In addition to tuning your instrument, it is also necessary to maintain and service the keyboard and action mechanism periodically. This mechanism with thousands of parts is, as you could have read, prone to wear and pest infestation. Guus van den Braak is able to minimise the wear of your piano by giving it a service.

The tone also becomes irregular after a number of years. This is due to wear in the action mechanism.  The regulation of the action becomes uneven and the fine adjustments between all interrelated parts will move outside acceptable tolerances. This leads to an uneven touch weight and uneven key response, resulting in an uneven tone.  Strings wear grooves in the hammer felt. When they are too deep, they need to be remodelled or replaced, restoring the tone and touch to its optimum. (See photo on the right with one new hammerhead fitted).

The entire piano and action mechanism is during the same service cleansed of dust, moth and other pests.  All cloths and felts are moth treated, pedals and other parts lubricated, action mechanism and keyboard regulated.  The instrument is tuned and finally, all hammerheads are voiced to obtain an even and correct quality of tone to the preference of the owner and surrounding acoustics. Work on the piano can, as a rule be done in the home, saving transport costs, but the action mechanism is usually taken to the workshop for one day and returned the following day.  Cleaning and maintenance work to the action mechanism can be done to a higher standard when all tools, equipment, materials and space are available in the workshop and thus avoiding a lot of unhealthy dust in the client's home.

Tone regulating and voicing.

Many people who have purchased a new or used piano realize sooner or later that they are not really satisfied with its tonal qualities. They believe that the tone of the instrument is permanently fixed and will remain the same for the rest of its life.  Well, it will if nothing is done about it!  In fact, the tone of any piano will deteriorate over time due to action wear, hammer wear and hammer felt compaction.  Just as the tread of your car tyres wear bald over time, the tyres will perform poorly and the steering becomes heavy. Worn piano hammers will produce a poor tone and the touch will become too light.  Due to a lack of knowledge and understanding, some people unfairly criticize the piano manufacturer for the undesirable tone the piano produces.  In all fairness, piano makers play it safe and purposely produce a piano with a bright tone because this gives the piano technician the opportunity to improve the tone of the piano.  If the piano manufacturer produced a piano with a too mellow or a too soft tone to your liking, it would be as good as impossible to reverse it to a brighter tone with the original qualities it had before.  Piano manufacturers and piano technicians do know that each home and concert hall has different acoustical qualities and that people have different tonal preferences.  For this reason, ideally, each individual piano is voiced inside the room or hall it resides in.

All pianos, from the cheapest to the most expensive, need tone regulating and voicing. Voicing alone (needling the hammers) is not complete tone regulating. For example, it is obvious that a Steinway concert grand worth $300,000, is of superior design and quality to that of a ten thousand dollar piano. The more expensive pianos are made with much higher precision, quality materials and quality control. This is very noticeable in the way the instrument feels to play (touch) and the tone it produces.

However, no matter how expensive or cheap the piano, a perfectly tuned piano often still sounds uneven in brightness. One note sounds brighter than its neighbouring notes (unpleasant harsh and tinny notes) and is therefore uneven in mellowness. One of a number of reasons is because hammer felt tension is uneven.

Hammer manufacturers press and glue hammer felt around the wooden moulding under extreme high pressure and is nearly always secured by a staple. This causes the felt to be compressed on the inside around the moulding and stretched under tension around the outside of the hammer. The highest tension being at the tip, the crown, of the hammer.

A vibrating string subdivides itself into many simultaneously vibrating fractions. Each fraction produces an audible pitch of its own, called a partial. A hard hammer will sound hard and shrill with the emphasis on the higher partial series. The result is a thin, hard tone that is short in sustain.

A hammer that is too soft creates a very poor quality sound and is in most cases beyond repair. The result here is an emphasis on the lower partial series. The result is a soft, weak and powerless tone that is also short in sustain.

By skilfully pushing needles into distinct areas of the hammer felt, Guus van den Braak manipulates the tension to create a well balanced partial spectrum and thus a good tonal quality. The hammer is not fluffed up or aired up like a pillow as some people think. To try and explain what a good sound is, is rather difficult but the aim is to create a "velvet"-like mellow tone that sounds clear, clean and yet not too loud or too weak. The tone should also have a certain sustain without decaying too soon. We should also hear the power of a tone with our ears, and feel it with our fingers through the keys and our feet on the timber floor. This highly skilled work is best performed by the true professional.  There are many piano tuners unskilled in voicing who will do potentially irreversible and costly damage.

Needling hammer felt with the voicing tool leaves tine holes in the felt. However, due to the natural resilience of the compact wool fibres, these holes will to some extend close again. Because of this, the hammers will soon sound a little louder again after the first attempt at voicing. When an instrument has been voiced for the first time, the instrument needs to be played for about 30 hours and then voiced for the second time for better stability. The tone also becomes irregular after a number of years of playing. This is due to the action becoming uneven in regulation, wear on the hammerheads and hammer felt compaction at the crown.  The discerning pianist should not only have the piano tuned frequently, but also have the voicing maintained frequently. 

The strings wear grooves in the hammer felt.  When they are too deep, the striking point of the hammer tip (crown) becomes too wide, changing the harmonic structure and producing a poor quality tone. Removing the worn grooves and reshaping the hammers to their proper shape will restore the harmonic structure of the tone. However, it is normal that the sound will also become louder and harder again, with the emphasis on the higher partials series. Pianists need to be aware of this and understand that at this time the piano technician needs to skilfully voice the hammers with needles until the desired mellow "velvet"-like tone has been achieved to satisfaction. Pianists with keen hearing need to understand further that voicing alone (needling the hammers) is not complete tone regulating. Tone regulating includes voicing the hammers. Tone regulating involves anything that could be done to a piano that has an affect on the tonal quality to gain optimum tone production. Tone regulating and voicing will make each note even in mellowness and will produce optimum dynamics. Voicing alone will not! Pianists commonly become accustomed to listening to a tone that has deteriorated over the years and need to be aware of a period of aural readjustment and retraining. A piano technician listens every day, all day to pianos and knows what a good or poor tone is and a skilful piano technician knows how to improve the tone. This work is usually performed over a period of time and not in one session. This requires patience.

When hammers become too small in size and too light in weight, they need to be replaced because the tone has deteriorated and the touch weight is too light. As a result of replacing the small worn hammers with bigger original size hammers, the action mechanism will need to be fully regulated to restore the touch to its original condition or better and the new hammers will need to be voiced to restore the tone to its optimum. Irregular action regulation means irregular touch, which means an irregular tone.

Tone regulating includes:

  1. Reshaping the hammers to a perfect shape without grooves on the striking point
  2. Ensuring the hammers strike the strings at the correct point along its length to obtain the loudest and clearest tone.
  3. The strings are level with each other.
  4. The hammers strike all three strings equally and squarely.
  5. The strings are in good condition.
  6. The bridges are in good condition.
  7. The action mechanism is in optimum condition.
  8. The action mechanism is perfectly regulated.
  9. The keys are level and regulated.
  10. The piano is in tune.
Guus van den Braak has tuned, restored, repaired and voiced thousands of pianos during his career of over 47 years. He has worked on just about every brand and model piano that exists on the planet - from the most expensive Steinway concert grands to the small humble upright in a home. This has given him a tremendous amount and broad range of knowledge and experience in this field.

Prior to purchasing a new or used instrument, it is very wise to consult with Guus van den Braak to help choose the instrument most suitable for you.

Things to consider are:

  1. Your budget.
  2. Which piano brand, model and size produces the best sound and tone for your budget.
  3. Which piano within your budget has the best potential of improving in tonal quality.
  4. The style of music you play.
  5. The acoustical qualities of your piano room.
  6. The quality of the soundboard and bridges.
  7. The quality and design of the action mechanism.
  8. Can the touch weight and response be improved.
  9. The structural quality of the piano.
  10. The tuning pin tightness, hence tuning stability.
Strings do not vibrate according to theory. A harmonic is a theoretical frequency that is an exact multiple of the fundamental tone. String stiffness causes the vibrating segments to produce partials that are not true harmonics. In reality, string wire stiffness causes the partials of strings struck by piano hammers to be sharp of their theoretical harmonics. The sharpness, or distortion of partials from the true harmonic series, is called inharmonicity. Overtones are like partials, but are numbered differently. A second partial is the first overtone. A first partial is a fundamental.

The workshop of Guus van den Braak.

In the modern workshop of Guus van den Braak not only are small repairs done, but full restorations are also undertaken. Wear develops to pivoting points, felt and leather parts with older and/or much played instruments. Timely replacements of those parts avoids costly repairs. The soundboard, bridges and pinblock don't have unlimited life either. They can live very long periods but can crack after a short period of time if not cared for. Repairs to soundboards or replacing soundboards, pinblocks and bridges, have been performed successfully many times by Guus van den Braak in Amsterdam, Holland and Adelaide, South Australia. Because many materials are replaced in their original state, such as replacing leather, felt and cloth, repairing and varnishing of soundboards, spray painting of the cast iron frame in gold, replacement of tuning pins, the fitting of new bass and treble

strings, French polishing and spraying of the cabinet and the polishing or replacement of key covering, the piano or grand piano is not only beautified, but much more importantly the enormous improvement in tonal quality and touch.
Guus van den Braak places top priority in returning the instrument to its formal and original condition and in many cases better than original condition! Only first grade and as authentic as possible materials are used.

Experience alone means very little, but experience combined with superior knowledge, high skills and top quality craftsmanship, a first-class workshop set-up with excellent tools and equipment are a must when a piano is required to play and sound at the highest possible level. Success is not a matter of luck. It is earned and deserved as work is performed with precision, pride and passion. You can view the photo gallery on the web page "Repairs and restorations". Whether you are a beginner, advanced or professional player, you can be assured you will receive the best service to suit your budget and piano. You are always welcome to contact Guus van den Braak without any obligation.

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