Hello everyone. I've been tuning my pianos for the past 7 years, and 3 years ago I started tuning by ear, and I've encountered a weird "phenomenon", and my theories to explain it, so I thought I would share and see if anyone experience the same things.... Hope you all don't mind.
First of all, from 2013-2017 I was using verituner. The first thing I noticed is if my entire piano is sharp or flat even by a little bit, I would literally have to manipulate EVERY pin.
After doing so, the entire piano would be within approx +/- 0.3 cents of the verituner calculated target.
After this type of tuning, I would notice that the piano sounds "stiff". Hard to explain, but it's as if the sustain pedal is pressed half way, even though I press all the way. In other words, the sustain on all notes is shorter.
After a few days of such tuning, the sustain would come back and I would have long and free sound. Of course - after 3 days, the humidity would change and maybe now piano is 1 cent sharp or flat, so I'd have to do another tuning to zero out everything, and then again - the piano sustain sounds "stiff". So it's a vicious cycle.
Keep reading, I promise it will get more interesting
So in a way, I was a "slave" to the verituner.
Then I started tuning by ear. I still did my temperament with the machine because it's so perfect! But then I would turn off the machine, and do octaves up and down, and double check them with 4ths and 5ths, making sure everything sounds good
After about a year of practice, I think I got pretty good. After tuning the piano up and down from the temperament octave, I’d go and see how I did against the machine, and I’m usually within 2 cents of what the machine “thought” I should do.
Interestingly, when I tune by ear, the whole piano sounded more “natural” but it’s hard to explain.
As I got better and more confident tuning by ear, I can clearly notice that some decisions by the verituner are BAD and don’t sound good. Like for example, if by ear I set my C5 against the C4, the verituner suggested maybe 2 cents lower, but at 2 cents lower maybe the octave did not sound good, or the 5th against the F4 was too narrow. So in essence, for some reason, I think the verituner sometimes made some bad decisions for one reason or another.
But here is my main point. Finally!
When tuning by ear, I wouldn’t have to ALWAYS zero out the piano. I’d go check the temperament octave and if all of it is 2 cents sharp, I’d just leave it alone! And then I’d go up and down and do my octaves and check my 5ths and 4ths.
I would find maybe 10 notes outside the temperament octave that didn’t “fit” right and adjust them, but overall, I would leave like 80-90% of the pins untouched.
So now after a tuning, the piano did not sound “tight” or “stiff” and the piano sounded in perfect tune, with a free long sound!
So to explain again, when tuning by ear, I am more able to leave many pins un-touched.
So what is happening? Why is it that when we turn all the pins and put the piano in perfect tune, it doesn’t sound good? I have a theory. (just a theory)
It’s all about the kinks in the wire.
When we unstring a piano, we can see the kinks that go through the agraffe right? And the kinks in the wire that go over the bridge etc…
Lets call the portion of the string from pin to agraffe the 1st segment, and from the agraffe to bridge the 2nd segment aka – speaking segment.
Imagine if we put on a fresh string, and tune it to pitch, then immediately undo that string and take it out of the piano. What would the kink look like where it went through the agraffe? I think the kink will be much less prominent than a string that has been on the piano for 10 years. We’ve all seen it.
So I think the kinks are of huge importance on sustain, especially the kink at the agraffe and the kink on the first hitch pin of the bridge. Basically, the 2 kinks of the speaking length.
So what happens when we tune? This is mostly effecting the kink that goes through the agraffe (or under the capo bar). When we have to pitch up, the kink moves towards the pin, and now we have to WAIT a few days for a new good kink to form.
When we pitch down, we move the kink slightly towards the speaking length, (away from us) and now we have a small kink in the speaking length, and again, we have to wait some days or weeks for that kink to un-kink, and the new kink in the agraffe to take good shape.
I drew a diagram attached, obviously it’s exaggerated on the drawing so you can get what I am trying to explain.
But my point is, and theory, is that the piano wire kinks are important for good termination, and when termination is good, the sound is longer and free-er. And when we turn the pins un-necessarily, we move the kink, and have to wait for the piano to form a good new kink, and stretch out the old bad one.
A person who tunes by machine only, pretty much always has to turn all pins to zero out the piano, because they don’t listen and can say – hey, this A6 is +2 cents, but it still sounds good with the A4, D5 and E5, so I don’t need to touch it (and keep the good kink).
Gosh, I’m so sorry for this being so freaking long! And I’m sorry for anyone who had to read this, especially if I have no point at all here.
Best regards everyone.