About Clavierworks - Who We Are, And What We Do
I began my apprenticeship with Robert Moffatt in 1996. Mr. Moffatt was, at that time, the concert and artist piano technician serving the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts (now the EPCOR Centre). Under his tutelage, I learned concert tuning, repairs, regulation and rebuilding. I had the privilege of working on the Steinway Model “D” pianos at the EPCOR Centre (replacing hammers, regulating, and performing general maintenance). I also worked on their Yamaha pianos, and developed an appreciation for the Yamaha as a well built and responsive instrument.
In 2000, I was accepted as an unpaid apprentice with Steinway & Sons Concert and Artist Department in London, England. I worked there under Ulrich Gerhartz (a phenomenal technician!) and his other apprentice, Roberta Gillespie (another amazing tech in her own right). My focus in London was on what Mr. Gerhartz called the ‘final 15%’; he assumed that Steinway pianos coming from Hamburg were 85% of the way to perfect, and that our job was to take them the rest of the way there.
During my tenure, not only did I learn a variety of new techniques and approaches to concert piano work, I also had the privilege of working on the pianos at Steinway Hall, Wigmore Hall and the Barbican and Southbank Centres. Artists who have played pianos I have worked on include Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida, Alfred Brendel, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez (well, he’s a conductor and a composer…so sue me. ) and Murray Perahia.
I still have lots to learn.
Services - What We Can Offer You
Tuning involves tightening (or loosening) the strings. Strings are attached to a hitch pin, travel across a bridge (which transfers the energy from the string to the soundboard) and are wound around a threaded tuning pin. Each pin (and each string) are adjusted to make the instrument sound ‘in tune’ with itself and other instruments.
A number of factors can cause a piano to fall (or, in rare cases, rise) significantly in pitch: going unturned for several years; moving a piano; substantial changes in climate (for example, moving from Victoria, or a flooded basement). A pitch raise involves tuning the piano back up to concert pitch (A-440). This involves a substantial amount of time and effort (usually two tuning passes) and may involve a follow-up visit when the instrument starts to stabilize.
Temperament / Historical Temperaments
Temperament refers to the mathematical relationship between the relative tuning of each note. Most modern pianos are tuned using an ‘equal temperament’. Historical temperaments (meantone, Werckmeister, etc.) are found more often on period instruments (clavichords, harpsichords, Renaissance and Baroque organs, etc). An historical temperament can be applied to any instrument at an additional cost.
This service is offered by Steinway’s Concert and Artist department in London, England. In addition to tuning, the action is removed from the piano, the keybed cleaned, the friction points on the keybed treated with Teflon powder, the action stack is removed and each key is removed to clean the balance rail and guide pins. Basic adjustments to regulate the action are made as required. This service has the advantage of ensuring the instrument is, overall, working properly and addresses some of the fundamental issues related to how the piano keys feel under the player’s hands without resorting to the more complex process of undergoing a complete regulation. (Generally performed only on grand pianos.)
Action regulation involves removing the action from the piano and taking it into the shop for a day. There, the action is disassembled and the mechanical elements cleaned, adjusted and / or repaired as necessary. The result is a more responsive touch and a greater control overall. The cost of action regulation depends upon the level of detail involved. Specific details of action regulation are discussed with the client in advance of the work, and are geared towards client requirements.
Voicing / Toning
Often (and best) performed in conjunction with an action regulation. Voicing (called toning in Europe) can involve re-shaping hammers (to remove string cutting), setting the hammers to the strings, and needling (for a softer tone) or ‘juicing’ (for a brighter tone) hammers. The goal is to help an instrument produce an even tone across its entire range.
Repairs are priced according to the work required and vary based upon the complexity of the work. A client may elect to attend to certain issues (pedal squeak, touch weight, etc.) in order of importance to him / her, and according to their own resources. Many common adjustments can be attended to in the course of a basic tuning.
Includes square grand pianos, pianos with non-Erard (Renner) actions (Viennese actions, patented Blüthner actions, etc.), clavichords and harpsichords. Services are priced according to the complexity of the work.
I have often been asked to assess an instrument after it has been purchased. I prefer to do this before a purchase is made, and help a client find an instrument that suits both their playing requirements and their budget. Whether you are contemplating a private purchase or purchasing an instrument from a dealer, please consider hiring an independent technician who can help assess the instrument prior to making this long-term investment.
Pricing - What It Could Cost
Below is Clavierworks’ charges for commonly performed services. Additional services, and their associated costs, will be discussed with and approved by the client prior to any work being performed. Clavierworks is pleased to accept cash or cheque in payment. Certain larger projects (e.g. action regulation or major repairs) may require a deposit to cover, in part, the purchase of materials.
Tuning (Basic) – $100.00
Tuning (Pitch Raise) – $175.00
Tuning (Historical Temperament) – please contact
“Steinway” Service (includes basic tuning) – $250.00
Action Regulation – please contact
Voicing / Toning – please contact
Repairs – please contact
Purchase Consultation – $150.00
FAQ - Things We Get Asked On A Regular Basis
How often should I tune my piano?
The short answer is, as often as it needs it. Generally, I recommend a piano be looked at once a year. If it does not need tuning, I will tell you. A yearly visit, however, helps ensure nothing is going desperately wrong. (On one visit to a client during a regular tuning, I pulled the action to check out the state of the instrument and discovered the key bed had cracked. This issue was caught just before his warranty expired, and so was fixed without cost to him.)
Should I humidify my piano?
My instinct is ‘no’. Many technicians disagree with me. My experience has been that most instruments react poorly to changes in temperature and humidity. A consistently dry climate is better, overall, for an instrument than the havoc wrought by the changes that occur through inconsistent humidification. It is easy to forget to fill a humidifier.
Should I keep my piano away from an outside wall?
Modern houses are generally well insulated and most pianos (and other instruments) can be placed against any wall. Again, the object is to minimize changes in temperature and humidity. It is a good idea to avoid exposing any instrument to the heat from a forced air vent, open windows or doors, or direct sunlight. However, these instruments take up space and must be lived with; the final placement of any instrument is up to the person living with it.
I have heard that a cracked soundboard is bad. Is it?
Not necessarily. It can be an issue if the soundboard is separating from the ribs or the bridges and there is a ‘buzzing’ sound. However, a competent technician can assess a piano for overall soundness (forgive the pun).