Robert Estrin - piano expert

What can you do with a Piano that Can't be Tuned?

Some pianos are difficult to tune, but there are some solutions

In this video, Robert gives practical tips to get hard-to-tune pianos back in tune.

Released on May 27, 2015

  
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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. Welcome to VirtualSheetMusic.com and LivingPianos.com. I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question. I've gotten this question from so many people, by the way. What can you do with a piano that can't be tuned? Is it something that you have to take to the dump? Well, we're gonna cover this today and you'll have some surprising answers.

Well first of all, sometimes indeed it's not worth fixing a piano that can't be tuned. Because the proper way to fix a piano that can't be tuned oftentimes involves rebuilding the piano. Because what holds the tuning pins is the pin block. The pin block is multi-laminations of hardwood that is built into the piano beneath the cast iron frame or the plate.

So the plate has to be lifted out of the piano with an engine hoist. After the strings are removed, a new pin block has to be fashioned custom for that specific piano which is a very, very skilled job. The piano has to be restrung, new pins, has to go through a whole bunch of tunings. It's a big job where you're doing you're probably gonna replace the damper felt and other parts. So it can't be taken lightly.

Now suppose you have a vintage Mason and Hamlin, Bechstein, Steinway, or other fine grand piano. It can certainly be well worthwhile doing all of that. But suppose you have a piano that is just a pretty good piano and you don't want to spend thousands of dollars to replace it just because the tuning pins are a little loose. Are there other solutions? Well, sometimes you can get some more life out of a piano. Here's some techniques.

The simplest solution sometimes could be achieved by tapping in the pins. The tuning pins might not be pushed in all the way. And if there is some room between where the winding of the string is and the plate, by tapping them in you could get to fresh wood and you might just have a solid tuning at that point. For a long time it could solve the problem in some cases. Other times it's not an option and what you will really need to do is re-pin and re-string the piano. This could be very successful provided the pin block is intact.

If your pin block has any cracks in it using oversized pins will just enlarge the cracks and you're still in bad shape. But sometimes the pins will loosen, you re-string the piano, you don't have to pull the plate to do that. If the piano has never been re-strung before you could put you a slightly larger tuning pins in. Usually two thousandth of an inch larger will usually hold just fine in many pianos. And indeed you could re-string a piano a couple of times before it's necessary to replace the pin block when the pins just become too large to be practical.

I've heard of other techniques where you could sometimes treat with a chemical around the tuning pins. Now this is a technique that as a last resort if you have nothing to lose, you figure you're just going to junk the piano anyway. You could try it. It's not a very hard technique. Sometimes you could get years of service out of the piano. But it's not something that you can necessarily rely upon long-term particularly with changes in weather.

Here's a note that you should be well aware of is that if you take a piano from a humid environment, maybe the pins are moderately tight but are holding okay and move it to a desert environment. Those pins can easily become much looser, because a dry environment dries out the wood further. So if you're moving to a dryer environment and your tuning pins are not really rock hard, then you might consider choosing another piano or re-pinning, re-stringing the piano, or rebuilding if necessary.

I hope this has been helpful for you. If any of you have piano technicians out there that have any other techniques you want to share, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks so much for joining me Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com and VirtualSheetMusic.com.
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