About the Coleman Black Head/Tip Combo
This head and tip combo take it to the extreme with the shortest distance to the pin and the largest angle available in the industry. I discovered this combination after talking to my teacher Randy Potter. You do
not need to worry about struts in grands and I don’t even use an extension head in the high treble. This combination also places the hammer closest to the pin and gives an extremely close feel allowing me to set the pin quicker and more accurately. It only took about 3 pianos to realize that I loved this combo.
George Defebaugh taught Randy to use the 20° extra
short head, and when Randy trained with Franz Mohr at Steinway’s Concerts and Artists Division Franz also used it, and he has used it for years and taught his students with this head/tip combination. More technicians are using this today instead of carrying multiple heads and tips and a wrench. While the idea of using a 5° head has merit – you lose any potential benefit by having a taller head that moves you farther away from the tuning pin itself.
Notes from Randy Potter about heads and tips:
When I started I had a student level hammer – a couple steps below what we send to our students. I got a Tuner’s Supply catalog and right then they were having a special on their hammers, heads & tips – there were selling one of each hammer with their Rubatex handle (all three of them), every head (extra short, short, medium, long, extra long, and with 5°, 10°, 15° and 20° heads), and one of every tip, #1, #2, #3, #4 and square tip, oblong tip, #2 thin wall tip, and 3” long tip. And a tip wrench, of course. The guy I started with changed heads and tips on virtually every tuning, and he taught me to get the proper fit of the tip on the tuning pin, the select the c￼correct length and angle of head, and I was switching he head, or the tip, or both, on virtually every tuning.
Then I trained with George Defebaugh, who taught me to use a 20° extra short head (like the Coleman Blackhead – which was not developed for another 20 years). I have used that ever since – except that Schaff only makes them up to 15°. Then when Jim came out with the Coleman Blackhead I started using that. The idea is you have the business end of the tuning hammer right down at the top of the tuning pin, and that gives you the best control. Yes, it is 20° instead of 10 or 5, but you are right down there, and you develop the skill to use it and – do wonderfully. You do not have to change heads – ever. We sometimes change tips, of course, and I carry one head with a #2 Watanabe, and one with a #3 in my kit. No tip wrench needed. (And after your tip wrench gets out of its place – just once – and chews up your tuning hammer you will hate it and wonder “what can I do so I do not have to carry a tip wrench in my kit any more?”) He had used the 20° extra short for years and years before me, and used it for another 20 years until he died.
When we tune upright pianos where the lid sticks out over the tuning pins (rare anymore, but we see them occasionally) we do not need to change to a long head. (Yes, for maybe 6-10 of the topmost tuning pins we might have to tune at more like a 3 o’clock position). When we tune the treble end of grand pianos we do not need to change to the longest head, plus the 3” tip, in order to get out over the end, like I used to do – George taught me to get off the bench, move progressively around the end of the piano, and when I got to the top notes my tuning hammer was pointed back over the strings. It works for spinets, and everything. Everything. One of the things about the longer tips – it seems when you see people using them the longer they get the smaller angle (5° or 10°) – so you still bust your knuckles when tuning pianos with tall plate struts, like Sauter and Blüthner and few others. But with the Blackhead I never, ever have to switch head. Never.