GRAND REGULATION – Regulation where the piano is – part IX

Whenever the subject of grand action regulating comes up, the thoughts always turn to benches, key levelers, and let-off racks. As others gloat about how they designed their own bench tops to try to duplicate the piano’s keybed, I usually wander off shaking my head asking myself, why so much bother when they could just use the piano itself? I agree that many of the procedures in the 50-point checklist must be done in the shop. These include such repairs as rebushing keys, refelting the keyframe, replacing keytops, etc.

However, many of the steps that may be done in the shop can also be done at the piano, or at least in the customer’s home. These would include such things as reshaping hammers, repairing action centres, polishing capstans, cleaning knuckles, etc. If the piano is not already in the shop for rebuilding, I much prefer to work right in the customer’s home. I have no need for an elaborate bench top, let-off racks, or Jarvas type key levelers! As a bench, I use the keybed of the piano, or if need be, my lap or the piano’s lid (padded of course with a moving pad). Instead of a let-off rack, I use the strings themselves (far easier and more accurate). In place of a key leveler I use a small straightedge about 15” long which I carry in my case.
Also in my case is a good supply of punchings and other repair items so that I can arrive at a home to tune the piano, and end up staying there all day, reshaping hammers, doing action repairs, and a complete action regulation. I don’t work out of a large van either. In fact, many days I work out of a motorcycle! With experience I know what to bring to be prepared for the day’s troubles. In most cases, the customer would rather that I work on the piano in her home. She can watch what I am doing, the piano is not out of commission any longer than need be, and if any unexpected repairs crop up, l can consult with the owner while at the piano. It is certainly easier on me since I often work many miles from home, and it is awfully hard to carry a grand action home on my motorcycle.
These reasons for working at the piano are secondary. Of real importance is the reduced time to complete the work (which means more money) and greater accuracy. Let us make a comparison of two equally fast working technicians, one who regulates at the piano, the other who carts the action back to the shop. Let’s pick a ten-year-old piano which has had normal usage. All that is needed are the usual minor adjustments to the action as a result of a little wear and settling in of the action parts, reshaping and voicing of the hammers, and tuning.
The first technician, who regulates at the piano, immediately proceeds to reshape the hammers. This can be done by turning the action around in the piano with the hammers facing the technician, or else putting the action on top of the piano. He then takes apart the action, removes the keys, reinstalls the action without the keys, and cleans everything prepatory to bedding the keyframe. After bedding he aligns all of the action parts, using thestrings ofthe piano as his guide. Next, he regulates the action mechanism in the piano, and lastly tunes and voices it. Approximate time: one working day.
The second technician, who is going to regulate the action at his shop, takes the essential measurements of key height, string height, and touch depth. He then carts the action out to his vehicle (trying not to hit anything on the way out and hoping not to drop the action while opening the doors). After the long drive home he carts the action into his shop, clears off a working area on his bench, gets out his letoff rack and key leveler and begins to work. Approximate delay time: 1/2 hour plus the driving time! Another 1/4 hour is spent trying to shim the action so that the key heights and key dip measurements he took in the piano are duplicated on the bench.
This technician also begins by reshaping the hammers (a good place to begin). However, he cannot bed the keyframe as he is not at the piano. Hopefully the keyframe was already bedded correctly as he must now set the key level, adjust the blow, let-off, dip, etc. When this second technician realizes that the hammers and whippens are not aligned, it is too late, as he has already filed the hammers and removed all traces of the string grooves. With nothing to do any aligning with, he completes the regulation process as well as he can. When the action is returned to the piano, he will bed the keyframe and do any aligning there.
He now returns the action to the home. Upon checking the bedding, he finds that the piano was never properly bedded at the factory (the studs were too far down, making the action rock). Upon correcting the bedding of the keyframe he checks the key level. Not only is it off, but the dip is now shallow and the piano won’t even play! Two hours later after releveling the keys and resetting the dip, he checks the blow and letoff. The blow is now off since he had to relevel the keys, and the let-off is too far from the strings (he must have set the let-off rack a little too low).
By the time he has finished, he has had to reregulate the entire action, this time at the piano. Approximate total time spent, is twice as long as the first technician. Now, I realize this may be an extreme case. The second technician could have saved much of the duplication, if he had: 1) made sure that the keyframe was properly bedded to the keybed, 2) levelled the keys at the piano (a must), 3) set sample keys to the correct blow, let-off, drop, dip and back- check before removing the action to his shop, and 4) aligned the hammers to the strings while still in the home.
In taking these precautions, a technician can accurately regulate at the bench. Obviously though, more time must be spent in going back to the shop. Making sure that the keyframe is bedded to the keybed is not always a five-minute procedure. If the piano is like a Steinway where the glide studs are adjusted with a tuning hammer, one can grab hold of these studs and by lifting and tapping do a fairly good job at bedding. But what if the action is like one where the studs barely poke through the keyframe and are adjusted with a screwdriver? You must disassemble the entire action to properly bed this keyframe! If you have to go to that much trouble, why not stay at the home and finish everything there?
Next month we will finally begin Section IV, The Touch portion of the 50 -point checklist. As we talk through the various steps, I will be speaking from the viewpoint of doing everything at the piano, in the home. Even though you do not use this method, I am sure that some helpful hints can be gained.
I remember once asking one of the older, wiser technicians who attended every piano tuners guild meeting that he could, why did he continue to come so often, since he already knew so much? His response has stuck with me ever since: “I try to pick up on something that will help me in my jobs each day. I can usually learn at least one good idea. If not, then I can learn how not to do something so that I won’t have to learn the hard way!“
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