The Art of Tone Regulation
The first piano hammers were constructed out of paper and a small piece of leather. This early design lacked power and durability. ‘Modern’ piano hammers utilize dense, high-quality felt as their primary material. When brand new Steinway hammers are ordered they are most often very soft and slightly misshaped. To achieve the correct shape for maximum power and tone they are filed, shaved and carefully reshaped. (This process is used on any brand of parts to prepare the factory new hammers for actual use.) Due to their softness, they can give off an overly mellow tone with insufficient projection and sustain.
To achieve the desired tone we use a specialty hardening substance. This helps add a power and brilliance to the resulting tone. After the hammer hardening process, our technicians even out or mellow the tone by voicing and needling the hammers that are overly bright. This process is an extensive one that truly brings out the very best an individual instrument can be. When completing a piano for a client, we can craft the tone of a piano to be as bright or mellow as the pianist desires.
Chupp’s Piano Service technicians understand proper substance mixture and application, proper voicing and needling techniques and the myriad of other adjustments necessary to bring a piano up to its full potential. These skills were learned at the Steinway factory and from continued training with legendary Steinway Factory trained technicians.
The tone regulation process is one of the most essential parts of any service work done on your piano. Bringing out the tone that the pianist desires is only possible when utilizing the proper voicing techniques. We have the experience and expert training to do just that. Tone regulation is a true art, that when executed properly, brings out the very best a piano can be. This process is where a piano is elevated from not just a mechanical marvel, but to a beautiful musical instrument. The tone and action regulation process is truly art you can feel.
“Crafting the best piano possible.”
The Piano Keys
There are 88 keys on a standard grand piano.
Each key is the touch point for the individual note. Even though the majority of moving parts are behind the keys, inside of the action and action stack itself, this doesn’t make one of the most visible and recognizable parts of the piano any less important.
If the keys feature vintage original ivory, our expert ivory keytop restorers go to work. The ivory keytops are sanded, polished and cleaned to create an incredibly smooth surface and return them to a brilliant, like new look. Often the original keytops have loosened from years of playing and are glued securely back into place. Older key sticks usually come into our shop in a very dirty state. We clean and sand each individual key stick to ensure a smooth feel and a clean action. If the key sticks ‘wiggle’ this creates an unstable feeling keyboard that does not instill confidence in the player. We check the key bushings to make sure they are tight enough to hold the key firmly, yet loose enough to allow for give.
The key end felt is evaluated and about 90% of the time full replacement is required. The key end felt pushes against the dampers and raises them when a note is played. Over time this can become moth-eaten and matted down, resulting in dampers that don’t lift fully. The keybed felt on which the back ends of the keys sticks rests, goes through the same process and evaluation.
Many vintage pianos have keys that are no longer level. An uneven keyboard can be a constant frustration for a pianist of any level. If a full key leveling is needed, we remove the key sticks and precisely level each key. This is done by using paper punchings of various thicknesses that adjust the key to the proper height. A punching made of felt is then placed over the paper to help absorb the impact of the key stroke. The keys are then checked to ensure they are at the correct height in relation to the piano’s fallboard. Working from the outside in, each key is positioned to ensure the correct level of key dip. After the keys are leveled, the keys are played thousands of times to tamp down the felt and paper punchings. After this, final adjustments are made. This seemingly simply process requires precision and careful measurements to allow for an even keyboard and the right level of key drop.
The keys are then weighed off to exacting specifications. In the case of our premium Steinway & Sons restorations, this weight is Steinway factory specifications. Each and every key is reweighed during this process to ensure an incredibly responsive action that allows a pianist to fly across the keyboard.
The Action Stack & Full Disassembly
The piano action frame is a durable metal piece onto which action parts are installed. The frame’s job is to hold the action components tightly and securely. When re-building a piano action we remove this important component, uninstall all of the parts, clean it and re-gild it to return it to a factory new look. The parts that were removed from the action stack are examined, cleaned and either replaced or reused if they are in good structural condition.
Adjustments and Action Regulation
After the entire action has been assembled and checked, final adjustments and regulations are made. The regulation process is truly where the voice and feel of the piano blooms. The hammers are aligned to the strings to make sure they strike the string at the precise point needed. The capstans are adjusted, the wippens are aligned to the knuckles, the let off is set on the end hammers, the let off and drop is finalized, the spring tension is adjusted and much more. This entire process ensures the correct touch and maximum responsiveness.
Proper action regulation is truly an art and is one of the final and most important steps of the piano restoration and rebuilding process. This job is one that takes time, talent and a dedication to the craft. Our technicians are highly trained by the best in the industry and have the experience needed to craft an action that fits your performance needs. This is just some of the work that we do on every single restored piano we work on here at Chupp’s Piano Service. Our processes are time tested and proven to produce a piano that plays at its optimum potential.