Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

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Withindale
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Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Withindale » 04 Dec 2013, 01:02

There was a suggestion the other day in another forum that wiping the strings of a concert grand increases its volume. Hoots of derision followed, but I'm sure it's true.

A few days confined to barracks with the family bug has just given me ample opportunity to bring up all the notes of an old Ibach grand. The effects were the same as on the concert grand, increasing the depth of tone from bass to treble with the return of more upper partials.

The strings are relatively recent but they still did not feel smooth, thanks to a thin coating of whatever they had picked up from the atmosphere over the years. Wiping it off the speaking length made a difference, so did removing it from the duplexes and from under the dampers. Every little helped to make a big difference to tone, dynamic range and sustain.

I had thought the hundred year old soundboard had had its day but it seems the strings just needed a clean.

Is the need to clean strings regularly a well kept secret? Does it always improve tone and volume?

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Colin Nicholson
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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Colin Nicholson » 04 Dec 2013, 06:34

Nothing wrong with that.... I often run a cloth behind my strings just to prevent any build up of dust; no different to polishing your boots!

The red label Roslau piano wire (polished/ laminated steel) tends to be better than the blue label - and less risk of contamination.
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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Withindale » 04 Dec 2013, 09:43

Thanks Colin, have you noticed any notes livening up as a result of cleaning, especially higher harmonics?

Do you have any tips on how to get a cloth behind the strings, including the ones behind overstrung bass strings?

Also what sort brushes and gizmos would you suggest for getting dust away from bridge pins, agraffes and the other bearing/termination points?

I resorted to what I could find in the kitchen and bathroom, including a microfiber cloth, a toothbrush and one of those small brushes that go between your teeth, small conical brush that fitted between the strings at the capo bar, and a brush with some brass bristles.

Has anyone come up with a Dyson attachment to get down between the strings.

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 04 Dec 2013, 12:07

Withindale wrote:There was a suggestion the other day in another forum that wiping the strings of a concert grand increases its volume. Hoots of derision followed, but I'm sure it's true.
A soft leather shammy can work wonders on the steels However, don't rub the Bass strings flick them with a feather duster

As to cleaning under the string the is a great tool for this Grand Piano Soundboard Sweeper see youtube

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Gill the Piano » 04 Dec 2013, 18:30

Sound is knackered on my pooter; is the soundboard sweepy thing connected to a hoover or on its own?
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 04 Dec 2013, 20:58

Gill the Piano wrote:Sound is knackered on my pooter; is the soundboard sweepy thing connected to a hoover or on its own?
Na.. its a piece of plastic 35 mm wide and a meter long with a micro fiber sleeve that can be washed. It is good but pricey, also the Sperlock one a OK but they get nasty after a wile and can't be cleaned Still ghot coal dust up north tha Knows he did not think of that when he made um

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by vernon » 05 Dec 2013, 00:13

refer to my post ages ago re the family cleaning kit;
nail brushes,tooth brushes, flute cleaning brushes, steel wands, goose feathers, bridge pin files,
flute rods,blunted hacksaw blades, blunted coping saw blades etc

sets available here @ £3.17.6p
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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Colin Nicholson » 05 Dec 2013, 10:18

A few years ago, I used to receive a "leave on the doormat" catalogue like "Betterware" - plastic containers/ tupperware/ cleaning products etc.... and I bought a hoover attachment hose.... the end was very small - about the size of a throw away lighter. It didn't get behind the mid strings, but the areas around bridge pins were "concentrated vacuum" -- as the hoover went up several semitones! I've mislaid it.

Use some meths for cleaning treble strings, but never much good for bass strings.

I would need 2 identical pianos to make any comparisons.
Piano 1: left for 20-30 years/ no cleaning
Piano 2: Strings etc cleaned once or twice a year.

There is more depth, and a kind of 'silvery' sound with new strings.... but I couldn't make any comparisons before/after cleaning old strings
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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Withindale » 05 Dec 2013, 15:37

Hi Colin

About making comparisons, one could compare notes on the same piano after a few weeks or months of use. Wipe the strings of a note or two. If their sound has improved it would make sense to bring up the rest. Polishing boots as you say.

We were talking specifically about grand pianos where stuff from the atmosphere can settle on the tops of the strings. Presumably a similar thing would happen to uprights even if the strings are more protected and more difficult to get at.

You mention the depth and silvery sound of new strings. That's a good description of the resultant sound on the Ibach but I wonder if silvery is quite the right word. I'm guessing the strings are about 10 years old but they could be older.

I presume Barrie's wonders with a chammy leather refer to shiny sound as well as shiny strings.

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 05 Dec 2013, 22:25

Back in the 80s we use to use string blocks and compressed air house in a drill to clean the coils round the pins. These string blocks where s bit like hard penile rubbers They clean and shine the string but are not to abrasive to scratch it. but pit lots of bits on the soundboard which had to be removed IF you Use something to abrasive you will make the strings faults

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by vernon » 05 Dec 2013, 23:56

we still use them
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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by joseph » 06 Dec 2013, 14:23

I'm pretty sure it would improve the tone, if the strings had deposits on them on certain nodes for instance, it might be possible that a build up of dirt would produce odd whistles etc in these places - although I think it would have to be very dirty. I suppose the other danger is cleaning them too vigorously and changing the shape of the string?

Pianos really are the luck of the draw - I have played on a 1930 Richard Lipp grand that had original everything, and was fully serviced, and it sounded beautiful, and I've played on other pianos from the same period and younger that are really sounding tired. Strings seem to be pretty durable though, in most cases (unless they start snapping and the bass goes tubby)

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 06 Dec 2013, 20:57

vernon wrote:we still use them
I may still have a bucket full of the house pipes in the workshop did a clean out a few moths ago and duped loads of stuff not sure if that was one of the thing I go rid of if I still have do you want them


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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by vernon » 06 Dec 2013, 22:19

Barrie
dump nothing!
Send them to me and I'll pay the carriage.
We used to use a cupped rod against the wrest pin and then use a leather strap, armed with oily pumice to clean coils.
For goodness sake, I've still got a vellum saw and sets of vellums!
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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 08 Dec 2013, 00:17

vernon wrote:Barrie
dump nothing!
Send them to me and I'll pay the carriage.
We used to use a cupped rod against the wrest pin and then use a leather strap, armed with oily pumice to clean coils.
For goodness sake, I've still got a vellum saw and sets of vellums!
Remind me in jan and I will make you up a parcel to much on at the moment

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Gill the Piano » 09 Dec 2013, 18:04

Barrie Heaton wrote: to much on at the moment
Barrie
Do you mean you're coming home to four messages all wanting pianos tuned 'any time in the next week' and returning the call to their utter amazement that you are fully booked? If so...SNAP!
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 09 Dec 2013, 21:57

Gill the Piano wrote:
Barrie Heaton wrote: to much on at the moment
Barrie
Do you mean you're coming home to four messages all wanting pianos tuned 'any time in the next week' and returning the call to their utter amazement that you are fully booked? If so...SNAP!
Yip + the ones that come in on the mobile and emails I do keep a few slots open for the Johnny come late but this year I am only working up to the 20th



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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by pianotechman » 10 Dec 2013, 09:12

Clean outs DO improve the resonance of strings, on a similar note,[pardon the pun] that's why percussionists polish cymbals! Never use any liquid cleaning agent/metal polish on your Bass strings, unless you want an expensive to replace set of 'Dead' strings!
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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 10 Dec 2013, 21:40

pianotechman wrote:Clean outs DO improve the resonance of strings, on a similar note,[pardon the pun] that's why percussionists polish cymbals! Never use any liquid cleaning agent/metal polish on your Bass strings, unless you want an expensive to replace set of 'Dead' strings!
Harking back to the past Veron may still do this we use to Boil Bass string in backing Soda cleans out the muck it improves them ... But... they do snap more often after The other one was the 3 cotton bobbins with a grove in

The good old days when parts were more expensive that Labour

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Withindale » 18 Dec 2013, 15:00

pianotechman wrote:Clean outs DO improve the resonance of strings, on a similar note,[pardon the pun] that's why percussionists polish cymbals! Never use any liquid cleaning agent/metal polish on your Bass strings, unless you want an expensive to replace set of 'Dead' strings!
To prove the point last weekend, I directed some compressed air at my 1925 55" upright.

Everything was pretty clean already but I put the nozzle as close as I could to each of the termination and bearing points in turn: v-bar, pressure bar, bridge pins, hitch pins. You don't see much coming off but you can smell it, especially at the bridge pins.

I made some effort to clean the duplex wires and got to the strings behind the overstrung bass strings with a cloth as best I could.

On the basis that it might disturb some dust I gave the bass strings a good bang with the palm of my hand and, while they were still vibrating, went up and down each one with the compressed air nozzle.

Result: evenness across the keyboard, greater dynamic range and sustain, and more life in the bass.

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 18 Dec 2013, 23:53

Withindale wrote:
On the basis that it might disturb some dust I gave the bass strings a good bang with the palm of my hand and, while they were still vibrating, went up and down each one with the compressed air nozzle.

Result: evenness across the keyboard, greater dynamic range and sustain, and more life in the bass.
Did you use one of the cans of compressed air or do you have a compressor I have thought of using the cans in clients homes I do have a a big one in my work shop but too big to take on the road

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Withindale » 19 Dec 2013, 00:55

A compressor. I suspect you might get through quite a few cans but maybe a puff is all you need.

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 19 Dec 2013, 21:43

Withindale wrote:A compressor. I suspect you might get through quite a few cans but maybe a puff is all you need.
an Old BA unit frm the fire service may be an option just replace the demand vale for a standard one I will ask my driver as he use to be a fire man

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Re: Does cleaning strings always improve tone?

Post by RWAS » 29 Dec 2013, 18:18

I am no expert, but my piano tuner advised me to use the soft brush attachment of the vacuum cleaner to gently remove dust from the strings. A grand piano with an open lid is obviously more prone to dust build up than a vertical piano. Depending on use, I carefully vacuum clean the strings every few months. I believe that it will help prevent the build up of dust on the wound bass strings as when the windings become clogged with dust and dirt the strings' acoustic function will be compromised.

Another consideration is that dust build up on the strings attracts moisture which eventually causes oxidation.

However, I doubt that the above approach is very helpful for old strings which are already rusted and engrained with dust and dirt. That is certainly a job for the professionals and any amateurish attempts by others using cleaning fluids on the strings could be disastrous.

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Robert.
I love the piano and its music.

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