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#630654 - 10/11/01 04:32 PM Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
hofner Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/11/01
Posts: 1
Loc: Alpharetta, GA
I have bought a Stieff full-size upright that was made in 1920s or 30s. I am considering having it tuned a little lower than standard pitch, ie A435 instead of A440. I would like to know what people who knows more about pianos think about this. I have never owned a piano before, but played other people's off and on.

I have been playing music about 28 years, mostly guitar, bass, and infrequently, keyboards. One thing I came to realize over the years is that I tend to like the sound of music that is tuned a little lower than standard pitch. I have no problem with playing at standard pitch if there's a reason, but otherwise I like to tune my guitars a little lower.

I have found very little about the history of standard pitch, but one thing I did read was that standard pitch was fixed at A440 in 1939, and at A435 in 1859. (Please tell me if this is incorrect)

I would like to know if there's any compelling reason not to tune a piano lower than A440, and if anyone has done this before. I won't be using this piano with other musicians very much, it's in my home.

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#630655 - 10/12/01 10:51 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
Bob Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/01/01
Posts: 3843
You are right about the dates, A-440 wasn't standard till about 1940. Many of the old uprights were designed to be tuned to A-435. I tune them flat all the time, especially when they are flat to begin with, and the strings are rusty, and the pins are loose. Tuning your piano to A-435 won't hurt anything.
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#630656 - 10/17/01 07:38 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
SamLewisPiano.com Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/19/01
Posts: 635
Loc: WHITE BLUFF (Nashville area) T...
There may be some difference in tone if the piano was designed to be at 440, but frankly, it will be negligible, especially on an old upright like this. Most requests that I get are to raise the pitch 5-10 cents (100 cents= 1 semitone) so it sounds brighter. It certainly wont hurt your piano, so if that's what you want, do it.
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#630657 - 01/09/02 02:20 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
Littlebit Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/23/01
Posts: 62
Loc: CA
Help,
I just got my piano 2 weeks ago and had it tuned today.
It was in 438 so it was tuned there since it is an old upright built 1910-1930.

Am I understanding that most likely this piano was designed to be tuned 435?

Is there any harm in tuning to 438?
May I ad that there ia a small crack along the lower right half pins of the bass bridge.
Could this have been caused by exceeding the
perhaps 435 that this piano may have been designed for?

What should I do, is 438 ok or should it be taken done to 435 to avoid any more bridge damage?

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#630658 - 01/09/02 09:43 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
SamLewisPiano.com Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/19/01
Posts: 635
Loc: WHITE BLUFF (Nashville area) T...
It may or may not have been designed to 435, but you need not worry about 438. I've encountered pianos over the years that have been as high as 75 cents sharp (100 cents = 1 semitone) due to high humidity, and they were fine. (note: I don't recommend tuning it that high!) Many of my clients over the years ask for higher pitch, often as high as 20 cents (A=445). Your 438 pitch translates to about 8 cents flat of 440, about 12 cents sharp of 435. Thats not enough to hurt a healthy piano.............Sam
_________________________
Since 1975; Full-time piano tuner/tech in Nashville;
Lacquer and polyester specialist.

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#630659 - 01/09/02 12:24 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
Littlebit Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/23/01
Posts: 62
Loc: CA
Thanks,
I was concerned because of my bridge having
a crack along half of the lower bridge pins.

Well, I'll wait til the next tuning and take the time to evaluate the piano before deciding whether to seal the bass bridge
crack. I ahve also been told that glueing the crack may make things worse, so I hesitiate.

I guess it couldn't be as easy as getting a syringe with glue and inserting it into the crack around the pins with a needle.
That may hold the pins better but will it really seal a crack or stop further cracking?

This is a very sensitive area and I don't want to do the wrong thing there.

Thanks, I do appreciate all your help.
Littlebit \:\)

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#630660 - 01/09/02 07:58 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
SamLewisPiano.com Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/19/01
Posts: 635
Loc: WHITE BLUFF (Nashville area) T...
You're right: it's not that easy, but it's almost that easy. You would have to tilt the piano onto its back. Strings on the affected bridge should be loosened, and then a syringe with epoxy will do it.Warming the bridge with a hair dryer helps to wick the glue in. Be very neat with the glue, you don't want hardened glue causing rattles. Obviously, tipping a piano is dangerous, be very careful if you try it....Sam
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Since 1975; Full-time piano tuner/tech in Nashville;
Lacquer and polyester specialist.

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#630661 - 01/09/02 08:46 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
Littlebit Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/23/01
Posts: 62
Loc: CA
Not I, I am 95 lbs and my piano is abot 950 lbs, no it is not even thinkable for me to tip the piano on it's side. I can't even lift a corner. My only hope would be to get the super glue in a needle applicator and inject. If it dried fast enough it wouldn't run out. That was my only idea to fix it myself. I don't feel capable of taking off and putting back strings and I an certainly
can not get my half tonner on it's back.

Might injecting superglue cause more problems
or would it help seal the crack?

Thanks for the advice.

It appears to be my main problem with the piano lets see how she does and maybe if that's the most important repair I'll get the bridge fixed.

Thanks,
Littlebit

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#630662 - 01/09/02 09:06 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
SamLewisPiano.com Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/19/01
Posts: 635
Loc: WHITE BLUFF (Nashville area) T...
Littlebit- please dont try the superglue with the piano standing, I promise you that you will have a mess! Get a quote from your tech; it really isnt that expensive of a job....Sam
_________________________
Since 1975; Full-time piano tuner/tech in Nashville;
Lacquer and polyester specialist.

www.SamLewisPiano.com

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#630663 - 01/09/02 09:52 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch
Littlebit Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/23/01
Posts: 62
Loc: CA
ok, I won't touch it but it took four men struggling to move this piano.
Would they try to get it on it's back in my living room? Well, good luck but when they have her on her back can they fix one of the rollers. The steel wheel came out of the attachment under the piano when they moved it
I guess I'm lucky that was the worst damage still it is upsetting. Luckily it was in the back and I have a piece of wood leveling her.

Oh, sometimes all of this too fast gets to me but I suppose every used piano has it's wrinkles to iron.

I think I need some air!

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#2307548 - 07/26/14 10:24 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
KJLien Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/27/13
Posts: 7
Loc: Texas
I personally have an older upright piano that I got at a church rummage sale. It was 200 cents, or a whole tone, flat when I got it. It's taken me a while to bring it up to 440, but it stays pretty well now and sounds good when tuned to standard pitch.

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#2307565 - 07/26/14 10:52 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21396
Loc: Oakland
It is 12 years since this topic appeared. If you want to make a comment about your piano, start a new one.
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#2307579 - 07/26/14 11:28 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: BDB]
KJLien Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/27/13
Posts: 7
Loc: Texas
Excuse me??? Who are you and why are you telling me what to do?

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#2307644 - 07/27/14 05:26 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: SamLewisPiano.com]
Olek Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7425
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: SamLewisPiano.com
There may be some difference in tone if the piano was designed to be at 440, but frankly, it will be negligible, especially on an old upright like this. Most requests that I get are to raise the pitch 5-10 cents (100 cents= 1 semitone) so it sounds brighter. It certainly wont hurt your piano, so if that's what you want, do it.


I welcome your visit wink are there holidays ? there will be more technicians/tuners from Nashville than from anywhere else in that forum (may be N.Y. ?)

Regards
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#2307645 - 07/27/14 05:31 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
Olek Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7425
Loc: France
BDB , with topics on very common subjects the less new ones the better, I think. That "tuning at low pitch" and 435/440 story could even be in one thread only.

BTW 435 was known in Europe as "French pitch" , but I think 440 was used soon (as even higher pitches, and now the "standdard is more 442- 443Hz)

That goes hand in hand with brillancy of tone, an there are not so much possibilities for strings length and diameters in the melodic to treble region, so that section of pianos, which is where the least compromises are used, could have been the same in 1930 than today +-

I tune most pianos to at last 438 Hz unless I "feel" while tuning the pitch was lower when the piano was tune regularly (rarely as most tuners may have tuned at 440 since decades)

if possible 440, I mean if confident in wire.

That have not so muchto do with tension, on the opposite, the stress on the pin hep the pin to settle firmer.

100 years old players I tune for instance, have an excellent tuning ability and hold in time pretty well. at 440 + English or German original wire no traces of stringing.

Sorry for the OT. The advice given was good so I do not ad much. repair that bass bridge if it is the main problem.
Have the piano tune by a real aural tuner, as they can feel more where the piano "is happy" than when following a display, which lower tuning perceptions somehow.

Of course you could "pre tense" the stings youself, so less visits will be necessary, but this can be the cause of trouble that the tuner will nee to correct. If you do so try not to break too much strings ...

Good luck


Edited by Olek (07/27/14 05:45 AM)
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It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2307690 - 07/27/14 09:09 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
bkw58 Offline

Silver Supporter until December 19, 2014


Registered: 03/14/09
Posts: 1674
Loc: Conway, AR USA
With respect to selection of an old thread vs starting a new one, we've seen conflicting reactions from some of the older members. New posters are darned if they do, darned if they don't. As long as the new post contains at least some relevance to the old thread topic, what difference does it make? Am I missing something? At any rate, welcome back to the tech forum, KJLien. I see from your post of a year ago here that you have (had) family in the piano tuning business?


Edited by bkw58 (07/27/14 09:11 AM)
Edit Reason: typos
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Retired piano technician
Piano Technicĉ

"Never argue with a fool, people may not be able to tell you apart." - author unknown

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#2307699 - 07/27/14 10:11 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
Greg the Piano Tuner Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 39
Loc: Boston
If I'm asked to tune a piano that's very flat, here's my thinking. Since the piano has been neglected for years, I have no problem making the decision about what to do. My goal to get the piano sounding at its best, without breaking strings.

For me, the two deciding factors are how old the piano is and whether or not the strings are rusty.

Pre-1940s piano:
Rusty strings- I'll tune it to wherever A4 is, backing each pin downwards slightly first to break any rust seal, and either get the piano up to 435 or leave it at the A4 pitch until next time.
No rust on the strings- I'll pitch-raise it to 435 and leave it there.

Piano made after the 1940s:
Rusty strings- I'll do as above and then make a decision, either leaving it at 435 until next time, or getting it up to 440.
No rust on the strings- I'll crank it right to 440, pitch-raising it first, and tell the customer that the piano will need another tuning in a few months.

(on another note- I have no problem with someone reactivating an old thread. That's how I read this one today. If I had a criticism of someone's post, I'd probably PM them and keep it off-thread.)

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#2307715 - 07/27/14 10:49 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
Olek Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7425
Loc: France
GREG, you'd better clarify to the max what to expect, with the customer. Even by "saying" the piano "will need a new tuning" , that part is generally immediately forgotten by the customer.
From time to time he really plays and then experiment how bad your job was after calling another tuner (one year later or more sometime!) .
You'd be surprised how bad mouthing can be those customers, simply because they did not get the point.

Just tell what you do it s a repair, not a tuning.
Anyway that is, you may need also some wire cleaning, massaging, screws tightening.

Anyone need to work but it is better to situate things in their context, and not be ashamed to be paid for the precedent economies or lack of maintenance. It is also being a little too much proud of his own ability, to believe one can put a piano "in tune" in one visit.
Either you take a new date and fix a price immediately, or you take the risk.

Best wishes.


Edited by Olek (07/27/14 10:50 AM)
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It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2307725 - 07/27/14 11:01 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
gynnis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/14
Posts: 116
Loc: Florida, Connecticut
Some of this is a matter of taste. I discussed different pitches with Del, and in general it doesn't make any difference. I agree with the idea of putting the pitch where the piano is "happy". Prewar pianos seem to do a little better at lower pitch, especially is they have thin sound boards like my Chickering. If the board hasn't been replaced or shimmed, it relieves a bit of pressure from the sound board and helps keep the crown for a bit longer. I had the Chickering at 440, but decided that it sounded better at 435. The bass richened and the string of pearls in the treble wasn't so obvious. It didn't make any difference in the tenor area.
_________________________
Seiler 206, Chickering 145, Estey 2 manual reed organ, Fudge clavichord, Zuckerman single harpsichord, Technics P-30, Roland RD-100.

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#2307922 - 07/27/14 08:13 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
Olek Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7425
Loc: France
I dont know how it can make "no difference" the stress factor varies and small variations create more audible effects than the small percentage added .

Between 435 and 438 Hz the iH lowers "audibly" and brilliancy begins to show up as the tone is longer and more focused
Between 438 an 440 as well, in a very audible way, even noticed by non musicians.

I dont think I could tune by mistake at 440 a piano intended for 435Hz. But I do not like to leave that nasal component of tone that is present with under stressed wire.

As you say, "when the piano is happy" that can be noticed.

If you pass the original bends in the wire, you feel something is wrong, may be the bridge tilts too much, but the tone get as broken at some point. (just before the wire wink
_________________________
It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2308457 - 07/29/14 10:58 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
gynnis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/14
Posts: 116
Loc: Florida, Connecticut
Oleg, I had my Seiler at 438 for a number of years, largely to reduce the very bright sound from the Abel hammers. This year, the hammer hardness got in the way of tuning, so I softened the hammers and brought the pitch back to 440 Hz. Yes it does make a difference, the piano whined a bit when I changed the pitch, but it's not a huge effect.

Del gave the following example:

"An anecdote illustrating this came from a friend (now deceased) who once did a lot of tuning for recording studios in NYC. He was legally blind but that had nothing to do with his tuning ability. He finally got tired of constantly changing pitch on the various pianos he was in charge of (he was rarely paid for changing pitch). As he had a friend who worked for a company making tuning forks he had a set of eight forks made that were stamped A=438 through A=445. When a pianist requested some pitch other than A=440 he would plead blindness and ask them to pick out the right fork and he would use that to set the pitch of the piano. All of these forks were, of course, tuned to A=440. He claimed he never had a complaint."
_________________________
Seiler 206, Chickering 145, Estey 2 manual reed organ, Fudge clavichord, Zuckerman single harpsichord, Technics P-30, Roland RD-100.

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#2308471 - 07/29/14 11:32 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: gynnis]
A443 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 1030
Loc: Manywheres
Originally Posted By: gynnis
"An anecdote illustrating this came from a friend (now deceased) who once did a lot of tuning for recording studios in NYC. He was legally blind but that had nothing to do with his tuning ability. He finally got tired of constantly changing pitch on the various pianos he was in charge of (he was rarely paid for changing pitch). As he had a friend who worked for a company making tuning forks he had a set of eight forks made that were stamped A=438 through A=445. When a pianist requested some pitch other than A=440 he would plead blindness and ask them to pick out the right fork and he would use that to set the pitch of the piano. All of these forks were, of course, tuned to A=440. He claimed he never had a complaint."
laugh ha tricky blind man.

But, just FYI, I could never get away with something like that. Musicians in Vienna, for example, actually know and can hear the difference. And, orchestras all over the world will immediately know the difference (i.e., which is why one needs to know the temperature of the stage WHEN the music is played: usually this means means having to tune higher at a colder temperature so that the piano is at the house standard when the piano is wheeled onstage). The pianists may be indifferent, but the other instrumentalists are not; if the pitch is not where it is supposed to be, then they struggle to maintain pitch throughout their registers.

You will have problems with pitch-level-sensitive instrumentalists like the oboe, if they have a big solo with the piano and the piano is too high/low!!! It doesn't matter the it is a temperature issue, it is always the piano technician's fault. So, one needs to be vigilant and aware of the environment.

And, BTW, pitch level does effect the tuning. Try tuning a piano at 438, record each note location, and then tune again at 445 and record each note location. They will be different. The timbre also changes. With enough attempts, one can find the ideal pitch for that instrument, based on the kind of tuning being applied to the piano. There will be a pitch-level that seems to, overall, work better.
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#2309109 - 07/30/14 09:46 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: bkw58]
KJLien Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/27/13
Posts: 7
Loc: Texas
Thanks for the welcome! I may have been slightly defensive and possibly a little rude with my last post. I felt attacked and unwelcome, so I appreciate your kindness and understanding of a newbie like me. Yes, my grandfather and uncle we're both tuners and I am in the process of completing a home study course. I received an older upright that was so flat I wasn't sure I'd ever bring it up to 440. After lots of care and only one broken string, I've been able to bring it up to pitch! It has been a great piano for learning tuning and how to make minor repairs. Glad to be able to carry on the family tradition. I've learned a lot and I'm excited to continue my growth and development as a tuner-tech. Thanks again for the warm welcome!

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#2309290 - 07/31/14 10:29 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
Olek Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7425
Loc: France
The main problem of pitch reconstruction is the bridge tilt, raise of downbearing but mostly at the back of the bridge.

Counter measures are necessary as precautions, an this is to be sold as a repair, not maintenance, in my opinion. (above a few Hz anyway)

With rusted strings, you take the bridge with you a lot


Edited by Olek (07/31/14 06:30 PM)
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It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2309298 - 07/31/14 10:43 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
gynnis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/14
Posts: 116
Loc: Florida, Connecticut
I did notice that raising the pitch from 438 to 440 on my Seiler improved the decay time. It doesn't sound so dry.
_________________________
Seiler 206, Chickering 145, Estey 2 manual reed organ, Fudge clavichord, Zuckerman single harpsichord, Technics P-30, Roland RD-100.

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#2309477 - 07/31/14 06:29 PM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: gynnis]
Olek Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7425
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: gynnis
I did notice that raising the pitch from 438 to 440 on my Seiler improved the decay time. It doesn't sound so dry.


Yes it is enough to make the string more resilient (that is the abiity to return fast to its original position)
Then the energy transfer to the bridge is better, and the string is reflecting waves more, less energy is lost at impact, lot of good things, particularly as Seilers are scaled with 442 Hz in mind probably (and yours have been tuned at last to 440 for a fair amount of time so the wire "memory" may like to get back to that (I think bends here, mostly)

A little less iH also, helps to brighten the tone.
_________________________
It is critical that you call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor S. 2587 and H.R. 5052. Getting your legislators to cosponsor these bills


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#2309697 - 08/01/14 08:00 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
gynnis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/14
Posts: 116
Loc: Florida, Connecticut
Isaac, I'll try bringing it to 442 when I change to Vallotti. I think the hammers have been softened enough so that it won't scream at the higher pitch. The piano will probably whine for a while until it settles into the new pitch. I'm trying Vallotti on the harpsichord first, so I can practice laying in the temperament without dealing with the unisons. I'll try it on some of the WTC in remote keys to see how it sounds compared to Bach-Lehmann, and they try it on the Seiler. I'll let you know the results. It will probably be a month or so until I get around to it.
_________________________
Seiler 206, Chickering 145, Estey 2 manual reed organ, Fudge clavichord, Zuckerman single harpsichord, Technics P-30, Roland RD-100.

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#2309699 - 08/01/14 08:03 AM Re: Tuning a piano lower than standard pitch [Re: hofner]
gynnis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/14
Posts: 116
Loc: Florida, Connecticut
What style of unisons do you recommend when I move to Vallotti? What were the results of your interaction with Michel Legrand on pure tone?
_________________________
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