— by Wes Flinn RPT
• “Voicing” is the last step in Piano PreparationThis term “voicing” almost always applied to commercial performance grade pianos, and not to home pianos.
Specifically, voicing is the work of upgrading the efficiency of piano string behavior, as coordinated with its hammer behavior. Some of the procedures are the same for preparing either home or commercial pianos, but home pianos would profit very little from the advanced procedures used for commercial pianos, which involve needling and filing and shaping the hammers to meet specific tone quality goals — home piano hammers can even be ruined by applying such advanced techniques, because they were not designed for such modifications.
To pursue these voicing procedures requires that all the rest of the piano is working at a near perfect efficiency before a “voicing” routine can be useful — the regulation and tuning of a piano has to be as perfect as possible before voicing the piano can be accomplished.
The goal of voicing is first to cause the sounds of all piano notes to produce more equal tonal qualities in general, and then second to cause all these sounds to be more even in volume and intensity, while at the same time modifying the piano sounds to please the listening tastes of the listener or owner or user of the instrument. If this sound complicated, well, it is! But that is what voicing is all about.
Voicing is done in a general way by the manufacturers of all pianos. The term “Concert Voicing” is a better description of the custom voicing that is done to concert venue pianos and recording studio pianos — This kind of procedure is very tedious, time consuming, and extremely expensive, and it can take sometimes many days of work by a technician to satisfy these goals of perfection that are usually required to achieve those ‘perfect’ piano tones demanded professionally. The work involves countless procedures of needling, shaping, testing of hammer characteristics, as well as testing, measuring and adjusting of string positions and shapes, and repeating these procedures almost endlessly until the instrument
is as ‘perfect’ as it is possible to be.
In addition, general humidity conditions, and temperature or humidity changes greatly affect the general “voice” of an acoustical piano. The information provided in the section above about “Humidity Control” should be seriously considered by all acoustic piano owners — to read now, click any top of page link to definitions list, then click ‘Humidity Control”, then click “Voicing” to return.
• Very important: Sometimes a piano cannot be voiced without replacement of hammers!
• The following excerpt is a very reasonable description of the acoustic piano voicing concept:
“Voicing work is…very misunderstood.
“Voicing a piano is the art of adjusting the volume, tone, sustain and clarity of the entire instrument or individual notes. Voicing cannot change the basic character of an instrument, it can only bring it to its maximum potential, and it is often a matter of personal taste. The entire piano may be voiced ‘up’ (brightened) or down. Individual notes or sections can be voiced to even out the keyboard.
“There are many ways to ‘tone build’ on a piano, but voicing the hammers is the most familiar one…. It involves either softening the hammers by piercing the felt with small needles at specific points to various depths, or hardening the hammers by filing, drying, or use of chemicals. Care must be taken not to overdo any voicing work on the hammers; they easily can be ruined. If the owner feels a piano is too bright, the hammers can be softened to a degree to produce a more mellow tone. However, too much needling causes a ‘mushy’ tone with poor sustain and projection. Hammers compact and harden over time, and a small amount of needling may be advisable to help restore the original tone quality.
“Hardening hammers can improve pianos with weak or indistinct tone. Don’t expect miracles on a cheaper or small piano. Too much hardening of hammers with a lacquer or other hardening agent will make the tone ‘tinny’ or brittle, and it will be difficult or impossible to voice down properly later.
“Since hammers are wool felt, they absorb moisture in high humidity and can mellow noticeably in tone. A hammer iron will dry them out, but it is usually used before a concert for a temporary tone adjustment. For the home, church, school, or club, a piano dehumidifier system rectifies the problem.
[Wes Flinn note: a Dampp-Chaser climate control system can often solve all these problems for all but specialty uses of the piano]
“Filing hammers removes the softer or ‘dead’ outer layer of hammer felt and brings out a brighter tone. If the hammers have been filed on a new piano in the factory, additional filing will do little to bring up the tone.
“To be properly voiced, the piano must be in good tune and the action well regulated.
“Other aspects of voicing and tone-building include setting the strings properly over their bearing points, tightening all screws from the plate to the pinblock and the back, and adjusting action placement and hammer strike points….”
Above quotation from:
“The Piano…Guide for the Piano Owner” by
Philip Gurlik, RPT, Potter Press, Bend, Oregon, ©2000.