Down a semi-tone again???

Posted by: Pardew

Down a semi-tone again??? - 05/23/05 06:43 AM

I'm not a tuner or tech but I'm posting this here as I'm sure this is where I'll probably find the best answers to my questions.

I have an antique upright Shubert Piano that was manufactured in the late 1880's. Recently it was 'restored'. I'm sad because although cosmetically it looks better, it plays very badly now. The technician did not have much of a clue other than doing the cabinetry I think.

Anyway, this piano was never in Concert Pitch to begin with but a semitone (half step) down. Its bass strings were made of steel and going rusty. The tech changed the bass strings and put new copper-wound ones which sound better but somehow do not seem to harmonise well with the old treble (still original) strings. Should all of the strings have been changed?

My main dilemma is because, at the expense of my piano now being in concert pitch, its original sound has disappeared leaving instead a 'thin' sounding piano particularly in the upper registers. I was told (afterwards) by a piano dealer that Antique pianos were not manufactured tuned to concert pitch and that the Restorer should have known this. Is this really so? And if it is true, should I get him to tune the strings back down a semitone where they've always been? This was done a few months ago. Would it be too late now...as in would the strings have been onverstretched and could the pinblock have become damaged by the extra strain perhaps? I don't think so myself since the piano has always kept its tuning very well and still does, only it sounds 'strnage'now.

Any comments pls?

Thanks.
ASTRID
Posted by: Emmery

Re: Down a semi-tone again??? - 05/08/08 03:19 PM

First of all, changing all the strings would have been a good idea. The old plain wire strings were probably of inferior material to begin with, probably worn or rusty (like the bass) and perhaps suffered from being overstretched by your 440 tuning. I presume your loss of tone has to do with the crown in the soundboard being lost under the extra downbearing tension. Usually this is accompanied by buzzing strings lifting off the bridge. Piano strings are slightly angled down from the bridge producing pressure of aprox. 3-7 lbs per string downwards on the soundboard. It may improve a little in the summer from extra humidity pushing the crown back up but I doubt it. Most pianos of this era were tuned either to A436 or even a semi tone lower than 440. Some did not have full metal frames and could be structurally damaged from huge increases in tension. I suggest lowering the pitch until it sounds good again. Tune it to itself and you have to live the the disorientation (musically) of being off pitch. I doubt the tightness of your tuning pins suffered but you may run the risk of the entire pin block breaking loose or cracking from this higher tension. A good technician should have inspected a piano of this age before attempting such a high pitch raise, advised you of any risks, and certainly should have noticed the loss of tone when he/she was done.