What you may or may not know about the care your piano needs.
Pianos are musical instruments, made primarily of wood and felt.
Over the course of time, climate changes and normal wear will cause
these materials to change shape. When the parts change shape the
functionality of the instrument is also affected.
Climate instability is the biggest influence on your piano’s condition.
When the relative humidity goes up, the wood and felts absorb moisture
from the air. The soundboard pushes up against the strings and the
strings go sharp in varying degrees throughout the scale. Your piano
is now out of tune. This can happen as quickly as within a few hours
in some settings and as slowly as a few months in other settings,
depending on the efficiency of the climate control in your home,
church, or school.
When the relative humidity level goes down, the reverse happens.
Moisture is released from the piano’s soundboard, allowing it to
shrink, and the force from the strings causes it to sag. The pitch
of the strings will then be flat, and your piano is out of tune.
Generally, we associate high humidity with the summer months and
low humidity levels with the winter months when we turn on our heating
systems. But this is not always true. Often, quick changes in weather
patterns can cause equally brief changes in inside climate. This
is called deep cycling of humidity. In a school setting, where Federal
law requires a constant exchange of outside air, relative humidity
levels can change by as much as 25% within a period of about 24
hours. Depending on the efficiency of the home air condition system
and how well your home is insulated, the degree of these changes
can vary. The piano is now permanently out of tune. It may return
to some acceptable degree of sounding in tune, but it will never
return exactly to the tuning your piano technician left it in.
Changes in humidity levels can also affect the performance of the
piano’s action. High humidity levels can cause parts to swell, which
will affect the regulation of the action and can cause the parts
to become sluggish. In periods of low humidity, the parts will shrink,
sometimes to the degree of allowing screws to become loose and clicking
parts can also develop. Also, the action may not function optimally.
A high degree of climate control can be afforded by installing
and maintaining a Dampp-Chaser Piano
Life Saver System designed specifically for your piano. It may
seem like an expensive investment, but it is an investment to not
only stabilize the tuning and functionality of the piano, but also
to extend the life of your instrument, thereby easily paying for
itself over the years. Contact me for more information about a Dampp-Chaser
climate control system for your piano.
Over time, if you are playing your piano and enjoying your
investment, the felt parts will become compacted. The force of the
hammers against the strings will create grooves in the hammers.
The various contact points will become compacted and the action
will become more difficult to control as action is no longer functioning
to its full potential. This can cause the pianist to find it difficult
to develop proper playing technique, and may create bad playing
Regulating is the process of adjusting the various contact points
in the action to compensate for these changes caused by wear. This
is done initially in the piano factory. It may be repeated again
at the dealership before you purchased your piano, but this is not
always the case. Piano factories are generally under a rush to manufacture
pianos, and sometimes the optimum adjustments don’t have time to
be made before the piano is shipped out to dealerships. If your
local dealership does not carefully go over each new piano to ensure
the piano is as it should be when new, then there is the opportunity
for an unregulated piano to be sold. This is called dealer set-up.
The felts will go through their most drastic changes due to compaction
within about the first year or so, depending on how much it is played.
Therefore, you should have your piano technician regulate your piano
action after about the first year or so, and then about every 3
to 5 years afterward to keep your piano’s action playing with the
touch it is designed to have. You may find that as you develop a
relationship with your instrument and as your playing technique
improves, that you may want to have this performed more often.
Tuning is the process of adjusting the tension of the strings of
your piano until they are all at the correct pitch. While there
are usually 88 keys on a piano, the majority of them will have three
strings per note. A marked smaller number will have two strings
per note, and usually no more than about 15 with single strings
will be found in the low bass. Generally, this means there will
be somewhere between about 230 and 250 strings in your piano!
string is held to a very high tension of between 160 and 200 lbs
each. On one end the string is either tied to or looped around a
hitch pin. On the other end, each string is wrapped around a steel
tuning pin which is held very tightly by friction in the pinblock
or wrestplank, very much the same way the pegs of a violin are held
by friction in the pegbox. However, with the piano, a special tool
called a tuning hammer or tuning lever is required to turn the tuning
pins with very exacting movements. CAUTION: NEVER ATTEMPT TO TURN
YOUR TUNING PINS WITH PLIERS OR ANY OTHER TOOL. THIS WILL CAUSE
PERMANENT DAMAGE TO YOUR PIANO.
The process of adjusting all of the tuning pins and strings until
the whole piano is in good tune can take anywhere between about
one hour and three hours, depending on the condition your piano
is in before the tuner begins tuning, and depending on the tuning
speed of your piano technician. If you keep your piano regularly
tuned, each tuning should take the minimum amount of time, freeing
your technician to be able to possibly perform minor adjustments
your piano may require.
Optimally, your new piano should have been tuned at least five
times over the course of its manufacture. Additionally, it should
be tuned again at the dealership on a normal basis while on the
floor, just before it leaves the store to be delivered, and once
again post delivery after a period of acclimation to the piano’s
After this time, the amount of tuning your piano will require will
vary, depending on the condition of the instrument, your climate
situation, and your personal requirements. Most manufacturers agree
that a new piano should be tuned a minimum of four times the first
year you own it, and a minimum of two times per year thereafter.
The reason a new piano requires more frequent tuning is that the
strings are still going through a stretching process and the joints
and wooden parts are still “settling” in to the tremendous tension
the piano is under. It is also acclimating to a new climate. In
the case of vertical pianos, it is also adjusting to a different
degree of floor level than it had been accustomed to wherever it
had been before you had it delivered (this applies to any vertical
piano – not just limited to new ones).
My recommendation for tuning a brand new piano is as follows. The
piano should be tuned approximately one month after it is delivered.
Then, two months after the first tuning, it should be tuned again.
Then after three months, and every 3 to six months thereafter. Follow
this regimen strictly if you want your brand new piano to develop
tuning stability. If you allow too much time between tunings, surely
tuning stability will suffer and it will take an even longer time
to develop stability.
I then recommend a minimum of two tunings per year after the first
year. Then, depending on the use of your piano and the increasing
development and discrimination of your musical ear, more frequent
tunings may be needed.
A concert piano must be tuned prior to each performance, and before
each dress rehearsal. A violin, guitar, or any other musical instrument
is tuned each time it is taken out of its case. Likewise, even a
harp must be tuned every time it is played. In a university setting,
such as the University of South Carolina School of Music, there
are daily recitals and concerts, sometimes with multiple performances
each day. This means that the performance pianos in an institution
such as a school of music will be tuned as often as daily. Throughout
the year, our primary recital piano will be tuned approximately
one hundred times!
A piano teacher’s piano may need to be tuned as often as once every
month or two to keep it in good tune. The piano student’s piano
may require from 2 to 4 tunings annually, so that good musical ear
training is possible. If you simply play your piano for your casual
enjoyment, once or twice per year would be a minimum to avoid major
tension adjustments each time the piano is tuned.
I also recommend the installation of a Dampp-Chaser climate control
system. While it will not altogether replace the need for tunings,
it may reduce the frequency of tunings and will greatly reduce the
effects that deep cycling of humidity can have on the tuning and
function of your piano between regular service appointments.
Ultimately, the amount of service your piano will require will
be determined by you, the person who owns and enjoys the instrument.
There is no hard and fast rule which will work for every situation.
No two pianos are exactly alike, even if they are exactly the same
model produced side by side in the factory, for the reason that
the felts did not come from the same sheep, the wood parts were
not produced from the same tree, and the strings and plate were
not forged from the same sample of steel or iron. Each piano has
its own distinct perfections and imperfections, and thus, its own
identity. Likewise, no two piano owners or environments are alike
and therefore you should consider the advice of your piano technician
which pertains specifically to your instrument and come to a mutual
understand of what you require of your instrument and what your
technician needs to do in order to meet your needs.
Please call (912) 278-8911
in Georgia or South Carolina to schedule an appointment.