It’s too hard to press the keys, and the tone is too bright.


It’s too hard to press the keys, and the tone is too bright.  

A common complaint I get is that the action feels too heavy. Sometimes this can be remedied by regulating the action. When the parts of the action are not adjusted correctly, or are out of alignment, it will create extra friction. This extra friction is what makes the keys feel heavy or stiff, and makes it hard to press down on the keys.

Another cause of heavy keys are action parts that need to be lubricated. There are special oils, designed specifically for the piano, to lubricate the action parts. (Please do not use household oils, or heaven forbid, WD40). The lubricant needs to be applied directly to the parts that are causing the friction.

A heavy action can also be caused by excessive humidity inside the piano. The reason high humidity causes an action to feel heavy is that moisture penetrates the felt cloth inside each of the action parts. The felt cloth acts like a little hinge around a very small pin. When there is too much humidity, the felt acts like a clamp around the pin. A damp chaser will usually help get rid of that humidity.

When a piano’s sound, or tone, is very bright, just as with touch, sometimes there is only so much a technician can do to change the tone of the piano. The tone is produced by the hammers. Some hammers are made very bright and some are made mellow. A technician might be able to make a small change in how the piano sounds, but most of the time there is very little that can be done to make an overall change.

As I said, there is only so much a technician can do to or make the action lighter, or make it sound different. Sometimes “what you see is what you get,” meaning that this is how the piano came out of the factory. Each piano has its own characteristic, and there is not much that can be done to change it, because that’s how the piano was made.

At the Steinway factory in New York, pianists or schools who are in the market for a new nine foot Model D concert grand piano, or a seven foot Model B grand piano, are brought to the selection room. There, a dozen or so grand pianos are available to be “test driven”. All of those pianos are made in the same factory, assembled by the same people, and tuned and regulated by the same technicians. Yet each one feels a little different and none of them sounds exactly the same. Each one has its own characteristic. I‘m not a pianist by a long shot, but when I was there for factory training, and had an opportunity to play those magnificent instruments, even I could discern a difference in tone and touch on each one of the pianos.

When someone is looking to buy a new or used piano, there are three things they should consider. One is the way the piano sounds, or the tone of the piano. The tone can be very bright or it can be on the mellow side. Tone is like color. Some people like red and some like green. By the same token, a bright sound is not ‘wrong” any more than a red dress is “wrong”.

The next thing to look for is how the piano feels. The touch can be heavy or light. Touch is like the fit of a suit. Some people like a tight fitting suit, and some people like loose fitting clothes. By the same token, a heavy touch is not “wrong”, and more than a loose fitting suit.

The third thing to consider when buying a piano is its appearance. After all, the piano is going to be part of the décor of the room and you’re going to look at it as well as play it. And just as with touch and tone, there is nothing wrong with a black or brown, or red or white piano. Just make sure the piano looks like it fits in with the rest of the furniture.

When you find a piano that sounds and plays right, and fits in with the décor of the house, then look at the price and ask if you can afford it.