REGULAR TUNING

 

All pianos need regular tuning; as a general rule of thumb, six months is the normal recommended frequency. Due to atmospheric changes (and in the case of new pianos, strings stretching and generally settling down), a piano can become out of tune with little or even no use. If it is left too long, it is not unusual for the overall pitch of the piano to drop, even though it may still sound in tune with itself. If this is allowed to happen, it may need two, or in some cases, even three tunings to bring it back up to 'concert pitch' (the standard pitch that all modern pianos and musical instruments are tuned to), which obviously involves extra cost. For further information on this, go to The Piano Technicians Guild

With older pianos, there is the added risk of strings breaking when altering the pitch. Piano strings are under a great deal of tension, (the average piano string has a tension of 75kg, and the total string tension of an average upright is around 20 tons). When adding a lot of extra tension in one fell swoop, strings on older pianos that may be suffering from rust or metal fatigue are more likely to break.

 

SERVICING

 

 

If you have your piano tuned regularly, it gives the tuner/technician a chance to get to know your piano.This means that on each six-monthly visit, you can be advised on the condition of your piano, and minor defects can be put right before they become major faults. 

 

A piano has approximately 5,000 parts in it, and like any complex piece of machinery, needs regular servicing. It has already been mentioned that it is important to have it regularly tuned. The other main item of regular servicing is what is known as 'regulation'. This is the fine adjustment of the piano action and keys in order to a) make the touch of the piano as responsive as possible, and b) make the piano play uniformly, i.e. each key has the same weight of touch. A Rolls-Royce will not run smoothly if the engine is not adjusted; likewise, a Steinway Concert Grand will not play well if it is not serviced and adjusted.

HUMIDITY

 

Wood is a natural substance that by it's very nature, absorbs moisture and swells in humid conditions, and gives off moisture and contracts in drier conditions. It is therefore important to keep your piano in a position where the temperature and humidity are as constant as possible. This will ensure that your piano stays in tune, and the adjustments are correct for as long as possible. The ideal temperature for a piano is 60-65oF, and the ideal humidity is 50-60%. Due to modern manufacturing methods and materials, modern pianos can take a dryer atmosphere; the 'factory-approved' level is 42%.

 

PIANO POSITION

 

To help ensure this, it is important to position your piano in the optimum location:

1.The ideal position for a piano is in the middle of a room. Obviously, most houses do not have the space to do this, in which case, the best place for it is against an INSIDE wall, (preferably not one with a radiator the other side of it!) with a gap of at least one inch between the wall and the piano to allow for ventilation. Avoid putting it against outside walls, underneath a window, or immediately by a doorway or window. Because of draughts, constant temperature changes, and possible damp, these locations will cause the piano to go out of tune quickly, the adjustments will go out, strings and other metal components will tarnish and eventually corrode, keys will warp, causing them to stick, and wooden casework parts will warp, causing either rattles, and/or making them very difficult to remove, increasing the risk of splitting them.

2.Avoid putting your piano against a radiator. Again, this will make the tuning and regulation very unstable, but more importantly, it will have a disastrous effect from the structural point of view, particularly on older pianos. The old-fashioned glues used in the manufacturing of older pianos were not made to withstand modern day central heating, and the glue dries up and cracks, causing knocking noises from loose action parts, casework parts to warp, tuning pins to work loose, and the wood in the soundboard to dry up and crack. The repair of a cracked soundboard is a very expensive operation, and in many cases is not worth doing, unless the piano is of very high quality, or of great sentimental value.

       

The following is an excerpt from 'The Piano Quarterly', written by Lou Tasciotti, Piano Technician at the Crane School of Music, and a registered craftsman in the

'.....There are however, two factors to consider here that will determine the longevity of a piano tuning. The first, obviously, is the skill of the technician. The second, is the environment that the piano resides in.
How does one differentiate between these two factors to find out why a piano tuning may be short-lived? A simple test will give you the answer. Immediately after the piano technician has left, sit down and quietly listen to the tuning, especially the purity of the unisons. This is the time to judge the accuracy of the tuning as well as get familiar with it. Assuming you are happy with the way the piano sounds, proceed to play the piano very vigorously. After giving the piano a good work-out for about half an hour, listen to the tuning again. If the tuning has survived, it was a good one. From this point on the tuner has no control over what happens. Whether or not the tuning sounds good the next day, the next week or three months later, is up to you. Providing the right environment for your piano is what will now determine the longevity of the tuning.'

 

MOVING A PIANO

 

If it is necessary to move your piano, at least two people will be needed. Use the hand-holds at the back, and try and support the weight of the piano whilst moving it; this method is less likely to cause the piano to fall over.

NEVER push a piano from the keyboard. As the vast majority of the weight is in the cast iron frame, which is on the back of the piano, this will cause it to topple over backwards.

If moving a grand piano, it is essential that at least three people should take the weight off each leg to relieve the strain, otherwise they could easily be forced loose from their fixings.

If you are moving the piano any sort of distance, it is recommended that you leave this to specialist piano removers.

 

HEATING

 

If you have central heating, it is wise to keep it as low as possible, as it gives off a very dry heat which not only takes the moisture out of the piano, but also any (antique) furniture you may have. In any case, it is a good idea to fit a humidifier either inside the piano, or in the room.

If you have gas fires, this will have the opposite effect of introducing moisture to the air, the problems that excessive levels cause have already been mentioned. Should the humidity level rise too high, a 'damppchaser' can be fitted. Please ask if you would like further advice on the installation of humidifiers or damppchasers.

 

 

CASEWORK

 

1.Try to avoid putting ornaments on top of the piano, as these can cause scratches, rattles and sympathetic vibrations. Vases of flowers deserve a special mention here. Not only can they cause vibration, but in the in case of french polished pianos, water spillage will damage the finish, and in extreme cases cause the veneer to split and lift off. Re-veneering and french polishing are both very expensive operations. If the piano has a polyester finish, it will not do too much damage (being plastic based, it will just wipe off without any problem, provided it is not left on too long), but one also runs the risk of water going inside the piano, which should be avoided at all costs.

 

2.As with any other piece of furniture, do not put cups of hot drinks on as this will also mark the finish.

 

3.French polished and cellulose-finished pianos should be dusted and polished using a wax polish in the same way as any other piece of furniture. In the case of polyester pianos, dusting should be done with a feather duster to avoid scratching the surface, and the polish should be a wax-free polish.

 

4.Try and keep the piano out of direct sunlight. Over a period of time, sunlight constantly shining on the same area will cause it to fade.

 

5.Clean the keys using a BARELY DAMP cloth, with a small amount of detergent on, if necessary. It is important that no water runs down between the keys. If the keys are too dirty for this method to be effective, use a duster with a small amount of burnishing cream on, and polish off when dry. If this still doesn't work, more drastic action will be required, i.e.; 1000-1200 grade wet & dry sandpaper, followed by burnishing cream to bring up the shine. DO NOT use meths, or any other spirits, as this will damage the finish.

 

DON'T FORGET!

A PIANO is a major investment, and to maintain its quality and value, regular tuning and servicing are vital.

It is strongly advised that this if left to a qualified technician

Pianos are extraordinarily human! They like to have good ventilation, but don't like draughts, they like warmth, but not too much, and the same with humidity. Treat your piano as you would yourself, and hopefully, only routine maintenance will be necessary!

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BEWARE...!

Like any other industry, the piano trade has its fair share of the unscrupulous. Many fine pianos are ruined each year by so-called 'technicians' who have either not been (properly) trained, or by those who simply can't be bothered to do the job properly, or by those who are simply incompetent. Make sure that your tuner is qualified and reputable, and that he/she has attended a recognized and respected training establishment. If he/she is a member of one of the two recognized tuners' associations in the UK, you can be fairly sure that your piano is in safe hands.