[2.5.1] Engaging and Manipulating the Tuning Lever

If your tuning lever has adjustable length, pull it out about 3 inches and lock it in place. Hold the handle of the tuning lever in your RH and the socket in your LH and engage the socket over the pin. Orient the handle so that it is approximately perpendicular to the strings and pointing to your right. Lightly jiggle the handle around the pin with your RH and engage the socket with your LH so that the socket is securely engaged, as far down as it will go. From day one, develop a habit of jiggling the socket so that it is securely engaged. At this point, the handle is probably not perfectly perpendicular to the strings; just choose the socket position so that the handle is as close to perpendicular as the socket position will allow. Now find a way to brace your RH so that you can apply firm pressure on the lever. For example, you can grab the tip of the handle with the thumb and one or two fingers, and brace the arm on the wooden piano frame or brace your pinky against the tuning pins directly under the handle. If the handle is closer to the plate (the metal frame) over the strings, you might brace your hand against the plate. You should not grab the handle like you hold a tennis racket and push-pull to turn the pin -- this will not give enough control. You may be able to do that after years of practice, but in the beginning, grabbing the handle and pushing without bracing against something is too difficult to control accurately. So develop a habit of finding good places to brace your hand against, depending on where the handle is. Practice these positions making sure that you can exert controlled, constant, powerful pressure on the handle, but do not turn any pins yet.

The lever handle must point to the right so that when you turn it towards you (the string goes sharp), you counteract the force of the string and free the pin from the front side of the hole (towards the string). This allows the pin to turn more freely because of the reduction in friction. When you tune flat, both you and the string are trying to turn the pin in the same direction. Then the pin would turn too easily, except for the fact that both your push and the string's pull jam the pin against the front of the hole, increasing the pressure (friction) and preventing the pin from rotating too easily. If you had placed the handle to the left, you run into trouble for both the sharp and flat motions. For the sharp motion, both you and the string jam the pin against the front of the hole, making it doubly difficult to turn the pin, and damaging the hole. For the flat motion, the lever tends to lift the pin off from the front edge of the hole and reduces the friction. In addition, both the lever and string are turning the pin in the same direction. Now the pin now turns too easily. The lever handle must point to the left for uprights. Looking down on the tuning pin, the lever should point to 3 o'clock for grands and to 9 o'clock for uprights. In both cases, the lever is on the side of the last winding of the string.

Professional tuners do not use these lever positions. Most use 1-2 o'clock for grands and 10-11 o'clock for uprights and Reblitz recommends 6 o'clock for grands and 12 o'clock for uprights. In order to understand why, let's first consider positioning the lever at 12 o'clock on a grand (it is similar at 6 o'clock). Now the friction of the pin with the pinblock is the same for both the sharp and flat motions. However, in the sharp motion, you are going against the string tension and in the flat motion, the string is helping you. Therefore, the difference in force needed between sharp and flat motions is much larger than the difference when the lever is at 3 o'clock, which is a disadvantage. However, unlike the 3 o'clock position, the pin does not rock back and forth during tuning so that when you release the pressure on the tuning lever, the pin does not spring back -- it is more stable -- and you can get higher accuracy.

The 1-2 o'clock position is a good compromise that makes use of both of the advantages of the 3 o'clock and 12 o'clock positions. Beginners do not have the accuracy to take full advantage of the 1-2 o'clock position, so my suggestion is to start with the 3 o'clock position, which should be easier at first, and transition to the 1-2 o'clock position as your accuracy increases. When you become good, the higher accuracy of the 1-2 o'clock position can speed up your tuning so that you can tune each string in just a few seconds. At the 3 o'clock position, you will need to guess how much the pin will spring back and over-tune by that amount, which takes more time. Clearly, exactly where you place the lever will become more important as you improve.