore the correct profile; once the heads have been painstakingly faced to the strings (to ensure that all three strings are struck simultaneously), the felt can be needled to achieve the desired tone quality. Before this process is carried out it is essential that regulation and tuning are perfect.

The possibility of causing irreversible damage to the hammers is ever present in this process, so it should only ever be undertaken by a highly experienced technician. During my years working as a concert technician for Bosendorfer I not only maintained their fleet of concert instruments, but toned and voiced many customers' instruments in all types of environments and acoustics. Since then I have worked with great success on all the other major makes including Steinway, Fazioli, Bechstein, Bluthner, Grotrian Steinweg, Yamaha, Ibach etc
 
17/12/2018
 
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