Bet You Can’t Listen to Just One!

We used to go early when George Lucktenberg was playing harpsichord. The playing was delightful; we went early to hear the tuning. Pianos should be tuned as close to concert time as possible; but harpsichords must be tuned just before the performance. It was the way Lucktenberg tuned that gave us the giggles. He did the bottom note, then the next, then the next; and so on to the top, with only the occasional checking by intervals. Perfect pitch comes in types and degrees; but Lucktenberg’s was stunning.

His were the first complete tunings I listened to; and they seduced me into listening on my piano. Once you start, it’s difficult to stop. Hear the first string tuned in a three-string unison, and you’ll tell yourself, “I’ll just listen to the other two; till the unison is done.”

But when it’s done, you want to hear the first string of the next unison, played against the one just finished; and so on.

Along the way you’ll notice that each string is a process in itself, as the tuner pulls the tuning hammer (what you and I would call a wrench) clockwise or lets it down counterclockwise, tightening and loosening the string, moving the pitch higher and lower. You’ll hear “beats” between strings; irritating, annoying or teasing. You’ll hear a string pass through the exact pitch and ask yourself whether the tuner can leave it at that pitch and “set” the tuning pins so the pitch is stable.

tuning hammer
(No copyright asserted on photo, which is courtesy Jim Cannon.)

Just one more string. One more unison. It’s hypnotic. And then, sometimes, there’s an anomaly; so dramatic! A “wild” string, for instance: a single string that’s out of tune even with itself. It may be new and defective; it may be old and tired. Either way, it needs replacing.

And once in a blue moon a whole piano, or a whole region, has tuning problems. I’ve run into three of these, and only one could be solved! Usually, though to hear a tuning by the hands of a master, is pure pleasure. Bet you can’t stop listening!

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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