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Piano Voicing

Pianos, just like singers, have a voice

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What is piano voicing?

Piano voicing is the manipulation of a piano’s tone quality or sound quality by a piano technician – often called “tone regulation”.   Unlike an accomplished singer who can control his or her voice, and thus sound quality, from note to note, a piano’s sound quality is usually constant.  Most people hear a piano’s sound quality in one of three broad categories: bright, pleasing or dull.

What causes these different sound qualities?

Although the basic quality of the piano makes a huge difference in the overall sound quality of a piano, the hammers also make a significant contribution to the sound quality of a piano.  Hammers can be installed or become too stiff – thereby producing a bright or metallic sound.  Hammers can be installed or become too soft – thereby produce a dull or muted sound.  And on some pianos, some hammers get stiff and some get soft over time – thereby producing an uneven range of tone quality.

What are the symptoms of a piano that needs voicing?

  • A bright or metallic sound quality is heard from some notes

  • An unevenness of tone quality is heard from one note to another

  • A dull or muddy sound quality is heard from some notes

  • The hammers have become rounded and flat where they strike the strings

  • The hammers have deep ridges in them

  • The piano just doesn’t have the “pleasing” sound it once did

What is the solution?

Actually, there are two solutions for a piano that needs voicing.  1) The entire set of hammers can be replaced.  This solution is almost always recommended when a full piano restoration is being done.  2) A skilled and experienced piano technician can perform a technique called “needling” on some or all hammers to bring down the brilliance.  This is done with a needling tool that sticks pins in the hammer head(s) to loosen the felt thereby evening out the sound of the piano.   For pianos that are producing a sound that is too dull, a skilled and experienced piano technician can reshape the hammer(s) with a special hammer file.

Sometimes there is no solution. Even a skilled and experienced piano technician is not going to make a small vertical piano sound like a Steinway Concert Grand.  But usually, I can help improve the sound of any piano.

What does a complete piano voicing cost?

A complete piano voicing is priced by the job and not by the hour and it will vary from one piano to the next, depending on several factors.   The cost will also be considerably higher for a grand than a vertical piano due to its increased complexity.  And, of course, a written estimate will be provided before any work is performed.

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