This piano tuning blog is a companion to our How to Tune a Piano Yourself tutorial. In this blog we expand on the tutorial with new information and perspectives on do-it-yourself piano tuning. If it is your first time here, visit the tutorial first.
Praise of the Pinafore
It's time the piano I tune in the tutorial gets a little spotlight of its own. It has served me well as an instrument of learning as well as music. My piano is made by Gulbransen. Gulbransen is a long-standing piano and organ manufacturer with over a century in business. In World War II, they were one of two manufacturers to provide pianos to the U.S. government. The company has been bought and sold a few times since then, but the brand still exists.
My particular model is labeled a "Pinafore." This was a series of small spinets designed for use in small rooms or as a first piano for beginners or children. My model has 64 keys. It has two pedals, a sustain and a damper. Gulbransen also made at least one other model with 73 keys. It was touted as having a rich sound with full post construction and a heavy metal plate. I do agree that it seems very solidly built. It certainly takes two people to lift it. Of course, the richness of the sound might be a bit overstated. However, it sounds great to me. Even though its range is cut down and it has short strings, it fills up the room and reverberates off the body much better than the Roland electronic piano with which it shares the living room in my house. The real piano players in the house also enjoy the reality of a physical piano, but they do miss the other 24 keys.
It's easy to tune with the pins within easy rich. The cabinet disassembles easily. Servicing the action, though, is a chore. I found this out the hard way when I decided to make some repairs. I did not know it at the time, but the spinet design is notorious for difficult repair. To remove the action, every key must be removed and all the upright "sticks" that attach the keys to the action must be tied off to the action. I learned all this by trial and error. Fortunately, I was able to repair satisfactorily the balky keys once I had the action out. My attempt to splice a string did not go so well, but it was the very highest key on the piano so it's easy to live without. I also had one key that had a broken damper. To fix that, I replaced the broken part with the corresponding part from the highest key that had a damper. As you may know, the higher octaves in a piano have no dampers, so the lack of a damper in this location is not noticeable. This repair, too, was straightforward once I had the action out. Putting action back in was challenging as well; there's not much room to maneuver.
As for tuning, the piano does show its age. It was manufactured February 12, 1959, based on a date stamped in the action. I don't know who bought it new. Once it came to the family in the 1960s, it was tuned fairly regularly at first. In fact, during this time it was the piano of a professional opera singer uncle in his pre-career days. For the next two decades, it sat in a spare room unused. I have had it about 15 years. For the last ten or so, I have been tuning it myself. It mostly holds a tune except for several repeat-offenders that slip shortly after tuning. (I'm looking at you, B-flat above middle C!)
We have thought about replacing it, but we've grown attached to it. It has a long family history. I really like the compact size despite the trade-offs. The day for these little pianos is long gone with so many electronic keyboard options for small spaces and beginners. Who would love it as much as we?