Blog

I love piano tilters

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on December 12, 2014 at 9:10 AM

I like any job that requires the use of a piano tilter.  In this case, a client's old Story and Clark Spinet needed a new sustain pedal, as the original one was accidentally broken in the move into their home.  In most vertical pianos, replacing a pedal means you have to take the bottom board off.  Since you can't exactly access the bottom of the piano while the piano is standing upright, you need to flip the upright on it's back.  Rather than just lay the piano flat on the ground, using a piano tilter gives you a safe and easy way to put the piano on it's back while keeping it raised at a comfortable working height.

Seeing their piano in this position never fails to elicit an "oh, wow!" from the client.  Once the piano is in this position, it's a lot easier to unscrew the bottom board (which in the picture is already on the floor). 


Once there, it's just a matter of unscrewing one of the blocks that holds the pedal in, removing the old pedal, putting in the new one and reattaching it to the trapwork (the long wooden rails you see on the bottom board), reattaching the bottom board, and then (carefully!) flipping the piano back up onto its feet and regulating the pedals so they're functioning properly.

  Easy, peasy!

An unexpected gift

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on July 27, 2014 at 11:15 AM

I arrived at a client's home to tune her piano, and her 6 year old daughter was extremely excited to have the piano tuned.  She looked on as I took off the case parts, and remarked with awe at how interesting the inside of the piano looked.  Once I got started tuning, she left me to my work, and was very careful to speak in a whisper if she needed to tell her mom something.  When I finish a tuning, I like to play a quick excerpt or two from a few pieces, both to check the tuning and as a little treat for the client.  When I finished my excerpt, the daughter came up to me, told me she wanted to give me a present, and handed me this:



It's a picture of a big heart playing the piano.  I usually don't get gifts for my tunings, but I was happy to accept this one!

Damn-pers!

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on March 11, 2014 at 12:40 PM

I received a call last week asking if I could come take a look at an old Chickering that needs tuning.  I asked when it had last been tuned, and the customer said "well, I had a tuner here a week and a half ago, and he said it was untunable."


Uh oh.


I arrived yesterday to find a lovely little Chickering Quarter Grand.  The piano has been in the family for decades, and was made in the same year the customer's grandmother was born, so it had quite a bit of sentimental value.  For its age it looked quite nice - it had been partially rebuilt roughly 15 years ago - restrung, new hammers, new keytops and new damper felt.  A closer look, however, revealed some serious issues.  The dampers were in pretty rough shape - though they had new felt, the felt was misaligned in places, and the dampers themselves were very uneven - in some sections they were hardly touching the strings at all, or were tilted so only the front or back half of the dampers were contacting the strings.  In addition, there were several unisons where the left string was crossing over the middle string on the counterbearing felt. 


So the previous tech was indeed correct - in its current state, the piano was untunable.  While trying to isolate one note, all the strings that were not damped properly would be vibrating sympathetically, muddying up the sonic picture, and the overlapping strings would cause issues with tuning stability - tuning one would cause the other string to move slightly, too.  But, not one to turn down a challenge, I decided to pull the action out to see what the underlever system (what the dampers connect to) looked like.


which usually means spending a lot of crouching and bending to access the necessary parts.  These dampers were no exception, either.  The underlever system was not the most technician friendly setup either, with the tiny set screws for adjusting key timing!  But thankfully, after a couple hours work, the dampers were all functioning properly again, and the overlapping strings were realigned, making this piano tunable again.


Every day is an adventure!

The philosophical joys of voicing

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on February 4, 2014 at 11:15 AM

Not too long ago I had the pleasure of servicing a new Mason & Hamlin piano - their glorious BB model - a 7' grand piano with a bright, clear sound and prodigious bass.  A brief picture from my vantage point while tuning:

The owner, a gifted pianist and teacher, loves the piano and its clarity, but found it a little too bright and uneven in the upper midrange and lower treble, and wanted that brightness tamed and evened out, without losing the clarity.  A brief note: though Mason & Hamlins are indeed beautifully crafted and supremely capable instruments, I must admit that, personally, I prefer a bit of a warmer tone than the typical Mason & Hamlin 'house sound.' 


That said, my job is not to make the piano sound the way I want it to, but the way the customer wants it to sound (within reason - if the customer wants a sound that would require ruining a set of hammers, I'm afraid I'll have to raise a few objections!).  After all, I'm not the one who lives with the piano daily! If I were given carte blanche to voice the piano to my preference, I might go quite a bit further than the customer's preferences.  And while I might find the end result to my liking, maybe even ideal, the customer might find it comparatively dull and too mellow.


So with this in mind I set to work.  Voicing is one of my favorite aspects of my job - lots of pianos can be tuned impeccably well but still sound unpolished or even unpleasant if the voicing is uneven.  Voicing, when done properly, gives the piano an even, predictable and expressive tone across the entire keyboard and at all dynamic levels.  In this piano's case, the extra brightness was clearly noticeable but not aggressively so, and so it called for a light hand to eliminate it.  Particularly when reducing brightness, it is important to not attempt too much as the first step - you don't want to go too far and then have to bring notes back up that are now too dull. 


As a preliminary step in any voicing job, I play up and down the keyboard, and mark with chalk the range of notes that need to be addressed, and then in particular any notes within that range that stick out more than others (letting me know quickly which notes need more work than the baseline).  After this, I choose a few representative baseline notes (not the ones that stick out the most), lightly needle the hammers and put the action back in and test the result.  In this case, just a couple well placed needles per hammer were enough to get rid of the extra brightness.  After treating the rest of the hammers in the same way and testing, the brightness was gone except for those notes that initially stuck out the most.  A couple more needles per hammer brought those back into line, and from there it was just a matter of double checking for evenness with the rest of the range, making any small modifications necessary from there, and wrapping up!  The end result was a tone that was clear and even across the keyboard, and a happy owner!

Exciting news!

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on January 29, 2014 at 10:30 PM

After a slow start in the first few months in Omaha, I'm thrilled to report that January has been the busiest month in ASB Piano Service's history (including a year and a half in Chicago) - by far!  Though there is still a long way to go, I'm so happy to see the business moving steadily in the right direction.


Hopefully by the end of the year I'll be able to report that January was also the slowest month of the year for ASB Piano Service.  Here's to a great future!

Now is the time!

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on November 23, 2013 at 11:55 AM

So the holidays are upon us, and soon houses will be filling with family coming in from near and far to enjoy the time together, the wonderful holiday meals and, of course, the music!  What better time to have your piano tuned than before the house fills with friends and family, eager to gather around the piano and sing a few carols or just relax to some nice music as the tryptophan wears off?

 

And as a special offer, any tunings that ASB Piano Service gets from your referrals will net you a 10% off discount per referral (up to 50% off total) from your next tuning. Spread the word (and the holiday cheer)!

A change of venue

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on November 23, 2013 at 11:25 AM

After a year in Chicago, and a summer in Tanglewood, I am excited to finally be settling ASB Piano Service in its new (and hopefully much more permanent) home in Omaha, NE!  Though I have much to be thankful for from my time in Chicago, Omaha has been a refreshing change, both in terms of pace of life and especially in terms of proximity to friends and family.

 

Though it means a restart on business for ASB Piano Service, I really look forward to becoming an active part of the music community in Omaha, and meeting many of its pianos and their owners over the coming years!  Here's to a bright future!

Exciting News!

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on February 28, 2013 at 5:25 PM

I am extremely honored and excited to have been selected as the Senior Piano Technician Fellow for the Tanglewood Music Festival - summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra!  Only 3 fellows are selected from dozens of applicants, and only one of those is chosen for the senior position - so I feel immensely blessed and grateful for this opportunity!  I will be there for 10 weeks - from the beginning of June to the middle of August, and will be tasked with preparing the fleet of pianos that arrive for the festival, and tuning and maintaining the pianos throughout the summer.  As the senior fellow I will also have the good fortune of doing concert work on some of the pianos used for performances.  It will be an intense and challenging summer, but one I am very much looking forward to!

Adventures in the Field, entry 2

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on January 18, 2013 at 2:20 PM

Some days are spent working on humble spinets and old consoles.  Competent instruments in their own right (... mostly), but there's a reason you don't see many concerts where the pianist is seated at a spinet.  Then there are days when I get to work on a fine concert instrument.  These are the kinds of instruments where a good tuning brings the piano and the music played on it to life.  Where one is tempted to play a little longer after the tunings are done - you know, to thoroughly enjoy the piano evaluate the tuning.  


Friday was one of those days.  And I was lucky enough to tune not just one, but two fine concert instruments.  My first was a Shigeru Kawai SK7:  


As a pianist I've had a soft spot for Shigeru Kawai's ever since playing an immaculately prepped and seemingly telepathic SK6 in a showroom 5 years ago.  This was my first opportunity to tune one, and it was a pleasure. 


The second instrument was a Yamaha CFIII concert grand:

This happened to be my first opportunity to tune a concert grand, and it was a rewarding and eye-opening experience (even though I did have to do a pitch raise first)!  The clarity in the low bass was a revelation, coming from my experience solely on pianos under 7 feet in length.  In many shorter pianos, even as a technician it's hard to hear the actual pitch of the lowest 3 bass notes with any real clarity.  There are tests and checks we can use to verify the pitch, but it's still not a very clear tone when played on their own.  In this Yamaha it was wonderfully clear. 


The bonus with both of these pianos is that once I was finished, I got to evaluate the tuning by playing a few quick pieces - on a well prepped, well tuned (if I may be so bold) concert instrument, on stage in a recital hall.  


It's a rough life. :)

Adventures in the Field, 1st entry

Posted by Adam Schulte-Bukowinski on January 16, 2013 at 2:00 PM

More often than not, when I visit a piano out in the field, at least one technician (if not more) has serviced the piano before me.  Most of the time the technician's work is transparent, in that any repairs that were done were carried out proficiently, so that there's no outward sign (save for the occasional shiny new string or part) that a repair was needed.  


Sometimes, though, the work is not so transparently done.  

Where the two flanges meet in 48-51, you'll see metal pins sticking out the sides.  Here's another view:


The pins should be cut flush to the side of the flange.  As I found it, they were sticking out far enough to be rubbing up against the neighboring pins, introducing extra friction into an action that was already plagued with it.  A quick fix, thankfully, but it did leave me scratching my head at the oversight.