There are 2 books I’ve been reading lately, one new and one not so new.

The Voice of the Piano by Andre Oorebeek is a welcome addition to the sparse list of books on piano technology. This book is a very clear and thorough examination of the process of high end piano voicing, which concentrates (but is not limited to) manipulating the shape and density of the felt of piano hammers.

Oorebeek brings some light to an area that has traditionally been considered a black art, mainly because it is so hard to talk about. Even with his clear description of techniques, it really doesn’t mean anything if you can’t hear the progress and results. However it holds a lot for experienced technicians as well as piano lovers who are interested in their instruments.
Next, to be clear, I really do read this kind of stuff.

New Techniques for Superior Aural Tuning by Virgil Smith

Virgil Smith has long been a proponent of tuning by listening to the complete sound of a particular note, rather than listening and tuning only to specific harmonics or “partials”. He has also been a lone voice in the wind for a long time, especially with the popularity of electronic tuning devices which can ONLY listen to individual partials. However Smith makes a good point, which is that when one listens to a piano being played, one listens to the complete tone of the piano, not individual harmonics so why not tune that way. And, in my experience, the tunings I’ve heard by skilled practitioners have been quite convincing.

Smith has also proven that the pitch of a 3 string unison changes (drops) when you tune with only 2 strings sounding at a time. This is very hard to get ones head (ears) around but it has been proven. This means that the customary way of tuning, tuning the center string then the other 2 unisons to it, is, well, wrong! In Smiths opinion, one should never tune 1 string by itself.

Umm, how do you do this without 2 tuning hammers? David Anderson gives a good demonstration by “cracking the unison”, knocking one of the 2 out (you can mute the 3rd, when setting the first, thank god) and then focusing your hearing on the one that you are tuning, ignoring the other clearly out of tune string.

Easier said than done.

This technique also means that you are pretty sure (really really sure) of how you are setting your temperament since it does not tolerate a lot of fussing. But, again, in my experience the proof is in the pudding and pianos tuned this way sound exceptionally clear and musical.

I’m working on developing this skill and it does not come easy.