about us




Narrow Fifth


We are a small family business of two qualified piano technicians with extensive experience working with pianos in concert halls, schools, studios and private homes. We are Yamaha Authorised Service Agents and have been based in Bathurst since 2018, servicing the Central West, Blue Mountains and Sydney areas. Among the institutions we look after are the Mitchell Conservatorium, Kinross Wolaroi School, Scots All Saints College, Newington College, Reddam House and Charles Darwin University.


Our services have been used by artists including Piers Lane, Roger Woodward, Ian Munro, Tamara-Anna Cislowska, Micheal Kieran Harvey, Simon Tedeschi, Stephanie McCallum, Arseny Tarasevich-Nikolaev, Alexander Gavryluk, Clemens Leske, Konstantin Shamray, Andrey Gugnin, Yanghee Kim, Alexander Gadjiev, Alex Ranieri, Helena Rathbone, David G Miller, Diana Doherty, Streeton Trio, Alexandre da Costa, Australian Ballet Company, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, The Five Browns, Joan Baez, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Wynton Marsalis, Leonie Cohen, Mike Nock, Cold Chisel, Dan Sultan, Darwin Festival, PianoFest Out West, Glebe Music Festival, Stanmore Music Festival and many others.



Jennifer Roberts


Jennifer received her training in Canada and USA, completing a Masters of Piano Technology at the Florida State University under Anne Garee. She has served an apprenticeship at the Aspen Music Festival, completed a rebuilding fellowship at Northwestern University in Chicago with master craftsman Ken Eschete, and received further training from the Sauter piano factory in Germany. She is also a qualified carillonist, and holds a double degree in Music and Music Education, having taught music for many years. Jennifer has been tuning in Sydney and regional NSW for the past two decades.



Marcelo Costi


Marcelo completed studies in piano technology at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, where he graduated with distinction. He has a broad knowledge of tuning theory and practice across instruments, having studied classical guitar and lute during his Music degree, besides being the resident harpsichord tuner at the university. He also worked on fretted instruments in earlier years, before shifting his interests towards piano technology.











services we offer




Below is a short list of standard services that we provide. If you need assistance with anything else, be it technical advice, long-term schedules, humidity control or simply having a chat about your instrument's needs, just get in touch with us. We are part of the local music community and we are here to help.



Regular Piano Care


Tuning is the most regular service that your piano is likely to need. Most pianos, even those that are not played regularly, need to be tuned once a year to stay close to pitch. Tuning stability is affected by changes in temperature and humidity, and instruments subjected to heavy use may need service more often. Concert venues, music teachers or musicians with finer ears require more frequent tunings to keep their pianos in top shape.


Voicing is the process of adjusting the sound of the piano, usually by reshaping the hammer felt with a file, softening it with needles or hardening it chemically. Hammer heads flatten with use as the felt compresses, enlarging the striking point and resulting in a harsh sound. A beautiful tone depends on a combination of factors, but it can only be achieved on a piano that is properly regulated, tuned and voiced.


Regulation affects the touch, which must be consistent and predictable on all keys, providing accurate feedback to the player. As most of the piano's internal parts are made of felt and wood, they can change with the weather and degrade as they age, and need to be regulated every now and then to stay within parameters.


Repairs commonly required include broken key tops, strings and hammers, and worn felts. Keeping your in good condition will improve playability, reduce wear and tear, and increase the instrument's longevity.



Institutional Maintenance


Maintaining a large inventory of instruments requires an approach that encompasses a broader range of considerations than individual private pianos. We have extensive experience in this area and can assist institutions in preparing a long-term maintenance schedule, tailored to their specific budgets and requirements. Here is a document that we prepared with more information on this subject, please get in touch and we can help you get started:


View document



Rebuilds


As with any mechanical device, pianos start deteriorating after a certain age. Even if they look beautiful as furniture, they lose functionality as a musical instrument. Major works like restringing, pin block replacement, bridgework, new keyboard and action replacement will extend the instrument's useful life and protect its value. We restring pianos using hybrid scaling to improve tonal consistency and tuning stability, and nickel-plated wire to prevent oxidation. We can also redesign the action geometry to correct design faults, or simply to enhance the tone and touch of your piano.


Alongside modern piano rebuilds, we can also restore historical instruments, working with materials and techniques that are appropriate for the era in which the instruments were originally built. We can source custom-made hardware, period bass strings and music wire, and traditional leathers and felts to revive the touch and tone characteristic of their time.











gallery




The technicians




The workshop




Instruments recently rebuilt


•   2000 Shigeru SK7

•   1980 Zuckermann Flemish Double

•   1989 Yamaha C3

•   1830 Robertson Square

•   1982 Yamaha C7

•   1902 Bechstein K

•   Upright Actions


View images











frequently asked questions




How often should I tune my piano?


Most piano manufacturers recommend having the piano tuned every six months. As a reference, concert pianos are tuned before every performance, some teachers have their instruments tuned every month or two, some schools two to four times a year, but an annual tuning is the bare minimum required to keep their pitch from dropping too low. More frequent visits allow for a more refined tuning and help the piano remain stable for longer. Ultimately, it depends on your ear and your budget.



How much does tuning cost?


Area $
Bathurst 220
Sydney, Blue Mountains 242
Canberra, Darwin 253

Prices vary depending on how far from us you live. We generally extend the Bathurst area to Orange and Lithgow; outside that zone we tend to bundle up a number of tunings before we travel, to avoid further surcharges. Trips to Sydney, Canberra and Darwin are usually one or two weeks long, planned with our regular customers in mind, so do get in touch if you would like to be included in the next scheduled visit. The amounts above include GST.



What is included in that charge?


Usually we make a few minor adjustments in addition to the tuning, to make sure your piano is functioning well. Services like pedal adjustments, lubrication of sticking parts and minor voicing are done each time we tune. Over time this adds up to a piano in much better shape than one that has simply been tuned. Of course, if your piano needs more than the odd adjustment we will let you know; if it is the case, we can do a more thorough regulation separately.



How far in advance should I book?


Depending on your flexibility, we can generally accommodate you within a couple of weeks. If you do require a specific date, however, it is best to organise that as early as you can, as we travel frequently and may not be around when you need us. Note that during school holidays we are particularly busy with our scheduled institutions and tend to be unavailable for other work.



What is this narrow fifth?


We chose this name as it reflects what we do when we tune a piano. On a piano, an octave needs to be divided into 12 equal parts (equal temperament) and this does not fit with the natural sound of some intervals like the pure fifth (Do-Sol) and the pure third (Do-Mi), which are what string players and singers naturally tune to. A narrow fifth is an adjusted interval that compresses the tempered scale so that it all fits within an octave using only 12 keys.



Are pianos always tuned to Equal Temperament?


Not always. We have a small number of customers who prefer their pianos tuned to other temperaments like Valotti and 1/8-Comma. If you are interested in exploring unequal temperaments, we will be happy to guide you through the journey.



Do you tune by ear?


Yes, we have received excellent training in aural tuning and prefer to tune by ear whenever possible.



Could I tune the piano myself?


Probably not. Harpsichord players are still able to tune their own instruments, but modern pianos require a different technique. It takes months of guidance to learn the basics, and years of practice to do it well. Without knowing what you are doing, you are more likely to damage your piano's pin block than to improve its tuning, so we would not recommend it.



How can I clean my piano?


Use a soft cloth to keep dust and fingerprints away. Try to avoid using harsh chemical products, a slightly damp cloth will usually suffice for case and keys. We use a specialised product that is safe for the finish of your piano, if you are interested we can supply you with some at your next tuning.



Should I place my piano near the window, where the light is better?


While it is lovely to have the natural light on the piano while playing, it is not that great for your piano. Exposure to the heat of the sun can damage the finish and affect tuning instability as the temperature changes, causing the soundboard to swell and retract. It is preferable to place it against an internal wall, away from heaters and air-conditioners.



What can I do to keep my piano in good shape?


Simply tune your piano regularly and let us know what you want from your piano. As everyone has different requirements, we can advise whether it would be beneficial to do some tonal adjustment or regulation if you want more from your piano than you are getting. Additionally, we can let you know if it is time for some more extensive TLC. Just as simply changing the oil in your car is not enough to keep it maintained, just tuning your piano will not be enough over time to keep it in good shape.



What is concert pitch?


Concert pitch, or A440, is an international standard (ISO 16) that defines the frequency of the note A above the piano's middle C as 440Hz. It was first proposed in the nineteenth century but even nowadays it is not universally adopted, for a variety of reasons. It is not unusual to find orchestras that prefer a slightly higher pitch, or particular instruments that respond better to a slightly lower pitch. There are still a few pitches of historical interest, varying from 390Hz to 470Hz, being often used on period instruments for more authentic renditions. Most modern pianos, however, should be tuned to A440 whenever possible for compatibility with other instruments.



I am moving to another house, should I tune my piano before or after moving?


It is best to wait a couple of weeks after the move, so that the piano can have some time to settle in and get used to the new environment.



Why do pianos go out of tune?


Pianos go out of tune for a variety of reasons, such as changes in temperature or humidity, heavy usage, low-quality instruments or damaged parts. It is more difficult to keep the piano in tune in environments where the weather changes drastically or in schools where practice is constant. An ideal humidity range will be between 40-50%. In places such as Darwin the humidity ranges from 30-100%, tuning stability is a constant challenge. It is a good idea to try to keep the piano room in as constant temperature as possible in order to maintain the tuning stable.



What if the piano hasn't been played for many years?


Even if you are not a regular player, your piano will still go out tune and need annual tunings. Pianos don't just go out of tune when they are played, it is a mixture of changes of temperature, humidity, quality of the instrument and amount of playing that will result in the piano going out of tune.



Why does my piano sound and feel different to my teacher's?


Every piano will sound different. It depends partly on the brand and model of the piano, but mostly it relates to whether it has been kept in good shape with regular tunings, regulation and voicing. Over time, investing in these services will really pay off with a beautiful sounding instrument that will last longer.



Should I put a bowl of water inside the piano to keep it humid?


Despite popular belief, this will not help. Water should be kept well clear of the piano!



I live in a remote area, would you come and tune my piano?


Yes, we can travel to other areas in regional NSW. We will always try to book in multiple jobs to save on travel time and cost, so if you want to get together with some other locals in your area, we can come and spend a day or two. If you are even more remote than that, just give us a call, we can probably still work something out.



Our piano has been in the family for generations, is it a valuable antique?


It depends. The value of a piano is a flexible concept, but ultimately it is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. If it means something to you emotionally, you may consider it a priceless possession. However, in terms of monetary value, even if it is a lovely piece of furniture, a piano is really only worth anything if it functions well as a musical instrument. Sometimes an investment even larger than its market value may be needed to make it rewarding to play again.



I've found a piano on the internet for free, is it a real bargain?


Unfortunately, second-hand pianos in good condition are few and far between. The cost of removal and work needed to bring a free piano to reasonable shape can be fairly high and you may find that such large amounts of money would be more wisely spent on a new instrument. In doubt, get your technician to inspect the piano for you before you make any commitments.



Do you buy and sell pianos?


In short, no. Our approach to piano technology is largely based on our background as musicians, and shaped by our training in universities where the focus was on technical collaboration with the Music Faculty. Running a shop requires a different set of skills and business knowledge, which are often underestimated. We also like to support our local music stores and promote the valuable service that they offer to the community.



Why does it cost so much to maintain a piano?


Just like most other valuable assets, the cost of having a piano is never limited to its purchase price. Similarly to a car that needs regular fuel, services and occasional repairs, a piano needs to be tuned, regulated and voiced to be kept in good shape.



Should I just buy a digital keyboard instead?


While keyboards have their advantages, they are more closely related to organs and are not an adequate replacement if you would like to learn the piano. The piano's internal mechanical parts that make the hammers strike the strings also provide tactile feedback to the pianist's fingers, which is crucial for learning how to control the production of tone. As neither touch nor tone are easy to replicate digitally, a piano is still the best choice for an aspiring pianist. In fact, many teachers require their pupils to practice on an acoustic piano.



Could you tell me a little more about...


Sometimes we are asked questions that need more than a paragraph or two for an answer, so we wrote a few pages on those topics that you can take your time to read. This is work in progress and the list might grow as we plod along completing articles.


•   Tuning & Temperament

•   Electronic Tuners

•   Humidity & Temperature

•   Piano Maintenance for Institutions

•   How to Train a Piano Tuner

•   Voicing & Tone


View articles











contact us




We prefer email, as we do not usually answer the phone while we are tuning. If it can't wait, please text us or leave a message, and we will contact you when we are available.


  narrowfifth @ gmx.com


  0420 574 236   •   Jennifer Roberts

  0431 222 150   •   Marcelo Costi


  Bathurst NSW   •   Wiradjuri Country

  Workshop visits by appointment only





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