I recently completed the Renner Academy's Grand Action Master Course. The course took place in Scotsdale, Arizona, and included a visited to the Renner USA headquarters.
"What is this course about?" you ask. You'd think I'd come away from a course called "Grand Action Master" with superior skills in kung fu for film and television, but this course was all about grand piano action regulation -- optimizing the touch (and subsequently tone) of a grand piano.
How many steps to regulation? Some say 37. Some say 100. (No, I'm not talking about the temperature of Scotsdale.) However you slice it, you gotta do all of it to make the piano the best it can be.
In this course, we started from scratch with new action parts. Before anything can be regulated, the parts much be prepared. This primarily involves measuring and adjusting the amount of friction at all the joints (flanges). In the top left photo, I'm "repinning" a repetition lever flange. Without the right friction here, it would be impossible to regulate the repetition properly, making it difficult to control how quickly you can repeat one note while playing. In the top right photo, I'm getting a demo on how to measure the friction by moving the spring out of the way by a super-famous piano technician named Rick Baldassin. He wrote the book on aural tuning (at least one of the best ones). At a convention earlier this year, I sort of jokingly asked for an autograph, and he said yes. I realized right away it was not such a funny request -- he gets this all the time. It only seemed funny to me because I used to work in publishing, editing a literary magazine and doing marketing and promotions for an independent press, and so I associate book autographs with literary who's-whos, not technical books. But that was silly of me. When you're the top of field, you're the top, whatever the field is! Not only that, but Rick has a beautiful, syrupy bass voice. Despite his talent and innovative thinking as a piano technician, he may have missed his calling as a news anchor or voice actor.
When replacing wippens (the thing I'm holding in the photos above), you can generally find a match for the piano you're working on from the various wippens manufactured by Renner (which are made in Germany) or other companies. But when it comes to hammers and shanks, there is a lot more to it. The action geometry and touchweight must be measured carefully to calculate the necessary weight of the hammers and other specifications to optimize leverage. The hammers must be bored at exact angles or the touch and tone will be compromised. We took all of this into consideration when preparing our hammers for boring, then piled into super classy SUVs to bore and shape our hammers at the Renner USA headquarters.
It was mercifully cool the morning of this activity and the doors were open, giving us respite from the dead quality of air conditioning. Instead, we got to breath in palm trees, desert breeze and the smell of oak and maple.
In the photo on the left, I'm boring the hammer, that is, using a drill press and a tool (the white plastic jig) to drill a hole at exactly the right angle for that hammer -- the angles change. In the centre photo, I'm shaping the hammer -- sanding it so it has that pretty curved (this is actually several steps, but I figure one picture of me sanding something is sufficient). The guy to the left of me is Michael Spreeman, who makes Ravenscroft pianos, which are complete works of art. I got to play one. "Like butter," was all I had to say about that. In the photo on the right, I'm drilling the side of my back action model. I won't describe all that stuff because the post would be so long, but mostly wanted to include a photo of me because I actually posed for this. Don Meyer, the brother of Lloyd Meyer, who owns Renner USA, was there all week taking pictures of everyone for use on our websites. (Thank you, Don!) He didn't get a chance to take my picture at this station, so we just re-enacted the compelling drama again.
In Part II, you will see how hammers are "hung," and "travelled." These hammers are endowed with a lot of personality, aren't they?
Now I'm off to tune a piano in beautiful Gibsons, BC. It's overcast today on the Sunshine Coast, but I'm hopeful the sun will peek out, giving me a nice view from the top of Soames Hill later on.
(If you're wondering what is up with my weather report, I like to mention that I tune pianos on the Sunshine Coast, BC, so that you can find me when Googling this. There's probably a more discreet way to do this ...)