Upright Piano Microphone Techniques

I am certainly not a recording engineer or expert in this department, but I thought I’d post my results from a piano technicians perspective.  I am also using more affordable microphones into an m-box protools setup.

Upright Piano Mic Techniques

I recently bought an inexpensive though well built used piano manufactured by Yamaha called an Eterna. I’ve been playing around with different mic techniques to capture the best quality of sound with this piano. I started off with a stereo pair of Behringer condenser mics. I pointed them diagonally away from each other using the included stereo mic adapter. I used a kick drum mic stand and perched it atop the piano with the lid down to ensure there was enough surface area for the mic stands base to find balance. If you are interested in recording your upright piano, get your piano technician to show you how to take off the front boards. I pointed the mics toward the place where the hammers strike the strings. One in the bass and one in the treble. You’ll get more attack sound there so it tends to be a brighter sound.

The sound was pleasant with a nice round top edge to it, however the noise floor was so high on the Behringer mics that I found the product unusable. The fuzz coming from the mics was as loud as the piano. This probably should have been expected considering the quality of the mics.

Next I decided to scrap the stereo sound and at least try and find a good mono mic position. I have a Rode NTK tube large diaphragm mic which I positioned in approximately the same place as the stereo pair had previously been. It captured much more of the nuances of my playing. Unfortunately it also captured too much mechanical action noise. The mics frequency response is maximized to meet the needs of capturing a complete vocal sound. The clicks from the action were probably the same frequencies as consonants in the human voice.

Thus, I took the bottom door off the piano and positioned the NTK underneath the keyboard action just to the right of the bass strings. This was to ensure the bass was not too over powering and to capture as much of the treble brightness as possible considering the mics position. The sound was much warmer and full though it lacked a certain clarity. It did pick up a touch of pedal noise though it wasn’t overly distracting.

I also have an older small diaphragm MXL mic kicking around. I had a listen to it just to make sure it had a usable noise floor, seeing that it is also an inexpensive mic. The noise floor was a lot quieter than the Behringers so I stuck it up above the keyboard action, pointing at the hammer strike point in the middle of the piano. I found the most usable sound from this mic formation. I got a gorgeous warmth and depth from the NTK below the keyboard and a nice rich and airy sound from the MXL above the keyboard.  I panned the mic above the keyboard action 50% to the right and the NTK on the soundboard 50% to the left. A mixture of the two and I had captured the Eterna upright piano in a satisfactory way.

Piano Tuning Stability

Eterna ER-10 made by YamahaI bought a small little used Yamaha made piano about 6 months ago. The Eterna ER-10 is a well built, inexpensive piano which was manufactured in Japan in the 90’s. The previous owners hadn’t had the piano tuned in over 10 years. The piano was a quarter tone flat, which isn’t that terrible considering the fact it hadn’t been tuned in such a long time. Once I got the piano in my house I proceeded to give the piano a pitch raise. It is often recommended to let the piano sit and accustom to the new humidity level for a couple days before tuning. The piano, which was a quarter tone flat, was enough out of tune that it wasn’t going to make much of a difference whether I tuned it immediately or whether I waited. Besides, a pitch raise is merely a rough tuning to get the piano up to an approximate pitch of A=440Hz. I gave the piano the pitch raise and then let it sit for a couple days.

I gave the piano a good solid tuning a few days later which lasted about a month. Certain unisons began to go out and the overall pitch had fallen a couple of cents in that month. A cent is 1/100th of a semitone which on the whole wouldn’t be that noticeable to the average ear, while the unisons being out would be noticeable. I put another solid tuning on the piano which lasted another month before the summer humidity began to kick in and the piano’s pitch moved sharp, as well, unisons had audibly gone out of tune with themselves, though there were fewer then the previous time. I proceeded to tune the piano again, this time leaving the piano a couple cents sharp. I did this knowing that come fall, the piano will move back down to proper pitch.

The audible sign of tuning instability is unisons going out of tune. On each treble note there are three strings. When they go out of tune with each other you will notice a sometimes audible whine or warble. The unisons on my piano have been stable since that last tuning and it has been longer then a month. When a piano hasn’t been tuned in a number of years, the piano loses it’s tuning stability. The wooden soundboard and bridge become accustomed to the tension exerted by the strings which may be flat by a quarter tone or more. When they are forced back up to their proper tension being A=440Hz a resulting instability is created. The wood is fighting the new tension as well as the steel string. When I do a pitch raise on a piano, I leave the piano perfectly tuned, though in the coming weeks the piano will try to adjust to its new tension and unisons will undoubtedly go out.

Conclusion:

A piano which has had its tuning neglected over a number of years may take 3-5 tunings to regain its tuning stability. Keep your piano tuned regularly at least once a year and you will enjoy a tuning that is more stable and lasts longer.

Cable Nelson CN116 Piano Review

Cable Nelson Piano

Cable Nelson Piano Keyboard

I recently tuned a Cable Nelson CN116.  I’ve been interested in these pianos ever since they came out.  They’re made by Yamaha to their specs and design in China. I’d heard that they could potentially be the best quality piano built in China for the price.  I’ve been looking at buying one of these pianos personally, as, despite what some might think, I am on a tight budget.

The finish on the piano was flawless.  There were no indentations or apparent mistakes in the polyester high gloss piano finish.  The Cable Nelson has sharp, square, angular corners, as opposed to the softer, rounder edges on most Yamaha cabinets.  There is no slow fall fallboard and the music desk is a simple fold out desk by way of a hinge.

The soundboard is of the laminate variety.  This kind of soundboard is less expensive to make and is one of the chief reasons why the piano is less expensive.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of soundboard as opposed to the solid spruce board.  The main issue afflicting most laminates is that they tend to distort with heavy or fortissimo playing.  There is more of a flattening out in the sound as you increase in volume.  This is the case in the Cable Nelson, though my touch tends to be on the softer side, opting mostly for piano to mezzo forte playing.  For me the soundboards sound flattening out at loud volumes is not much of an issue.  If you are a heavy player this may cause you greater grief, and a piano with a spruce board may do you better.

Yamaha Action In Cable Nelson Piano

One of the greatest things I find about the Yamaha piano is the action.  This comprises, for the pianist, the feel of the keys.  For a technician this comprises all the moving parts that make up that feel.  This is where the Cable Nelson shines.  You get the same action that is in any of the more expensive Yamaha models in the Cable Nelson. The touch is perfectly even, light and responsive. I did find a few squeaky keys, however this is also something you would find on a Yamaha.  They would be covered under warranty and they took me less than 5 mins to remedy.  For a piano player who is at an intermediate level (such as myself) I find the most important factor in purchasing a piano is the feel.  One may argue that a big old upright piano may have a better tone then a new chinese made upright.  Perhaps, but is the keyboard properly regulated?  Have the worn parts been replaced?  In the case of the Cable Nelson you are getting an impeccably regulated brand new action.  This regulated action allows one to achieve speed in scales or trills, that a worn out action cannot achieve.  I am finding that now as I attempt to speed up certain repetitious piano exercises on my 50 year old upright, that I am unable to achieve the proper speed or repetitions, which ultimately leaves the player frustrated.

The tone is pleasant on the Cable Nelson.  It is a little muddier in the lower midrange then some Yamaha’s and perhaps a little less clear in the far treble.  Though this can change depending on the exact piano one is playing.  In fact, as a word of caution, always try the exact piano you are planning on purchasing.  Never buy a piano straight out of the box.  Each particular piano is unique in the wood used (whether it was winter or summer when the wood was cut) and the labour used to build it (the factory may be trying a new person carving bridges) so always try out the piano you are intending on buying and not just the model.

From a technicians stand point, the tuning pinblock was similar to other new Yamaha’s I’ve tuned.  I enjoyed the tuning process and didn’t find it belaboured like I’ve found on other Chinese manufactured products.  It was snug, though evenly snug through out.

Cable Nelson Plate

If you are looking for a new piano and cannot afford the big Yamaha price tag, consider the Cable Nelson CN116.  You get a lot of the great Yamaha qualities in a more affordable package.  Even if you are considering a used piano, depending on your price range, a new piano may be more economical and may aid the student reach a higher potential by having a properly working and regulated keyboard action. If you are in London Ontario, check out D&S pianos at 1700 Hyde Park road where you can try out the full selection of Cable Nelson and Yamaha pianos.

D&S Piano Sale

My friends at D&S Pianos are having a piano sale for their 4th anniversary of being in business.  If you are looking for a Yamaha piano this is the time to go check them out. March 4-19 and for the first couple days they will also have some demo models available.

1700 Hyde Park London Ontario
519-641-4343

Piano On Sandbar

A grand piano was seen off the Biscayne Bay perched atop a sandbar 200 yards out in the water.  I wonder if the piano mover was puzzled by the address given, or if it was merely some fraternities prank.  Either way, it seems the piano is there to stay.  I suppose someone could perform an outdoors, by the sea concert, if they chose.

Read the original article here.

Tuning Your Own Piano. Why It’s A Bad Idea

1. Guitar tuners are not set up to tune the temperament of a piano.

Each piano’s temperament is tuned slightly different depending on the piano. Many pianos have different gages and lengths of strings, therefore what sounds in tune on one piano may not sound in tune on another. This is called inharmonicity. Professionals have very sophisticated piano tuning software, as well as aural tests, that calculate how to tune the temperament of each individual piano.

2. Tuning Stability

A piano’s tuning pin and string must be set, it must be secured by the tuner. A tuner will move the pin only as much as they must to get it to pitch, and then they will ensure that the pin stays put. If it is not done right, one fortissmo blow on the key and the note will pop out of tune. This is called tuning stability. It’s the last thing a piano tuner masters and for most tuners takes hundreds of piano tunings to get the hang of.

3. Time

When I first started tuning pianos it would take me 4 to 5 hours to do one piano, and it wouldn’t even sound that good. Professional tuners tune pianos in 1 – 2 hours time. The longer it takes, the more exhausted your ears get and the more precarious your tuning hammer precision becomes.

4. String Breaking

Piano wire in old pianos can be brittle and become prone to breaking. Should the string be adjusted too far sharp, it may snap. String replacement is another skill that takes practice to develop. A professional tuner will have the appropriate tools and skills to replace broken piano wire should a string break during tuning.

5. Pitch Raise

If you are considering tuning your own piano, it is probable that the piano is nothing close to A=440Hz. Most pianos require yearly tuning, and if it’s been over 3 years, I recommend a pitch raise. A professional tuner will perform a pitch raise in which the piano is tuned very quickly to get it up to A4=440Hz. They will then do a second pass tuning, the fine tuning, which will provide clean unisons and octaves.

Recommendation

If you really are interested in keeping your own piano in tune, buy the necessary tools and do maintenance tuning in between the times your tuner comes. You may hear a unison that has gone out, or a single octave. Simply tuning one or two notes that have gone out, to ensure the tuning lasts longer, can make all the difference to your enjoyment in playing your piano.

Piano Hammer Strikes Twice

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Sometimes you play a piano and it sounds and feels odd. It’s not the tuning, (though that may be a separate issue) but it just doesn’t feel right. It may in fact be that the piano hammer is striking the string twice in quick succession. Piano technicians usually refer to this effect as bubbling. Often times the cause of the note bubbling is insufficient key travel. When the key is depressed by your finger, it doesn’t travel far enough before it hits the keybed. Many times this happens in the middle of the piano. As pianos settle with age, the middle of the keyboard can sag making the appearance of a smiley face. The keys in the middle are lower than the keys in the bass and treble extremes. A piano technician will shore up these middle keys, making a straight line from the top to the bottom of the keyboard. In the instance of this picture, a Zimmerman piano from Europe needed the middle keys to be raised, allowing for greater key travel. I brought these keys up with paper punchings, which are placed under the balance rail felt. Now that the key travel is corrected, the hammers no longer bubble or double hit and the piano has been restored to the manufactures’ specifications.

Metronome App for Piano Practicing

IMG_0044While practicing piano yesterday, I went to use my Seiko DM-20 metronome to keep time on some piano exercises when I found the battery in the Seiko had died. It takes those small watch batteries which are hard to come by around the house. I’ve had this metronome for 15 years or so without any battery issues so the fact that it had died now is not surprising. I really wanted to get into these piano exercises and there was no way to do them without the metronome. What was I to do except what I always do in these situations, check if there was a metronome app for my iPhone. Lo and behold, there were multiple metronome apps. I found the simplest one which was aptly called “Metronome”. It did what I needed, which was to keep time in an orderly fashion. No flashy graphics or redundant options, just the bpm and time signature. My iPhones volume only goes so high, thus it makes it difficult to hear if I play overly loud, but other than that, a nice piece of freeware.

If your metronome has suffered a similar fate to mine, namely expungement, consider getting the metronome app for iPhone.

Piano Tuning for Colm Wilkinson

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I recently got the opportunity to tune a Yamaha C7 Grand Piano for a Colm Wilkinson concert at the Capitol Theatre in Chatham. I was given the opportunity by the piano dealer who supplied the piano, D&S Pianos. I have always been a great fan of Colm Wilkinson, ever since I played the role of Jean Valjean in the Beal Musical Theatre production of Les Miserables. Colm was the original Jean Valjean, and he has played the part all over the world, including on Broadway and in London’s West end. His voice is velvety and quite unique. His transition between falsetto and regular voice is smooth. I was able to stand by and watch the rehearsal after the initial touch up tuning I performed, as another tuning was required just before the concert. He was very personable and down to earth. The band included a piano, keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, cello and a flute/saxophone player. All of the players were seasoned veterans.

I happened to know the sound guy through my father, who is also an audio engineer and runs a company called Stage Wireless. We talked about the acoustics of the theatre and the mic techniques he was using for the piano. He had the piano lid closed for the concert so that there was less bleed into the piano mics from other instruments. This, he said, posed a problem in generating an authentic piano tone. If the lid is open, one is able to mic the piano from an appropriate distance, yielding a fuller, more open sound. With closed lid, close mics, the tone can be thin and growly. This was a compromise he had to make.

It looks like there is a lot of great acts coming to the Chatham Capitol Theatre. Check them out and find something you’re interested in.

Squeaky Piano Keys

Squeaky Piano Key Causes

Are you being annoyed by squeaks that happen every time you play certain keys?

It may not be a difficult thing to correct. In most cases I find that piano squeaks come from the keys. There is a brass pin which the keys rock back and forth on. This pin tends to oxidize over time. The felt with which the key pinches the pin rubs on this oxidation producing a squeak. I find this very often, especially in Yamaha pianos. If this is the cause of the squeaks, a piano technician can polish up the brass pins in usually no more than an hour. Voila, no more obnoxious squeaks.

Mention the fact that you have some squeaks in your piano at the time that you book your tuning appointment, that way your piano technician can schedule enough time in to disperse those pesky squeaks.

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