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One note going out of tune quickly

  • 1.  One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-15-2023 19:14

    Hello All.

    We have a Steinway D where one note, C5 goes out of tune much faster than the rest of the piano.  I can tune the piano and come back in a week and that note is noticeably flat.  It has also developed somewhat of a false beat.  I've done everything I can see, tuning pin is fine, I tapped down the bridge pins, seated the string on the bridge.  I beginning to think that it is something I can't see, such as the string is weakening and is about to break.  The piano gets a lot of use so over the Spring break is my only window of time, so I would need to do is immediately since there is a big out-of-town group coming in a couple of weeks.  Unless someone can think of another reason for it.

    Thanks for your thoughts.


    Robert Callaghan RPT
    Reno NV
    (775) 287-2140

  • 2.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-15-2023 19:53

    It may be "just" weakness in the string, but it's also possible the becket is slowly slipping out. If you replace the string, check that the hitch pin is totally solid. If not, replace that too. Good luck!

    Patrick Draine RPT
    Billerica MA
    (978) 663-9690

  • 3.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Posted 03-15-2023 22:34

    There may be a problem with a slipping coil and the becket not seated too well or only part way through the tp hole. Check the tightness and seating of the coils and number of wraps on all 3 of the tuning pins for that note .check the tuning pin torque with an inch lb torque wrench the pins may FEEL tight but there could be slippage. I am dealing with the same issue on a Young Chang where the pins felt okay but octaves where out. The pins where easy to tune and seemed to be holding but the torque wrench read in the 20-40 range. You could also tune the note to pitch and treat each pin with very thin CA. Check the strike point of the hammer since if it is flat too much contact with the string may be knocking it out.....

    James Kelly
    Owner- Fur Elise Piano Service
    Pawleys Island SC
    (843) 325-4357

  • 4.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-15-2023 21:56

    There are two reasons for a wild string. One is a termination point problem, either at the bridge pin or the vbar/agraff. You've tapped the string at the bridge, but did you seat the string at the other end? 

    The other reason for a false beat is a defective string. Somewhere along the length of the string is an anomaly. You will probably not be able to see it, but the only solution is a new string. But with it being a performance instrument, you trade off a wild string with one that will need to be tuned 3 times per week for a couple of months. 

  • 5.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-15-2023 23:27

    The whole note, or just one string/tuning pin? I have had such an experience with one string where I finally determined that the tuning pin wanted to jump past the target pitch when being raised, but could be 'eased down' from above pitch - which is what I would do. Problem was that there was friction in the system that was touchy: I could pound the note and it wouldn't budge, but next day (or during a concert) it would drop 10 cents or so.

    Solution? Always tune it up to pitch, not up from below. It was hard to learn to move the pin that minute amount when it wanted to jump, but I finally learned to do it, and the process became the basis of a transformative and much more secure stability technique: tune by manipulating the pin, using flex and twist and lots of persistence and patience (though tuning actually goes faster).

    IOW, it is possible there isn't some gremlin at work. It could just be an ornery pin/pinblock interaction, together with an ornery frictional problem.

    Fred Sturm
    University of New Mexico
    "We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same." - Carlos Casteneda

  • 6.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-16-2023 16:16
    Thanks everyone.

    I'm going back there this afternoon and will check things.  It's a balance between changing a string two weeks before a major performance or the anxiety over the string breaking right before the performance.  I might take a string off of another non-performance D and put it on the stage piano  Then put the new wire on the classroom piano and break it in there.  Then swap them later, after the show.


  • 7.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-16-2023 07:36
       I have had this problem and there have been several causes for the several instances.  As was said, it could be a becket problem, which is easy to fix.In my case, I removed the coil from the pin , broke the old becket off and straightened the last 1/4" of wire so I could re-install the coil with a becket I knew went all the way through the  pin. Another case was something like Fred mentioned, a sticking problem on the capo surface.  I loosened the string, moved it to one side, and 'shoe-shined' a narrow strip of emery cloth over the capo where that string was located.  I also lubed it with the slightest trace of grease I managed to take of one of the wheel on the dolly. the string rendered in a much more dependable way and that note stayed in tune like the rest from them on. 

       What was the most difficult situation was one where the hitch pin was slowly tilting in the plate.  I found a sand-pocket in front of it.  The factory paid for that repair(it was a 7 year old model S).  However, on that note, there were two strings continually going flat, so that helped the diagnosis.  

      I have found that new wire can be made stable in a week, at most.  It involves keeping the pitch a good 50 cents sharp while I straighten all the bends, starting behind the bridge and working my way all the way to the coil.  It is in the coil that the majority of the flatness comes from, as the friction on the pin tends to keep the tension from equalizing all the way up to the becket.  If, after the rest of the string has been addressed, I squeeze the becket with a pair of small vise-grips, and then spend some time twisting the coil with the vice-grips set as hard as I can twist them, I can often find another 50 cents of drop in the coil.  My vise-grips have been ground so there is a bit of a concave surface on them which helps keep it on the coil while I twist. Treated this way, the string will usually be as stable as the others within the week. 

  • 8.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-16-2023 07:42
    Here's a thought:Check to see how much wire is in pin by looking at becket with a magnifying glass. If you can't see the end of the wire, that is your cause. Since this is getting to high noon of Recital season, instead of giving yourself another headache, cut the coil, tie a splice on, and get a nice tight coil on the pin. While the wire is out of the pin, also check the pin hole to see if it shows unusual wear. If it does, put the new wire in from the opposite, unworn side of the hole.  
    In the summer you can cut and replace the whole string if you don't like to see a tied string. I would at some point go up one size with the tuning pin. You have tuned that pin (or pins, if the wire goes out and back) a lot more than the pins around it, because of this issue.
    10 cents is a really big drop for one string in a short period of time. Bears fixing, but maybe not in a way that causes another problem right now. 

    David Graham
    Graham Piano Service, Inc.
    512 S. Main St.
    Sycamore IL 60178

  • 9.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Posted 03-30-2023 06:33

    I'm a little late to the party here, but is it the entire unison, or just one pin/string? If it's just one, in a pinch, I think it would be a good idea to mute it. If it's the middle string, mute the outside strings with foam ear plugs (or something sufficient) against the neighboring notes and see if the dynamic level is acceptable for the performance. At C5, you're probably fine, but used your discretion. Most players are not going to notice this, and the audience certainly won't either. This is a much better compromise than to risk having that sour, nasty note being heard by everyone listening. 

    This is obviously a simple bandaid until you replace the string with a proper coil and seat it properly at all termination points. Even if you replace this string before the performance, you're better off muting it anyway, as it may go south. 

    Hope it all works out! 


    Lucas Kirby
    Kirby Piano Service 

    Piano Technician : EWU
    Spokane, Washington

  • 10.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 03-31-2023 10:59
    Thank you all for your suggestions.  We had the concert and that string made it through.  But the rest of the performance was like a search and destroy mission, as if they were out to break something and they did,  Another string, A -A# 6, broke just not the one I was worried about.  It was as if they thought "If I don't break something, I'm not playing hard enough."  

    After the show I replaced it with a used string from a classroom Model D, so it isn't getting broken in on our concert piano.  I put the new wire on the classroom piano.

    I wonder now if the note I've been asking about, C5, is just because it gets so much heavy playing. It was the whole unison.  What I did was tune it a couple of cents sharp, and by the end of the show it was right on.  I might still replace it over the summer.

    Thanks again for all your insights.


  • 11.  RE: One note going out of tune quickly

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-28-2023 10:37

    Thank you all for the suggestions.  I went through the piano and leveled the strings and mated the hammers.  I had been a long time.  It sounded much better.  Hard to say exactly how, but just fuller and "rounder".  

    Robert Callaghan RPT
    Reno NV
    (775) 287-2140