Much of the information provided below appears courtesy of the Piano Technicians Guild, Inc. to which the Philadelphia Chapter is a part. Your technician may be able to provide you with a printed brochure on certain topics.
How often do I need to tune my piano?
Your piano, like those in homes and on stages throughout the world, is an instrument of extraordinary promise which can bring you and your family a lifetime of enjoyment. To ensure its performance over that lifetime, it is important to have your piano serviced regularly by a qualified professional. Complete piano service should include periodic regulation and voicing in addition to tuning. Your technician can consult with you to recommend a maintenance schedule customized for your instrument.
The 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 can also prevent expensive repairs in the future.
As referenced below, 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, or lowering. But most importantly, be sure the regular servicing of your piano is performed by a qualified piano technician.
Equally important: the piano's stability is greatly enhanced by the installation of a Humidity Control System by a qualified piano technician.
It may be a good idea to hear what one of the top manufacturers has to say on the subject:
Steinway & Sons...
Your Steinway piano was tuned many times before it left our factory. It was tuned to and should be maintained at A440 pitch. This is the internationally accepted standard and the standard for which all Steinway pianos are engineered.
Unfortunately, no matter how expertly a piano is tuned, atmospheric variations and the nature of the piano's construction constantly conspire to bring it off pitch.
Your Steinway has been designed and built so that in normal use and under normal conditions it should need only periodic tuning. We recommend that your technician be called at least three or four times a year. You, however, are the final judge and should have the piano tuned as often as you think necessary. To put the matter of tuning into perspective, remember that a concert piano is tuned before every performance, and a piano in a professional recording studio, where it is in constant use, is tuned three or four times each week as a matter of course.
Tuning is an art practiced by skilled professionals and under no circumstances should anyone other than a professional be allowed to tune your Steinway piano.
Alfred Knight, Ltd.
It is recommended that new Knight pianos should be tuned four times during the first year, and thereafter on a minimum of three occasions annually. This is due to changes in humidity and temperature and, of course, to the amount of use the piano receives.
Furthermore, it is essential that the technician be fully qualified and competent as a poorly skilled on can do more harm than good.
Of great assistance to tuning stability is the installation of the Dampp-Chaser humidity control system, manufactured by Dampp-Chaser, Inc., of Hendersonville, North Carolina
Sohmer & Company
A new piano, in particular, should be tuned at least four times during the first year in service. The tuning should be performed subsequent to a change of season. After the piano has settled in, we recommend three tunings a year, whether the piano is used a great deal or not. A technician cannot get a neglected piano to hold tune with one tuning; sometimes, it is more costly to restore the neglected piano to hold tune than if it had been kept under regular and constant care. A piano is a major investment; it should be protected.
Why must I have my piano tuned if no one is using it?
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 (natural seasonal changes) cause its materials to swell and contract, affecting tone, pitch and action response of touch. This will occur whether or not the piano is being played.
You can reduce the severity of these effects by placing your piano near a wall away from windows or doors which 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 or dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees F and 42 percent relative humidity.
How does humidity affect my piano?
Extreme 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 or dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees F and 42 percent relative humidity.
Systems designed to be installed inside of pianos will control humidity-related disorders to a large degree as well as helping to stabilize tuning procedures.
There is no residential or commercial environmental system that will have any true affect on your piano. Living under 20 tons of stress, day in and day out, a piano requires unique attention. Therefore, special systems, designed for these unique stresses are your piano's first line of defense against the constant, daily variations of temperature and humidity.
If piano technicians are heard to say, "Dampp-Chaser systems make me look good.," they do so because these systems work with the piano's stability as the end result.
You may click here and visit their web site for an illustrated explanation of climate control systems and read the recommendations of various manufacturers regarding their use.
What is a Dampp-Chaser Climate Control System?
In keeping with the subject of humidity control, one of the leading manufacturers is Dampp-Chaser Corp. This company makes a complete system which controls your piano's immediate environment with respect to humidity, and equilibrium moisture content. These systems consist of three parts: a humidifier for adding moisture to the air, a dehumidifier for eliminating excess moisture, and a humidistat or control unit which senses the RH of the air within the piano and activates the system to add or remove moisture as needed. These systems are designed to maintain the RH of the air within the piano at the ideal level of 42%. The components are installed out of sight, inside the case of a vertical piano or under the soundboard of a grand. They are easy to maintain, and can be installed by your piano technician. What it comes down to is that your piano likes to live within certain tolerances. This system works night and day to keep those tolerances as close as possible.
The Dampp-Chaser Climate Control System, installed by a qualified technician, is your first and best step towards protecting your investment.
What is meant by rebuilding and reconditioning?
A piano not only serves the art of music, it is a work of art itself. A wonderfully complex machine, it has thousands of moving parts, a framework and soundboard supporting tremendous string tension, and beautifully finished cabinetry.
Although remarkably durable, pianos are subject to deterioration with time and use. Felt wears, strings break, wooden structures weaken and crack, any and all glue joints are destined to failure over time, and the exterior finish loses its beauty. Regular service and periodic action regulation can compensate for minor wear, but age, heavy or extended use -- especially when combined with wide seasonal humidity swings -- can eventually cause severe deterioration.
Today, many high-quality older pianos exist in various stages of wear. Because it happens so gradually, this wear often goes unnoticed, leaving many pianos operating far below their potential. In extreme cases, some older pianos are simply left unplayed because of their poor condition.
That's the bad news. The good news is that many modern (by modern we mean a normal design...not young in age) grand pianos can be brought back to their original condition with the processes called rebuilding and reconditioning.
Some technicians possess the skills to restore such instruments to excellent condition. This work is variously described as rebuilding, restoration, or reconditioning.
I would like to purchase a piano, but where do I begin?
Your piano, probably one of your largest purchases, is a complex and wonderful item. Purchasing should not be taken lightly, or undertaken without someone expert in the field.
There are at least some questions and issues that will help determine what instrument is right for you.
Your first consideration should be its intended use. Will it be for a youngster just starting out, or perhaps an experienced adult with limited time for playing, or an accomplished musician?
Next; where will it be kept? Where will it fit without hampering one's lifestyle?
What is your budget? Is money no object, or like most of us, is your choice based on obtaining the most piano for a predetermined financial expenditure?
Will it be a used instrument? Must it be factory fresh, or are you looking for a restored, vintage instrument?
All of the above should be discussed with your piano technician. Your registered technician has lots of experience with the questions outlined above, and some you may think of on your own.
A valuable resource...your technician can help you shop with an educated hand and mind to guide you through the process.
When purchasing a used instrument from a private individual, your technician can effect that all-important inspection to insure that you know what your dollar is buying and that you will have a maintainable piano. When purchasing from a dealer, your technician can provide unbiased aid in making sure that the instrument you leave with is the instrument you want and need.
Used prudently, the services of a registered technician with the proper experience can be the best, first investment on the road to musical fulfillment.