Monday, September 8, 2008

Paul's DIY Series -- continued

So, boys and girls, last time around we talked about how to solder copper pipes with a blowtorch with the help of an unsuspecting friend lured by the promise of wine and samosas. Today, I'll tell you another story of how daring and brave actions can sometimes, surprisingly, get you to a happy end.

This weekend, I boldly went where no man, woman or furry animal from Alpha Centauri has gone before -- to a local piano tuner by the name of Tom Lloyd, who had been kind enough to give me a spare tuning wrench of his and some encouraging advice about the emergency numbers to call when I have my throat slashed by a torn piano string. (Mr Lloyd had really been very kind as before that I spent over an hour calling up 7 piano and music instrument stores in Ottawa-Gatineau area in search of a tuning wrench -- to no avail).

So on Saturday and Sunday, I spent a total of about 10 hours with a piano tuning hammer in hand, all the while testing the patience of the neighbours, passers-by and the strength of my marriage. I'm also afraid I permanently drove some neighbourhood dog crazy, as it wouldn't stop barking and wailing into the night hours after I had finished tuning the piano. 

At the end of the day, however, the operation was a complete success, as I got away with only a single warning from the law enforcement services and only a single brick with a death threat tied to it flying through my window. Additionally, with the help of some piano tuning software, my piano now sounds magnificent which means that either a)I lost my sense of pitch or hearing in the process, or never had either, b) The piano is in tune, for now, and next Monday I'll crawl on my knees to a professional tuner begging to re-tune it or c)It's actually in tune and it might stay in tune for some time. Hopefully, it's the latter -- I'll let you know.

As a few sidenotes, the software that's available out there right now is pretty cool. It does everything from computing the stretch table for you based on the inharmonicity of the particular strings in your particular piano, to showing a real-time spectral graph to help you tune the unisons (although the software that I used only recorded at a sampling rate of 22kHz, which meant the resolution and error margin of the spectral graph wasn't ideal -- but then I was running it on WinXP on top of Parallels on a mac laptop). Everything, that is, except physically turning the tuning pins for you and boy, I wish it did. There are 88 keys on a piano and many more tuning pins than that -- and that, together with the tendency of the upper register strings to revert back down when hit hard, should probably explain the 10 hours. And getting used to using the tuning hammer took a little while, as those tuning pins are much more sensitive than you'd hope -- a little bit like the pegs on a violin which, if you've ever tried tuning a violin without those fine-adjustment machines on the other end of the string, is a bitch.

Other than that, however, it was a lot of fun, and I even got to take out the whole piano action and fix two tiny problems that I myself caused. (On a side note, Kawai makes a great, sturdy, dependable and very responsive piano action, really the best-engineered and modern piano action I've ever seen.)

Next time, however, I'm getting a professional quality tuning hammer and a friend, lured, as usual, by the empty promises of wine and samosas. It's more fun that way.

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