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Piano Facts

Some interesting facts and myths about piano tuning, piano repairs, piano tuners, piano humidity control, piano care and piano history


 Piano Facts

  1. How often should I have my piano tuned?
  2. What causes my Piano to go flat requiring the need for a pitch raise?
  3. How do I maintain a consistent environment for my piano?
  4. What temperature and level of humidity are best for my piano?
  5. How does humidity affect my piano?
  6. What is the piano’s action?
  7. How should I care for my Piano?  
  8. Piano History

Myths

  1. When you move a piano it has to be tuned
  2. Kids banging on the piano will hurt it.
  3. A cracked soundboard is the end of the road for the piano.
  4. Aural Tuning is better than electronic tuning.
  5. Never place a piano on an outside wall.

1. How often should I have my piano tuned?

Most piano manufacturers state that new pianos should be tuned four times in the first year and then twice a year after that. Concert pianos are tuned before every performance and recording studio pianos are tuned before every recording which can be as many as two, three or four times a week. You cannot harm a piano by tuning it too often. Ultimately your ear will tell you when it is time to tune. A well maintained instrument will tend to hold it’s tuning much better than a neglected instrument. Chances are that if you need to ask, then most likely your piano needs a tuning.

 

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2. What causes my Piano to go flat requiring the need for a pitch raise?

There are basically two reasons that would cause a piano to go flat making a pitch raise necessary.

 

1. The first reason would be a piano that has not been tuned for quite some time such as three years or more. Typically a piano that has not been tuned for a number of years will be flat and will require more than one tuning to allow for a fine tuning up to A440 pitch. This preliminary tuning or rough tuning is what is commonly referred to as a pitch raise

 

2. The second reason is our climate. Unfortunately our Canadian climate has a very adverse affect on the well being of our pianos. We have all experienced the high humidity in the summer months, which can cause our doors to stick and how the sticky door mysteriously disappears in the dryer winter months. The reason is that wood is a very porous material and it literally sucks up the excessive moisture in the air during high levels of humidity causing the wood to expand. It is this expansion that causes the sticky door and then the opposite happens in the dry winter months as the wood dries out and the door shrinks no longer sticking any more.  Pianos are made almost entirely of wood and they are just as susceptible to this expansion and contraction as your doors are; only it’s the piano’s pitch that is affected as well. Once a piano falls well below pitch or too far above pitch it is necessary to perform more than one tuning before a “Fine” tuning can be done.

 

What can be done to prevent it?

First have your piano regularly serviced and tuned by a qualified Piano Technician at least twice a year. Secondly there is a climate control system available by Dampp-Chaser called The Piano Life Saver, which is designed to constantly monitor and maintain the relative humidity (R.H.) inside your piano to remain at 42% R.H. This will not only stabilize the pitch of your piano avoiding the need for a pitch adjustment but it will also extend the life and improve the quality and performance of the instrument for years to come, not to mention your enjoyment which is after all why we do this.


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3. How do I maintain a consistent environment for my piano?


 
Where the piano is placed in the room is crucial to maintaining a stable environment.

 

1. Never place the instrument near a window or outside door.

 

2. Make sure that it is never exposed to direct sunlight. 

 

3. Never place the piano on top of or near a heat vent in the floor, wall or ceiling.

 

Any of these situations are detrimental to a stable environment and can cause extreme swings in temperature and humidity.

 

Some people have found success using a combination of a “room humidifier” and a “room dehumidifier” and then constantly checking a humidistat in an effort to attempt to maintain a 42% relative humidity. This is actually a lot of work to constantly empty the dehumidifier and constantly fill the humidifier with water. They are both very noisy, they don’t look the most appealing and they use a significant amount of energy to run both, which today is a bad environmental thing as well. This type of humidity control also does not directly target the piano but instead the entire room will be affected and can result in condensation on windows creating dampness in the walls and nasty mould behind the wall.

 

The best solution is to place the piano in the room according the above instructions and then have a Dampp-Chaser Piano Life Saver system installed. This is a complete humidity control system that is installed in the piano which constantly monitors the R.H. and adjusts it up and down to maintain a 42% R.H.

 

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4. What temperature and level of humidity are best for my piano?

Your piano will remain most stable and perform its best when kept in a consistent environment at approximately 19-20 degrees C and 42 % relative humidity.

 

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5. How does humidity affect my piano?

CRACKED SOUNDBOARD KEY RECOVERING DURING KEY RECOVERING DURING
Humidity is the leading cause for tuning instability in pianos. Too much humidity causes the piano to go sharp and not enough will cause it to go flat. Also too much humidity can cause rusty strings, sticking keys and sluggish action, and too little humidity can result in cracks in your soundboard and bridges, loose tuning pins, rattles and buzzes. Constant swings in humidity are most harmful to a piano as the wood in the piano is continually expanding and contracting, loosening glue joints and can potentially cause cracks.

 

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6. What is the piano’s action?

The piano's action is a system of levers and hammers, the moving parts in the piano that ultimately strike the strings and produce the sound. The piano's action is made of wood, felt and buckskin. Over time the felt compresses, and the buckskin wears causing the need to adjust the action back into optimal working order. This procedure it referred to as regulating the action.

 

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7. How should I care for my Piano?  
 

  1. Never place drinks or plants needing to be watered on the piano. Any spilt liquids can cause severe damage to the piano and the best way to avoid a spill is to never allow liquids near the instrument.
  2. Never place objects on the piano that may scratch the fine surface, without a soft cloth or felt pad beneath them.
  3. To clean the finish on the piano a soft feather duster is best. Dust can scratch your piano if wiped off with a dry cloth. Using a soft damp cloth to remove the dust followed by a soft dry cloth is recommended.
  4. Always follow the manufacturers' suggestion for care of your instrument.
  5. Have your Piano Technician clean the sensitive parts inside the piano.
  6. Most manufacturers recommend against the use of polishes and waxes.
  7. Never spray any cleaners on the piano to avoid over spray onto the strings and sensitive areas.
  8. Have your piano regularly serviced by a qualified Piano Technician.

 

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8. Piano History

Keyboard instruments have been around since the early 1500s

Bartolomeo Cristofori of Italy invented the Piano in the early 1700s. The instrument was originally called the pianoforte literally meaning soft loud.

There are between 10,000 and 14,000 parts making up a modern piano.

The soundboard is the ‘amplifier” in the piano.

The soundboard is made of spruce and is generally about ¼” thick.

 


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Myths


1. When you move a piano it has to be tuned.

This is actually a half truth. When the piano arrives at its new home, it will be pretty much in tune as it was when it left on its journey. But what will affect the piano is its new environment. So it is best to wait at least two to three weeks for the piano to acclimate to its new environment and then call your Piano Technician for a piano tuning.

 

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2. Kids banging on the piano will hurt it.

While it might drive you a bit nuts, kids banging on a piano cannot damage it. Unless your child is Bam Bam with super human strength a child pounding on the piano will not equal the force a professional pianist puts the piano through during a concert. Of course you need to make sure the kids are not using a hammer or sharp object that could cause real damage.

 

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3. A cracked soundboard is the end of the road for the piano.

A crack in a soundboard actually has very little effect on the tonal quality of the instrument so long as the structure of the soundboard remains solid with the bridges and ribs securely and correctly fastened to the soundboard, with the entire peripheral contact securely fastened into the frame of the piano. Sometimes a crack in a soundboard might cause a buzzing sound when certain notes are played, but this is very easily repaired. In most cases you would never know there is a crack until an inspection revealed it.

 

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4. Aural Tuning is better than electronic tuning.

This can be a highly controversial subject within the trade but the fact is that whether a piano is tuned aurally or using an electronic tuning device neither method is the determining factor in a good piano tuning. Ultimately it is the individual who will make the difference, not the method he or she uses to tune your piano. A Piano Technician that is willing to spend the extra time to do the very best job for you is what really matters. There are some very exceptional aural tuners and also some very bad ones and the same goes for electronic tuners. So if you find a technician that you like, and he or she is willing to make the difference and does great work, the method they use is really of no consequence. The end result and your satisfaction are what really count.

 

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5. Never place a piano on an outside wall.

At one time when homes were not adequately insulated this might have been sound advice, but modern homes have sufficient insulation to keep the temperature stable. If you have any concern just feel the outside wall and then compare it to an inside wall and I suspect you will not find much difference. If you feel a draft then you should chose another location for the piano, but it would certainly be wise to fix the draft as it will be a source for energy loss. At any rate if you do chose an outside wall place the piano at least 12” away from the wall.

 

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