Robert Estrin - piano expert

Can an Out of Tune Piano Have More Sustain?

Is that reality or myth?

In this video, Robert answers this question: Do out of tune pianos have more sustain? Watch this video to find out.

Released on October 23, 2019

    
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi. This is Robert Estrin at livingpianos.com, your online piano store. The question today is can an out of tune piano have more sustain than a piano that's perfectly tuned? The simple answer to this question, believe it or not, is yes, but I need to explain how and why.

If you look inside of a piano, you know that all the notes have more than one string except in the very bottom. Most notes have three strings. Now if you know anything about the acoustics of the strings vibrating, if they're vibrating perfectly with one another, you'll get a certain level of sustain. But if one string is just ever so slightly out of tune with another string, there'll be a wave created, a very, very slow wave. If that wave is about the same length of time as the sustain of a note, it will actually enhance the sustain of the note more than if it was absolutely dead on.

Now I went to talk to a piano tuner who claimed that they purposely de-tune the piano precisely to get the maximum amount of sustain. I've talked to other piano tuners who said that this was total nonsense and I really want to hear from all of you.

My feeling is this, that striving to tune a piano is hard enough. Once it's in tune, it's going out of tune little by little. Even if you try to make the piano perfectly in tune, every unison phase locked where they didn't drift at all, in a very short amount of time, some of the notes would be drifting slightly sharper or more likely flat, causing that slight de-tuning that would add to the sustain, as long as the de-tuning doesn't become so great that the cycle is shorter than the length that the note sustains, that the strings sustain naturally.

Indeed a slightly out of tune piano, that the wave cycle is less than the sustained length of the sustain of the notes will sustain more than a perfectly in tune piano. But I wouldn't necessarily de-tune your piano to try to get this effect. Believe me, it'll de-tune itself well enough just from playing it.

Thanks for all the great questions. Keep them coming into here at robert@livingpianos.com, your online piano store. We'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Michael Prozonic * VSM MEMBER * on October 23, 2019 @10:18 am PST
I don’t think that I can agree with this analysis. If an adjacent string is slightly out of tune it will actually cause an interference pattern that will inhibit or dampen vibrations. You should really get a physics professor to try and duplicate this in a laboratory. There probably are certain frequencies that could be additive but these would be horribly out of tune from the fundamental, most likely one of the harmonic series

Detuning of oscillators is often use in electronic synthesizers, If you have twin oscillators and slightly detune one of them, the resulting sound is very ‘fat’ or ‘thick’, much fuller than if both oscillators were exactly in tune with each other. Perhaps this is the effect you are experiencing on the piano and perceiving it as sustain
reply
Robert Estrin on October 25, 2019 @5:12 pm PST
Part of it is what you mention, the doubling or chorus effect of slight detuning which is easy to hear with simple wave forms on a synthesizer. If the wave takes about the amount of time that the note naturally sustains, it can indeed increase sustain. But the frequency would have to be precise for this phenomenon to be heard.
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