What is Regulation, Voicing and Fine Tuning?


This question encompasses quite a bit of information but it has value in presenting it all in one video – as these topics have a lot to do with one another. They are all very important when it comes to getting the most out of your piano and making sure it plays its best. Each one of these subjects can be incredibly detailed and I may create more detailed videos and articles for each one of them – but for now I will provide an overview of all three!

First we will deal with Regulation. Regulation encompasses the myriad adjustments on the action which is the entire mechanism from the key to the hammer and dampers. Each key in the action has about 100 parts. There are approximately 8 different adjustments for each key: from key height, key depth when depressed, let-off of the hammer after it is struck, to other details of hammer movement, and other adjustments effecting repetition, power and more.

The basic explanation of regulation is getting an evenness of touch for all of the keys on the piano. In other words, all 88 keys should have an equal touch when playing – no key should be harder or softer than another; no key should be higher or lower than another; the response must be equal for all keys.

When it comes to Voicing it’s the same principle in keeping a uniform state for all notes. However, voicing deals with the tone of the piano, not the mechanics. Every key should have a uniform sound from one another. If the touch is the same but certain notes are brighter or more mellow in tone, it is impossible to get a smooth musical line since some notes will be out of place in the melody, either not matching volume, or tonally different in some way.

How is voicing achieved? It is achieved through working the hammers to get a uniform volume and tone from all keys. The felt on the hammers needs to be worked to get consistent tone on all notes. There are several things that affect the hammers including: The shape, how it impacts the strings, and the hardness.

There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into voicing a piano. For example, if the hammers on some notes are too hard they will need to be needled; if they are too soft they will need to be treated with chemicals, typically lacquer. This will need to be performed on each hammer and the response of each string within each note should also be uniform in tone.

Last we have Fine Tuning. A piano can be tuned but there is something referred to as concert tuning. This encompasses not only making sure the tuning is absolutely pure, but making sure it will stay in tune! This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. A fine tuning will require a technician to literally pound on the keys and make sure the piano won’t go out of tune even with a tremendous amount of force of a concert pianist playing virtuoso music.

I’ve also seen tuners who will fine tune a piano and then close everything up, hold down the sustain pedal, and then hit all the keys with their arms to excite the soundboard. The hope is that the strings can be reset securely to hold during the performance.

The truth is, there is no end to how far you can go with a piano. You can continue to make finer and finer adjustments and never really reach a true level of perfection. Like one definition of infinity, you can get half way closer to perfection again and again with diminishing returns on time spent.

If you have ever had the opportunity to play a piano after it has been voiced, regulated, and fine-tuned you will never want to play anything else! It really is that big a difference on a great piano.

Video Blog: What is a Gray Market Piano?



If you have looked for used Yamaha pianos – you may have have run into this term before. If you have ever searched for the term “gray market Yamaha pianos” online you will find a ton of different opinions about what it means. It’s my goal to simply provide some information from my experience to anyone who is curious about buying or learning about what this means.

The simple answer is that Yamaha pianos imported directly from Japan are sometimes referred to as gray market pianos. Yamaha pianos sold through retailers in the United States are actually imported into this country by a company called Yamaha North America. Yamaha North America is actually a separate company from Yamaha. They are the sole importer of Yamaha pianos into the United States, and because of this, their interest is to protect their market as much as possible. In fact they, they are undoubtedly the ones who initially coined the term “gray market pianos”. You can read their take on what grey market pianos are on their website:

http://www.yamaha.com/ussub/piano/serialnumberlookup.html

In other words: If you buy a piano from a private seller and the piano was not sold through Yamaha North America, it could be termed a gray market piano. Indeed there is a cottage industry of people importing old Yamaha pianos from Japan, refurbishing them and selling them in the United States.

Yamaha North America warns customers about these pianos.

The biggest concern is the age of the piano. Yamaha has continually improved design, manufacturing, and materials of their pianos over the decades. Some of the old pianos they produced were not of the high standard people expect of the largest piano manufacturer in the world. Since Yamaha North America has no control over these instruments, they caution people about them to avoid being associated with sub-standard pianos being sold by some independent importers.

Another issue that is raised is the climitization of the pianos for the North American market. What is the climate of North America? I know that where I live in Southern California has a dramatically different climate than 10 miles away at the beach, or 10 miles inland in the high desert. Indeed, early on before Yamaha became a global music company their pianos were not produced with the seasoned woods to withstand a wide range of climates. However, Yamaha pianos have been produced on a high level for export certainly since the late 1970’s at least. So, this is only a concern with older Yamaha pianos.

Yamaha North America also warns about availability of parts for “gray market pianos”. They say they will not provide parts for these pianos and require the serial number to acquire parts. The truth is, piano parts are standard and there are countless companies making high quality parts for almost any modern piano.

So what is the deal with gray market piano? If you are looking at a relatively recently built Yamaha piano, you should be just fine. Most of the Yamaha pianos sold in Japan are pretty much the same as the ones sold in America. Any skilled technician who can handle a Yamaha American piano will have no problems servicing a later model Japanese market Yamaha piano; the parts and labor are the same.

So while you should be aware of what are termed, “Yamaha gray market pianos”, if you are looking at a later model Yamaha within the time frame of Yamaha North America, there is probably nothing to worry about.

How Much Is My Piano Worth?

Probably the most frequently asked question we hear at PianoMart.com is “How much is my piano worth?” It’s difficult to answer that question because to accurately evaluate a piano, it is necessary to thoroughly inspect the internal components of the instrument including the soundboard, bridges, pinblock, hammers, dampers, keys, strings, test the tuning pin torque, and examine the exterior condition of the cabinet. It is also necessary to listen to the quality of tone and to feel the response and playability of the piano action and keys. This can only be done in person.

We do not give appraisals via email or phone, so please DO NOT email or call us asking how much your piano might be worth.

To determine a fair asking price for your piano, we suggest that you hire a local piano technician to inspect and evaluate your piano and provide you with an appraisal. It is also important to determine the age of the instrument. By referencing the serial number, the technician can also tell you the year of manufacture. Or, we invite you to email us the brand name and serial number of your piano and we will be happy to provide you with the “year of birth”. To find a piano technician in your area, click here: Find A Technician

New Collaboration; increased visibility for your ad!

We are happy to announce our new collaboration with PianoBuyer.com. PianoBuyer.com was created by Larry Fine, author of the well-known and highly respected "The Piano Book". All of the piano ads from PianoMart.com will now be visible on PianoBuyer.com as well. This means much higher visibility for your ad and a greater possibility for a sale.

PianoBuyer.com is an invaluable resource for anyone who is buying or selling a piano. It has informative articles written by leaders in the piano industry and a handy retail price list for all the currently produced new pianos on the market today.

The Romance of Ivory: Are Ivory Piano Keys Better?

There was a time when all pianos had ivory key tops. By the middle of the 20th century, the use of plastic key tops began to replace ivory keys in a big way. Laws protecting elephants made ivory keys extremely rare in pianos built after the early 1970’s. No pianos have ivory keys. The keys of all pianos are made out of wood. It is only the  thin top of the white keys which are made of ivory or  plastic. The black keys are made of ebony. However, most  Asian production pianos have plastic black keys. In this  case, the entire key is made out of plastic and is hollow  on the inside. Growing up, my father had 2 grand pianos in his studio, an old Steinway with ivories, and a newer Baldwin with plastic key tops. I found the ivory to be slippery and the plastic offered a better grip on the keys. However, when I would perform in student recitals, it was quite the reverse. With a bit of nerves, the sweat in my hands made the plastic key tops slippery and the grip on the ivory much better. Ivory key tops are porous. So cleaning is more difficult than cleaning plastic key tops which can be cleaned with a high concentration rubbing alcohol; 90% or higher works best. You can use a soft cloth, paper towel, or cotton swabs made damp with the alcohol. Rub all the keys, black and white and you will be amazed at how much dirt comes off the keys. The high concentration of alcohol assures that the moisture will not compromise the integrity of the wooden keys. Ivory keys present a greater challenge. While cleaning with alcohol as above will work, in time it can dry out the ivory and cause warping. So it is best to use a slightly damp cloth with only water and use alcohol only when needed to remove persistent stains. Ivory keys also will yellow in time. You can help them keep white by not closing the fall board. While it is important to close the lid of the piano when not in use to avoid corrosion of the strings, the fall board only protects dust from settling on the keys which can be wiped off easily. If ivory key tops get too dirty or yellow, they can be polished and bleached. If a few are chipped or missing, some piano technicians have a large stock of replacements. This is no easy task since matching the exact size, color and texture of ivories is very challenging. Replacing key tops altogether with modern composite plastic key tops is not very expensive, 2 or 3 hundred dollars. Usually when doing this it is a good time to replace key bushings and front rail bushings which wear out. That can add another couple of hundred dollars. So the question is… which is better, ivory or plastic key tops? I have run into many people who have a strong preference for one or the other. Many people prefer the mystique of real ivories on a beautifully restored vintage piano. Other people are horrified by the sacrifice of the animals to produce the ivory. Overall I would suggest if you have a piano with usable ivories, keep them in good shape as long as you can since they are nearly irreplaceable. A set of ivories can be procured but a set costs thousands of dollars. Keep in mind however that if you went out and bought a brand new Steinway grand piano, it would have plastic key tops. Functionally they are very close. Perhaps the texture of a good set of ivories gives a better grip particularly with sweaty hands. Otherwise it is not one of the more important considerations for a piano’s quality. Click here to visit Robert's Website: LivingPianos.com

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