Saturday, 18 February 2017

Tuning Troubles

With a birthday party on the horizon, I really wanted to get Lirika fully tuned so that people could play her. I really don't play very well and I think my neighbours are getting sick of the same five songs. It also gives me a great deal of pleasure to hear other people and to know that the piano plays because I got her in shape. 

I hit a bit of a snag on the bass section though. A tuning hammer is basically a socket wrench. Socket wrenches come with a star-shaped hole, and tuning pins are square. On the whole, that usually works fine, but on four of the pins the wrench just started stripping the pin instead of turning it. 

You can see above. The really shiny pin in the middle isn't new, it's the same as the others but the corners have been shaved by the wrench. If you can't turn the pins, you can't tune them.

I put out a call on a local forum and someone suggested a hardware store near town. I headed down there and met the owner, Rocky. He's a lovely guy. When I explained the problem, he let me borrow a selection of tools to see if any of them would work. When none of them did, he sent me to meet a metal worker called Karabona. 

In order to make the tool, I needed to show him an example of a tuning pin. This was my first ever time removing one from the piano. It was quite nerve-racking because, once the piano is strung, the top of the string is cut very short. I wasn't sure that if I took the string off, it would ever go back on again. Luckily there was a YouTube tutorial

Karabona was fantastic and agreed to make me a custom-fitted square ratchet head which was ready within a couple of days.

Traditional Tuning Hammer
Custom Made Hammer

This style of ratchet isn't great for tuning. Firstly, if you're going to use a ratchet, you need a really sturdy one. You exert a lot of pressure on the pins and smaller ones won't cope. Also, a fixed handle allows you to switch direction really easily, whereas a two-way ratchet requires you to flick a switch on the handle. You change direction frequently whilst trying to hit the sweet spot on a string, so your thumb quickly gets sore. But it did the job on all except one pin, which was totally knackered. I'll replace the pins eventually, but the string has a unison so although it's out by quite a way, it's covered slightly by the second string which is in tune.

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