What is Voicing?

Voicing is the process by which a technician improves the actual tone quality of a piano. This is different from tuning, where the frequency produced by each string is brought into a pleasing agreement with the frequencies of other strings. By using various voicing techniques, I can make a bright tone more mellow or a mellow tone brighter. It is possible to give a note more power or less power so that it blends more smoothly with the notes that surround it. In addition to these basic changes, I can affect more subtle ones which are difficult to describe but are very noticeable if applied to an entire piano.

The tone of nearly all pianos can be improved by manipulation of the dense felt of the piano hammers. Imagine if rocks were attached to the piano instead of felt. It isn't difficult to hear in our minds the jarring sound that would result. Conversely, if the hammers were made of marshmallows, the sound might be so mellow as to be nearly inaudible. Somewhere between these two extremes is the sweet spot, which differs from one piano to the next. As your technician, I can alter the hardness of hammers by various means, including softening of the felt with needles held in special tools.

In addition to work on the hammers, voicing also includes work done on the strings to improve the tone. For example, tapping or pressing on the strings at the bridge ensures that they are in contact with the wood of the bridge, contributing to the overall quality of tone. Sometimes, in the case where a hammer hits 2 or 3 strings at once, the strings themselves may be at different levels so that the hammer doesn't hit them simultaneously. Aligning these strings can make a noticeable difference in clarity and power.

Hammer Shaping

With repeated playing, the felt hammers of a piano develop grooves where the strings make contact. Small grooves are present on virtually all pianos, and since the felt is packed harder in these grooves, they can enhance the crispness and clarity of the tone, up to a point. When the grooves reach a certain size, the hammers should ideally be reshaped with sandpaper because deep grooves are detrimental to a piano's timbre. This process usually requires between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the depth of the grooves: the deeper the grooves, the more felt will need to be removed in order to restore the hammer's shape.

I usually discover the need for reshaping as I tune a piano, but if you notice deep grooves yourself, please don't hesitate to mention them when you contact me for service. I can provide an estimate and if you are interested, we can schedule some extra time after the tuning to shape the hammers.

Requesting Voicing for Your Piano

Once a piano's major repair and regulation requirements have been met, I usually do some voicing after tuning, as time allows in the 2-hour appointment. However, this incremental approach yields the greatest rewards over time, so if you are unhappy with the tone quality of your instrument, you can share your concerns with me and we can discuss the costs and benefits of a longer voicing session. Such a session could last anywhere from an hour or two to a full day if hammer shaping is involved. In all cases, the piano will need to be in tune prior to voicing, so the tuning will either be done during the session, or as soon as possible beforehand. For example, if you request voicing during the course of one of my tuning visits, I could either do the work later that same day if my schedule allows, sometime in the near future when the tuning will still be good, or I could set up an appointment that includes the tuning. To get the best value, request voicing when we set up the tuning appointment and we can discuss estimates and set up an appropriate time slot.
Todd Loomis, RPT
(360) 631-9045

Servicing the greater Puget Sound area.

Copyright © 2011 Todd Loomis.