At present, the old time piano tuner/craftsman is fairly rare. He was the family tuner who cleaned, tuned, regulated and voiced the family instrument for years. The father/son relationship in piano tuning has almost ceased to exist, although everal fine examples of sons following in dad’s footsteps are still evident in Sydney. With an increasing number of pianos being bought and sold, a worldwide shortage of new tuners exists. Where are our replacement piano tuners coming from?
The Yamaha people, through Sydney Conservatorium, have established a Piano Tuning School. Each year, applicants are auditioned and screened till only the finest ears are selected. This year, only five were selected for training from many applicants. Each year tuners from this school graduate and go to their various States to carry on a very respectable and select craft. Standards are very high and the future looks much brighter.
TUNING BY MACHINE OR EAR
The machine tuning ie. Stroboscope is as good as its operator. Nothing can or will replace the human ear. No tuner from the tuning school in Sydney is given his certificate, if he cannot tune aurally. If a machine tuning is one beat out on one string, its operator usually cannot hear or correct this. You must realize that there are over 200 strings. Fine tunings can and must be done by ear, even though arguments from men using only machines will come forth. A machine does not make tradesmen. The tuner using this method frequently cannot set the tuning pins to stabilize for the months ahead.
The most important factor governing an even touch is a good piano regulating. The skill is often today overlooked when a piano is being tuned, mainly because of pressure of work, as regulating a piano is time consuming. Ask your tuner his costs and advice on regulating your piano.
Needling a piano’s hammers is a skill which requires a skilful ear. Pianos become harsh in tone quality over a period of playing. Some folk like harsh sounding pianos, however they originally were not designed for that. Piano (weak) Forte (strong), is the name of this instrument, not a Forte. The idea of needling or voicing the hammers, is to bring back some elasticity into the shoulders of the hammer felt. This then brings warmth back to the tone quality of the instrument.
There are many new pianos to select from (all now imported). However, if you want quality control in a new piano, you must pay for it. Cheaper pianos from developing nations can be obtained, but don’t expect quality in most cases. Many famous brands disappeared after the second world war and some brand names have been pounced upon by developing nations such as Korea, Phillipines and China. Your dealer will tell you, if asked, where the piano has been made. However, all reputable dealers stand by their sales. The piano and organ business is a clean profession and reputable dealers wish to keep it that way.
I hope that I have made the used piano buyer more aware of the pitfalls of an advertisment like that. Remember, your child’s musical future depends on it. If you think the piano suits your child, have it inspected. If O.K., have it tuned and regulated and enjoy your child’s first step with the aid of a qualified and/or accredited teacher.
First published in Keyboard World magazine, February 1981.