Tuning an Austalian Made Beale Piano is different than tuning every other piano ever made

Australian Beale Piano manufactured in Sydney up until 1975

Tuning Australian Beale Piano

There are a few facts regarding the uniqueness of the Australian Made Beale on Internet sites & Wikipedia etc etc. Most sites will attempt to explain the Iron Tuning System / Beale & Vader tuning system. This is all very well for those researching information but for the piano tuner who turns up to the customers house and is confronted with an early Australian Made Beale that hasn’t been tuned in years & some cases 40 / 50 years then you can have a complex task on your hands .

If there is no specific reason why the piano needs to be at A440 Concert pitch then it should be tuned to its present pitch to avoid creating any unnecessary problems . However even doing the simplest of tunings at present pitch can have problems particularly if the piano has not been tuned for many years .

The customer might want A440 Concert Pitch. They may not know that they want A440 , but as an experienced Piano Tuner you will know that with children and also adults taking piano lessons , that they might need the piano’s pitch at A440 . Trying to explain A440 Concert pitch is sometimes very difficult and the the customer simply can’t grasp the difference between A440 & 1 Semi-Tone below A440 . It involves stretching 230 strings / piano wire ( all differing lengths and diameters ) putting far greater tension on the strings . Sometimes the strings can break during this process .

On top of that you might have to go through the process of attempting to explain the Beale Tuning System . The idea of the Beale tuning system was no doubt a wonderful invention in 1902 , but in 2016 and beyond can and will cause major obstacles for the Piano Tuner . A Beale ( Serial Number 52876 Manufactured 1926 ) I worked on in June 2016 was one such piano.

Put simply the Beale tuning System was patented in 1902 in Sydney and is the only piano made in history without a timber pin block . Every string has its own individual lock nut accessed from behind the piano . If the piano has not been tuned regularly then the tuning pins might have corroded slightly and locked in with the Piano’s Iron Frame. If you try and turn the pin in these cases the tuning pin will snap . There might be even a little rust on the string and pin , further complicating the matter .

Therefore the Piano Tuner must take the cover off the lock nuts at the back of the piano and undo all the 230 ( approximate ) lock nuts / screws to ease them and allow the tuning pins at the front of the piano to turn . To do this in a customers house is not practical .Twenty years ago a friend and I raised a Beale 1 full semi tone in a house . We had to move furniture and also put pillows under the old iron wheels so as not to scratch the floor . We started at 7.00 pm alternating , one at the back and one at the front .
As each string ( pin ) was raised the lock nut was undone and re tightened . The tuning was performed 3.5 times over the entire keyboard until the pitch was stablished at A440 Concert Pitch .The 2 of us finished at 11.00 pm . Eight hours combined . Never again in a customers house .

So the following is a description as to what can happen in some cases , as it did in June 2016 , with an upright Australian Made Beale ( Manufactured 1926 ) while raising pitch 1 Full Semi Tone to A440 Concert Pitch in the workshop.  Once the piano was in the workshop I had to firstly replace 4 Bass strings . As soon as I tried to turn the tuning pins the first 2 tuning pins snapped off . I therefore undid the back panel and started undoing all 230 lock nuts . However there were 10 lock nuts in the Bass that with all my strength I could not turn or move with a normal screw driver . After considerable thought I decided to take the screwdriver to a Engineering workshop and have the handle removed and a similar diameter piece of steel welded to make a ” T ” type shape at the end . This gave extra leverage and with the piano wedged against a wall ( with a blanket to prevent scratching ) I was able after spraying the locknuts at the back with WD40 turn the remaining lock nuts .

This took care of the first stage . The next thing was to turn the tuning pins at the front of the piano. I had already snapped 2 tuning pins and didn’t want to start snapping pins willy nilly . I therefore laid the piano on its back on normal upright piano trolley/frame and spot sprayed every tuning pin with WD40 and did this a few times over 24 hours . The piano was laid on its back to prevent the spray dripping down on the iron frame and strings . The next day I put the piano on its ” feet ” again and lightly punched each tuning pin with a tuning pin punch . This released the tuning pin from the frame of the piano and the tension on the string .

Before starting to raise the pitch I needed to replace the 2 broken tuning pins . This should be quite simple in most cases . But not in this case . There are NO NEW BEALE TUNING PINS available or manufactured . The only pins available are from piano tuners who have wrecked a Beale for spare parts . Most Piano Tuners will have a handful of spare Beale Tuning Pins . The Beale pins I had wouldn’t fit through the hole in the frame . This is the first time ever this has happened. I got a supply from another piano tuner and they didn’t fit either . There is only one Piano Supply Shop in Australia and that is in Sydney . I got 6 Second hand Beale Pins from the supplier and they didn’t fit either .

The only solution was to file down the pins a tiny bit at a time to get it to go through the hole in the frame without damaging the edges so that the tuning hammer would fit and turn the pins allowing them to be tuned . This was finally successful . The pins slotted through the hole in the frame and the lock nut secured the pin .

With this all finally done I could now start raising pitch to A440 concert pitch . During this process you are constantly going back and forwards from the front of the piano to the back , tightening or loosening . Once the pitch is close to the required A440 you can tighten all lock nuts at the back and over the next few days fine retune to stabilise at A440 .

The piano was tuned 4 to 5 times over the entire keyboard before returning it to the customers house The entire process just for the structural tuning of this restoration took 5 days .

Then I discovered this Beale was a Brass Flange Piano Action with substantial rust in the Bass section . ( That is another lengthy issue for another time ).

/Stephen Rae


Tuning Australian manufactured Beale Piano

Australian made Beale piano tuning


Leave us a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *