by Guest Blogger, Robert Estrin
This question encompasses quite a bit of information but it has value in presenting it all in one video – as these topics have a lot to do with one another. They are all very important when it comes to getting the most out of your piano and making sure it plays its best. Each one of these subjects can be incredibly detailed and I may create more detailed videos and articles for each one of them – but for now I will provide an overview of all three!
First we will deal with Regulation. Regulation encompasses the myriad adjustments on the action which is the entire mechanism from the key to the hammer and dampers. Each key in the action has about 100 parts. There are approximately 8 different adjustments for each key: from key height, key depth when depressed, let-off of the hammer after it is struck, to other details of hammer movement, and other adjustments effecting repetition, power and more.
The basic explanation of regulation is getting an evenness of touch for all of the keys on the piano. In other words, all 88 keys should have an equal touch when playing – no key should be harder or softer than another; no key should be higher or lower than another; the response must be equal for all keys.
When it comes to Voicing it’s the same principle in keeping a uniform state for all notes. However, voicing deals with the tone of the piano, not the mechanics. Every key should have a uniform sound from one another. If the touch is the same but certain notes are brighter or more mellow in tone, it is impossible to get a smooth musical line since some notes will be out of place in the melody, either not matching volume, or tonally different in some way.
How is voicing achieved? It is achieved through working the hammers to get a uniform volume and tone from all keys. The felt on the hammers needs to be worked to get consistent tone on all notes. There are several things that affect the hammers including: The shape, how it impacts the strings, and the hardness.
There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into voicing a piano. For example, if the hammers on some notes are too hard they will need to be needled; if they are too soft they will need to be treated with chemicals, typically lacquer. This will need to be performed on each hammer and the response of each string within each note should also be uniform in tone.
Last we have Fine Tuning. A piano can be tuned but there is something referred to as concert tuning. This encompasses not only making sure the tuning is absolutely pure, but making sure it will stay in tune! This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. A fine tuning will require a technician to literally pound on the keys and make sure the piano won’t go out of tune even with a tremendous amount of force of a concert pianist playing virtuoso music.
I’ve also seen tuners who will fine tune a piano and then close everything up, hold down the sustain pedal, and then hit all the keys with their arms to excite the soundboard. The hope is that the strings can be reset securely to hold during the performance.
The truth is, there is no end to how far you can go with a piano. You can continue to make finer and finer adjustments and never really reach a true level of perfection. Like one definition of infinity, you can get half way closer to perfection again and again with diminishing returns on time spent.
If you have ever had the opportunity to play a piano after it has been voiced, regulated, and fine-tuned you will never want to play anything else! It really is that big a difference on a great piano.