Pianos are complicated.
The piano action is made primarily wood and felt. While both of these materials have great advantages for piano building, they have some very distinct shortcomings for which regular compensation must be made. While wood is relatively stable if the humidity is kept steady, felt is very susceptible to compression and compacting and whether you play your piano regularly or not these parts go out of alignment and “regulation”.
The degradation happens very slowly and you don’t notice it at first. However after a couple of years (or decades) actions tend to become sluggish, clunky and hard to play. The first inclination is to blame yourself…you haven’t been practicing enough! But when you try a newer instrument and realize you’re better than you thought, you tend to think “why can’t my piano play like this?”.
Well it can, but it needs some careful care and attention. This TLC is called regulation and voicing and can make a huge difference by just bringing the action parts back into alignment and proper dimensions.
What are these dimensions you ask? There are a lot of them, but to mention a few important ones:
Height of key at rest
Distance the key travels (dip)
Distance between hammer at rest and string (strike distance)
Distance from string that “escapement” happens (letoff)
Upward limit of repetition lever travel (drop)
Alignment of hammer to strings
Strength of repetition spring
and on and on.
Depending on the original quality of the piano, the most simple steps like tightening screws, alignment and lubrication yield great improvements. Setting the strike distance properly makes a big difference in the touch, as does evening off and (usually) decreasing letoff and drop. There is a balancing that goes on between the numerical specification for each step and the current condition of the piano and parts. The good technician knows how to adjust the specifications on the fly to ensure a properly functioning action regardless of the other wear and tear on the parts. The real goal is that the piano plays well and feels even.
The two tools shown in the photo are very useful for this work. The more complicated one has a number of measurements built into it, for strike distance, let off, drop, key height. The other one, with the divot cut out of it is a very cool tool for getting a quick read on key dip and aftertouch.
Is your head hurting? Trust me, not nearly as much as mine did when I was learning all this stuff.
I have a couple of packages for getting your piano back into shape. The basic one takes most of a day but will make NOTICEABLE improvements in the way the piano sounds and feels. And the good part is…it will be good for at least a couple of years.
Is your piano important to you? Let me show you that it is probably better then you think.