Servicing Your Piano
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 your technician can give
specific recommendations based upon your usage and locale. Here's
what some of the major piano manufacturers recommend:
What is regulation and how does it affect my piano's performance?
Regulation is the adjustment of the mechanical aspects of the
pianos to compensate for the effects of wear, the compacting and
settling of cloth, felt, and buckskin, as well as dimensional changes
in wood and wool parts due to changes in humidity.
The three systems involved in regulation are the action trapwork
and damper system. The action is the mechanical part of the piano
that transfers the motion of the fingers on the keys to the hammers
that strike the strings. It is comprised of over 9,000 parts which
require adjustment to critical tolerances to be able to respond
to a pianist's every command. The trapwork is the assemblage of
levers, dowels and springs that connects the pedals to the action
affecting sustain and dynamics. The damper system is the mechanical
part of the piano that stops the vibration of the string when you
release the key and is controlled by the key and pedal systems.
If I have my piano tuned regularly, why do I need to have it
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.
What are the signs that my piano needs regulation?
If you instrument displays a lack of sensitivity or a decreased
dynamic ranges, it's a candidate for regulation. If you notice
that the keys are not level (some higher or lower than the rest),
the touch is uneven or that the keys are sticking, the need for
regulation is indicated. However, a sluggish action or deep grooves
in the hammers indicate the need for reconditioning or repair.
Ask your technicians to show you what needs adjustment on your
No amount of practice can compensate for a poorly maintained
action. Poor legato touch, chord playing where all notes of the
chord don't speak clearly, a gradual loss of subtlety in phrasing
and an inability to execute quick passages or note repetitions
evenly may be the fault of the piano -- not the player.
Do all pianos need to be regulated?
All upright and grand pianos need periodic regulation to perform
their best. Frequency of regulation is dependent upon amount of
use, exposure to climatic changes, and the instrument's quality,
age and condition. New pianos may require regulation in their first
year because settling and compacting of parts sometimes necessitates
I recommend this book if you are thinking of buying a piano. It's very well written and has a lotof very useful information for you the consumer.
I've been in the piano service business since 1966 when I finished technical and tuning training under instructor Cliff Johnson at the McPhail School of Music in Minneapolis. My current responsibilities include maintenance of many pianos in schools, churches and concert halls in the Willmar area. Willmar is located in south central Minnesota about 100 miles west of Minneapolis on highway 12.
I also offer keytop replacement, Dampp Chaser installation, and most rebuilding projects.
Piano Information and Humidity Control Buy more Humidifier Solution or Humidifier Pads
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
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. The PTG technical
bulletin on humidity control discusses this topic in further detail.
Five reasons to tune your piano regularly.
5. Piano strings
are steel wires under a tremendous amount of tension, and they stretch. The
piano has 88 notes, but many of the notes have more than one
string. In fact, an average piano has approximately 240 strings.
All these strings add up to around 18 or more tons of pressure.
(that's enough to lift your garage off it's foundation!) Over
time, the strings will stretch and go out of tune. This is especially
true of new pianos, and pianos that have been re-strung or rebuilt.
4. Wood reacts
to humidity changes. When it is damp it swells; when it is dry it shrinks. All
these tightened strings rest across a piece of wood called a "bridge",
which is glued to the soundboard. This is how the sound of the
strings is amplified. The soundboard is slightly arched, and
is glued tightly to the perimeter of the piano. When the ambient
humidity increases, the soundboard arch increases causing the
strings to stretch, making the pitch sharp. When the humidity
decreases, the soundboard flatens, making the pitch flat.
3. The pitch
of a piano (i.e.: the tension of the strings) is not arbitrary. A piano must be kept
at proper pitch in order to sound the way the manufacturer
intended. The pitch of a string is determined by three
factors; the thickness of the string, the length of the string,
and the tension. If you look inside a piano you will notice that
the strings are all a different length. This measurement cannot
be changed, nether can the thickness of the string. These two
factors were set by the manufacturer. Therefore, the only variable
is the tension. As the piano goes out of tune, each string will
not only be off pitch, but off-tone as well.
2. A piano
that is tuned regularly, stays in tune longer. Your piano was designed to be at a specific
pitch: "Concert Pitch" or A:440 (this means that the
note A above middle C vibrates at 440 beats per second). If you
let your piano cycle through more than one season change, the
above factors will cause it to go so flat, that the the piano
tuner will have to stretch the strings sharp before tuning it
at A:440. This is called a pitch raise and the tuning will not
be as stable. A piano that is regular tuned will stay close to
pitch and will not need a pitch raise.
The Most important reason of them all:
1. A properly
tuned piano is essential for good musicianship. Young students
will be greatly hampered in their studies if their piano is not
kept in tune and in good
working order. They will notice the difference between their
piano and their teacher's piano, and it will confuse them. It
will also interfere with ear training. Worst of all, you may
become accustomed to the sound of an out-of-tune piano, so that
the sound of a good piano, in concert or recording, may sound
strange. One thing is certain: it will be impossible for your
children to progress far in their studies if they have to practice
on a poor instrument, or
Rules of Piano Care
Keep your piano in tune. It was specifically designed to be tuned
to the international pitch standard of A-440 cycles per second.
Your piano will sound its best and give you and your family the
most pleasure when it is tuned regularly and kept in proper playing
Keep your piano clean. Keep the keyboard covered when not in use
to prevent dust from accumulating (although ivory keys need some
exposure to light to prevent yellowing). Clean keys by occasionally
wiping them with a damp cloth and drying them immediately. If accumulated
debris can't be removed with a damp cloth, try wiping the cloth
on a bar of mild soap or moisten with dishwashing detergent before
wiping. Do not use chemicals or solvents to clean piano keys. Call
a qualified piano technician to remove anything from the keys you
can't wipe away.
To maintain the piano's finish, you may wipe the case with a damp
cotton cloth to remove fingerprints, or polish with a reliable
emulsion-type, water-based solution following the manufacturer's
instructions. Avoid aerosol spray polishes that contain silicone.
Your technician may suggest a specific brand name.
The maintenance of the inner working of the piano and regulation
should be left to a qualified piano technician. Resist dusting
the inside of your piano, oiling the moving parts, or using moth
or insect repellents. Your piano technician will take care of all
Try to maintain a fairly consistent temperature and humidity control
in the room where your piano is placed. It's important to keep
your piano away from a heating register in winter, an air conditioning
vent in the summer, a fireplace, a frequently opened window or
outside door, and direct sunlight.
Play your piano regularly. You'll get the most enjoyment from
it and also reach your potential much faster. A disadvantage to
idle pianos, assuming they also suffer a service lapse, is that
a detrimental condition or environment can't be identified, and
an escalating problem can result in damage that might not have
occurred with regular service. Tuning a piano after years of not
having been tuned often requires a pitch raise. As a piano ages,
it may begin to develop more major problems which your technician
can help you assess. You may look into rebuilding or reconditioning
Keep all drinks and standing liquid containers off the piano.
Should spilled water reach the action, notify you piano technician
immediately. In many case, once liquids are spilled, the damage
is irreversible which is why prevention is the safest rule to follow.
Select a piano technician with care. It's not only important that
the service person be competent to perform tuning, regulation and
repairs, but also that the person be someone you feel comfortable
calling with questions concerning your piano's performance. Hiring
a Registered Piano Technician who is committed to comprehensive
service for your piano, and not just an occasional tuning, is your
Do not perform repairs yourself. Though a problem may appear easy
to solve (such as replacing a loose key ivory), a qualified technician
will have the proper tools and parts to make repairs quickly and
correctly. It's important to remember that unsuccessful amateur
repairs are usually much more expensive to fix than the initial
problem and may decrease the value of your instrument.
Use only a professional piano mover to move your piano. You will
avoid injury to yourself, your instrument, and your home.