(from guest blogger Robert Furst)
Every piano has its own unique sound. One might be described as ‘glassy,’ another as ‘warm’. One might have a ‘full singing’ tone, and yet another sounds ‘thin.’ Although the original design establishes the basic character of your piano’s tone, your technician can modify it to better suit your taste or restore its original tone if it has deteriorated with age. The process of modifying a piano’s tone is called voicing.
Voicing is the adjustment of a piano’s tone or quality of sound. Tone can be changed without affecting the pitch. For example, turning the bass or treble knobs on your stereo changes the tone but does not alter the notes the musician recorded. A skilled piano technician can voice a piano to change its tonal personality from mellow to bright or robust to delicate. The degree of change possible depends upon the piano’s design and condition. Everyone’s taste varies. Also, certain tonal characteristics are more suited to specific styles of music. A bright, lively tone might be best for jazz, whereas you might prefer a rich and dark sound for Beethoven’s music.
Tone varies, even among pianos of the same make and model. No matter what its size or cost, any good piano should provide a wide range of tone, from soft and sweet to loud and bright. The tone should be even from the lowest to the highest notes. Most of all, it should sound musical. There are so many sizes and models of piano available in the market place; you chose your piano because it sounds good to you.
A piano’s tone changes with use. As the hammers wear and compact, the tone often becomes too bright and harsh, robbing the pianist of the ability to produce a sweet sound. As parts wear, the regulation (adjustment of the mechanical parts that transmit motion from the fingers to the hammers) becomes uneven, and the pianist loses control over volume and tone. This is most noticeable in quiet playing. A delicate pianissimo passage becomes very difficult or impossible to play, and some keys may not sound at all if played very lightly.
Before you or your technician can fully evaluate then tone of your piano, it must be well-tuned. Tuning is the first step in improving the sound of any piano and may actually provide the tone you desire. If the tone is still not satisfactory. A technician will inspect the action, hammers and strings. If these components are severely worn, major repairs may be required before an improved tone is possible.
Moderately worn hammers can be re-shaped with sandpaper to remove string grooves and restore their original rounded shape. Next, the hammers are aligned to strike each string squarely.
For a tone that is too weak or too mellow, hardening of the hammer felt may be necessary. This is usually done by filing away soft outer layers of hammer felt or by applying a chemical hardening solution.
Once the overall tone is correct, individual notes are voiced to make the tone as even as possible from one end of the keyboard to the other. In some pianos certain notes still may sound different from their neighbors, no matter how skillfully the technician voiced the piano. This most commonly occurs about an octave below middle C, where the strings change from steel wires wrapped with copper to plain steel. Such irregularities are a result of design compromises, and usually cannot be corrected by voicing.
In the next part of this post, we’ll explore piano touch and action regulation.
By Robert T. Furst, Author, Bluebook of Pianos and Piano Times, © 2011 Bluebook of Pianos *Piano Times copyright used by agreement in the State of California.
Our thanks to guest blogger, Robert Furst. Visit his website—bluebookofpianos.com—for more information about pianos.