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60. Piano Tuning pins- Tightening

We offer pin setting tools and all sizes and qualities of tuning pins.
Pin tightening liquid solutions are also on hand.

If your problem is too tight or squeeky pins,
especially after installing a new pin block,
read this discussion onine.

Tuning pins- Tightening-

The tuning pins appear to be mounted in the metal harp. They are not. Rather; they go through the harp holes, and they are mounted in a wood block behind the metal harp or plate. Most manufacturers go to great lengths to give you a wood pin block which will last for many years. The problem is that you cannot see the pin block, and if they want to slip you a piece of cheap pine, then declare bankruptcy and run, you get stuck with the results. It has happened more often than we would like to admit.

There is a point at which a tuning pin is so loose that major repair is needed. If only one or two of the pins are loose, and the piano is not very old, then the problem is either a small flaw in the pin block, or the factory assembler made a blunder which is just now showing up.

If your piano is still within warrantee, DO NOT try to repair it.  Contact the piano manufacturer at once, and demand attention.

So, you called the tuner, and he could not get some of the tuning pins to hold. He gave you a price to "dope" them or shim them, and you couldn't afford it. I hope we can help you do it yourself.


If you are going to finish the job, you will need all or part of the the following:

Tool Kit for gifted do-it-yourselfers- Find this in my Catalogue at the end of the book. After you tighten the pins, you will have to re-tune the wires that slipped.

Sand paper- One sheet about 200 grit. Get the water immersible kind, and varnish the back long before you intend to do this job.

Metal round shims- You can order these from my Catalogue, or order them from your tuner. They are made just for this job.

Pin Treatment- From my Catalogue.  You want the 7 day drying time. It works the best. I don't sell any other kind.

3 or 4- 1/16th inch drill bits- These are used in the "doping" treatment.

An injection syringe- For applying the pin treatment. You can find this at a farm supply store in the cattle and horse treatment section. Otherwise, ask any friends who use them for insulin self-injection.

Denatured alcohol- For diluting the pin treatment IF you do not get the pre-mixed variety.

Drive the pins in:

This is the simplest way to tighten the pins, IF it works, and IF it has not yet been done by a former tuner. You will need the Tuning Lever, the rubber mutes, and the Pin Setting Tool from the tool kit you can order in my Catalogue at the end of the book. You also need a medium weight hammer.

There is no way you can improvise this job with other tools. I would tell you if you could, so order the tool kit if you intend to try this.

This technique will not work on most spinets and some consoles. The reason is that this abbreviated pianos are abbreviated in the pin hole depth. The factory gives you no extra hole to drive the pin into. Still, you can sometimes bottom the pin by tapping it in and get a little tightening. It won't hurt to try.

Also, some grands have such thin pin blocks that the pins will hang out below the pin block after they are driven down. Take the key cover out of a grand before you do this to check. With a flashlight, look at the under side of the pin block to see if the pins are already at the bottom of the holes.  Feel around, or poke a goodie up a pin hole from underneath to see if they gave you a little extra hole length. Isn't this mysterious?  If the pins are not now flush with the bottom of the holes, you can proceed to drive them down from above to tighten them.  Check Chapter Five on how to open the Grand keyboard area.

CAUTION: William Postell sent mail and reminded me of this-- On ALL grands, when tapping pins deeper into the pin block, you must support the pin block from underneath. If you don't you could crack or damage the pin block further. This is because the grand pin block is hanging from the underside of the harp at that point, so your tapping is giving the pin block a lot of shock. A small jack for this task can be bought in my Catalogue, but for the amateur, try to find some improvised tool. Remove the action as in Chapter Five, and find some tool which you can use to add pressure to the underside of the pin block. Perhaps blocks of wood and wedges could be used, but check frequently to make sure they stay good and tight. Wedge your jack or wood wedges between the keybed and the underside of the pin block. Thanks to William Postell for catching this.

The following technique will work well on all old full sized uprights and grands.

Once you have all tools in hand, identify the note with the major twang. It will be very harsh and brutal. Mute out wires, striking the key, until you have determined which wire has slipped. It will be way below the other wire or wires in the note.  If you suspect a single wire bass note, play down the scale.  If a pin has slipped, it will be way below the notes on either side of it. 

Look at the tuning pin anchored to that wire. Is it up at the same level as the other pins in the area? If it looks like it has already been tapped down, you must go on to the next tightening method.

In the illustration, A, shows you that you have up to three eights of an inch to drive the pin in. It doesn't seem like much, but it will definitely tighten the pin, possibly enough to hold. Tuning pins are tipped back from the tension direction at a slight angle. You can see in, B, that the hole runs at a slight angle. When you tap the pin down into the hole the pin will be jammed into the remaining hole and slightly tighten in the whole length of the hole.

It is important to notice the recess the pin sits in. If you tap the pin down too far, you will bind the wire on the shoulder at C, and you could break the wire. Stop just short of the shoulder.

Now, you want to know how to tap the wire down, right? Get your pin setting tool in your non-dominant hand. Seat it all the way down on the tuning pin. Put some tension on it in the direction of tightening the pin. Why? Answer: So that when you hit the pin, the pin don't let all the tension off the pin. This is bad, and later you can break a wire.

Now, tap the pin with your hammer. Use the flat side if it is a ball peen. Keep tapping until the wire stops just short of resting on the edge of the hole at C. Keep just enough tension on the pin setting tool so that the pin does not tighten of loosen as you tap it down.

Lastly, bring the wire up to tension with the tuning lever. Use the mute, and match the wire you are raising to the one next to it. Be careful not to go too far, or you could break the wire. If this works, and it almost always does, you can expect several years of reprieve before you have to go on to the next step.

I have to warn you that pounding tuning pins down tends to be somewhat depressing, as are most of my puns.

Pin Treatment method of tightening tuning pins:

If you have an old upright named Wegman, skip this section. In fact, you cannot tighten Wegman pins any way.  In fact again, Wegman made a piano that was pin loosening proof.  I cannot understand why the trade did not follow their lead.  If you have a Wegman, DO NOT sell it.  It is worth keeping just for the tuning pin arrangement. 

Now, we come to my secret. All tuners "dope" tuning pins. This means that they slop pin treatment liquid around the pins with an ear syringe or some other klunky instrument. The best tuners in the trade use this kindergarten method.  I have developed a method to "dope" pins that is mine. It is like the proverbial fishing hole. This is the first time I have told the world about my method. Hubris in abundance, right?  Just for you ordinary flatlanders-- It gives me real joy to slip you folks my secret-- FREE! 

Tools you need:

You will need to order pin treatment "dope" from my Catalogue. Also, purchase a can of of denatured alcohol at the hardware store. While you are there, buy four 64th inch high quality drill bits. Go around to the feed store and pick up a couple of small injection syringes from the horse doctoring department. If this is not possible, mooch them off of your pharmacist or someone giving himself injections. You will also need a drill motor as well-  hopefully one of the battery operated ones which runs slow and can be controlled.

By now, if you have read other sections in the book, you may be tempted to think that I put this book on the Web just to get you to order from my Catalogue, right?  That is true-  partly.  I do intend to do a bit of a mail order business, and I hope that some day the profits will make up for the fact that I did not sell this book to a print publisher-- I just GAVE it to you.

However; there is one other side to the Catalogue.  NO piano supply company will sell you parts.  Also, some tuners are very insulted if you ask them to order the parts for you.  They feel entitled to do all the repairs for you, even if the skill level for a given repair is "Age 7."  If I didn't make the Catalogue available to you, it would be cruel.  You could not, in many cases, get the materials to do the repair.  If you can get the parts or tools from your tuner, well there is a real gentleman.  Go for it.

Step One:

Lay the upright piano down on its back. You must have at least three men to do this, so that, if one man slips, the other two can keep control.  Be sure to put two eight foot 2 X 4s under it so that you can get your fingers under it to lift it back up later.

If you have a grand, rejoice. It is ready to dope. You might want to take the fall board (key cover) off and slip some cardboard in under the pin block. It is possible for a pin to be so loose that the treatment solution will drip on down below and get into the key levers. Not good.

Step Two:

Chuck a 64th inch drill bit in the drill motor. I want you to drill a hole, but you must drill this hole just right. The illustration is very important, and larger than usual. The object is to drill a hole through the wooden donut around the pin. Also, you MUST drill the hole on the opposite side of the pin from the wire departure.  The hole must go down at an angle so that you stop about three eights of an inch deep, and just at the point where the pin enters the pin block.

In The illustration , you can see the space created by years of wear and tension. It is opposite the direction of the wire and tension. The hole you are drilling will allow you to apply the pin treatment solution into the pin hole instead of just to the wooden donut. This is the secret of my method.

A few pianos do not have the wooden donut. In that case, skip the hole drilling and go straight to Step Three. Make sure you apply the liquid directly into the space we just discussed, and use the injection syringe.

Why all the fuss? When most tuners "dope" the pins, they get pin treatment all over the metal harp, and very little down the hole. The method I use is frightening, but it works far better. This method will get the treatment liquid down the pin hole to swell the wood of the pin block around the pin-- that's what you want.

The theory with pin treatment is to swell the wood around the tuning pin so that it grips the pin. If the right liquid is used, it will fill the wood, and when the carrier dries out, the wood will stay tightened to the steel pin. It works quite well if my method is used.

Step Three:

You have drilled a hole through every wooden donut for every wire that is loose. Do them all at once. If a lot of wires are loose, I suggest you do the whole piano. The reason for four 64th inch drill bits is because it is very easy to break those tiny drill bits. If one breaks off in a hole, just drill another hole near it with a new bit. Bit by bit, we'll get your piano playing again, eh? The holes may be hard to explain to your tuner, but we are trying to get real results, right? Furthermore; your tuner can have my method at no charge if he is nice about it.

Now, mix the treatment. Mix the liquid treatment half and half with denatured alcohol, and stir it well. I now supply another treatment which does not need to be mixed with alcohol. Do not add alcohol if the bottle does not call for it.

Now fill your injection syringe with the mixture. Poke the needle down one of the holes you drilled, and fill it with the liquid. Let it puddle a bit around the top of the wooden donut around the pin, but try not to run it onto the harp. It will make the harp look ugly and collect dust.

You will have to fill the syringe over and over, but patience is a virtue. One of those oversized horse syringes would be fine to use IF you can control it. That way you could do more pins per filling. Again, please file the tip of the syringe with a finger nail file so that it is blunt. If you accidentally stuck yourself, it could be a real hazard. Also, DO NOT leave the syringe laying around for kids to "play doctor."  If the piano is in the vacinity of a dope head, DO NOT leave the syringe where the fool can get ahold of it.  If he used it, he could really have a problem with the pin treatment left in the syringe.

Do each hole this way, then let them all sit for twenty minutes. Treat all of the pins at least twice. I like to do this three times to make sure the liquid has gotten well into the wood around the tuning pin.  Your treatment will go a long ways because you are getting it only in the pin holes.  The standard method leaves a horrid stain around the pin area and collects dirt later.  Also, the treatment does not go as far with that method.

Step Four:

Stand the piano up immediately, and let it sit for seven days. After that, you should go to the section called Tuning-- Do It Yourself a few pages back. Follow the instructions for getting a twang out of one wire.

Step Five:

You have plenty of pin treatment left over, right? Well, how about treating your uncle Harry's piano? And, how about the old klunker in the Sunday School room at church, or at the VFW? Make some points with your new found skill.

When you store the pin treatment, be sure the lid is tight, and wrap it with tape. It can be used for another treatment later. Also, write the brand name in pencil on the harp near the pins so that someone in the future can tell what you used.

Shim method of tightening tuning pins:

This method of tightening a tuning pin is more permanent, but it is a lot of work. There is also a risk of breaking a wire. It is important to follow instructions exactly.

Sand paper shims:

This is the method used by Baldwin in the factory when they accidentally drill a hole too big. It is very effective, but it requires some mechanical cleverness.

The only parts you will need is a sheet of "wet" 220 grit sandpaper. The night before you plan to make the repair, paint the back of the sandpaper sheet with clear lacquer or varnish.

Cut a section out of the sandpaper sheet about two inches by four inches. Next, cut several wedges out of the piece you cut out of the sheet. Cut them as in the illustration. Make them about three eighths of an inch at the top tapering to one quarter inch at the bottom.

Removing the loose pin:

For this step of the work you will need your tuning lever from the Catalogue in the back of the book.

First, you must remember that each wire makes a trip down and back up. It is connected to two tuning pins side by side. You must start with the tuning pin that is loose, and then follow the wire down to the bottom. It goes around an anchor pin, and comes back up to the pin next to the loose one. This may even be in the note next to the one with the loose pin. You can find an illustration of this principle in the section in this chapter called, Broken wire emergency with a Diagram of the wire pattern.

Now, with your tuning lever, you are going to loosen both of the tuning pins which are connected to the wire involved. The loose pin comes all the way out, while the other pin simply is loosened to let off the tension evenly. If you let off all of the tension on the loose pin only, the wire will creep around the anchor pin at the bottom of the harp, and when you tighten it, it will break.

Start loosening the two tuning pins in stages-- a little on each pin-- until you see the wire winding on the tuning pins beginning to open or loosen. DO NOT over loosen the tuning pins. This is old brittle wire and you could break the end of the wire where it goes into the hole in the tuning pin.

Once you have the winding opened up, push a small flat bit screw driver under the wire right where it bends and goes into the hole in the tuning pin. (Remember, DO NOT remove the wire from the pin which is not loose.) Try to pull the wire out of the hole. If it won't come, loosen the pin a little more, and try again. Once the end of the wire will come out of the hole, work the coil of wire carefully off of the top of the pin. DO NOT bend the wire. It is old and will break later if you kink it.

After you get the wire off of the pin, carefully pull it to the side so that you can remove the pin. Begin unscrewing the pin with your tuning lever. It will take a while because the threads on the tuning pin are very fine.

If you break a wire during this process, finish shimming the hole, then go to the section in this chapter of replacing a broken wire, and put a new wire on the pins. You can order the wire from me or from your helpful tuner.  See my Catalogue for instructions on how to order wire.

Now, look here, you are getting to nervous. This is not going to be the last time in your life you will have the opportunity to mess something up. It will work out in the end. It is time for a cup of tea and a little Bach to calm your nerves, right?

Shim the hole:

Get one of the sand paper wedges you cut. Kind of cup it a bit lengthways so that it fits the curve of the hole with the outside of the cupping toward the wood. Put the small end of the taper in the hole, and bottom the shim in the hole. BE SURE TO PUT THE SHIM SO THAT THE SAND OF THE SAND PAPER IS TOWARD THE WOOD PIN BLOCK! Leave about a quarter inch sticking out of the top of the hole, but be sure the shim doesn't turn up in the bottom of the hole.

Insert the tuning pin into the hole gently and wiggle it in as far as you can with your fingers, trying not to push the sandpaper into the hole.. As you begin turning in the tuning pin, if it cuts off the part hanging out of the hole, pull the pin out, and start over. Cut another wedge out of the paper you prepared. If you cut off the sand paper at the top as the pin starts down, and you proceed to screw in the pin, the pin will just push the wedge down into the bottom of the hole. Keep trying to screw the pin in without cutting off the top of the sand paper until you succeed.

Metal shims:

You have no choice in using the metal shim-- you must order a the shims in my Catalogue in the back of the book. Your tuner may be willing to sell you several. Go through all of the above procedures for the sand paper shim, but return to this spot when the hole is empty. Do not skip the cup of tea. Next, slip the metal sleeve into the hole. You may have to work at it a bit. Try to get it as deep as possible without bending it.  See the illustration of a metal shim.

Put the pin into the sleeve, and start screwing it in with your tuning lever. It may be hard to get in since the sleeve may be a bit bigger than needed. In that case, you will need a smaller tuning pin. Or, you can take the shim to your shop and cut off some of the metal lengthways with tin snips. DO NOT even think about drilling out the hole, OK? Send me the old pin, and I will send you a larger pin so that you can skip the metal shim and simply put a larger pin into the hole. Once you get it, install it without the metal shim. Follow the rest of these instructions for re-installing the pin.

If you intend to order a replacement larger pin, why not print out this page, mark this spot, and lay it on the piano.  This wasy, you can pick up where you left off without missing something.

Tuning pins are available from my Catalog.

Whether you use sandpaper, a shim, or a new pin, don't turn the pin in all the way. Leave it out about a quarter inch higher than the pins around it.

Position the tuning pin in the same way it was when you pulled the wire winding off of the tuning pin. Carefully replace the wire winding. With the screw driver again, work the end of the wire into the hole.

Start tightening the tuning pin again. The end of the winding will hang out of the hole. DO NOT keep going without helping the winding back into the hole all the way. Use a second tool to keep pushing it in until it stays. You may want to ask for help from a friend here to make sure the wire stays in the hole as you turn the pin in. Once the winding is tightening, tighten both pins of the wire again, alternating from one to the other to raise the tension evenly. Pluck the wire from both pins you are tightening, and pluck the ones next to it as you go to be sure you don't over tighten it. You will be able to hear if one is much higher tone than the other. Try to keep them the same as you tighten.

Tune the wires in each note beatless as described in "Tuning-- Touching up Twangs" elsewhere in this chapter. You may also follow directions in Appendix One on tuning.

New larger sized tuning pins:

First, send me a pin you want to replace. I will send you the next larger size pin. Follow the instructions earlier for putting in a sand paper shim. When you get to the point of putting in the shim, come here.  If the Mini Catalogue

Simply insert the new pin, and follow the pin re-installing instructions above for metal shims, but DO NOT put the metal shim in the hole.

Last Step:

Go back to the section in this chapter called, Tuning- For Do It Yourselfers. Follow the instructions there for getting rid of twangs. The only problem will be that your wires on the loose pin, and the other pin involved, will be way below the others in each note. Be very careful not to raise a wire above the others in the note where it is.  Pluck the two wires all the way along to hear when you are close, then follow instruction in the above link.

You have done one of those tasks which has heretofore belonged exclusively to the piano technician. I hope you appreciate the bucks you have saved. Also, it is very satisfying to know you have helped yourself. Now, you may have other pins which are a bit loose. Should you order parts now for that possibility? Just a thought.

On to task 61.