As the piano is played over time, the hammer felt will compact and harden creating a brighter, harsher, and less pleasing and balanced tone. Voicing is the process of adjusting the overall tone of the piano with the goal of making the piano sing and sound dynamic and expressive, but most importantly balanced across the keyboard. Voicing can mellow out and blend bright, harsh, or loud notes, or add power, clarity, and sustain where it is lacking.
Good voicing techniques and desired outcomes are only possible with years of training and experience with the many different hammers used by various manufacturers and rebuilders. David Brisson, RPT, has years of experience voicing hundreds of pianos and can deliver the professional voicing results you and your piano expect and deserve.
Voicing should ideally be performed only on a freshly tuned piano that is well regulated, but minor voicing may be performed at the time of a tuning service appointment at no extra charge. Any major tone adjustments should be considered and discussed, only after carefully examining the overall conditions of the piano’s soundboard and strings, action parts, and action regulation.
Fees for voicing are based on an hourly rate and included as part of a repair estimate.
Frequently Asked Questions
Voicing techniques and expectations vary from piano to piano. In general, the process refers to the overall relationship between the hammers and the strings, and how we as technicians manipulate and adjust the harness of the hammers, mate them to the strings, seat the strings at bearing points, and level the strings at the strike point to achieve the desired tonal outcomes.
- Hammers voicing techniques achieve the goal voicing up softer hammers or voicing down hard hammers.
- Voicing up hammers is done first by filing and shaping the surface of the hammer. Further hardening of the wool fibers is done with the use of chemical hardeners, referred to as “juicing". Compacting can be achieved by pounding the hammer felt.
- Voicing down hammers is achieved by needling them in various places to open up the dense fibers and create impact cushions.
- String voicing techniques involve careful manipulation of the music wire. Strings are evenly spaced, seated at all bearing points to remove unwanted bends, and leveled at the hammer strike point. Properly done, string voicing eliminates any unwanted false beats and phasing issues that affect the tuning and overall sound of the piano.
The piano should have a clear tone with plenty of power and sustain. The tone should be evenly matched note-to-note and section-to-section of the keyboard. The tone should be balanced - not too loud, bright, or metallic, and not muffled, dark, or muddy at different playing volumes. The piano should not distort when played very loudly.
The sixth octave, referred to as the “killer octave” in concert pianos, where melodies are often played, should have a bell-like quality and enough power to cut through an orchestra.
The bass should be powerful and have a clean sustain, not muddied by unwanted harsh upper harmonics. There should be a clean blend in tone from the bass to the tenor section, where the strings transition from one bridge to the other, and/or the transition from copper wound bass strings to plain wire strings.
Final voicing of the hammers, usually needling, occurs at the very end of the voicing procedure. The hammers are first properly shaped, traveled, and spaced square to the strings. Any action center pinning, either too loose or tight, is corrected. Additionally, the action regulation should be accurate, and all string voicing and mating to the hammers is performed prior to the final hammer voicing.
Badly worn hammers will greatly inhibit the tone of the piano, and resurfacing or replacing the hammers may be the first corrective measure needed to achieve the desired tonal results. Also important to the voicing process is correcting any loose or tight hammer flange pinning. Loose or tight action centers greatly affect the travel and power of the hammer, altering its tone dramatically. Correcting these problems properly prepares a piano for voicing and will deliver the best desired outcome.