By Gregory Cheng, RPT
When I was a young technician, one of my first jobs was working in a shop rebuilding pianos and prepping floor pianos. I was fortunate to work with many well-educated piano technicians and rebuilders. Early on, I was intimidated by the knowledge and experience these people had and felt I needed to catch up - and catch up fast. My mentor pointed me to a few books I should read, which then dropped me into a rabbit hole of books and cataloged knowledge that I didn’t think was even available.
Theoretical book knowledge will never replace hands-on physical experience. However, the insights you gain from book knowledge will give you a richer, deeper understanding of piano technology, and will increase your skillset, enhance your hands-on experience, and set you a level apart from most technicians with factual, sight-able knowledge.
For the purposes of this article, I have categorized books into a few different categories: General Knowledge Books and Specialized Books. General knowledge books are well-rounded books that cover a wide range of topics within the book. These items are not necessarily summarized but are brief in their description. The specialized books dive deep into specific areas.
General Knowledge Books
Pianos Inside Out
By Mario Igrec
This a comprehensive book on tuning, repair, regulation, and rebuilding for the 21st-century technician. It starts with a brief history of piano-making, then dives straight into construction and design going over aspects of the rim, plate, soundboard, and action. Igrec also goes over making hammers, voicing procedures, and the function of the action.
The next chapters cover maintenance, tuning, regulating verticals and grands, voicing, repairs, moving, geometry and touch weight, rebuilding and troubleshooting. That is a lot of ground to cover in 539 pages but Igrec does it well and thoroughly. If you are starting out, this is the book you need to have today. If you are an experienced technician and you don’t think you need this book, you are flat-out wrong, and you will miss out.
Piano Tuning and the Allied Arts
By William Braid White
The next book in the generalized category is seemingly timeless. Originally published in 1917, Piano Tuning and the Allied Arts was the only reliable resource many technicians had for nearly a century. By 21st-century standards, this book is out of date and no longer in print. However, I have found it on Amazon and many used book websites. This was the first piano technology book I read. It is amazing to see how little has changed in procedure between this book and Pianos Inside Out.
White doesn’t dive nearly as deep as Igrec, but it gets the job done for tuning, regulation, and repairs. If you need a quick understanding of procedure - this is it. This book is 295 pages in length and is credited by Owen Jorgensen as creating the first written version of a mathematical equal temperament. I include this book because it is a short book that covers what you need to know on a very basic level, even though it is over 100 years old.
These two books are staples to the modern everyday piano technician and will cover about 90 percent of what we run into on the road. If you are new to piano technology, this is a good place to start.
By Rick Baldassin
Think of this book as bridging the gap between aural and electronic tuning. Rick Baldassin does an exploration of octave and interval types through aural and electronic means. In 2015, Baldassin partnered with Jason Cassel to create the On Pitch DVD series furthering the explanation and demonstration process of tuning. Originally there were no temperament sequences to practice or memorize, instead you would be able to refine your aural skills by practicing and listening to what is outlined in the book, either with the help of the machine or aurally. Now with the [upcoming] release of the fifth DVD in the series, The Baldassin-Sanderson Temperament, you get the ultimate tool set for creating a temperament and tuning a piano.
Upright and Grand Piano Tuning
By Carl-Johan Forss
This is a collegiate text for tuning including a historical overview, tuning theory, practical piano tuning exercises, 11 different temperament sequences with the benefits and drawbacks of each, interval checks, octaves, and unisons. The author also covers general tuning versus concert tunings, hybrid pianos, room climate, service plans, hearing, how sound is transmitted, room acoustics, inharmonicity, and string calculation. If I were a college student today studying piano technology, this is where I would start for piano tuning. Coupled with all of this are exercises for the student, clean charts and diagrams that clearly explain intervals, and sample empty spreadsheets for students to develop their own temperament sequences and log their piano tunings. Logging the piano tuning date, make/models, relative humidity, additional work, and time spent is essential for showing timing, knowledge, and experience. It shows tangible progress for the student, and I encourage all students of the trade to do this.
If you are an experienced technician who wants to get into aural tuning, this book, coupled with On Pitch, will change how you experience tuning. For aural tuners exploring new tuning sequences, this book can be eye opening. I have personally been able to enhance my tuning by “playing” with the difference sequences using the knowledge I have as an aural tuner. You have many paths to get to a finely tuned piano. This book offers many ways to get there.
Tuning: Containing The Perfection of Eighteenth-Century Temperament
The Lost Art of Nineteenth-Century Temperament and
The Science of Equal Temperament Complete With Instructions for Aural and Electronic Tuning
By Owen H. Jorgensen
I had the pleasure of finding this book in my college’s library. I loved the book so much and kept it for so long that I was charged with a severe fine and my alumni book rental rights were revoked. This is essentially the Unabridged Oxford Dictionary of checks, historical temperaments, and modern temperaments. This book, research, and Jorgensen’s work, to my understanding, were incorporated into the Sanderson Accu-Tuner - which for all intents and purposes is the original and father of the modern ETD. I believe it was Jorgensen who said, “If you want to learn how to tune, tune through history.” This book is a vast 768 pages with its own instructions on how to use the book. That being said, I still use the sections I have copied today to instruct my students. I use it as a reference book now, but while learning tuning sequences and memorizing all the checks for intervals and octaves, this book was essential.
Experienced technicians will find that experimenting with historical temperaments is quite ear-opening. Tuning a non-equal temperament with unique interval distances really refines the process of thinking and listening. It isn’t practical to do this while working in-home or on a concert piano, but it is excellent for practicing and enhancing one’s skill set. We can all tune a temperament without thinking in our sleep. Let’s stretch some other mental muscles to enrich our core skills.
Grand Regulation Touch and Tone
By Danny Boone
This was my very first book in piano technology, and I think it is one of the mot underrated books sold by PTG. It covers more touch than tone. Boone covers the topic of grand regulation quite thoroughly, but in a compact format. He provides exercises in each chapter, suggests tools and equipment with instructions on how to make them, and offers reproducible checklists in the field.
I believe that there are steps in the learning process of understanding regulation. We are all forced to memorize multiplication tables in the third grade so that we can do math in our heads with readily available information. As musicians, we are forced to learn scales so that we can play passages without having to look at the beginning of the staff of music. However, memorizing scales and playing in certain keys aren’t exactly the same. The same goes for regulation. Doing all the steps may get you to a point, but to refine and bring the piano to its full potential is another subject altogether. Boone takes us on the first step of this principle and makes you think about each step.
Upright and Grand Piano Action Regulation
By Carl-Johan Forss
This is another collegiate book by Forss that dives deep into every aspect of regulation. The table of contents alone is four pages long. This is a one-stop, all-inclusive book on regulation complete with highly detailed diagrams, color photos, charts, and exercises. If you have a question about regulation, this book will answer it.
Step one in this book about regulation is an often overlooked aspect of piano care: cleaning. Forss covers cleaning, preliminary checking of action parts and structure, then dives into grand and upright regulation on all different types of action styles. Forss includes the key components not found in most regulation procedures: damper regulation, pedal regulation, and trap work regulation on both grand and upright pianos.
Piano Action Regulating
By Brian Capleton
I had the pleasure of working with Brian Capleton years ago at a Mid-Atlantic Regional Convention in 2007. At the time, he had just released his book, Theory and Practice of Piano Tuning. The opening statement in the book was that he was not going to use advanced math to explain tuning. He then proceeded to use pretty highend math to explain tuning. Piano Action Regulating is the direct opposite. Once you have memorized your "regulation multiplication tables" and have a full grasp of regulation, this book will take you one level higher.
In only 116 pages, Capleton is able to cover all types of grand and upright actions. His high level of thinking breaks down regulation into principles and uses pianistic tests to evaluate the regulation. I would highly recommend this book to experienced and student technicians because of Capleton’s different approach to understanding regulation.
Grand Regulation and Vertical Regulation
By LaRoy Edwards
LaRoy Edwards created Yamaha’s Little Red Schoolhouse training curriculum for technicians. Yamaha later gave that curriculum to the Piano Technicians Guild, and it has since been expanded and developed into a training class hosted by PTG.
LaRoy Edwards is one of the most well-respected technicians and educators in the industry, and his effort in providing education through these resources is undeniable. I attended Yamaha’s Little Red Schoolhouse program and had the pleasure of working with LaRoy and Yoshi Suziki from Yamaha. The information provided in these books is first-rate and well laid out in a very clear, easy-to-read format. These are more designed for a classroom workbook but provide a concise point-and-shoot program for getting regulation done for the individual technician. Follow these steps and you will have a well-regulated piano.
Theory and Practice of Piano Construction
By William B. White
This coupled with the Piano Tuning and Allied Arts by White is the perfect duo to get a 1917 piano technician up and going with a good understanding of the piano. Today in the 21st-century, the tuning book has been superseded by Igrecs book. However, I have yet to find a complimentary book as clear and concise as this one. While you are not going to be able to build a piano in 160 pages, White clearly explains why the piano is the way it is.
As we all know, the smaller a piano gets, the more compromises in the string scale we have to make either to string diameters or to wound strings starting at notes in the tenor. White states on page 49, "Take some physics out of the equation, using a 2-inch speaking length note 88, using the same diameter wire all the way down to C1, would produce a 24 foot piano, without the use of larger diameter wires, wound strings, and overstringing, not to mention physically impossible." White covers the acoustical laws of strings, the evolution of the modern piano, casting of the frame, equal temperament, and intonation.
I do not know of a book that is up to date and concise as this one. It amazes me every time I think about a book on piano construction that is just as relevant in principle today as it was when it was originally written 1906.
A Treatise on the Art of Pianoforte Construction
By Samuel Wolfenden
This book from 1916 is partnered with a supplement that was created in 1927. Again, an old book coming in at 168 pages before the index. Samuel Wolfenden focuses more on pattern making and string scale design. I don’t believe Wolfenden intended this for piano technicians alone, but piano designers and manufacturers. You have to contain the knowledge of materials, production, and engineering skill to use this book to build a piano.
By 21st-century standards, this book is out of date - however, the principles are the same when it comes to blueprints and string scale. Today we have Excel spreadsheet computer programs to help with math, back then, they had the slide rule. It is easy to say that this book isn’t necessary in understanding how to tune and regulate, the fact is the more you know the better. Having even a cursory knowledge of how pianos are built and why they are the way the are will lead to a deep appreciation and understanding of the piano you work on every day.
The Piano Hammer &
The Piano Key and Whippen
By Walter Pfeiffer
Once upon a time, so-and-so said that someone "rediscovered" the lost art of touch weight. This to me is a very uneducated statement considering the fact that manufacturers have been making pianos for a long time improving and refining touch weight and leverage. These set of books by Walter Pfeiffer outline what current quality manufacturers are doing today and show you why. With a quality action model and a few spare parts, you too can run through the experiments Pfeiffer demonstrates in these books. You will gain a first-person view of leverage, touch weight, friction, and a deeper understanding of why actions are manufactured the way they are.
It is through research in these books and experiments that manufacturers like Pitch Lock created the TouchRail. If you have questions about grand action geometry, the answers can be found here.
Piano Parts and Their Functions
Compiled by Merle H. Mason.
Illustrated by James E. Campbell
Piano Parts and Their Functions is a well-illustrated book that every piano technician needs in their shop for reference. Today, I use this to reference the exact names of different parts of the piano.
The title of the book says it all. Every section of the piano is broken down into individual parts, and each part then has an exploded diagram that clearly labels each part.
The book is very thorough and should be a staple in every piano technician’s shop or library.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
– Dr. Seus