This article first appeared in the Chicago chapter
of the Piano Technicians Guild newsletter "The Wippenpost"
The Big Bang Theory of Regulation,
but first a word about RA.
In last month’s Wippenpost there was a notice of three people leaving the Guild, one person in particular, Richard Anderson, I would like to make a few brief comments on. I met Richard about a dozen years ago when I took a rebuilding class from him. At the time I was more dangerous than helpful but I got a sense of what the business of rebuilding pianos was all about. Back then when you drove out to Richard’s shop, before the neighborhood got built up, you felt you were leaving the civilized world and were truly getting away from it all. As Richard got warmed up you were in for an experience, which must have been reminiscent of Thomas Edison’s lab. When he got it into his mind to address some issue, such as the best paint and markers to use on a plate, he was prepared to try every brand he could get his hands on and in every conceivable combination (my best guess, since I picked up his “left overs” he may have tried over 50 different brands of paint!). I am not sure if he ever found the perfect combination which gave him the results he was looking for, that’s not the point. Richard above all else taught me to ask the next question, never assume you have the last answer and never be satisfied with how you did the job last time, there has to be a better way. When Richard told me he was leaving this trade, I understood why, but still felt a profound lose. A man who could forget in a day more than I knew would be leaving our shared field and love, however, the friend would always be there. Godspeed Richard.
Over the next several months I would like to present my ideas on “real world” regulating issues. During the first convention I attended I picked up a regulating step list by Danny Boone. On it there were over 30 steps to grand regulation, since that time I have added a few more to my list. All in all it would take about 30 hours to fully complete each step. But for most of us in the real work world where time and money are always limited this type of thoroughness is completely impractical. So what is one to do? Lets start at the beginning, I always find it easier to tune a well regulated piano than one with ½” of let off, or 1/8” of lost motion, so I have very self-centered reasons to get a piano into good regulation. I have structured my field service appointment to be long enough to allow for doing some extras. What can you really do in just 10 minuets? Truthfully, not much, but after the 3rd or 4th visit the action regulation can be significantly improved. Regulation work is relatively long lasting compared to tuning, so even with irregular service improvements can be made over time. The customer may not be able or willing to pay for a full regulation but we can gradually improve the performance of the instrument. The next owner or technician may be the person who really appreciates our efforts. A well functioning instrument is more likely to be played, lessons more likely to be continued, pianos tuned more regular, more music played, and the world is a better place all because you turned some capstans.
The key to doing a 10-minuet regulation is working efficiently and concentrating on the biggest problems first. The procedures I will outline are not those which will get you through the RPT exam but are helpful in day-to-day work.
We will start with verticals. The basic order is this: Blow, LM (lost motion), KL (key level) through .005 paper (green), LO (let off) with the appropriate LO stick, KD (key dip), and finally damper timing though this may be done immediately after LM if problems develop.
Blow. This is the decision which determines all others. If the hammers have been filed, the hammer rest rail felt or support felt been compressed, you may have to shim the rail up to return the rail to a 1 ¾ - 1 7/8 blow.
LM. Many times things are so bad we can’t possibly fix everything within the limited time available, rather than do nothing or doing only a few notes completely and thus leaving a noticeable transition, do a little over a lot of notes. In those situations where capstans may need a large number of turns I will first go through the worst areas and turn all the capstans so they all face the same direction, this way I can make subsequent passes very quickly by just moving down the line, always putting my tool in the same position and turning it to the same position. If there is time to make a final pass and even things out I will do it, if not, I can quickly finish things up on the next visit. By doing the work this way you don’t create any significant unevenness which wasn’t there before.
KL. If your sitting in front of a 40 year old console which has had no service out side of “regular” tuning you can count on a significant amount of depression in the middle of the keyboard. There are a couple of approaches I have used here. The first is simply raising the level of those keys which have insufficient KD to properly function. I will do this when I am have very limited time. The second would be to set the LO for two notes in the middle of the keyboard such as C4 & C5, and set the necessary KL for these two notes to function with adequate after touch. Next I use a 6” ruler and level that octave. As time allows I work out from the middle of the keyboard.