Thrift Shop Joy


Dropping some stuff off at our local thrift shop today, sitting in the middle of the floor was an old webcor coronet regent - I hve a mono version, nice tube preamps in them, this was the stereo version, 99 cents with a box full of reel to reel tapes from the 60s. :) Works fine too.

Then I saw a howard spinet piano for 35 bucks, in good shape, sound board all nice and pretty, all the mechanical parts working, doesn’t even need repadding, almost in tune, sounds pretty good, not cheap, not a grand, but not cheap. Howard was Baldwin’s budget brand. It’s now in my basement. :)

So…I have a tuning hammer (why is it called a hammer when it is a wrench?) and I guess I could just tune it using the tuner in n-Track. Anyone have any tips? A website?


edit: I found a cool website that tells the year of manufacture for the howard pianos - in this case it was 1965. I may alos have been wrong about the howard brand being a budget baldwin - this is what I was told - but the howard company started in 1895, in cinciniati ohio, and this piano was made by baldwin (says so all over the place, on the harp, on the back) so perhaps it was one of those things where the howard company had baldwin make them and sold them under their own label - cheaper than actually making the piano themselves. I have a EV 664 microphone that was sold under the Durand label, same sort of arrangment. Anyway, it is not a turd. It’s pretty good for a 35 dollar piano. :)


So…I have a tuning hammer (why is it called a hammer when it is a wrench?) and I guess I could just tune it using the tuner in n-Track. Anyone have any tips? A website?

Yeah, I’d get someone else in to do it!
This may help…a little.

Willy, after reading through a book on the subject, and looking at phoo’s link (great link, phoo), I am undeterred in my lunacy.


I’m going to give it a try, see what I can do this weekend, if it ends up sounding like the piano in Casablanca that’ll be cool. :)

If money is not an issue get someone else to tune your piano. If money is an issue, or you are just adventurous, go for it yourself.

I’ve tuned several pianos…always by a combination of a guitar tuner and my ear, and using no formal system. I did almost all of the fine pitch adjustment by ear, as so much of the tuning is comparison of strings of the same note (octaves and doubled strings) and you can listen for beat frequencies, or you are tempering the tuning (which I did by playing chords and tweaking to get the best compromise tuning). The pianos that I have worked on have all had a few strings that were perceptibly out of tune, but the majority could be left untouched. In every case I have been pretty pleased with the result.

And if things get out of control… well you can always call a professional tuner.


That’s a sweet deal.

Good luck on the tuning !

I think you are in for something tho’.

But I would have done excactly the same thing.
Jump right in and do it. You won’t overwind a string to breaking point anyways. What can go wrong ? You can end up with a piano that out of tune ? Don’t you have that already ?


And I’m sure you’ll get a feeling of ‘getting the feeling’ and then leave it before you’ve stuffed up too much, or you’ll get it right.

My money is on you getting it right…

Enjoy it.


A couple of words of advice for piano tuning. Be careful when picking what frequency to tune to. It is very likely that the piano will be a half step of more flat. You can be sure that if you decide to tune it to 440=A, it will be a multi-day affair. Once you have tuned every string up to proper pitch, the first strings tuned will be flat again. Get some rubber wedges to mute adjacent strings. Tune octave single strings first, then pull out the wedges one at a time to tune adjacent strings. If you have a Boss Orchestral Tuner, that will help alot.

Be aware that once you have tuned all 200+ strings, you will have to do it again 2 more times before it will be pretty much up to pitch.

Avoid the temptation to drink manhattens between tunings. :D

I’ve done about 100 piano tunings and each time I ask myself why about 1/3 of the way through. :p

By the way… it is called a tuning hammer cause you want to smack the piano with it when you have jammed or loose tuning pins. GGRrrrrrrr

Hi Tom:
I think we are of the same “Cloth”… IT’s pretty hard to walk away form an Historic piece of “musical apperatice”.

If you keep IT UP you’ll be the “Thrift Shop”… You wouldn’t have any space left in your house to bring this stuff home---- to… You might have to set up a tent, out in the yard… to put the BBQ and Bed… :O :p


Bill, you are so right, I seem to have collected too many things, however, spring cleaning is finally underway, a bit late, yes, but it’s what took us to the thrift shop in the first place, getting rid of stuff, so in fact while we gained a nice basement piano, we have lost a lot more “stuff.” :)

Yep, guys, it certainly is an adventure. The good DrG is correct, of course, having run through all the strings once (yes, it was nearly 1/2 step flat all the way) they all seem to have gone flat again. :) I’ll take that manhattan now please.

Nah, this is fun, and it’s a great way to learn stuff, and like Whian said, in the end I will just have a piano that is out of tune, at worst. :)

Question: do people ever intentinally tune it so that on the double and triple string notes one of them is out of tune and beats? Kind of a cool chorus effect.


Question: do people ever intentionally tune it so that on the double and triple string notes one of them is out of tune and beats? Kind of a cool chorus effect.

Absolutely. A “perfect” piano sound flat, and I don’t mean pitch. The needs to be a little movement in the sound. Also, pianos are slightly stretch tuned. There are different kinds and amounts of stretching. Then there is the fact that pianos need to be tuned so that they work in all keys, what ever that’s called. Then there is Honky-Tonk piano, with tacks o the hammers, but much of that sound is detuning one of the three strings slightly…and intentionally.

I don’t much about that stuff unfortunately. One of my past experiences was trying to get a Freeman String Synphonizer in tune. Each note (all octaves) is separately tuned by turning a plug in a coil. It was pretty easy to get it in tune for the key of the song, but it needed retuning for any song in a different key, and sometimes chord voicing. My mistake was tuning it perfectly so there were no beats. I didn’t have a tuner nor reference at the time.

So… Bottom Line…

What is the “FIX” for the issue Tom’s Piano has? Does IT mean that the tunning pegs need replacment? Could it be that drastic?


Nah, Bill, I’ve been told to expect it to settle - I would bet that it has been tuned below concert pitch for a long time, and I sort of planned on retuning it a couple- few times.

“Tempered” is the word, phoo. Funny thing about tempered tuning - we’re so used to hearing it that anything else sounds wierd, often enough. But absolute tunings sound really beautiful to me.

Phoo, I had to look up the Freeman thing, Yahoo gave me three hits, one n-Track board link, one phootunes link, and one hammon link to a phootunes webpage. :)

Any pictures of the thing anywhere?

I spelled it wrong…I suppose I need to fix that up…Symphonizer. That’s bad memory on my part.

Someone was selling one, but I couldn’t find anything else. I copied out the quote.

Freeman FRMS-810 String Symphonizer RARE Cordovox Model CSS as used by Jan Hammer, Chick Corea and many others, Excellent condition, Freeman String Symphonizer has three sets of top octave generators rather than multiple chorus lines on the back end. The Freeman has one integrated circuit top-octave generator plus two sets of 12 tank generators, with different vibrato drive for each of the three sources, 12 flip flops per octave for each of the three sources, and different electronic values in the passive wave-shaping differentiators for the different octaves. Comes with the CSS service manual, volume/expression pedal and cover.

Here’s a link about the man himself that mention it.

I think there is one in the middle of this picture:

You can get a service manual here:


That would be the one. Mine died. The power supply was good but it was as dead as if it wasn’t plugged in. I couldn’t find anything wrong and they guy I took it to couldn’t either. It had been getting very flaky for years anyway, including bad keys and what-now.

This is from an old cassette mix of something I about 25 years ago…time REALLY flies. It’s got more prominent Freeman than the other stuff. (Almost all original recordings were done on Ampex tape that had the manufacturing defect that causes the glue that holds the oxide on to become gummy after 5 or 6 years - they are totally unplayable without cooking the reels first. All I have is cassette mixes for the most part. All need remastering of course…some day.)

Now I know the sound. What a great sound. What’d’ya do with the keyboard? Could it be reconditioned? Someone needs to make a VSTi of one. Love the sound of your recording too. As always. :)

I like that wurlitizer keyboard in that photo. Oh… to have one of them…

That’s strange to find nothing wrong with that keyboard and not to get any sound from IT…



What’d’ya do with the keyboard? Could it be reconditioned?

No one that looked at it could figure out why it was dead. Reconditioned? Probably, in the right hands. That would be someone that knows the circuits.

I gave it to a friend that was opening a pawn shop. He got four truck loads of (mostly audio broken) stuff I had accumulated over the years when I moved from NC to WA. I didn’t bring anything that I REALLY didn’t need or felt like I could sell for more than the transfer costs. For monitary reasons there was a lot of stuff that I got rid of that I really wish I could have kept. The worst loss by far is two complete sets of orange vistalite early 70’s ludwig drums…yes, the same that John Bonham used, but conventional sizes. When I moved they weren’t the collector’s items they are today. Thinking of that still makes my heart sink.

I don’t think it would be too hard to synthesize the sound of the Freeman. The trick is getting the initial wave. It had 24 hard wired oscillators - two physical oscilators per note - each pair ganged together. It uses a hard wired filtering system to divide out the three octaves. The sound of each oscillator is VERY rich in harmonics as you can expect. Each note could be separatley tuned (causing the piano tuning problem), but there was just one coil to detune the “other” oscillator of each pair.

The individual notes of an Elka Rhapsody sound very similar to the raw sound of the freeman, but the quality of the whole instrument is very different. It ain’t even close.