I have 16 years of piano tuning experience in Vancouver, including 3 years at Tom Lee and 3 years at Piano House. I had worked in all situations – homes, stages, institutions, restaurants, studios and of course dealerships. I will give your piano the best possible sound.
What is Involved in Piano Tuning?
1. Over time a piano’s pitches gradually drops, that is, the notes are sounding lower. The piano tuner will pull up the strings and bring it to proper pitch.
2. Pianos are not tuned to absolute pitch, in fact they are tuned by intervals. That is the thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and octaves are in properly relationships. The piano tuner will set a temperament where all thirteen notes spanning an octave are in correct relationships. Then the tuner will tune the rest of the notes up and down the piano based on the temperament.
3. For a greater part of the piano the notes have three strings. The upper bass part will have two strings. Only the lowest part of the bass has one string. The tuner will bring the three strings (or two) sounding together. This is called unison tuning.
What Else is Involved in Piano Maintenance?
The parts in the action will go out of alignment with playing. If you feel the keys are not as responsive as before, or the touch is uneven from key to key it is time for regulation. Regulation is an intricate process and will require a fair bit of time.
When a hammer hits the string, the string will mark grooves on the hammer. Over time the grooves gets deeper and the felt becomes hard. Hard felt will produce harsh tones, voicing will make the hammer softer and go back to the more pleasant tones.
Why Johnny Doesn’t Play the Piano
Johnny listens to CDs and music media and hear fine music played by trained musicians on properly tuned pianos. When Johnnys parent purchased the piano, it has an excellent sound. But in the months and years that follow, it is not serviced regularly, so Johnny cannot sound good on it no matter how hard he practices. More and more his music sound different from that played on his teacher’s piano, and not at all like the music on records and broadcasts.
Johnny thinks he has practiced in vain and is not playing as well as his parents believes he should His ears is not accustomed to the proper pitches for arpeggios, and when he plays his lesson at his teacher’s place, he thinks he is making mistakes when he isn’t. He loses interest and prefers to play ball or play video games.
A friend of Johnny’s parents visits their house, finds the piano sounding terrible and inform the parents the piano needs tuning.
The parents then proceeded to find the cheapest cut rate tuner.
After the piano tuner is through with the piano, the piano did not sound much better then before. In fact it was less musical, and Johnny totally gives up.
Maintenance and Care Of Your Piano
Your Instrument and the Environment
The piano is made mostly of wood and as such is subject to variations in temperature and humidity. Constant fluctuations in these factors are detrimental to your instrument. Normally the piano is placed in the living spaces of the home. Where you are comfortable your instrument will be comfortable. However I have seen pianos put in damp basements and hot attics, these places are no-no. Ideally the humidity should be between 40 – 50 % and temperature should be between 65 –73 F (18 – 23 C).
Excessive humidity will cause the strings and other metal parts to rust. Quite often I have seen pianos right next to the kitchen (in one instance it is right in the kitchen!). There is high humidity and oil vapors right around the kitchen, avoid them at all costs. On high humidity days remove the thick felt cover from the piano. The thick felt will trap the moisture inside; pianos need to be well ventilated. There are a lot of times I have seen rusty strings inside a heavily covered instrument. I now advise my customers to use a light cloth cover instead. Generally the weather in Vancouver is mild.
Excessive dryness is even worse, as the wood may crack. The first signs would be sticking keys (note high humidity will cause sticking keys too). When very dry the wood will shrink, and the hole in a key will become smaller, causing it to bind to the key. There is a practice in dry climates to put a small pitcher of water inside the piano. Some piano tuners advise this regardless of climate. Because if the weather is not dry it will cause problems. Unfortunately the practice is carried on to milder climates. Here in Vancouver I regularly take out water from the pianos, and many times I have seen rusty strings.
In summary the piano can be put anywhere except damp basement, hot attic, near kitchen , within range of a blowing heater outlet and in direct sunlight. It does not matter how much distance from the wall, the closer to the wall the quieter it will be, the further away the louder it will be. Place where it sounds good. Do not place hard objects directly on top of the piano, they will buzz. Place a cover cloth in between.
For a grand piano placing it on hardwood floor will make it sound brighter. If it is too bright for you then put in a big piece of carpet. Placing on hard marble or tile floor is not recommended. Never put drinks on top of a piano.
Cleaning your piano – frequent dusting should be all that is required. To remove fingerprints use a slightly damp soft cloth, and rub gently. The surface is polyester, therefore all wood finish products (like Pledge) are not applicable.
Key tops are cleaned the same way. Sometimes the keys can become stained due to dirty fingers or fingers that are not thoroughly rinsed after using colored hand wash liquid. Use car wax to rub them out, in tough cases you may need Brasso to polish out the stains.
Servicing 1 – Tuning
Pianos will go out of tune due to temperature and humidity variations. In older pianos the tuning pins may not be tight enough to hold the strings at pitch for long. Your instrument should be tuned every year by a piano tuner. Many piano tuners recommend every six months, but in my experience very few customers are willing to go that route. Unless you are an expert piano player, every year should be fine.
For new pianos the manufacturers recommend tuning 3 or 4 times the first year, but it is hard to find a dealer that will give 3 or 4 free tunings. If the customers have to pay then most will pass.
To put into perspective a piano tuner will tune the piano before every concert and before every recording session. Therefore pianos that get heavy usage would be tune more often. If a piano is not played often the interval can be longer. Even if it is not played at all don’t let it go for more than five years without servicing it.
Generally speaking if a piano is moved it will need to be tuned. If it’s moved inside a house from room to room then uprights will need to be tuned because floors are rarely absolutely horizontal. It will be inclined to the right or to the left, if it’s moved to a different inclination the bass section will be out of sync with the rest of the piano. For grand pianos there will be no change.
Servicing 2 – Voicing
During playing when the hammers hit the strings the felt will get compacted ever so little. As time passes you can see the grooves on the hammers getting deeper and deeper. This will brighten the sound. Some people like the sound bright while some others not so much. If you find the tone is harsh on your ears then it is time to have your piano voiced.
In voicing the hammer felt is pricked by needles so as to make it softer. Sometimes a solution is applied. Needling the felt is an art in itself, where to needle, how deep to needle and how many times to needle can only be learnt by experience. So you will need the services of an expert technician.
There are solutions for making the hammers softer and there are those that makes the hammers harder (lacquered). Nowadays the manufacturers deliver the new pianos with the hammers already lacquered so as to give a bright enough tone. In the old days the hammers were delivered untouched, giving a mellow or fuzzy tone. It would take four or five years playing to get the tone to an optimum. In this case the tone will last longer. However most customers don’t want to wait.
In the former case the tone will get brighter and brighter. After playing for about five years the tone will be unbearable. For some manufacturers the hammers may have to be soaked in solvent to get the lacquer out.
Servicing 3 – Regulation
Regulation is to make the keys uniformly controllable. An example of a piano in bad regulation is that when you play some notes softly it doesn’t make a sound, while other keys may sound too loud. Also when you play notes repeatedly it doesn’t respond well.
The first thing is to adjust all the parts to factory specs. This will take 21 to 25 steps depending on whom you are talking to. When done the player will be asked to play and see how it feels. Different players want different “touch”. Some want the keys a little heavy while some want a light action. Some want a little resistance while others want a trigger action. That is where the expertise of the technician is call into action.
For the more demanding pianist a touch weight regulation may be required. In touchweight regulation each part is weighed and trimmed to the correct weight, ensuring absolute uniformity across the keyboard.