How often should my piano be serviced?
©1993 Piano Technicians Guild
Your piano is an investment in your future. It can bring you and your family a lifetime of music, adding immeasurable joy and beauty to your home. Since it is also such a large investment, it should be maintained with the utmost care. Regular servicing by a qualified technician will preserve your instrument and help you avoid costly repairs in the future. Because your piano contains materials such as wood and felt, it is subject to change with climatic conditions. Extreme swings from hot to cold or dry to wet cause its materials to swell and contract, affecting tone, pitch, and action response or touch. You can reduce the severity of these effects by placing your piano near a wall away from windows or doors that are opened frequently. Avoid heating and air conditioning vents, fireplaces and areas which receive direct sunlight. Your piano will perform best under consistent conditions neither too wet nor dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees F and 42 percent relative humidity. While pianos generally fall into vertical and grand model categories, each manufacturer selects its own materials and utilizes its own unique scale and furniture designs. Every piano requires a different level of maintenance, depending upon the quality of materials used and the design and level of craftsmanship. Manufacturers can provide general advice on tuning frequency but we can give specific recommendations based upon your usage and locale.
How often should my piano be tuned?Maintaining a piano it at its best usually requires an annual tuning. But this depends on how often the piano is used. If your piano is used infrequently, once a year should be sufficient to maintain it in good order. If your piano is played regularly then twice a year is a good benchmark. However, many serious pianists have their pianos tuned more frequently as this is a matter of personal taste and requirements. In the best of situations, we usually recommend twice yearly tunings as this corresponds to seasonal changes of summer to winter, here in New England. Or more to the point, when humidity is high (summer) contrasting when humitidy is low (winter). A piano will go sharp in the summer and flat in the winter.
How should I care for my piano's wood finish?
©1993 Piano Technicians GuildAs with any piece of fine furniture, keeping drinks off finished wood surfaces is a simple rule always to follow. New piano finishes generally require only occasional cleaning with either a dry or damp cotton cloth. Older piano finishes may benefit from an occasional polishing with a good quality polish, but frequent polishing is not recommended.
What is the piano's action and why does it need maintenance?
©1993 Piano Technicians GuildWhen you look inside your piano, you'll find a cast iron plate or "harp" strung with steel and copper-wound strings over a large expanse of wood which is the soundboard. If you look closer, you'll discover an intricate system of levers, springs, and hammers connected to the keyboard.
The complex system which causes a hammer to strike a string when you press a key is called the piano's action. It is a marvel of engineering composed largely of wood and wool felt. This mechanism needs to be responsive to every nuance of the pianist's touch -- from loud, thunderous chords to soft, delicate passages. We have technical drawings available for both vertical and grand piano actions.
When a piano leaves the factory, each of its parts is adjusted to a tolerance of a few thousandths of an inch. This process is called action regulation. Because the wood and felt parts of the action may change dimension due to humidity and wear, the action must be serviced occasionally to maintain its responsive qualities.
How does humidity affect my piano?
©1993 Piano Technicians GuildExtreme swings from hot to cold or dry to wet are harmful to your piano. Dryness causes the piano's pitch to go flat; moisture makes it go sharp. Repeated swings in relative humidity can cause soundboards to crack or distort. Extreme dryness also can weaken the glue joints that hold the soundboard and other wood portions of the piano together. Moisture may lead to string rust. A piano functions best under fairly consistent conditions which are neither too wet nor dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees F and 42 percent relative humidity.
Using an air conditioner in humid summer months and adding a humidifier to your central heating system will reduce the extremes of high and low humidity. Room humidifiers and dehumidifiers, as well as systems designed to be installed inside of pianos will control humidity-related disorders still further. We are certified Dampp-Chaser installers and this system is an excellent way to protect your piano investment.
What is voicing?
©1993 Piano Technicians GuildA piano also periodically requires a service called voicing. Because the tone changes as the felt hammers wear, periodic voicing of the hammers is necessary so that your piano will have an even, full tone throughout the entire scale, and produce the widest possible dynamic range.
How often should I have my piano fully serviced?
©1993 Piano Technicians GuildThe three components of musical performance that need to be adjusted periodically are pitch, tone, and touch. Tone is maintained by voicing, and touch by servicing the piano action, called regulation. Piano tuning is the adjustment of the tuning pins so that all the strings are of the proper tension (pitch), to have the correct sounding, musical intervals.
An out-of-tune piano or an unresponsive touch can discourage even novice musicians. Regular maintenance also can prevent expensive repair in the future.
Most manufacturers recommend servicing at least two to four times a year to keep the piano sounding good and working properly each time you sit down to play. This is especially important the first year of your piano's life. Some tuning instability should be anticipated during the first year because of the elasticity of the piano wire, combined with the piano's normal adjustment to the humidity changes in your home. A piano which has gone a long time without tuning may require extra work in pitch raising.
Why does a piano's pitch change?
©1994 Piano Technicians GuildPiano strings change pitch for two primary reasons: the initial stretching and settling of strings when the piano is new, and soundboard movement due to humidity variation. In the case of new pianos, the pitch drops quickly for the first couple of years as the new strings stretch and wood parts settle. It's very important to maintain any new piano at the proper pitch during this period, so the string tension and piano structure can reach a stable equilibrium. (Most piano manufacturers recommend three to four tunings the first year, and at least two per year after that.)
Aside from this initial settling, climate change is the main cause of pitch change. That's because the piano's main acoustical structure -- the soundboard -- is made of wood. While wooden soundboards produce a wonderful sound, they also react constantly to climate changes. As the relative humidity goes up, the soundboard swells, increasing its crowned shape and stretching the piano's strings to a higher pitch. Then during dry times the soundboard flattens out, lowering tension on the strings and causing the pitch to drop. The drop in the dry season tends to exceed the rise during humid times, so the net result is a drop in pitch each year that the piano isn't serviced.
Won't tuning restore my piano's pitch to A- 440?If a piano has gone without tuning for an extended period, its pitch may have dropped far below A- 440. This means that each of its approximately 220 strings needs to be tightened considerably, adding tremendous additional tension to the piano's structure. The problem is that as each string is tightened, the additional load causes the pitch of previously adjusted strings to change. Thus it is impossible to make a substantial change in pitch and end up with a fine, accurate tuning in one step. Instead, a process called "pitch raising" must first be done, in which all strings are raised to their correct average tension levels. (Likewise, when a piano's pitch is higher than standard, a pitch lowering procedure must be done to reduce string tensions to approximately correct levels.) Only then can the piano be accurately tuned. In other words, accurate tuning is only possible when all strings are so close to their proper tension that only small further changes are needed during tuning. These small changes then do not disturb the tuning of other strings.
If I have my piano tuned regularly, why do I need to have it regulated?While tuning corrects the pitch of your piano, it is only one component of a complete maintenance program. Regulation attends to the touch and uniform responsiveness of your action, all vital to making each performance pleasurable. In addition, regulation ensures that your instrument is capable of producing a wide dynamic range -- a critical factor, particularly in pianissimo passages Music is one of the most complex vehicles for expression. Its beauty is reliant upon personal dynamics and tempi. These changes require extremely fine adjustments to respond to the pianist's nuances and subtle shadings. A smooth, even response throughout the entire range of the keyboard and an extremely quick action capable of playing rapid passages and repeated notes evenly is essential. Outstanding response is essential for a pianist to create an outstanding performance.