In 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the Gulf of Saint Lawrence where, on July 24, he planted a 10-metre (33 ft) cross bearing the words “Long Live the King of France” and took possession of the territory New France in the name of King Francis I.
In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, by the royal prerogative of Queen Elizabeth I, founded St. John’s, Newfoundland, as the first North American English colony. The English established additional settlements in Newfoundland, beginning in 1610 and the Thirteen Colonies to the south were founded soon after.
The four countries have been fast friends ever since.
5. Piano Strings are steel wires under a tremendous amount of pressure, and they stretch.
The piano has 88 notes, but many of the notes have more than one string. In fact, an average piano has approx. 240 strings. All these strings add up to around 10 or more tons of pressure. (Thatâ€™s enough to lift your garage off its foundation!) Over time, and with the added pressure of being struck to sound a note, the strings will stretch and go out of tune. This is especially true of new pianos, and pianos that have been re-strung or rebuilt.
4. Wood reacts to Humidity changes. When it is damp it swells; when it is dry it shrinks.
All these tightened strings rest across a piece of wood called a “bridge”, which is glued to the soundboard. This is how the sound of the strings is amplified. The soundboard is slightly arched, and is glued tightly to the perimeter of the piano. When the ambient humidity increases, the arch increases and stretches the strings more, making the pitch sharp. When the humidity decreases, the arch decreases, making the pitch flat.
3. The pitch of a Piano (the tension of the strings) is not arbitrary.
The Piano must be kept at proper pitch in order to sound the way that the manufacturer intended. The pitch of a string (the note it sounds) is determined by three factors: the thickness of the string, the length of the string, and the tension. If you look inside a piano you will notice that the strings are all a different length. This measurement cannot be changed, nether can the thickness of the string. These two factors were set by the manufacturer, therefore, the only variable is the tension. As the piano goes out of tune, each string will not only be off pitch, but off-tone as well.
2. A Piano that is tuned regularly stays in tune longer.
Your piano was designed to be at a specific pitch: “Concert Pitch” or A:440 (This means that the note A above middle C vibrates at 440 beats per second). If you let your piano cycle through more than one season change, the above factors will cause it to go so flat, that the piano tuner will have to stretch the strings sharp before tuning it at A:440. This is called a pitch raise. It is usually twice the cost of a normal tuning, is hard on the piano, and results in a tuning that is not as stable. A piano that is regular tuned will stay close to pitch and will not need a pitch raise.
A well-tuned piano is essential for good musicianship.
Young students will be greatly hampered in their studies if their piano is not kept in tune. They will notice the difference between their piano and their teacher’s piano, and it will confuse them. It will also interfere with ear training. Worst of all, you may become accustomed to the sound of an out-of-tune piano, so that the sound of a good piano, in concert or recording, may sound strange. One thing is certain: It will be impossible for your children to progress far in their studies if they have to practice on a poor instrument, or even a good instrument if it is not in tune.
Remember: Out of all the things you possess, your piano is one of the few things that will outlast you, and be lovingly passed down from generation to generation.
– Jamie Musselwhite
When I was little, I would wake up every Sunday morning to the sound of my mother dusting the piano. Of course, she was dusting everything, (being my mom), but nothing else in the house made that familiar badum, badum, badum sound of her cleaning the keys. You might say that cleaning runs in the family: Not only did my mother keep a spotless house (even though she worked full-time – I’ll tell you her secret in a second), but, her youngest brother, my uncle Stan, owned a cleaning company. I worked for Uncle Stan during the summer break when I was fifteen. He taught me two things: Have a system, and work to a end. I took to working with him like a duck takes to water because… I Love Cleaning. Therein lies the secret to my mom’s clean house. She had me as a son. As I say in my book, “DEAR MR. MUSSELWHITE…”:
“My mother use to call me Mr. Clean… because if she gave me a job, I would do it to an extreme. If she asked me to dust, I would take apart the lamps and fixtures to clean inside them. If I was asked to tidy, I would rearrange all the books in the shelves in alphabetical order. To my parents chagrin, this dedication never did extend to school work.”
I have cleaned many, many pianos since those early years, and I can say without a hint of Braggadocio that I know how to do it, and I’m pleased to be able to share the secret with you: ASK ONE OF OUR SPECIALLY-TRAINED TECHNICIANS TO DO IT.
No, seriously, you can do a lot yourself, and it’s not difficult, or time- consuming. Leave the inside to a pro, but you can do the rest yourself.
The first thing you need to know is what kind of finish your piano has. If you just bought your piano brand new, you can ask the dealer, but chances are great that it is finished in Polyester.
How can you tell? Well, it looks like this:
Just kidding. Polyester is a synthetic polymer similar to plastic. It was first used as a piano finish by the European builders starting in the late 1970’s, but it’s use has spread to almost all of the new pianos being made. It’s very hard, adheres to wood like a glue, (because, basically, it is a kind of glue), and can be polished to a mirror like reflection, or rubbed with special abrasives to make a silky satin sheen. It’s also highly toxic to produce and to apply, but who am I to judge? You can tell if your piano is finished in polyester by finding a hidden part, like inside the kickboard, or the bottom of the bench seat, and make a tiny scratch with a razor blade. If it’s polyester, the scratch and the shavings will be white. You can clean polyester with plain old water, or Windex if it’s really dirty, but the secret is to wet a soft cloth (NOT the piano), and use a dry soft cloth right after to polish it. If you want a high polish, there are specific polishes made just for a poly finish. If there are scratches or chips in the finish, a Refinisher, specialized in polyester, can remove them. A few hours with a polishing machine in skilled hands can make a piano finished in polyester looking brand new. That’s the beauty of it.
If your piano was made before the 1980’s, but after the 1930’s, it’s probably finished in Nitrocellulose Lacquer. Remember the little scratch you made to test the finish? Lacquer scratches clear.
Lacquer has the advantage of being repairable with just a little training and with minimal tools. It can even be bought in non-toxic water-based form, for you green people. Although lacquer can have a gloss shine, it doesn’t match the depth and clarity of Polyester, and it is a little tricky to apply it to raw wood. It’s main drawback is that it is extremely sensitive to damage, and especially sensitive to water and other liquids. If your piano is finished in lacquer, keep liquids away from it. Don’t use your piano as a drink coaster, or a display shelf for your flowers. If it does get even a little drop of water on it, dry it off immediately.
It’s a good idea to be careful with everything you put on it, because it can be temperamental. It’s possible, under the right circumstances, for the finish to soften enough so that paper will stick to it, or conversely for it to become brittle enough to chip.
The secret to cleaning a lacquer finish is to not have to. Dust the piano often using a feather duster, and if you have to remove a smudge or a blot, use a slightly damp cloth, followed by a dry soft cloth. If there is a large build up of dust, use a slightly damp cloth, quickly drying with a soft dry cloth. If it is really dirty, or if there is some kind of build up, use a little “Murphy’s Oil Soap” with warm (not hot) water in a bucket, wring the cloth out well, and do small areas at a time. Follow with clean cool water, and dry immediately. DO NOT RUB HARD! Never use any kind of over-the counter polishes like Pledge or Endust. I would also not recommend using any oils or polishes either, because although they may make the piano look shiny, it can cause the finish to soften, and can build up into a wax that is hard to remove.
Before the advent of Lacquer, Pianos were finished in French-Polished Shellac. This is an ancient, difficult finish to apply, but done properly, it is literally the most beautiful finish that you have ever seen – shinier than polyester, clear like glass, and creating an illusion of depth as if you are looking through a coating of water.
If applied and cared for properly, French Polish Finishes can last for centuries. Go visit a museum if you don’t believe me. Although beautiful, it’s a very complicated and demanding finish to apply. It protects wood so well that it actually preserves it, but, it is also fragile, and very sensitive to abuse, humidity, extreme dryness, and temperature fluctuations.
If French Polish is so great, why do so many old pianos look so terrible? It’s because they haven’t been properly cared for. Before I tell you how, I’ll tell you the incredibly interesting story behind French Polishing.
French Polishing originated in the early 18th century, but its roots date back to many centuries before. The main ingredient in the finish is Shellac, which the Europeans “discovered”, during their nasty little visits to the East.
Shellac is made from the dried sweat of the Female Lac Beetle, which lives in certain trees in India and Thailand. For many centuries, village children were employed collecting the branches and bark of these trees, which would be laid out in the village square to dry. The children would then have a merry time in the hot sun, stamping on this collection, wearing flat bottomed wooden sandals, until everything was ground down to smallish chunks. This would then be swept up and put into large pierced drums, which would be turned over and over until a fine powder could be collected. The powder was then boiled until all that remained was a flaky resin. Depending on the type of tree, the resin flakes could be anything from a very light yellow, to a dark smokey brown. Mixed with alcohol, or other agents, the resin could be made into a variety of products, ranging from liquid shellac, to a mold-able material almost like glass. In fact, the early Victrola records were first made from shellac.
To French Polish, many thin layers of shellac are rubbed on by hand in a manner that not only spreads it thinly, but it polishes it as it is applied. French polishing even a small piece can take many hours, so you can imagine how long, and how hard it was to apply it on to a large object such as a piano. It’s no wonder then, that piano makers were so quick to jump onto the lacquer bandwagon. Today, French Polishing is all but a lost art.
More than likely, if your piano was French Polished, you will see the effects of improper care of the finish. Old shellac finishes will have either a network of tiny cracks, or if it’s really bad, an effect known as leathering, where the finish has dried to the point where there are more cracks than not, and the surface literally looks like old leather.
If the finish was applied well, all one would have to do to make sure that it forever looks like new, would be to keep it out of the sun, away from liquids, and regularly moisturize it with lemon oil. If your piano is just starting to show the signs of drying out, buy REAL lemon oil, (not a polish WITH lemon oil), apply the oil to a soft cloth, spread it over the finish, let sit for a few minutes, and then wipe it off with a clean, dry, soft cloth.
If the finish is so bad that it has leathered, lemon oil might help a little, but, chances are, to make it look new, it will have to be refinished.
Remember my story about the noisy part of Mom’s dusting? That is part when she cleaned the keys.
In general, the technique to clean both Ivory and Plastic keytops are the same: Spray a soft cloth with a little water or Windex, clean a small section at a time, and dry immediately with a dry cloth. Make sure you clean the sides of the black keys.
Now, having said everything above, I should tell you, that all you really need to do to your piano on a regular basis, is dust with a Swiffer or feather duster, and wipe the keys from the back to the front with a soft cloth. Do this once a week, and you’ll only need to seriously clean your piano once a year (unless someone has dirty fingers, or an accident. That’s it!
If you have ivory keytops, don’t close the keycover unless you need to protect them against marauders. Ivory yellows if not exposed to light. Plastic, on the other hand, especially the plastic keys made in the 1960’s to the 1980’s, can turn yellowish if NOT kept covered.
By the way, the main reason that keys get chipped is because something has been used to depress them other than fingers, ex: A toy car, or a G.I. Joe. Please remind every little pianist: “Fingers only on the keys, no toys, or feet, or elbows please!”
– Jamie Musselwhite
You press a key, and a note sounds.
In a nutshell, here’s how an upright works: Pressing the key down lifts the back of the key up. This raises the whippen, forcing the jack to tilt the hammer mechanism toward the string. Halfway toward the string, a spoon on the back of the whippen lifts the damper off the string, and just before it hits, the force on the hammer is removed when the jack is tripped out from underneath the butt. When you let go of the key, everything in the action returns to its original position because of springs. After the string has been struck by the hammer, it vibrates across its entire length in a sine-wave. This vibration is transferred to the soundboard through the bridge, and the soundboard, like a speaker, amplifies it so that you can hear the sound loud and clear.
A grand works in a different way. This is because instead of using a spring to return the action to a reset position, it uses gravity. There is also an extra part to the whippen called a “repetition lever” which resets the jack so quickly that you can play the note again, with having to return the key to the fully “up” position. This allows for a much faster repeat, and is one of the main benefits of a grand over an upright. Because it uses gravity instead of springs, the touch is more consistent. Also, because of the repetition lever, each key has a noticeable little click that you can feel near the bottom of the key stroke. You can feel it, but you can’t hear it. Good pianists can use this to increase the accuracy of their touch.
That was the nutshell, here’s the meat: Every moving part in a piano is adjustable to a certain extent – some have adjustment mechanisms built in, others are made to tolerances that can only be changed using very specialized tools. There is a roughly universal value to some of the movements of the action parts, however they can differ from piano to piano, make to make. How high a key sits, for example, is based on having a small gap between the top of the keytop tail, and the bottom of the fallboard. However, wood warps and wears, so the height is adjustable by using small paper washers of different thicknesses underneath the fulcrum of the key.
How far it depresses is also (relatively) standard, but the felt washer underneath the key not only can vary slightly in thickness, but it compresses. Therefore, paper washers underneath that felt Front Rail Punching regulate the “Dip” of the key to the desired amount.
The key body is weighted with small lead weights to not only ensure that the key has a certain amount of resistance, but to also ensure that it will return quickly to the rest position quickly. These weights are installed in the factory, and although they can be removed or repositioned, it is a complicated process which should only be performed by a technician specifically trained to weight keys.
At the back of the key, an adjustable capstan “connects” the key to the action. If it is too low, there is space between the jack and the butt, which creates “Lost-Motion”. If the capstan is too high, the jack won’t reset underneath the butt.
There are adjustments all through the action like this, and although some tolerances can be reasonably large (such as spring tension), most have to be finely adjusted or the action will not play the way it was intended.
The overall geometry of the action is set during the design and building stage, and changing any of these measurements can literally make the piano unplayable. For example, the hammers must hit the string at a very precise point in its length, and a precise point on the hammer itself. If these are altered even a fraction of an inch, the tone of the piano will be negatively affected.
Even a seemingly small thing, like altering the size of the whippen heel by a few millimetres, can change the weight of the key from normal, to unbearably heavy.
Like the action, the tolerances and adjustments of the back and belly are many, varied, and critical. In order for a single string to have the correct tone, it must be exactly the right length, tension, and thickness. All these measurements must be in balance not only for that one string, but across all 240+ strings.
If you have to have a shorter string for the same note in a smaller piano, you have to increase the thickness, and this can negatively affect the tone – likewise if you increase or decrease the tension as well. If there is too much tension in one part of the back, that area could go out of tune faster than the rest of the strings. As you can see, getting all of these things (called “Scaling”) right, is complicated and critical. Each string is under a lot of tension – ranging from 120 – 160 lbs per inch. Across the whole scale, that adds up to 14 to 16 tons of pressure. That’s enough force to tear a two-car garage off its foundation, and because of this, not only does the plate and the back have to be very strong, it has to be designed to hold that tension, and more. Each string is held in place, and up to tension, by the tuning pin on one end, and by the anchor pin on the other end. A few (very terrible) manufacturers experimented with having anchor pins being cast into the plate. They soon found out that they could break off during stringing, shooting the pin like a bullet toward the stringer.
The tuning pin has to be tight enough so that it will hold the tension, but loose enough to be able to turn, enabling the string to be tuned. The pin has to be on a slight angle and set at a certain depth so that as the string is wrapped around itself, it makes a neat, tight wrap, and doesn’t wrap on top of itself.
The point at which the string interacts with the bridge is so critical, that not only does it have to be at an exact point on each string, it has to be at an exact height. An error in these measurements can not only ruin the pianos tone, but its ability to sustain the tone as well.
– Jamie Musselwhite
Before your piano is delivered, plan its placement very carefully. Think of a piano as being part of the family. Pick a room where it will be in the center of the action. You will want it to be part of celebrations, and most of all, you will want to be able to hear and watch your children practice, and celebrate with them their accomplishments. If the piano is put in a room in the basement where no one wants to go, just so it will be played out of ear-shot, I guarantee you that it won’t be played.
It you live in a modern, insulated home, it doesn’t really matter if it is on a inside or an outside wall. It’s far more important that it be as far away as possible from heat registers, windows, and fireplaces. The goal is to put the piano in a position where you yourself would be comfortable sitting for a long period of time: someplace where the temperature and humidity is reasonable constant, and away from heat sources. Sunshine on your shoulders may make you happy, but it could damage a pianos finish, and the concentrated heat could damage the soundboard and pinblock, leading to costly repairs.
Ideally, an upright piano should be placed so that you can insert your closed fist behind it. This will ensure that not only can the sound bounce off the wall properly, but it will also allow the tuner to lift the lid without damaging the wall. Try, if possible, to ensure that it is not right up against a side wall either, especially on the right-hand (treble) side. When the tuner is working on the section, having a little room makes the job ten times easier.
Placing a grand piano properly in a room is actually a very tricky thing, and many people have strong feelings about it. If you face the tail into a corner, the player will be facing the wall, and may feel a little isolated. If you face the keys towards a wall, you won’t be able to see a player’s hands. I personally feel that it’s more important to have the keys face outwards. It makes the piano seem more accessible, and certainly makes the tuners job easier if he or she has to access the action.
A good compromise, though not always practical, is to have the straight side of the piano against a wall so that the lid opens into the room, the performer can see the audience, and vice-versa. NOTE: Make sure it’s not sitting over floor vents!
If you live in an apartment, or in a side-by-side, and you’re concerned about the sound of the piano disturbing your neighbors, there are a number of simple things that you can do to lessen the transference of sound. First of all, the piano is actually a percussion instrument, and a lot of the sound it transfers is the thumping of the keys. Placing the piano on cushioned castor cups, or on a carpet, will stop a lot of that thumping transferring through the floor. If you have an upright piano that has to be against an adjoining wall, you can get a piece of mattress foam cut to the size of the pianos back, and place it between the piano and the wall.
Some pianos are equipped with a “Practice-Pedal” which drops a piece of felt between the hammers and the strings. This is a great idea when the player is practicing scales and technique, but it’s not a good idea to use it constantly when practicing. A big part of learning to play the play is listening to the sounds you are making.
In an apartment block, it’s always a good idea to get to know your neighbours, and arrange times when you or your children can play when it won’t disturb others. Do this first, and think of it as a way to build community, rather than having to get an angry phone call from the Super after the fact.
If you are lucky enough to not have to worry about the neighbors, and live in a home where the piano can be in a relatively large room, It will sound best if the room has hardwood floors rather than broadloom, but the piano should still be sitting on castor cups. If you think that you may need to shift the piano’s position every once in a while, you could arrange to have the pianos metal wheels replaced with rubber-wheeled castors, although this detracts a bit from the look of a grand.
One more important fact about the piano’s “wheels”: They are not made for rolling the piano around, they are designed for small movements only; pulling an upright away from a wall, shifting a grand a few inches to the left or the right. If you want the piano to be truly movable, it must be fitted with proper rubber- wheeled castors, or in the case of a grand piano, either a tripod or leg dollies.
If you do have to shift an upright, there are handles on the back for one hand, and the other hand should be on the front of the keyboard. Never push an upright piano backwards holding the piano near the top: It could tip backwards causing injury to yourself, or worse, to the piano. If your piano has free front legs that are not connected to the bottom of the piano, try to lift slightly on the keyboard as you move. These legs are known to snap off, toppling the piano forward. If you have to shift a Grand, it’s highly recommended that you use three strong people: two on each side of the keyboard, and one big brute on the tail end. Be very carefully if running over carpet, or bumps on the floor. It is not unheard of for one or more of the legs to snap off, bringing the piano crashing to the floor. Once again, any moving of more than a foot should be done by PROFESSIONAL MOVERS unless the piano is specially equipped.
– Jamie Musselwhite
A Heintzman piano is a musical time capsule.
Most people see the piano simply as a piece of musical furniture, something for their kids to learn on, or for other people to master. Many people think of a piano as something to play as a form of recreation, or perhaps a skill that they could learn. A few people see a piano as part of their livelihoods, or an outlet for their passion. An instrument on which they express themselves and enrich their life, and the lives of those around them. I see the piano as being a connection to the history of creativity of humankind: A time capsule, a wonderful machine that does so much more than just work. It expresses our need as a species to create something meaningful and beautiful.
It’s not unusual to find pianos that are a century old. Built before the existence of any of the technology that shapes our current culture, they still fulfill exactly the purpose that they were designed to do, using materials and machinery that predates practically everything in our lives today. Pianos such as these were designed by craftsmen that for the most part used nothing but guesswork, experimentation and common sense. They were built by men who used hand tools and giant unwieldy machines powered by steam and horse power: machines literally powered by horses.
Factory “Belly-Men” stringing upright pianos.
In a typical piano factory, a small group of men worked for months to build one piano. They sold for staggering amounts of money. A good upright piano in the early 1900s sold for the equivalent of buying a luxury car today. The difference: A good car may, if you care for it, last for only around a quarter of a century, during that time having more money poured into it in the form of fuel, maintenance and repair. A piano, tuned at least once a year, may last for a century or more.
Heintzman’s first newspaper Ad, c.1890
Every Family in Canada during the early 1900s aspired to own a piano, as it was not only a measure of wealth and prosperity, it was astounding useful – often the only form of entertainment in a home. Hundreds of piano factories fulfilled this need, most of them, building pianos quickly, and charging as little as $500 – still a huge expense, the equivalent of close to $10,000 in today’s currency.
A few factories strove to create the best instrument they could, building pianos slowly, with the best materials, and made by craftsmen that were the cream of the crop. In Canada, the best of the best was Heintzman & Co. If you had the money, and wanted the best, you bought a Heintzman. If you were a dyed-in-the-wool piano craftsman, you worked for Heintzman. For over one-hundred years, Heintzman made the best pianos in Canada, and arguably, among the best in the world.
Piano delivery by horse-drawn wagon, c.1915
A true Canadian brand, a Heintzman piano was not built as a fragile piece of art, but as tanks of the musical battlefield. They were designed and built to withstand the brutal conditions of the country as it existed then, cold long winters, scorching hot summers, and every conceivable climate in between: Humid or dry, Hot or cold, and delivered to these places in horse-drawn wagons or by train. Climate-controlled conditions did not exist, anywhere, period. Heintzman built pianos that would survive a sled ride to the arctic, a barge across a rural lake, in homes heated by open fireplaces, Franklin stoves, and coal-fed furnaces.
Theodore August Heintzman
Heintzman & Co. Ltd. was founded by Theodore August Heintzman. Born in Berlin Germany on May 19th 1817, he was apprenticed to the piano-building trade when he was just fourteen years old. As was common back then, he learned every aspect of instrument making: learning to be a machinist, a cabinet-maker, and an engineer. He came to North America in 1850 in order to reunite with his wife and her family, who had fled Germany during the March Revolution of 1848. They settled first in New York City, where Heintzman worked for the piano makers Lighte & Newton. In 1852 Heintzman moved to Buffalo, where he worked, first for the Keogh Piano Co. And then in partnership under the brand name Drew, Heintzman & Annowski. With the American Civil War brewing, and possibly reminding him of the unrest that he had endured in “The Old Country” He moved to Toronto in 1860. He built his first Canadian piano that year in his kitchen, and sold it immediately, continuing and enlarging his business with the proceeds. The company was incorporated in May 1866, with the financial and managerial help of Heintzman’s son-in-law, Charles Bender, a prosperous tobacconist.
Heintzman’s second factory at 115-17 King St W.
Heintzman’s third factory in the Junction, at the end of what is now Heintzman St.
In the late 1800s, a new factory was built at the intersection of Keele and Dundas streets in the Annex District of Downtown Toronto. This factory had a long tunnel-like corridor built around the foundation of the basement that had two doors side-by side. Rough cut lumber would enter one door and placed in racks alongside a wet-furnace fed by shavings of the new wood. Every month the lumber was moved further along the racks until it emerged from the second set of doors two years later beside a dry-kiln furnace that heated the factory. Two years of slow seasoning made the wood exceptionally dry and resilient, perfect for building pianos for the Canadian Climate. Every year their pianos improved, until during the “Golden Years” of the 1920s, when they produced pianos of such durability and beauty that they were revered around the world.
At Paul Hahn & Co., we are committed to preserving Heintzman’s legacy by employing the same old-world craftsmanship – restoring them to the highest standards possible.
Now on display in our store – please drop by and play it.
You too may catch a glimpse of our past!
– Jamie Musselwhite
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