Frequently Asked Questions about Piano Tuning, Piano Repair, and Maintenance..
How often should my piano be tuned?
The short answer is twice a year. But this is a very general answer for a broad question. Below are specific tuning instructions for new pianos, performance pianos, religious institution pianos, school pianos, and older pianos:
A new piano needs to be tuned frequently (most piano manufacturers recommend tuning four times in the first year). The strings are stretching and the piano is going through significant adjustments during the first years after being built. An assessment can be made by your piano technician as to how well it is settling into its new environment and how often it needs to be tuned for your satisfaction. Even if you can’t tell whether or not the piano is in tune, it is not good for the piano to let it drop in pitch significantly and so therefore should be tuned at least twice in the first year.
A performance piano is often tuned once or twice on the day that it is used for the event. This may mean as often as several times a week or month throughout the performance season depending on the schedule of use and demands of the artists.
A religious institution's piano is often located in a very large space that undergoes significant temperature and humidity changes throughout the week. A climate control system can significantly improve the dramatic shifts in tuning that are a result of such frequent and drastic climate changes if there is someone who can properly monitor and maintain the system (maintenance is fairly simple). Without a climate control system, a religious institution's piano needs to be tuned as often as the budget can withstand. Most religious institutions prefer that their piano be tuned prior to the various holiday seasons although more often is necessary if the piano is expected to be in tune year round and does not have a climate control system.
A school piano is often constrained by budget decisions as well. Twice a year is customary but more often is better. A university piano is usually used by more serious piano students and often needs more frequent service.
An older piano usually has settled in if it has been tuned regularly throughout its lifespan. If there are no structural reasons why it can no longer hold a tune (such as a loose pinblock or bridge problems), then tuning once a year might be "just fine" if the pianist chooses to ignore the seasonal changes that affect tuning. Other maintenance issues are generally more of a concern for an older piano and a focus on action and tone regulation is usually long overdue.
Why did my piano need a pitch raise?
A regularly serviced piano does not usually need a significant pitch adjustment. However, if your piano has gone longer than the recommended time period for tuning, then it might need a pitch raise. A pitch raise is the term used for the additional work required on a piano that has dropped in pitch more than about 20% of a semi-tone. Most technicians charge an additional rate for this service.
What are the other maintenance issues associated with a piano?
Although tuning is the most frequently discussed piano maintenance item, much more is needed to keep a piano in tip-top shape. The following are some examples of additional service that your piano needs...
Action Regulation is the process of adjusting all of the moving parts of the piano to geometrically operate as efficiently as possible. Think of it like a tune-up for your car’s engine. When the engine is tuned up, the car uses less fuel. When your action is regulated, your hands require less effort to get the piano to play as desired. Examples of when your piano needs to be regulated can include: not being able to play softly or evenly from note to note, keys not repeating, hammers double-striking the strings, keys not being level or the key-dip uneven. There are dozens of steps to regulating so this is just a partial list of what you might find. How often your piano needs to be regulated can vary depending on use, age, time since last regulation, etc. It is not unheard of for a performance piano to be finely regulated at every tuning. A piano in the home may have very different expectations placed upon it. Aiming for a ‘touch up’ regulation every five years from the time it was new is a general gauge but certainly not exactly appropriate for every piano. You can ask your piano technician to show you what might be improved if your piano is regulated.
Tone Regulation is the process of improving the tone of your piano. Hammer reshaping is one of the many steps toward tone regulation. It involves reshaping the hammers so that the grooves that have developed over time from hitting the strings are smoothed out. The shape is also restored from being more flattened at the top to a more diamond or egg shape. Voicing is the process of adjusting the hammer hardness. Voicing can even out the tone from note to note or change the quality of the overall tone such as to be more bright or more mellow, depending on the pianists preference. Replacing the full set of hammers is eventually recommended in a better quality piano. (A lesser quality piano may not warrant the expense.) There are other aspects of tonal regulation, such as string leveling and seating the strings which I won’t go into here.
What can I do to help keep my piano in tune?
To a person with a very fine ear, the piano can go out of tune with a good rainstorm outside, even if it was tuned the day before. Turning on the heat or air conditioning usually changes the tuning. Even stage lights can change the tuning in a piano. Most pianos prefer an environment of 42% relative humidity. Keeping the environment (or the piano) between 35% and 55% relative humidity is recommended. The piano goes out of tune with changes in humidity and length of time between tunings. If you have difficulty keeping the environment in that ‘safe zone’ of 35% to 55%, then a climate control system can be installed in the piano. Keeping the piano away from open windows and doors is beneficial. A regularly tuned piano is more stable than one that is tuned infrequently or sporadically. Therefore, you can expect a tuning to last longer if the piano is tuned twice a year than a tuning for a piano that is tuned once every other year.
Piano Tuning, Repair and Maintenance
Note By Note Tuning, (540) 547-8863 Culpeper, VA
Please e-mail Russ