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.
Splicing a Piano String: First Attempt
A common issue in old pianos is a broken string. Splicing strings rather than replacing strings may be preferable because the new string will unavoidably have a different timbre from the remaining, older strings. Simply put, new steel does not respond to a strike the same way an older used string. In single strings above the bass this difference is not as noticeable and may not present a significant problem as long as the new string diameter or gauge matches the old. But the problem is significant and compounded in bass strings. Bass strings are double-wound; you can see the difference: they look like coiled springs. It is very difficult to match the timbre due to the difference in the age of the metal and the uniqueness of how double strings are wound. Universal bass strings are available, and are satisfactory for non-performance pianos. However, for performance or high-value instruments, universal strings may not work. They will need to be replaced with custom-wound strings at considerable expense.
All this can be avoided by splicing a string. This will only work if the break is in the non-speaking part of the string, that is, the area between the bridge and the pin. Splices in the speaking area can be done, but it will significantly affect the quality of the sound.
I had a broken string. It was the very highest note on the piano, and thus prime for experimentation. The break close enough to the non-speaking area that I felt I could unwind enough extra from the tuning pin to put the splice outside of the speaking section. If my splice failed, replacement would be a viable alternative.
Here's what I learned. Remember, I am not a professional tuner or technician, just curious.
- Piano strings are stiff, difficult to bend and even more difficult to straighten.
- On spinets, at least, the action (the system of dampers, hammers and associated levers) makes it difficult to work with the string. My broken string was on the very end, had no damper but still difficult to work.
- The actual splice was simply done with a pair of needle-nose pliers
- I had to completely remove the string to work with it. This might be because of the tight spinet cabinet; in a larger piano this might have been avoided, but my experience is limited.
I completed the splice and replaced the string. Unfortunately, in the process of rewinding the string it broke again; not at the splice point, but at a different location. The splice itself tightened nicely and held. In order to have the length to make the splice, I had to unwind some of the string that had been around the pin; it was in this area that the second break took place. I do not know if it was my error in winding, a weakness in the string, or weakness I introduced while I wrestled with the stiff string. Regardless, it was a learning experience. It sets up a future new adventure: replacing a string!