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Piano Care and Frequently Asked Questions
1. What makes a piano go out of tune?
Daily and seasonal humidity fluctuations are the primary reason pianos go out of tune. This is because the piano’s main acoustical structure, the soundboard, is made of wood, usually 3/8- inch thick Sitka spruce. And while wooden soundboards produce a wonderful sound, they also react constantly to the weather. As humidity goes up, a soundboard swells, increasing its crowned shape and stretching the piano’s strings to a higher pitch. During dry times, the soundboard flattens out, lowering tension on the strings and causing the pitch to drop. Unfortunately, the strings don’t change pitch equally. Those near the soundboard’s edge move the least, and those near the center move the most. So, unless it’s in humidity controlled chamber, every piano is constantly going out of tune!
2. How often should my piano be tuned?
The answer is it depends on the piano, the environment around the piano, and how often the piano is used. Most home pianos need to be tuned once or twice each year. Once a year is the minimum to maintain the piano in reasonable condition. If the piano is used on a regular basis it should be tuned twice a year to keep it sounding musically correct. New pianos should be tuned three times the first year because of string stretch and settling. Heavily used or performance pianos may require more frequent tunings, or tuning before each performance. Since pianos go out of tune whether or not they are used, a piano that’s idle should still be serviced once a year.
3. What happens if a piano isn’t tuned?
If not tuned regularly a piano will never give you its full sound potential and can inhibit the development of a musical ear. If neglected for more than a year or two, soundboard movement and string stretch will lower your piano’s pitch gradually and cause a tension imbalance. Several tunings and additional maintenance may be necessary to restore the pitch and stability of the instrument.
4. What is the best time of year to tune my piano?
There is no perfect time because the humidity is constantly fluctuating and it only takes a 10% rise or fall to affect the tuning and action mechanism. A regular tuning schedule and a humidity control system will offset these changes.
5. How can I get the best sound from my piano?
The tone of a piano can be improved by a process called voicing. The tone of all pianos will change over time. As the hammers strike the strings they wear and compact, causing the sound produced to become harsh or overly bright. Voicing can make a harsh tone more mellow, and can also make a weak tone stronger. Additionally, voicing can help even out notes that vary radically from their neighbors.
6. How can I get the best touch from the piano?
The touch of the piano can be improved by regulation. This is the process of resetting the piano’s internal moving parts to manufacturer’s specifications. A well-regulated piano will have a good touch, and will play freely, smoothly, and evenly. If a piano is not regulated it will be difficult to play softly or repeat notes rapidly, and creates obstacles for the beginning student. Most home pianos need to be regulated every 5 to 10 years.
7. What temperature and humidity is best?
A temperature range of 68 – 72 is optimal. More importantly, a constant humidity of 42% is critical for protecting your piano and making your tunings last. Unfortunately, here in central Virginia, the indoor humidity fluctuates constantly.
8. How do I clean my piano?
The best way to clean dust and finger marks off the piano is with a soft, lintless cloth slightly dampened with water and wrung out. Follow that with a soft dry cloth to remove any remaining moisture. Most piano manufacturers recommend against the use of furniture polish. The keys can be cleaned the same way. Cleaning the soundboard or piano action requires special tools and training and should only be done by a qualified piano technician. This should be done every 5 to 10 years.
9. Will moving my piano make it go out of tune?
Yes, mostly due to the piano adjusting to its new environment, which causes soundboard movement and a change in string tension. A piano should be tuned 3 to 4 weeks after being moved to a new location. However, in most cases moving a piano from one spot in a house to another will not require an additional tuning.
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10. Who should service my piano?
Use a Registered Piano Technician. This person is a member of the Piano Technician’s Guild, a national non-profit organization of skilled and experience craftsmen involved in continuing education through regular meetings and seminars. A series of rigid tests must be completed to obtain this certification. Only an experienced, full-time technician will have all the special tools, knowledge, and advice to help keep your piano performing at its best.
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11. Acoustic verses digital – Which is Better for Practice?
Do you want an elementary student to have a digital keyboard for home practice?
That being said, I will admit that digital keyboards have come a long, long way in recent years. They are portable, they can be equipped with headphones to allow private practice, and the more expensive ones offer touch-sensitive keys. Most even offer instrumental sounds and percussion effects which titillate many students.
Why Use a Registered Piano Technician (RPT)?
Because Registered Piano Technicians are professionals who have committed themselves to the continual pursuit of excellence, both in technical service and ethnical conduct. A Registered Piano Technician has passed a series of three rigorous examinations that assess the knowledge and skills required to tune, maintain and repair pianos. These exams are administered by the Piano Technician Guild, (PTG), an international organization of skilled and experience craftsman. The Piano Technician Guild has established the only set of standards in North America for the tuning, maintenance and repair skills needed by a qualified piano technician.