Tuning Pianos Los Angeles
Open String Tuning and Following the Fourths
Here’s my temperament routine. It might seem strange to you, but it works beautifully for me. It’s scary, or at least it was in my case, to “tune as you go,” with no temperament strip (which I had used for 27 years), but my decision to go to open string tuning was based upon three things: a challenge by Tom Servinsky, RPT (thanks again, Tom); complete respect for Virgil Smith, Ted Sambell, Franz Mohr, Eric Schandall and other good tuners who use this technique or a variant of it; and my continual frustration with the slight movement of pitch when pulling out the temperament strip and tuning unisons.
The secret to this system is the ability to “shim” or “crack” the unisons. By this I mean the tuner makes extremely small yet stable changes in the pitch of a three-note unison, quickly and cleanly. Learning how to do this has focused my hearing in an extraordinary way. It has made it much easier to voice, and easier to trust my body in all aspects of preparing a great piano for a great player. The more precisely you can use your ears, the better off you and your grateful clients will be.
With open string tuning (OST), you’re doing a mini-pitch raise on each note, settling it into place for once and for all (at least for that day.) The temperament stays where you put it with astonishing solidity. This assumes, of course, that the piano is very close to pitch and doesn’t have any organic problems holding a tuning.
A FEW HELPFUL HINTS:
- Slowly rolling fourths are at the heart of this system. It takes patient, relaxed listening to really hear how fast the fourths and fifths are beating. Sometimes the beat doesn’t appear for 3-5 seconds after the two notes are played, especially with fourths.
It is easy to get fooled at first. Relax, be patient, and let your ears work.
- Get ready to become intimately familiar with what I call smudging the unisons or cracking the unisons. This is the practice of making incredibly small changes in the pitch of the three-string unison by “smudging” one string – raising or lowering it ever so slightly – and then matching it with the other two. This is a highly advanced technique, requiring precise control of the tuning lever. However, in my opinion, it is essential for concert-level, musical, rock-solid open tuning.