Prepare Well and Pay Attention

I have what might seem an odd first step suggestion for grand regulating: Pre-lift wire. This is a strategy to end up with no underlifted strings.

When a piano is newly strung, the steel wire, being stiff, takes rounded curves, not corners, as it passes bearing points. Each time the wire is pitch-raised it refreshes these curves a little, particularly at agraffes and Capo D’Astro bars. A conscientious technician will settle the wire and mate strings with hammers, a process well-known to us all. Touch hammer to unison strings, pluck the strings, and if any ring, lift the others with a stringing hook until all are equally muted.

Now, if I go pluck, pluck, pluck on the strings of a note and get mute, mute, mute, I really want to declare easy victory and move on. Thus, strings that might be unstable get left behind in 100-year-old pianos. In the newly-strung piano, the wire goes through rounds of raising pitch and lifting, hopefully leaving enough further liftability for the process of mating to succeed without having to mis-file hammers.

So, as a hedge against my known tendency to not look a gift horse in the mouth, I give all wire a modest lift before beginning, enough to nudge the unstable underlifted strings up into the stability zone but not enough to affect the strings that are already stable.


In piano work, as in Life, Truth hangs out waiting to be engaged. Or encountered. Ally or adversary, it is what it is.

Evening found me still at Jude Reveley’s shop, working on a piano where he was bellyman and I was action guy. I had brought the now-assembled action (with original hammers) to memorize where the keybed and newly-strung strings were to then measure for custom bore back in my shop.

It was passing dinnertime. The keybed was dressed, the keyframe bedded, key heights roughed in, and bedding samples taken. Adjusting pitch and lifting wire were next, when Jude popped in to say goodnight.

And we lingered a little in that last conversation of the day.

Then I sampled strike, picked up tools, trolleyed action and tools over to the freight elevator, and went down to pack the car and head home.

Spot the mistake? I had left out raising pitch and lifting wire.

So, the next day when the truth of that oversight dawned, I faced another human-nature dilemma: two additional times packing the car, two drives between my shop and Jude’s, two times packing the elevator, retrieving a trolley and traveling the action between elevator and piano, plus additional work that might undo the strike sampling part of the previous day’s efforts, vs the possibility that the measured string heights were a little low.

Of course, it wasn’t really a dilemma. I was being paid to get it right, and if I cut and bored hammers to a mistaken measurement of strike, I would suffer self-inflicted consequences. My customer would never know. The results would earn a final payment. But this was not my mandate or how I wished to think of myself as a craftsman.

There was a simple preventative solution, of course: I should make and use a checklist!

Wait. I already had a checklist that I print, laminate, and sell for this purpose. Ouch. The missing step was first on the list. Ouch. Ouch.

The list did occur this time in the middle of a rebuild rather than at the beginning of a regulation, but there it was, listed on my list, step number one.

Much of what we deal with in our work takes a physical form and comes to us as gatherable nuggets of truth. And if we can only see them, acknowledge them, and remember what we’re doing, we have the fun of using them to better otherwise beleaguered pianos. How cool is that! And then get paid.

So, I went back to Jude’s shop to chip and lightly lift the wire. And when I reviewed my samples, they were unchanged. Jude’s work was stable, despite being raised 60 cents!

Once the steps of pitch-raising and wire-lifting had been overlooked, however, I could only be sure of real string heights by the long route of a return visit.

Note to self: create a good process and follow it. Or maybe: Chris – Pay Attention!!

Price of admission this time – some dollars’ worth of time. Value?

Chris Brown RPT

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