Welcome to James Carney Piano

Welcome to the James Carney piano blog, pages dedicated to my work as a professional piano tuner and technician.

I am also a professional pianist, improvisor, composer, and teacher. Please visit http://www.jamescarney.net to hear my work and view my performance schedule.

To schedule piano service, please write to pianotech@jamescarney.net or call 718.637.3793.

My services are available throughout New York City, Westchester County, and certain areas of Connecticut, New Jersey, and Nassau County.

A partial client list includes the NYC recording studios Sear Sound, The Bunker, One East Recording, Stadiumred, The Magic Shop, Brooklyn Recording, and 58N6 (aka The Loove.) Venues I have tuned for include The Beacon Theater, Birdland, and Ibeam. Musicians I have tuned for include Roger Waters, David Bowie, Norah Jones, Chris Botti, Lang Lang, Alexander Paley, Jennifer Nettles, Jewel, and hundreds of others, including many of the top improvising pianists, composers, and teachers in New York City.

From 2010-2014 I was the principal technician for the internationally known Allegro Pianos, who provide the Northeast region of the U.S. with some of the finest pianos money can buy: Bösendorfer, Blüthner, August Förster, Steingraeber, Estonia, and Kawai. I had extensive experience prepping, regulating, voicing, tuning, and maintaining hundreds of these fine instruments which had a tremendous impact on my skill development.

I also specialize in helping piano owners maximize the touch and tone of their current instrument, even those pianos that would be considered modest or entry level. There is often much that can be done to improve any piano, even those that may seem “hopeless”. Please feel free to call or write with any questions you may have, or to schedule a tuning and/or evaluation.

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Q: What are your rates for tuning and repair? Do you have set prices or do you charge by the hour?

A: Please call or email me for my rates. I have set tuning fees and a set hourly rate for minor repairs, but I also price some jobs individually, like replacing action parts or regulation work.

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Q: What is regulation, and why might my piano need it?

A: Regulation is the process of adjusting all the components within the action of the piano – such as keys, hammers, and dozens of other parts – so that everything works in exacting synchronization and as efficiently as possible. Doing so maximizes the touch and tone of a piano, allowing the pianist to achieve the highest possible levels of consistency and musicality. Regulation work can easily improve or even transform a piano that “plays like a truck” into a piano that is easy to play. When pianos are properly regulated, the pianist can concentrate on the music without any distractions or limitations.

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Q: I purchased my piano brand new just a few years ago, so it shouldn’t need any regulation work after just a few years, right?

A: Surprisingly, many if not most new or newer pianos could actually benefit greatly from having some touch-up regulation work done. Even though your piano may have been perfect when it left the dealership, it is quite possible – even likely – that the cloth, felt, and leather inside the action have compressed due to age, use, and the forces of gravity. Wooden parts also change dimension due to changes in humidity throughout the year, so there are many parts inside a piano that can become “out of regulation” after just a few years.

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Q: How long does a regulation job last? And how long does it take you to do the work? Also, how much does it cost?

A: It depends on the current condition of the parts, the amount of use the piano receives, and the consistency of the humidity in the room that the piano resides in. That said, a complete regulation job could last 5-10 years. A professional pianist might want to have some regulation parameters adjusted annually.

Some pianos might only need 30 minutes or less of regulation work, while others might require two full working days. I price regulation work only after a careful evaluation, usually done the first time I tune the piano. If you cannot afford to pay for a complete regulation job at once, it is sometimes possible to do the work in “stages” over the course of a year or two.

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Q: I like the sound of my piano, but it is very tiring for me to play after just a short period of time. When I play my friend’s piano it seems so easy, like I could play it for hours and hours without fatigue. Could regulation work possibly help make my piano easier to play?

A: Most definitely.

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Q: My piano is really old, so is it too old to benefit from regulation work?

A: Age of parts can sometimes be a limiting factor, but many old pianos can sometimes be transformed  – almost miraculously – through regulation work.

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Q: I love the way my piano feels, but I don’t like the sound anymore. It used to sound full-bodied and warm, but now it sounds bright and thin. Can anything be done to make it sound like it once did?

A: Yes, piano tone can be changed, and the process is called “voicing.” I have been able to transform metallic-sounding pianos into warm, glowing pianos; conversely, it is also possible to transform dull, lifeless, and “too-mellow” pianos into pianos that have more treble “edge” and definition.

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Q: I inherited a really old piano from my grandparents. They said that their tuner told them it needs to be “rebuilt.”  Can you help with this?

A: Yes. Although I am a field technician specializing in tuning, regulation, voicing, and repairs, I do some minor rebuilding work such as action parts replacement and restringing. For complete rebuilding jobs that require case refinishing and/or soundboard repair or replacement, I can refer you to a trusted expert in those areas of specialization. I am also qualified to thoroughly examine and diagnose the current condition of your piano, and will let you know exactly what work needs to be done, what should be done, and what all of your options are. I can also explain the rebuilding process to you, so that you can communicate more effectively with a rebuilder, should you decide to go that route.

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Q: I’ve noticed that my piano goes way out of tune around May/June, then it goes haywire again after the heat is turned on around October/November. Why is that, and is this bad for the piano? Can anything be done to make the tuning last longer?

A: This is a very common problem, especially in the Northeast and NYC in particular. Around May, humid weather returns which causes the soundboard of the piano to take on more moisture than it did during the dry winter months. When the soundboard takes on that moisture it literally swells up, which puts greater pressure on the strings. This causes the piano to go “sharp” and it can be a very dramatic change that can occur quickly. Conversely, when the indoor heating season arrives, the heated air is quite dry which tends to “dry out” the soundboard of the piano, lessening the pressure on the strings thereby making the pitch fall “flat” or lower.

Allowing these cyclical moisture fluctuations to occur is simply one of the worst things an owner can do to their piano, yet most owners don’t even realize they are doing any harm! The continued expansion and contraction of the soundboard, glue joints and action parts – due to seasonal humidity fluctuations – is highly stressful to the piano, and is the main reason why soundboards develop cracks. It is imperative that owners control the humidity in their piano room as much as possible. Do not position your piano near any radiators, and avoid having it near doors and windows. Direct sunlight is also harmful. It is also beneficial to keep the lid of your grand piano fully closed when not in use, and, if possible, to use a piano cover too.

In many cases, especially in New York City, a humidity control system installed directly inside the piano (hidden from view) is the best thing an owner can do for their piano. I can assess your humidity situation and will likely recommend room humidity control, piano humidity control, or both. I am also a certified Dampp-Chaser™ piano humidity control installation expert, recommended by the Dampp-Chaser™ corporation to those piano owners who would like to have a system installed. I have done many installations in all kinds of pianos; I have fixed “bad” or incorrect installations by other technicians, and can clearly explain how to maintain the system you purchase, which is a very low-maintenance system.  If you would like more information I can send you a brochure, or you can visit http://www.pianolifesaver.com

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Q: I’ve heard that humidity changes can also affect the “feel” of my piano. Is this true, and if so, could the Dampp-Chaser™ system help maintain the regulation of my piano?

A: Yes, and yes.

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Q: Pianos are really complicated, and I feel like it could be easy for me to get ripped off if I have major work done. How do I know that a technician is being honest? And how do I know that a technician is truly competent?

A: As with any business, there are, unfortunately, a few bad apples that sometimes give the industry a poor reputation. I have founded my piano service on honesty and transparency, and have gained the trust of many pianists and piano owners by taking this approach. I only do high quality work and repairs using highest quality parts and materials, using techniques that have stood the test of time, learned from the best piano technicians in the business. I will always give you all of your options, and work with you to find the most cost-effective solution possible. My business has grown primarily by “word-of-mouth” and that is because pianists realize that I treat their piano as if it were my own; that I want to be their technician for life; and that I pride myself on maintaining my good reputation.

I have extensive experience in all aspects of repairs, regulation, and voicing work, and know how to get the job done correctly and efficiently.  I have learned piano technology through a variety of sources, including hands-on personal instruction from nationally-known mentors; the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) conferences and seminars; my time spent working in a rebuilding shop; and the many hundreds and hundreds of service calls I have done with my own business and with one of the most prestigious piano dealerships in the U.S. as their field technician. I have been entrusted to tune, regulate, voice, and repair hundreds of incredibly valuable pianos, some worth more than $150,000. If I weren’t good at what I do I would not have lasted very long in that position.

As with my work as a pianist and composer, I am always interested in learning a new technique or approach in the field of piano technology, so I attend annual multi-day seminars to keep up with all the latest in our field. I attend monthly PTG meetings sponsored by the New York City chapter of the Guild, and I also maintain relationships with many of the top technicians in NYC.

I have references available if you would like to speak with someone whom I have done work for. Please feel free to call or email me with any questions you have about pianos – I love talking about them as much as I love working on them and playing them!

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