Growing up in New York City, I had a memorable, rotund tuner named Buchbaum, who talked my ear off while tuning a Sohmer upright. Consequently, he left the piano with “beating” octaves, thirds, and sixths. In so may words, the piano not only took a beating, but it warbled all over the place, causing widespread distemper among illegally kept dogs in the Marble Hill Projects of the Bronx.
To add insult to injury, Buchbaum once refused to acknowledge a blatantly squeaky sustain pedal, so I would chase him down the hall three consecutive times until he fessed up to a mouse lurking. (He replaced a leather strip in the assembly to solve the problem)
Flash forward three plus decades to El Cerrito California, where my infamous blind date piano, a Baldwin Hamilton grand, 1929, needed “regulation”–that is, I wanted the note-to-note feel smoothed out a bit. And while the voicing pleased me, the far upper treble was a bit “glassy.” (The remaining ranges were quite pleasing)–On that note, make sure to tell a piano technician about your aesthetic preferences. Don’t assume that another individual’s ear buds match up with your own.
As most readers will recall, I selected the Hamilton (my fourth piano) based upon a telephone interview and follow-up eval by a long-distance technician. It was not the best way to choose a musical instrument, but from my perspective, I’d lucked out. The Baldwin-made offshoot produced a lovely tone and character, and in my humble opinion, it epitomized the Golden era of piano building.
In a six-part video series, I’d covered the Hamilton, beginning with its arrival in El Cerrito, California, culminating in a comprehensive on-camera assessment by Mark Schecter, Registered Piano Technician.
Cyber viewers were treated to a seminar on the the inner workings of a piano– how one part of hundreds if not thousands impacted another.
A real education!
After Mark tweaked the Hamilton hammer mechanism launching regulation efforts, he issued a disclaimer. He made it crystal clear that the piano needed a new set of hammers among other things. (He emphasized the interdependency of systems–comparing my piano to an “old car.”) He insisted that the relatively NEW dampers, needed REGULATION.
But I hadn’t the funds to invest in this 4th piano–and besides, I basically liked it the way it was!
For at least 7 to 8 hours, with a few extra few thrown in, Mark labored to smooth out note-to-note progressions as best he could.
The biggest improvement, however, registered as a voicing down of the glassy upper range which involved needling those hammer felts.
The unexpected turn of events!
Following Mark’s visit, to my astonishment, an over-sustain in at least three notes cropped up, not to mention an irksome, metallic-sounding A#, dead center keyboard that sent me into a tailspin!
My emails flew in all directions! And poor Mark weathered the storm.
In fact, every time I played Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, first movement, I’d get stuck in the tinny, abrasive note, causing my music to come to a grinding halt!
Likewise, when one of my students played Gillock’s “Clowns,” a piece permeated by staccato, some crucial notes would OVER-sustain and not produce a crisp and clear effect. A blur had set in.
Still another student couldn’t HOP through her Dozen A Day warm-up without a painful CLOD!
By ALL ACCOUNTS IT WAS TIME TO CALL THE TUNER BACK to repair these “NEWLY” found over-sustain notes, and metallic A#.
Mark listened to me and responded with a level head.
He agreed to come back and fix the problem notes to the best of his ability at no further charge.
In the Before Sequence of the video below, I identified the problem areas, and in the AFTER sequence, I demonstrated how Mark rose to the task, and made the repairs. (He did some complicated maneuvers that somehow eliminated the carry-over tones and purified them.) I kept him off camera, so he could focus intently on the adjustments.
For a flashback to his earlier assessment of the piano, I’ve provided a links to comprehensive tutorials he gave in my El Cerrito piano studio.
Meanwhile to honor the renaissance of this wondrous piano, my student, Fritz, 8 and I played “Circle Dance,” a musical testimony to life and its renewal. (in Canon)
THE HERO: Mark Schecter in action!
On the issue of tuning, I advise piano owners to test their instruments in consecutive 10ths, and 6ths, and finally octaves before a technician leaves. Just checking what are called “unisons,” notes that match up as the same by 8 notes, is not a guarantee that the piano is in tune.
When buying a piano, please detail it in Legato, and in staccato by half-steps– in soft and loud ranges. Look for over-sustain, or under-sustain; Identify notes that stick out as metallic next to those with a noticeable “wholeness.” Don’t rely on a technician, alone, to evaluate a piano, but bring a concert level pianist, or the equivalent along with you.
Regardless of whether you’re buying a used or new piano, this note-by-note evaluation applies. And don’t forget to check the pedals. (squeaks present? Lazy let up, etc.)
Make a list, and show it to the technician you hire to evaluate the piano. It certainly helps to cut to the chase, saving time, and often money.
My Baldwin Hamilton gets its first diagnostic and regulation
The Elements of Piano Regulation:
Do’s and Don’t for Piano Buyers and Sellers