Out of tune lowest notes only

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Episcopal Oversight
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Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by Episcopal Oversight » 23 Jan 2017, 22:43

Last February I bought a 1976 Bechstein Model L. Overall I like it a lot, but I've noticed the tuning of the lowest notes - from exactly where the bass strings become single - drifts soon after the piano has been tuned. They don't go out by miles, but enough to beat slightly against octaves and sound 'muddy'. The tuning of the rest of the piano is very stable.

The piano has been tuned three times since last February and each time these bass notes have done the same thing. I thought maybe it was just settling in, but it's nearly a year - and three tunings - on now, so I wonder if something else going on. I asked my tuner to come back and re-tune the single-string bass notes last week (two weeks after he'd tuned the whole piano) and sure enough, a week later they've wandered - almost to where they were before he re-tuned them. Like I said, they aren't out by miles, but I wonder why they should go out at all when the rest of the instrument is so stable? Or should I just learn to be more patient?!

Advice will be gratefully received.

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Colin Nicholson
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Re: Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by Colin Nicholson » 24 Jan 2017, 03:17

Losing tuning stability can be an issue for grand pianos around forty years old and older (when they reach 40, they ARE classed as being "old" - usually applies to the trade). As the wrest plank tapers out in the bass, same thickness of maple, but narrower than the rest - can be issues.... some Bluthners are the same after about 60-70 years.

Has the piano been re-strung? New wrest pins? ...... or all original?

What has your piano tuner said?

A process of elimination may solve it, but could take some time and money.

1. Check that your piano is definitely dated around 1976? .... the serial number should be around #168950 (starting in 1976/ six digits).... not suggesting the date is wrong, but may be exaggerated?? Remove music rest to find it. I've heard various stories about pianos claimed to be younger than they actually are.... so double check the serial number, and get back to us if wildly different. Often you find stock or parts numbers on pianos, these are not the serial number.... should be in black lettering, scripted and about 2cm in height for each number. If not on the frame , will be on the soundboard rim.

2. Ask your tuner if the bass single's wrest pins are tight, like the others/ similar torque.

3. If not as tight, tap them down a "quarter tap" with a pin setter/ scissor jack under the wrest plank.

There could be some previous inherent problems from previous owner that has started some historic movement off earlier than expected.... e.g.... central heating.

4. check soundboard & bass bridge and bridge pins - if any separations, this can cause instability.

5. If all fails, re-string and re-pin the single bass strings with new, or pin tite (injection solution) the old.

Ultimately, there is not a problem with the "tuning" visit part.... it may be structural & ongoing.
Just by simply retuning the bass won't solve the problem - will lie deeper.

If the piano has been re-strung/ cast frame re-guilded etc.... look again at the serial number font style.
We can spot a mile away how a serial number should be executed & "decal" applied.... old may be slightly pitted?
Take a photo of the serial number, bass singles tuning pins and strings.... we may spot something.
Go to top of the Piano Advice page for directions how to upload photos, and send them here JPG.

Hope that helps for now

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Re: Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by Barrie Heaton » 24 Jan 2017, 20:36

on most piano the bottom bass tends to stay put and its the rest of the piano that moves, have you looked at the pitch is it still on A440

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Re: Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by Episcopal Oversight » 25 Jan 2017, 00:09

Thank you for your advice. I've attempted to attach a photo of the serial number as per the instructions. If it hasn't worked I'll try again, but for reference it is 164237. I'm willing to invest in this piano if the work is necessary because I really do like both the sound and the feel. I will talk to my tuner about the re-stringing/pinning options. I've checked using a digital tuner and A is 440.

I'd like to have someone else look at the piano and give me a second opinion before I commit financially - is that something someone on this forum would be able to do (chargeable, of course)? I appreciate there are sensitivities around asking someone else to look at the piano, but the actual work would still be done by my tuner and I'd be open with him about getting a second opinion. I think it's reasonable to seek more than one professional opinion before deciding whether to make the investment.
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Re: Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by Colin Nicholson » 25 Jan 2017, 08:53

Something not quite right here (one of my hunches!) -- OK, the member wondered what the heck was going on with losing stability, yet, the tuner just came back to tune those singles THREE times? -is that it? Surely some questions would be asked with answers? I might have hit a chord with what the tuner said. It's like (scenario), my brakes not working properly on my car.... could be air in the system, leaky pipe/ caliper etc.... then I just get the garage to bleed the brakes.... then the problem comes back, so surely after the 2nd visit, I would want some proper investigating done/ reasonable suggestions and answers from mechanic.
So, either find a different tuner, change piano, or have the problem sorted with new strings & pins.

A piano that is already just over 40 years old may seem to be a "new" piano, but it's not.
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Re: Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by Episcopal Oversight » 25 Jan 2017, 16:58

Thank you, Colin. I'm not under any illusion that the piano is 'new' and was fully expecting it might need some time and money spent on it. The first tuning was a complete one - the first tuning after I bought the piano. The second tuning was done a few weeks ago and was also a complete tuning. I've only called the tuner back once (last week) to re-do the single strings.

My query was more about what sort of work might be required and - in my previous post - whether anyone here would be available to look at the piano and give me their opinion. I appreciate it's impossible to make these judgements without seeing the instrument.

I'm happy with my tuner but ideally I'd like to have a couple of opinions and estimates before I commit to spending my hard-earned money!

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Re: Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by vernon » 25 Jan 2017, 21:29

Wherabouts are you so we can direct you to some sound advice?
Our mission in life is to tune customers--not pianos.

Any fool can make a piano-- it needs a tuner to put the music in it

www.lochnesspianos.co.uk

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Re: Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by Colin Nicholson » 26 Jan 2017, 03:00

The serial number looks genuine, but dated 1972 - so not too far out. Given manufacturing time, wrest plank resting time/ drying out etc could be a few years earlier, so for sake of argument say around 1970.... so nearly half a century old. Pianos this age have every reason to have small defects and issues in the wrest plank/ tuning stability and general condition of the bridge and soundboard.

I think we are not so much interested in the amount of tunings and how complete the tuners were/ are, but more interested in your tuner's opinion? I asked you what has your tuner said?

Previous to the first tuning, depending on the pitch/ stability and how badly the piano was out of tune, it is not unreasonable for the pitch to wander after a year.... the piano should be tuned every 6 months. If the pitch was down (1st tuning), then a "complete" tuning is realistically just a pre-tuning, then to be followed up in a few months with a proper fine tuning.... so it depends on how good it was in tune in the first place. Having the 2nd tuning nearly a year later may not have settled from the 1st tuning, so back to square one with a pre-tune. Also depends on room temperature and humidity. The stability of the tunings are bound to be irregular and perfectly normal, so it may transpire your piano is OK, and given the age, just needs more regular tunings - every 6 months is recommended.

I can't see the point just yet in getting another opinion, and why would anyone give estimates for work, knowing you would give the work to your tuner? ...... it would be like me suggesting various options, then you telling your tuner the answers!! .... it would be interesting (at first) to hear your own tuner's opinions and suggestions.... which could be similar to the list above. From what you have said, your piano tuner has had first-hand experience tuning your piano on several occasions, so surely his opinions are hot off the press?

I myself live in West Yorkshire (Leeds/ Bradford area), and would be willing to assess your piano, but of course it depends on where you live, as Vernon suggested. Obviously travelling expenses added. A suggestion would be to google piano tuners in your area if you wanted someone more local, or PM a tuner here on the forum.... the choice is yours.
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Re: Out of tune lowest notes only

Post by Episcopal Oversight » 26 Jan 2017, 21:59

Thank you for the advice. In my work I have to seek (and pay for) a second and sometimes a third opinion when significant expenditure might be involved, so it seemed natural to do the same thing with the piano - obviously things are different in the piano world!

When I mentioned re-stringing to my tuner last week he said a piano this age was 'just a baby' and dismissed the idea. It seems strange to rule out ageing as a contributing factor in anything over 40 years old (as I'm reminded on every visit to the doctor!) and that's what brought me here.

I'll give it some more time and at least a couple more tunings. If it's still an issue after that I'll most likely go down the re-stringing and re-pinning route.

Thanks again.

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