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Estonia Pianos
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#1125605 06/08/04 08:46 PM
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Do piano players on this forum notice any difference between a piano that has been tuned by ear or one tuned by a machine? I am not posting this in the technitian's forum, because I want to know the opinions and experiences of piano players who have had their piano tuned different ways. Of course, technitians are also welcome to post their opinions as well. I have read the back postings in the Tech Forum, but there seem to be no threads by players on this topic.

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The fellow sent by the dealer tuned with a machine. The one I currently use tunes with only one single A tuning fork. The latter does a better job. But then he also tunes for Anton Kuerti when Anton plays in town. My conclusion is that it doesn't matter whether the tuner uses an electronic gadget or not. A good tuner is a good tuner is a good tuner. By the way, the better tuner doesn't even play the piano.

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My new piano has already been tuned 4 times in just under a year by three different techs. I'm pretty picky and would probably want my piano fine tuned every month if my budget permitted. One tuner (in fact, the most expensive $135-175/visit) used an electronic tuning device. Although the results were satisfactory, the other times my piano was tuned by ear and produced much more pleasing results to my ears! Goes to show the most expensive isn't necessarily always the best.

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I'm with "me" 100%. It's the tuner who does the tuning, not the tool. There are great and poor tuners using either method. And some are perfectly able to tune excellently both ways- they simply find it a little less stressful or faster to use a machine.

To achieve PTG RPT status one must prove one can tune aurally- but it's recognised by the PTG to be perfectly fine to use machines in fieldwork.

What I *would* avoid is people incapable of tuning well by ear, which is quite different from someone capable who simply chooses the machine. Also avoid anyone who tells you that machines are superior. The results of good ear tuning should be virtually indistinquishable from the results of good machine tuning and tuning contests conducted by the PTG have shown this to be true.

(BTW, I don't use a machine. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't.)

Regards,

Rick Clark


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I agree with Rick and "me." It is the tuner, not the method of tuning, that makes it or breaks it.

Like many other people I know, I tune by ear or machine. Which method I use depends on two things: time, and quality of piano.

With a small amount of time to tune a funky little spinet, I'll use my machine, for the temperament section at least(middle F through A for me). This is because it is often difficult to hear what one needs to hear in pianos with shorter strings that are likely to have all kinds of strange sounds going on besides the fundamental tone. I always check by ear when I'm done to make sure it sounds good(if that's possible with a Kincaid spinet).

Octaves and unisons I do almost exclusively by ear, though I admit I occasionally seek the approval of my device in the bass of smaller pianos that never sound in tune no matter what one does...:-(

I tune nicer pianos by ear(unless someone asks me specifically to tune it by machine). Good quality uprights and grands practically tune themselves.

The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what a tuning looks like on a screen, it's the sound that matters. If a tuner is unable to differentiate between what sounds good and what doesn't, you should probably look for somebody else.

Just my two cents

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ON this topic, can somebody explain why it is necessary to add drift to a tuning?

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Pete I assume you mean 'stretch'. When we say 'drift' we usually mean 'going out of tune'.

The natural harmonic series of piano strings exhibits inharmonicity, which means that the harmonics are ever so slightly sharp in relation to the fundamental. In example, the 2nd harmonic of a string is just slightly more than 2X the frequency of the fundamental. The exact frequencies that occur in the harmonics will vary from model to model.

It is for this reason there is no "one size fits all" tuning for pianos, and you can't use things like guitar tuners or attempt to match tune to an electronic keyboard. Each piano must be tuned based on its own inharmonicity.

When you take the inharmonicity into account, you will be tuning octaves just slightly sharp or 'stretched'. This actually means it is more in tune than if you tuned the top note of the octave to 2X the frequency of the bottom note of the octave. In a proper ear tuning this happens naturally because it sounds right to the ear.

However, when using a machine, the inharmonicity must be calculated by computer individually for each individual piano so the right degree of stretch is achieved. That's what proper piano tuning devices really are- computers. OTOH there are poorly skilled tuners using electronic devices who do not even understand or use the machine capabilities to individually calculate a tuning- instead they simply recall a "one-size-fits-all" from the machine's memory. Not good.

But there is another application of 'stretch' also. In the highest octave there is a psychoacoustic tendancy to perceive in-tune notes as slighly flat, so some tuners might stretch that top octave even more in an attempt to compensate. It's perfectly acceptable, but I find that while it is true that psychoacoustic tendancy exists when playing arpeggios or runs up to the top, it does not exist when paralleling octaves or double octaves. So whether or not to add additional stretch to the top octave more is a judgement call with no right or wrong answer.

Regards,

Rick Clark


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Rick, do longer pianos have less interharmonicity, and stretch, than shorter ones?

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Theoretically, that's the case. However, poor design can make a long piano sound worse. I find that can be especially true in the bass.


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My technician uses the machine (Verituner) but also listens. He told me that there is a certain note in the bass where the two strings exhibit considerably different inharmonicity. (He insisted that he also found this on the other two Estonia 190 pianos he has serviced!) He demonstrated what the electronic tuner produced (terrible beat) and then tuned it so it sounded right.

He is one of the technicians who tests for the PTG here, so I'm sure that he can tune very well by ear. They use a Steinway B at our school, not my Estonia. wink

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Kenny,

Large and small pianos differ mostly in the bass. All things being equal, the longer piano would have less inharmonicity in the bass than the smaller one. Depending on which models you are comparing, the difference can be quite large or rather small.

Rick


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MarkS makes a good point. The tuners who rely on the machines for the bass get some really bad results. Rick's point about it being the tuner doing the tuning rather than the machine is worth repeating.
The best possible tunings can be achieved with or without a machine, but less talented tuners, can do a much better tuning with a machine ( if they tune the bass by ear)


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Rick thanks for the explanation about stretch. I have detected the psychoacoustic phenomenon of upper octaves sounding flat. In the seventies, I had a friend that had Moog synthesizer. On a pure sine wave this effect was very noticeable.
Query does the stretch utilized on acoustic piano tunings mean they will not be in tune with an electronic keyboard, or do most digital pianos also have stretch?

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Pete,

Don't be quick to assume that an old analog Moog wasn't pretty out-of-tune itself. Tuning was always drifting on those.

A piano is not likely to be *perfectly* in tune with another kind of instrument, moreso at the extremes of it's ranges. Even if a digital has stretch built in (some do some don't some are programmable), it's unlikely to be exactly the same as another acoustic piano. But that is not neccessarily a problem and slight differences in tuning exist almost everywhere in the world of real, acoustical instruments. In fact, too perfect a match in tuning can create a noticeably thin sound. Synthesists who try to emulate different instruments of the orchestra utilize slight mistunings to create a more natural and lush acoustical interaction. Those who don't create a noticeably cheesy fake ensemble.

Neverthless on occasion I have "goosed" a piano's tuning because I knew it would be used in a certain way. For instance if I know it's going to be playing in a combo with a well tuned electric bass guitar, and both instruments are going to be playing in the same range at the same time, I might tune the piano with less stretch in the bass to better match the bass guitar. However, if the piano is playing solo or without competition in the bass region, it sounds better stretched.

Regards,

Rick Clark


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For efficiency and to avoid ear fatigue, I tune primarily with my PDA.

That being said, I can also tune aurally, and the tuners I consider to be the finest tune by ear (Virgil Smith, etc.).

It is important (I think) for a tuner to understand the fundamentals of tuning, and to be able to do it by ear. Even when tuning by machine, I frequently check my work aurally, and always tune unisons by ear (doesn't everyone?!)

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KB,

I remember when ETDs first became popular and there was a Greek chorus chanting "no one could possibly tune a unison by ear as well as by machine".

My ear told me different and I also started pointing out Gabriel Weinreich's paper in the old Scientific American verifying the superiority of the ear and it's natural ability to slighty mistune unisons in order to overcome wave reflection and phase problems. Over time the Greek chorus started to mumble and cough. But then it started a new chant- "use the machine for the temperament but always tune unisons by ear".

However I've talked to some techs who use the machines to purposely mistune the unisons by some fraction of a cent to achieve "ear-like" sound quality.

So I figure there are no rules, it just goes to the cleverness of the tool-user.

Regards,

Rick Clark


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thanks, guys, for the informative discussion.

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Rick, that's been my experience as well.

I remember several years ago Virgil Smith teaching a class on unison tuning, and was saying much the same thing you just stated.

To me it's a no-brainer:
If the purpose of tuning is to get it to sound it's best, and by "sound" we mean what our ears pick up, then clearly our ears have to be a part of achieving that.
What's the use of having the tuning that's the most mathematically pure if it just doesn't sound good?
Certainly as you said there are some amazing things our ears can pick up, that I know the machine cannot.

And for people who argue that the "ear can't hear a difference of 1c", I know that it can. Given the proper checks the ear can here even smaller differences

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I'm not certain I understand the concept of "ear fatigue." I never get tired of listening to a piano. Especially for tuning, where the sounds never fail to fascinate me. I get physically tired from turning the pins, but never from listening. I've always thought hammer technique was much more difficult than listening.


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I definitely think there's something to be said for hammer technique BDB.
The amplitude of sound coming from a piano though is pretty significant. Especially when tuning an upright, you ear is very close to the origin or sound, and hearing damage is a risk for tuners tuning without ear protection (I know it sounds funny... ear plugs to tune a piano).

But when I say ear fatigue, I'm talking about the fact that we can only listen to certain frequency ranges for so long before our ears get tired and begin to give us false positives.
It's very easy (at least for me) to strain while tuning the temperament, then have a hard time hearing other parts of the tuning, almost because I've "worn myself out".

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