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A quick primer on “inharmonicity”.

by ivories

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On the surface piano tuning may seem like a fairly straight forward, yet tedious and time consuming process – start at the A following middle C, tune it to a pitch of 440 Hz, and go from there in either direction at perfect 2:1 octave intervals (equal-temperament tuning) until you’re done. With an electronic tuner, this shouldn’t be that hard, right?

The truth is that it’s not at all that simple. While one may think that a string tuned to a specific note at the proper frequency/pitch is perfectly in tune, other factors are at play, not the least of which is the human ear and perception, which can throw things off balance. What we generally consider to be a distinct pitch actually contains a series of subtle nuances called overtones. These overtones can cause an otherwise technically perfectly tuned piano to be perceived as being sharp in pitch, due to the inconsistencies in tone produced along the length of a piano’s string. The phenomenon is known as inharmonicity, and is generally more prevalent in the bass and high treble registers. Other factors, such as a string’s composition and thickness, as well as the presence of dirt and rust can also result in slight rises in frequency.

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This is where a piano tuner’s experience and training truly come into play. To account for and eliminate inharmonicity, a tuner will “stretch” tune a piano in increments slightly further apart than the standard 2:1 ratio so that the piano will audibly be perceived as in-tune by the listener. This is a skill and practice that takes years to hone and perfect. So remember, while that discount piano tuner you found online might seem like a good deal at first, chances are he or she are not ready (or qualified) to put in the work truly necessary to do the job right. Be sure to always hire a qualified and experienced piano tuner and technician. Your ears (and in the long run – your wallet) will thank you for it.

Before We Tune Your Piano…

by ivories

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While we’re sure most of our customers would like for us to be in and out of their homes, auditoriums or studios ASAP (let’s face it, the piano tuning procedure is not the most pleasant thing on the ears), there are a number of steps any good, experienced piano technician will take before ever putting a tuning hammer to a pin.

A thorough inspection of a piano and its key areas is always necessary to not only ensure that the piano can be tuned properly, but also that any damaged and/or potentially vulnerable parts are not helped along in their degradation. Some key areas to assess are:

  • Condition of the mechanical (action) components. Excessive or extreme wear and tear of the piano’s action parts will make any tuning, no matter how exceptional, entirely pointless, as the piano will not respond or resonate as intended.

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  • Structural damage. Pinblocks not firmly secured to the frame, cracked soundboards, cracks in the piano’s harp/plate and other problems with the piano’s structural framework can mean the piano will not be able to properly retain the immense tension placed on it by the strings. Bulging in the bridge do to improper humidity levels will cause a piano to go sharp or flat, depending on overly humid or dry conditions respectively.

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  • Loose tuning pins. Over time tuning pins become loose due to cracking or contraction of the wood surrounding the pins. This often means that in addition to it being very difficult to tune in the first place (if it can be tuned at all), a piano will not hold the tuning for very long, which is never a good value for the customer. As such, Ivories.ca will not tune your piano if we discover this problem on-site. Charging a customer for a tuning of little to no use is simply reprehensible.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

by ivories

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Well, after the lovely spring-like start to Toronto’s winter, the cold weather has finally set in, which means there’s no doubt a significant number of you who’ve now proceeded to build camp fires in the middle of your living rooms for additional warmth (or, we suppose, you may have just cranked the thermostat by twenty degrees or dusted the cob webs off the fireplace for reasons other than a visit from a jolly old man in  a red suit). Whatever your solution to the frigid air that has set in, we’re sure there will be dozens (alright, hundreds) of people who fail to take our may years of warnings seriously and overheat their piano rooms to the point where some of those costly repercussions we’ve mentioned in our previous posts come into play. Today we’ll take a quick look at one of those: Piano pin block and tuning pin problems.

An overly dry climate will eventually lead to cracking of the piano’s pinblock, but before that occurs,  simply loosened tuning pins due to expanding pin holes that can no longer hold their tuning pins snug. Depending on the severity of the damage there are four solutions to the problem, all at varying price points and levels of success.

The quick-fix for less serious cases is simply to knock the existing tuning pins in further to create a better grip. This of course can only be done to a certain point before the coils become too recessed and other options have to be considered.

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This leads us to our second more economical quickie fix: Piano pin tightening fluid. With this option, a specially formulated liquid is injected into the area surrounding your loose tuning pins by the piano technician. This liquid will cause the surrounding wood of the pinblock to swell, leading to a renewed tightened grip on your piano’s tuning pins. This option has varying levels of success, and the results may only last for a season or two as opposed to more thorough, permanent solutions, which are as follows:

Re-pinning with over-sized tuning pins. This relatively popular option consists of replacing the piano’s existing tuning pins with larger (thicker) pins of a greater diameter, that will provide a tighter fit and make the piano easier to tune and help in retain its tuning longer. This procedure can at times be done several times over the years with progressively larger pins before the final (and most expensive option) becomes necessary:

Installing a new pinblock. If all the other options have been exhausted (or the cracking/loosening of the pinblock is too severe to make them viable options), the final option before buying an entirely new piano is to have a brand new custom pinblock fabricated and installed to the original specifications of your instrument. This will ensure your piano can once again be fitted with size one tuning pins like when it was new, and enable you to start the above procedures all over again as you casually forget to keep it away from the roaring flames of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Tuning one of Toronto’s piano gems

by ivories

DSC_0338  Over our many years tuning Toronto’s pianos, we often have the pleasure of working on some truly special instruments, be they of historical importance, like the Glenn Gould’s Chickering grand at the CBC, or for recording sessions for some of the world’s most renowned pianists.  One such piano we have the opportunity to tune on occasion is the exquisite Hamburg Steinway & Sons grand piano at The Toronto Centre for the Arts. It has the distinction of having its harp signed by many of the well-known artists who have had the pleasure of  tickling its ivories over the decades. It’s truly a special piece in Toronto’s musical armoire.  

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Heintzman – Toronto’s own Piano King

by ivories

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When we hear the words “high-end piano” we don’t often think of Canada, but for a large part of the late 1800’s and 1900’s, Toronto’s Heintzman Piano Manufactory rivaled instruments built by their American counterparts at Steinway & Sons, leading many to christen Heintzman the “Steinway of the North”.

Founded by German immigrant Theodor August Heintzman in 1866, Heintzman Ltd. followed the same tradition of attention to detail and uncompromising quality over quantity as his better known predecessors.

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As the story goes, Heintzman’s first Toronto made piano was built in his daughter’s kitchen, the sale of which allowed him to move into more appropriate surroundings. What followed was a series of progressively larger factories, first downtown on Duke St (now Adelaide), and then two years later at 105 King St (a larger King St building would follow a few doors down in 1873 at what is now the TD Centre). As word of Heintzman’s quality pianos increased, they consistently churned out more and more pianos, reaching the 2000 mark by 1884.

Even as the piano market began to get over-saturated near the end of the 19th century, Heintzman continued with his tradition of building only high-end quality instruments. Theodor was credited with a series of innovations that solidified their reputation as a quality builder and allowed their pianos to carry a superior tone and remain on the cutting edge of piano manufacturing. His pianos would come to be sold overseas, and even be played in Albert Hall for Queen Victoria, who is said to have been impressed that an instrument from “the colonies” could be of such quality.

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After Theodor’s death in 1899, his sons took over the company reigns. By this time the company had opened a large factory in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto near Keele and Dundas, and was producing instruments at a much higher rate. Other innovations followed, such as a clever “transposing” piano, which allowed players to shift the entire keyboard several octaves, allowing the player to play in any key, and the first ever full sostenuto pedal on an upright piano (a feature previously only found on grand pianos)

Although the Depression was hard on the company, they continued to manufacture instruments at an impressive rate. Following the second world war, they could no longer survive on manufacturing pianos alone, and diversified into the sheet music market, and even dabbled in the manufacture of house ware products, at which point pianos only accounted for half of the company’s sales. The piano arm would go on to produce economy pianos under economy labels such as the Gerhard, Weber, Stevenson and Nordheimer brands. The company had previously taken over the reigns of Theodor’s nephew Gerhard Heintzman’s rival piano company upon his death, which produced pianos that did not necessarily have the same quality and standards as the Heintzman & Co. brand.

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After changing ownership a hand full of times in the latter half of the 20th century, the original Heintzman company closed its doors for good in 1988. While a Chinese/Canadian conglomerate has since purchased the Heintzman name and patents and continues to produce instruments under the Heintzman name, it is not widely considered to be the same company.

Welcome to our new site!

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Those of you returning for a repeat visit will have noticed that things are looking a bit different around here these days. We’ve once again upgraded our site to hopefully serve you better, and we hope you’ll return often to check out what’s new. Make sure to add us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to get the latest updates.

All the best,

The Ivories.ca Team!

A unique tuning experience

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Originally posted on 08/12/2013 8:00 PM

As you may have noticed in our Twitter Feed, our head technician Wolfgang recently had the opportunity to tune a wonderful late model C. Bechstein concert grand at Toronto’s Musideum, a unique musical instrument store which doubles as a convert venue for very intimate performances by a varied selection of artists. Playing later that evening was Steve Koven, a Toronto born and educated pianist known for his improvisional performances. The store itself is unique in that while it may appear to be a museum displaying all sorts of untraditional and even odd instruments, nearly all of them are for sale, from more common items like drums, sitars and mouth harps, to relatively rare finds such as the ocean harp and the Indian TaishoKoto. The store is located at 401 Richmond Street West, Suite 133 in Toronto.

Keeping humidity in check

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Originally posted on 15/05/2013 01:20

With the warm summer weather rapidly approaching, it’s not a bad time to revisit the topic of keeping your piano’s humidity at proper levels to avoid cracks in the soundboard, along with a variety of other performance and mechanical issues. As we’ve mentioned in prior posts, your piano should ideally be at a humidity level of 45% to help avoid problems caused by excessive drying of the wooden components of your instrument (which make up the majority of it!).

When out piano tuning, we’ll often see pianos that are placed in less than ideal spaces, often near fireplaces or other heat sources which contribute significantly to drying out essential structural components. Keeping a piano away from such places will greatly contribute to increasing its playing life.

It’s not only the larger structural parts of your piano that are affected by humidity. Overly humid conditions can cause your piano’s keys to stick, making playing difficult, not to mention annoying. The humidity levels also cause your piano’s pitch to change. High humidity will result in a sharper pitch, while low humidity will cause your piano to go flat.

A Humidity gauge is an inexpensive but important tool to have around to make sure your piano isn’t being exposed to extreme humidity or dryness. In our next post, we’ll take a close look at the options available to treat and protect your instrument from the dangers of humidity we touched on here.

Avoiding Costly Structural Piano Repairs

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Originally posted on 04/03/2012 13:39

Avoid costly structural repairs by keeping your piano in a properly humidified environment and well away from fireplaces or radiators. Humidity should ideally be at 45% and most definitely not fall below 40% or rise above 50%. Failure to do so can result in loose and straight tuning pins, swelling and shrinking of the pinblock and cracks in the soundboard. Humidity gauges are relatively inexpensive (around $25) and can help you ensure your instrument is in a favourable environment. They can easily be found online, in most good music shops, or even at your local wine store. If you find the humidity in your music room lacking, it is definitely in your best interest to invest in a humidifier, or if your budget allows, an in-piano humidifying system such as those offered by Dampp-Chaser. This will ensure your piano keeps a wonderful tone, remains tunable & in tune longer, and keeps you entertained for years to come.