Tuning, Servicing and Maintaining Your Piano
How Should I Take Care of My Piano?
If you want to take good, basic care of your piano, you will want to tune it every 6 months. Some people have their piano tuned more because they are a bit pickier, and some people only tune their piano once per year. Once per year should really be the absolute minimum, but if you have gone longer than a year since your piano was tuned, don't worry! PianoCraft will happily bring it back to sounding in tune!
Twice per year is recommended because of the yearly dramatic indoor climate changes with the air conditioning in the summer and the hot humid weather, and the indoor heat in the winter with the cold and dry weather. In the summer the pitch will rise and in the winter the pitch will fall. The changing pitch is particularly problematic because the drift is not even across the keyboard.
If you’re having your piano tuned once a year, it will not suffer significant damage – even though it won’t sound as good – but a piano that is left to sit for many years, even one that’s not being played, will drift much farther out of pitch than is healthy for a piano. If this is allowed to happen it will take a series of pitch raise tuning service visits to get the piano back to where it had been before the neglect.
Contact PianoCraft for a maintenance solution.
Tunings are considered a basic first step in piano care. You’ll find the difference in playing an in-tune piano is so great you’ll understand why people often think primarily of tuning when they think of standard upkeep. However, it’s important to request that your technician care for your piano’s regulation and voicing, as well.
Pianos are tuned to maintain the pitch, stability, and pitch balance of the instrument. Regular service visits help the piano last longer and makes it a wonderful, musical experience to play. The Piano Technician’s Guild and every major piano manufacturer recommend at least two to four tunings per year for a piano under general use. Most performance instruments are tuned more often, usually before each concert as well as throughout the off-season.
Is something on your piano broken? Whether a mechanical or case problem, our expert craftsmen can fix it. Many repairs can be done in your home, but if it requires more, we have a state of the art full service shop that can repair pretty much any problem no matter how extensive.
The piano’s several thousand moving parts, known as the action, contain many wood, felt, and leather components. These change over time due to use, wear, and changes in temperature and humidity.
For example, the key height will change as the keys rock up and down on a small stack of felt and paper spacers called punchings. Over time, the keys will sag as the punchings compact. This causes a shorter travel distance at the front of the key, which causes insufficient travel at the back of the key to complete the playing cycle. The result is reduced power, a nonstandard feel to the pianist, loss of control at low volumes, and hammer bouncing, called bobbling, that causes an unwanted repeated tone.
Getting the best touch and tone out of a piano requires regulation of the key height, as well as many other adjustments. A piano goes out of regulation gradually, and a pianist may not notice lessened performance right away. It’s possible to keep the regulation close by touching up several major adjustments every year. If you decide to let the piano go ten or more years, it will need a full sixteen hour regulation. In either event, a piano will only reach its full potential and play its best when the regulation is fresh, and then maintained.
Symptoms of a piano in need of Regulation
- Notes that will not repeat fast enough
- Notes that ‘bobble’ or repeat unnecessarily
- Uneven key response
- Notes that do not sound fully
- Key touch too shallow or deep
- Sound that is uneven
- Difficulty controlling the piano at soft volume
Every piano has its own voice, also referred to as tone quality. Many piano owners mistakenly assume if they don’t like the voice of their piano there’s nothing a technician can do about it. While a piano’s voice is the result of the piano’s design and construction, there is also a great deal of flexibility to a piano’s voice. The same piano can sound bright and ‘brassy,’ or more mellow and ‘dark.’ In fact, voicing changes as a piano is played. The shape, density, and mass of the hammers all contribute to the piano’s tone quality and tonal responsiveness. Regulation can also affect voicing. Communicating your voicing tastes to your technician takes time and cooperation, and yields a superior piano that more closely meets your artistic needs. Our technicians will work with you to achieve the best voicing for your piano and the room it’s in.
Symptoms of a Piano in Need of Voicing
- Dull or thin tone quality
- Harsh tone quality
- Unappealing or ugly sound
- Lack of power
- Uneven tone from note to note
- Piano is too loud
- Overly bright, or brassy tone quality
- Lack of tonal variety
Reasons for Changes in a Piano’s Pitch
Strings stretch under normal tension. The piano is designed so the strings have just enough tension to stretch and deform them slightly. If string tension is incorrectly set too high, the strings may break. If tension is incorrectly set too low, the piano will have an unpleasant tone, as well as be unplayable with other instruments.
New piano strings will stretch so fast that a new or recently rebuilt piano will require three to four tunings in the first year. Older pianos can be more stable, but, often, if they have not been tuned regularly, they may have stabilized below concert pitch. In the case of both the new piano and the older, neglected piano, the piano will require a pitch adjustment from below pitch, known as a pitch raise, and fine tuning. A pitch raise is the most common form of pitch adjustment.
Weather changes cause strings and soundboard to expand and contract Due to the Washington, DC area’s seasonal changes, a piano that is behaving normally will drift, in general, about ten cents (or two beats) flat or sharp of A440. The longest steel strings, near the break between tenor and bass, will tend to drift twenty cents. This amount of pitch shift should not present tuning challenges.
Pitch will start to drift flat in the winter when it becomes necessary to run the heat in the daytime, and sharp when the heat is turned off entirely and or when the rainy season begins in the Washington, DC area (some years April; some years May). Tunings completed in January and July will be the most stable. A pitch adjustment to lower pitch is usually the result of excess humidity.
Felt hammers pound and stretch the strings. When the piano is played heavily, the repetition of hammers striking the strings will accelerate the normal settling process. The above causes of pitch drift are all normal events in the life of a healthy piano.
Structural shifts are serious problems such as a defective pin block or back beam separation. Shifts in the piano’s structure, including defective pin blocks, plate cracks, and back beam separations, are not normal. A piano that has experienced structural shifts needs to be carefully evaluated. There are usually several options to discuss with your technician when dealing with a damaged piano.
Everyone needs to stay warm in the cold weather. Unfortunately, that cozy fireplace could be wreaking havoc on your piano. While you may be aware that a piano requires a stable temperature, you may not know it’s even more essential to maintain an appropriate humidity level. Even mild changes from central heating can be hazardous.
In times of high humidity, wood swells and puts stress on the piano’s many glue joints, such as those that hold the hammers to the hammer shanks. As the wood dries, damage is visible as cracks and separations. These fluctuations also change all the fine adjustments your technician has made to your piano’s action.
If you’ve experienced sticking or lazy keys, a humidity change is often the culprit. While sticky keys are hard to ignore, you may be unaware of more serious humidity-related problems. In addition to damaging the piano’s glue joints, fluctuations in humidity can cause damage to your piano’s pin block, soundboard, and strings. Humidity changes also alter the string tension and cause the piano to go out of tune.
A good rule to remember is if it’s uncomfortable for you, it’s uncomfortable for your piano. The ideal climate for a piano is a temperature between 68° F and 76°, and the ideal relative humidity is 42%. In the mid-Atlantic area, if you’re keeping your piano’s environment within ± 10 of 42% you’re doing well. If you are unsure of your piano’s current environment, your PianoCraft Service technician can test it at your next service visit. We also encourage you to purchase your own thermometer-hygrometer to see how the environment changes across days, or even throughout the course of one day.
Controlling humidity can add years to the life of your piano. It’s important to keep a piano out of direct sunlight and away from direct exposure to air vents, at any time of year. A Dampp- Chaser Life Saver Climate Control system (with dehumidification and humidification) will help stabilize your piano year round. Some choose to combine a room humidifier and a Dampp- Chaser heater bar and humidistat (sometimes called a ‘partial’ system). It’s best to have the partial system installed in the winter months before April.