Piano Tuning and Services

Neville Claughton Govt. Registered Piano Technician and Luthier
Late of Chas Begg and Co – Harrods London
Over 50 years experience local and international

Neville served his apprenticeship with Chas Begg and Co in Christchurch graduating as a fully qualified Piano Technician under the NZ Governments Registered Board in the late 1960’s. He then went on to study Musical Instrument Construction and Repair in all facets of Brass, Woodwind, Orchestral and Contemporary Instruments and is a highly regarded Luthier and one of a handful of trained technicians in New Zealand as possibly the longest serving craftsman in the country.

PIANO TUNING
Piano tuning is a necessary part of piano maintenance with the frequency of tuning important to the life of the instrument. It is recommended a piano is tuned at least once a year to ensure stability and to keep the pitch maintained to Concert Pitch =A440. A new piano usually requires 3-4 tunings in the first year of use to allow the strings and structure to “settle” with regular follow up service/tunings by a trained technician. 

WHY PICK ONLY A REGISTERED OR QUALIFIED TECHNICIAN??

At times there are a few DIY so-called Piano Tuner/Technicians circulating throughout the country often overseas people here on a holiday or work visa sometimes even working illegally and in most cases will not be around to pick up the mess they leave behind them. Unless the person you are about to entrust your instrument with can present their credentials like you would expect from your qualified electrician or plumber, then show them the door. If they cannot present evidence of their membership of the NZPPTA or a Certificate Of Apprenticeship/Qualification from a recognised training  organisation then under no circumstances let that person near your piano. A properly trained technician will have spent at least four years of study and followed up with more industry experience and be allowed to offer their services within the required NZ framework. Some so-called technicians cannot even perform the simple task of changing a string or a broken part and often use a guitar tuner in an attempt to tune your piano. Hard to believe but it is true.

REPAIRS AND RECONDITIONING/ REGULATING

Regular checks carried out free of charge with each tuning usually reveals any problems and the need for service/repairs over and above the normal tuning work. Any such work should only be carried out by a qualified technician and best not trusted to the in-experienced person or “off the internet” DIY. Too often irreversible damage is caused to the instruments structure and as the saying goes “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Periodic regulating of both upright and grand pianos is of the utmost importance to ensure on-going quality is maintained.

PIANO POLISHING AND CABINET REPAIRS

  I can offer a comprehensive in-house service covering all aspects of cabinet work and polishing together with my network of highly skilled craftsman.. From basic touch-ups and minor repairs through to complete restoration to top quality uprights and grands.

PIANO SALES
I have one of the largest ranges of used European, USA and Asian Pianos in New Zealand. My focus is on quality instruments priced between $800.00 to $15000.00 dollars often less than half the price of retailers nationwide. I can offer free local delivery and generous subsidies across NZ. Certain conditions may apply.

VALUATIONS AND INSPECTIONS
I offer a comprehensive valuation and pre-purchase service from basic verbal assessments right through to detailed reports for purposes of sale and estate work. I am the first choice technician for leading insurers and assessors given my ability to complete the whole task when flood damage and earthquake repairs are necessary. There is of course a small fee for this service and a written report if requested. This can often apply to that $1.00 clunker just purchased to "get the kids started" and is usually deemed useless

CREDITS AND CLIENT BASE.
I have worked closely as a technician and in tutoring/technical roles to many international and local artists including performance venues across NZ. Included are Canterbury University, ChCh Town Hall, Kings College Auckland, Aotea Centre Auckland, Michael Fowler Centre Wellington, Pakuranga Performing Arts Auckland, Nelson School of Music, Marlborough Civic Theatre, Nayland College Nelson and many educational institutions too numerous to detail. I have worked with touring companies and contemporary artists including Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Peter Frampton, Blood Sweat and Tears, Sir Elton John, BB King and Little River Band. I travel extensively within The South Island and with some limited time in the north when required.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION IF CONSIDERING A PRIVATE PURCHASE

BUYING A PIANO PRIVATELY??

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE BUYING A USED PIANO.

A must read before taking on a used piano and the heartbreaks that are await you.

Free advice for the in-experienced from a highly qualified technician with over 50 years in the business and has seen it all.

 It’s important to remember that any piano  (whether that’s an acoustic piano or even digital piano for that matter) is a machine. This is not the same as a violin, cello, guitar or even a brass instrument where there’s a relatively small number of moving parts and a lot of natural materials that are maturing and curing over time. The important thing to know right away is that unlike those other instruments, pianos never get better with age, even super high-quality pianos. The only exception to that might be for the first few years when an instrument is opening up and the action’s getting broken in. You could make the argument that a piano four or five years into its ownership is a better playing instrument than one on the day you got it. But 50 or 100 years down the road, the instrument is simply not going to be as good as the day it left the factory.

There are over 6,000 parts in a piano and a lot of those parts are undergoing serious stresses and forces that gradually break down these natural materials over time. Eventually, these natural materials just deteriorate and stop performing as they were originally supposed to, and contrary to what a Steinway dealer might tell you, no piano is an appreciating asset. If you’re unsure about a piano’s age, you can find out by looking up the serial number on a google search.

 

PITCH:

If you plan is to have a piano that can be used in conjunction with other instruments and/or be played along with recorded/internet music then the piano has to be set at concert pitch (A440). An instrument that is not concert pitch is therefore useless even for the youngest entry level learner. DO NOT ASSUME ANY PIANO CAN BE RAISED UP HALF A TONE TO CONCERT PITCH BECAUSE IT PROBABLY WON’T. It should be remembered that more than 50% of old pianos cannot be tuned to A440, will hold a tune or mechanically is a disaster waiting to happen.

Key Bushings:

In terms of specific mechanical things that are important to watch for that’ll let you know whether a used piano has possibly been overused, abused, or just under-maintained, we’re going to start with the keys. There are some aesthetic considerations that can be quite obvious as you can see whether the key is damaged, chipped and whether some of the keys are stained or have yellowed over time. But one of the most important things you can do to quickly check whether the keys are in good condition is to press the keys from side to side and see how much play there is. There is supposed to be some play, I would say it’s somewhere between one to two millimeters that you should be able to push the key back and forth to the left and the right, however you should not be able to press the key from one side and have it touch the next key. This is a good way to tell whether the bushings are worn out or not. If you are able to press that key so it touches the very next key, there’s a good chance that the bushings are worn out and the action will feel very loose. The player’s sense of control is going to be a lot lower. If you wanted to improve upon that, you may have to embark on a somewhat costly repair of either replacing the bushings.

Key Level:

The second thing to check would be to take a look at the level of the keys. Are there a lot of white or black keys sitting at different heights? This is not necessarily an expensive problem but it is a sign that the instrument has probably not been maintained very well and it needs what’s called regulation. Regulation is essentially a term that refers to resetting all of the moving parts in the piano so that the keys are sitting at the right height and the hammers are striking at the right point in the string. Regulation can take a couple of hours or if it’s something that’s really significantly out of sync, possibly a couple of days worth of work.

  

Worn Hammers:

The third thing to check is to look at the tip of the hammers. Now, it is normal to see some level of grooving – you’ll often see three lines in the hammer with a small amount of indentation.  However, if you see the hammers and to the touch, they’re extremely hard, to the point that they don’t feel like felt anymore, this is a sign of either a badly worn hammer or possibly a hammer that’s completely at the end of its life. With a hammer this worn the tone is going to be very bright and metallic, and it’s possible that the hammer has been treated with chemicals over the course of its life and can’t really be resuscitated.

Strings:

There are two types of piano strings. The strings in the lower register are copper, whereas the strings in the mid-range and treble are steel. Metal gradually corrodes over time, so at some point in a piano’s life, the strings will need to be replaced. Look for discoloration, rust, and corrosion to see if the strings may need to be replaced. REPLACEMENT IS VERY EXPENSIVE AND COSTS $1000’S OF DOLLARS

Pinblock:

The pinblock is the large piece of wood that the tuning pins emerge from. If the pinblock is cracked, it’s very unlikely the piano will be able to hold it’s tune, and replacing a pinblock is very expensive and time-consuming. Have a look at the pinblock to make sure you don’t see any cracking. Seek advice to check the pin-block is not “soft” and will hold a tune.

 

A SOFT PIN-BLOCK IS THE #1 REASON WHY YOU DON’T WANT THAT PIANO IN YOUR HOME DESPITE WHAT THE PREVIOUS OWNER SAYS. USUALLY THAT PERSON DOESN’T KNOW OR IF THEY DO THEY ARE NOT GOING TO TELL YOU.  “NEEDS A TUNE” IS THE USUAL DEFENCE

 Soundboard:

A piano’s soundboard is the large piece of wood that generates the majority of the tone that you hear when you play the instrument. On an upright piano, the soundboard is located at the back of the piano, whereas on a grand piano its located under the metal plate and strings. The soundboard essentially acts like a big speaker cone by amplifying the sound of the strings, which is conveyed to the soundboard via the bridge. When in the process of buying a used piano, make sure that you don’t buy a used piano that has a cracked soundboard.

In reality, cracks in a soundboard are not necessarily a bad thing. It can be and so that’s where a lot of that alarm comes from. For example, if the crack crosses a rib or you hear a lot of buzzing when the piano is played, then it’s very expensive and very problematic to try and fix that crack.  A soundboard crack that isn’t really a concern is one that will appear fairly straight, like a dark line where you can see that the wood has kind of separated. This isn’t going to have any musical effect on the instrument as a whole if the crack is not causing buzzing, and not situated across any ribs on the soundboard. No doubt it is going to affect the resale value due to the stigma, but if you’re buying a used piano to have it as a musical instrument and it’s not causing those issues and you like everything else about the piano, including the price, then don’t let this be an absolute deal killer.

Summary:

If you’re looking for a piano to be that’s ready to be played with minimal maintenance, then these are red flags that should probably steer you away from one particular piano and towards another used instrument or new instrument if the budget allows for it. Once you’ve found an instrument that you like and it’s passed all of those tests you can then take the further step of contacting a local technician or piano tuner and having them give an independent assessment of the instrument as well. Or if you’re dealing with a local dealer that you trust and has a really strong reputation, you could always have them produce a written, signed assessment of the instrument for your records as well.

JUST THINK..WOULD YOU CONSIDER BUYING A 60+ YEAR OLD MOTOR CAR WITH A SIMILAR NUMBER OF PARTS FOUND IN THE AVERAGE PIANO  WITHOUT THE RIGHT ADVICE?- PROBABLY NOT.

 



 
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