Through April 2018, the Museum of Making Music presents “Unseen Artists: Sights & Insights from the Piano Technicians Guild.” As you enter the Museum, you’ll see three historic pianos, including the piano famously present in Ford’s Theatre with Abraham Lincoln on that fateful night in 1865.
You’ll also learn about the important role of the piano technician and discover the tools of their trade.
Over the lifetime of a piano, it needs consistent service to make it a responsive musical instrument. A neglected piano will become less and less capable of musical expression over time and will tend to lead the player to frustration and disappointment. Regular service performed by a competent piano technician is simply a necessary part of owning a piano.
But what exactly does a piano technician do? In this exhibit—presented in partnership with the Piano Technicians Guild—you’ll find out that they are much more than just a piano tuner.
Setting the pitch of the piano by adjusting the tension of over 225 strings, each at over 150 lbs of tension. This involves turning the tuning pin in increments of one ten thousandth of a degree. Doing this accurately, and leaving it in a stable condition requires tremendous skill.
Creating the touch of the piano by making minute adjustments to the 88 little wood and felt machines – one per key - so each behaves the same. A well-known procedure for grand pianos involves 37 steps (repeated 88 times).
Establishing the tone of the piano by adjusting the density and resilience of the felt of each hammer, to create an even gradient of tone. This involves sticking needles into the felt in a controlled manner, and sometimes applying hardeners to the felt.
Refinement of tuning, regulation and voicing, with additional preparation steps to ensure each hammer strikes all its strings squarely and simultaneously.
Replacing parts of the piano, from hammers and strings to entire actions and soundboards, often including redesign to improve touch and tone. This can significantly prolong the usable life of a piano.