QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON PIANO CARE
The following is similar to what I give in written form to each customer:
by Lowell Roggow, RPT Registered Piano Technician, Denver/ Colorado Springs
1. How often should my piano be tuned?
This is the most common question asked and is certainly a question that a technician is most happy to hear and answer. As a technician, I recommend an average tuning interval of 12 months. This average is based on several factors: a. The ability of the piano to remain stable in the face of climate and humidity changes. b. The amount of climate control around the location of the piano. The piano prefers humidity around 40% year-round if possible. Otherwise the soundboard will swell in the summer and skink in the winter. These changes of humidity cause the out of tune sound from the piano. c. The amount of playing time on the pianist by the advanced pianist. For instance, a practice room piano at a college goes out of tune in a month, but a piano played by a beginning level pianist in the home does not go out of tune very much from light weight usage. d. The degree of pitch perception of the pianist. This perception grows in young people as they hear and experience the difference between a tuned piano and an untuned piano.
BOTTOM LINE, MOST CUSTOMERS TUNE EVERY YEAR, PREFERABLY IN THE SAME MONTH AS THE PREVIOUS YEAR (because of the climate) .
2. How often should my NEW piano be tuned?
The strings and wooden parts of a new piano stretch and settle during the first 2 to 3 years. 2.Since a new piano flats at a rate of 3 to 6% per month, a good schedule to follow is to tune in 3 months and then every 6 months until the piano is settled. If the piano has had several store tunings, it should be tuned every 6 months until the piano is settled which usually means having at least four tunings.
3. What factors cause my piano to go out of tune?
A. The most common cause is the fluctuations of HUMIDITY that occur during a given year. In Colorado, the humidity outside is around 24% most of the year except during the “monsoon” season from mid-July to mid September. If the piano is not in an air-conditioned environment during the “monsoon” season the piano will swell sharp in pitch which can sound quite aweful! The solution is for the technician to install an inexpensive electronic dehumidifier. During the heating season, a humidifier on the furnace will raise humidity in the home to 35-38% which actually is quite good for the piano as well as for the wooden furniture in the home. If the piano is close to a heating or air conditioning vent, it is good to open the vent for air conditioning in the summer and close the vent to excessive heat in the winter. A room humidifier in the same room as the piano is also a good idea for the winter. In situations where external climate control is not possible, your technician has a booklet which explains how an electronic humidifier/de-humidifier devise placed inside the upright piano or underneath the grand piano can help.
B. The next most common cause is the construction and quality of the piano itself. Pianos made of well-cured hardwoods with sturdy construction and quality parts and stringing design will resist the adversities of humidity the best. Another factor is the musical perception of the piano players and listeners. People with musically trained or gifted ears will perceive the piano to be out of tune more quickly than others(at around 10% flat or sooner). Often young pianists will adjust the tuning schedule to tune more often as their skill and perception develop. Advanced pianists typically drive the piano out of tune much more quickly than emerging pianists do.
4. Will my piano need a pitch raise prior to tuning?
The responsibility of the tuner to the piano teacher and the pianist is to tune the piano to the same pitch as the instruments of the orchestra play at, which is a frequency called “A 440”. In other words, the goal involves more than getting the piano to sound in tune “with itself”. Likely, the piano needs a pitch raise if it has been more than three years since it has been tuned, regardless if it has been played or not. Pitch raises of 100% or more can be accomplished in one session but there is the risk of strings breaking, especially if there is rust on the strings. The technician must charge extra for preliminary tunings on pianos that are more than 20% flat or under the pitch. The average ear notices that the piano does not sound good when the piano reaches about 20% flat in the midsection. When the piano goes flat beyond 30 and 40% the owner may likely be embarrassed to even have the piano played!
5. How does moving a piano affect its tune?
Under most LOCAL moving conditions, VERY LITTLE!. Pianos go out of tune due to the weather MUCH MORE THAN FROM BEING HANDLED. If an old piano has a few loose tuning pins, they may give way to the jars of moving. If an upright piano is of lightweight construction, the maneuvers of a move may cause it to twist slightly and to go out of tune. If the climate is different, it is wise to wait a few weeks before tuning so the piano can adjust to the air conditioner, the furnace and the outside humidity. The next tuning is based then, on these changes in environment.
6. Besides tuning, what other maintenance will my piano need? The piano owner can clean and polish the hardwood case with water-base cleaner /polish rather than oil base cleaner/polish. I recommend “Satin Sheen” which is a cleaner and conditioner which I use on all piano finishes. “Satin Sheen” is available from your technician. Grand pianos will preserve tone longer the more the strings are protected . When not in use, closing the lid will help keep air pollutants off the strings. When going on vacation, the top, front case piece can be folded down. After 10 to 20 years of consistent and regular use the action of the piano will need to be regulated or re-conditioned. Your technician has a brochure which explains this procedure.
7. Where can I find a good used piano?
Besides checking with the dealers I recommend looking on “Craigs List”. As a technician, I give advise over the phone to my customers and I do on-site inspections(for a fee) for those who are more serious. For a more detailed treatment about pianos, new and used, consult The Piano Book by Larry Fine RPT available from Amazon.com. Your piano is an investment that can give you and your family a lifetime of happiness and pleasure. It can be the center of your home, and a lasting source of fun, entertainment, and contentment. ENJOY!