Remember the “magic” rental piano, the Steinway concert grand that used to be at the Todd-AO scoring and soundstage, that I spoke about in my last blog post? The one that the management of the Eastwood Scoring Stage rented every time they needed a piano, because the piano they owned played like a truck? It is a really beautiful piano, with a singing board. But, at somewhere between $1000-$2000 per usage, pricey.
One night, five years ago, I got a call from Frank Wolf, recording engineer extraordinaire and, as it happens, my brother-in-law. He said, “I’m at Warner Bros., in the control room at the Eastwood Stage. We’ve got a big piano problem…”
“What’s the problem?”
“Well, I’m in here with Rob Reiner, Mark Shaiman, and Brian Pezzone, and we just trashed a whole day of solo piano recording because of a sound that we can’t seem to track down—or get a straight answer about. We’ve talked to three other piano techs, and we can’t figure anything out.”
“What’s the sound?”
“It’s a little ‘pock’ noise that happens when Brian releases a key. It’s all over the tracks. The whole recording day was soft solo passages, and the sound ruins all the tracks. We just blew a whole day. Do you have any idea what this is?”
As he was speaking, a slow smile spread over my face. I was pretty sure I knew what the problem was. It had been a particular interest of mine for a while. It has to do with a piece of the action mechanism called the jack. It’s spring-loaded, and when it’s in the wrong position from front to back—when it’s too far back, that “pock” noise happens when the key is released. On many actions, even when the jack position is technically “correct,” the “pock” noise still happens.
I’ve found the solution is to slightly customize the “normal” jack position forward—toward the player, or proximally—by small fractions of a turn until the noise disappears. Many good players notice the “pock” noise, and are amazed and appreciative when we disappear it. Especially in recording studios…And because I follow my own work over the years, I’ve never had a problem with the customized jack position vis a vis action regulation or function.
For you piano techs and piano nerds, that means no cheating jacks; nowhere near.
I said to Frank, “If it’s what you describe—a ‘pock’ sound when the key releases—I can fix it completely in an hour.”
“Wow. Really? Fantastic. Can you come now?”
It was 9:15PM. I was settled in, in my jammies.
“No, but I can come as early as you need me to in the morning. You’re done recording tonight, right?”
“Right. This is really, really good. See you at 8 AM. I’ll email you all the directions and the passes will be waiting for you…”
So I fixed the issue, got congratulatory emails from the studio manager, the director, the composer, and the pianist. And an invitation from that same studio manager, two weeks later, to inspect the “unplayable” Steinway “D” they had owned since 1928 (read the last blog post.)
And now, five years later, Warner Bros. original recording piano, a piano that everybody loves, and that untold millions of people have enjoyed the sound of—it was used on all the big movies throughout the ‘30’s through the ‘70’s—and now it’s back, as good as new.
And as that old geezer, Paul Harvey, used to say on the radio,
“AND NOW, YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY!”