Triage Style Regulation

By Benjamin Sanchez posted 02-22-2019 18:46

In a recent discussion on CAUT about the need of many university pianos for regulation and the lack of time and money to devote to the project, I shared some quick "triage" methods for quickly achieving proper aftertouch. Here they are so they're not lost in the archives.


My personal plan of attack with an upright piano that needs everything but I have only limited time is this: all necessary repairs first, then tune and pitch raise. Depending on how bad the situation is this may take up my entire first appointment. After that, set a sample (or five). Determine whether you have sufficient key dip or if you will need to adjust. Adjust let off for these samples, then set blow (and lost motion on your samples) to accommodate what's there so as to achieve proper aftertouch.

You've already set the blow to achieve proper aftertouch based on your samples. Now determine if you will need to raise the key height or go though and adjust out lost motion. Adjusting blow distance and lost motion should take 30 minutes or less. Just be sure that you've set your samples properly.

Setting dip can take time. Remember, this is triage; we don't have a lot of time, so I'm inclined to leave dip as is if at all possible. An alternate is to set key height wholesale style by shimming the balance rail. If the keys are already pretty level, this may solve a problem of insufficient dip. Is it preferable? No, but in this situation we're trying to make the biggest improvement in as little time as possible.

Let off is next. Jim Busby teaches a "wholesale" method that works well to move the let off point for the entire piano closer or farther in about 3 minutes. He explains this in his Piano Technician Tutorials. No, this is not a fraud or a "hack." If you don't want to do wholesale let off, you can turn the screws in the traditional way to get let off in the ball park in about 30-45 minutes.

After this go though and adjust checking to be approximately 5/8" in the traditional way. About another 10-30 minutes.

This method will get you a decent aftertouch quickly. Yes, in a perfect world we'd like to spend many hours refining regulation, but in this case we're talking about pianos that have been neglected for decades and you just don't have time. You can always come back and refine everything again, including aligning and traveling parts, etc., but this will get you started quickly.


Ok, grand regulation takes a little longer than upright regulation does. In a perfect world we'd like to be able to go though all 37 steps, but in this situation we're talking about a neglected grand piano in a practice room and very little time. I like in-piano regulation over bench regulation but that's just me, and this process of triage regulation can be applied to either method. Assuming it needs everything here's my general plan of attack (which is of course modified per situation):

All repairs first. Everything has to at least function before you can work on it, even if it doesn't function well.

Then tune and pitch raise. By the time this is done this may take up my entire first appointment with that piano. The rest may need to be done later.

Check your foundation - keyframe bedding. Especially the balance rail. Also check to make sure you have strength in your rep springs. Adjust either item if needed.

Set your samples. I like to do C4, C#4, and D4 first, then set every C. Make sure these are good. Then, to achieve proper aftertouch:

Check key dip. Depending on what you find you may be able to use what's there, or you may have to either adjust front rail dip or raise key height. Time estimates vary based on what you find. Once you do this it's unlikely you'll have to do it again any time soon, so do it if needed!

Level the hammers (raise the hammer line). 10-20 minutes. Using the TautLine tool may help with your time. (This is the advantage of using ever C as a sample.)

Set let off. This can be done quickly with the "let of ratchet" that PianoTek sells for $10. Do a few and count how many turns it takes to get it close, then do that many turns on all without checking. This takes about 5 minutes and gets you close very quickly. (If these are Asian grands you can apply the same method with a capstan tool, but it takes a little longer, probably closer to 20 minutes.)

Refine let off in your usual method. Depending on how close your "wholesale" adjustments were you may only spend 5 minutes here, or you may spend upwards of 20.

Set drop at 1/16" below let off using the TautLine tool. 10-15 minutes or so.

Adjust checking if needed to be within normal specs. 0-30 minutes depending on what you find.

Doing these things can provide the aftertouch that's missing from a neglected piano very quickly. Yes, ideally we'd like to do all 37 steps, and you should come back and refine regulation later. But for now, this will get you "in the ball park" quickly - about 1-2 hours.

There's always room for improvement. This method lets you "lay the foundation" quickly, so to speak, so that you can restore at least a little life to a neglected piano and still have time to work on other pianos in the next room over.