|Some Common Questions about Pianos
and their care.
| Q.: "What makes a piano go out
| A.: Humidity fluctuations, pure and
simple. In the winter months the wooden parts of a piano, especially the soundboard,
may dry out and cause the pitch level to drop. In the summer, when the humidity is
too high, the wood will swell and a piano will drift sharp.
| Q.: "How can I prevent these seasonal
| A.: The use of a humidifier in the winter
and a dehumidifier in the summer, however the best solution, made specifically for your piano is a Dampp-Chaser(tm) humidity control system, which will automatically regulate the proper humidity your piano needs to hold a stable tuning and maintain a healthy soundboard (avoid cracks), regardless of the season.
| Q.: "My new piano goes out of tune
faster than my old one. How can this be?
| A.: It is normal for a brand new piano
to require extra tunings its first year to compensate for the stretching and settling
of the new strings.
| Q.: "Does the amount of use a piano
gets affect it tuning stability?"
| A.: No. A well-tuned piano cannot be
knocked out of tune no matter how often or hard it is played. If your piano does not
stay tuned for a reasonable period it may be due to a mechanical problem such as loose
tuning pins or excessive friction caused by rusty strings.
| Q.: "How often should a piano be
| A.: Virtually all manufacturers recommend
a minimum of two tunings a year, more if brand new or if humidity control is poor.
| Q.: "When should a piano be tuned?"
| A.: In Maine the best times for tuning
are fall and spring when humidity levels are in the normal range. Ideally, a piano
should also be tuned immediately before a concert or other special event regardless
of the season.
| Q.: "What does A-440 mean?"
| A.: It is the internationally accepted
standard pitch level. The A is the A above middle C and it is tuned to a frequency
of 440 Hertz or 440 cycles per second.
| Q.: "What is voicing (also called
| A.: Voicing involves evening out the
tone and/or volume level of the individual notes of a piano so that there is no difference
in sound between any two adjacent notes except for pitch level. It also involves eliminating
extraneous buzzes, rattles, clicks, etc., and adjusting the overall volume level of
the piano to suit the size of the room, the type of music most often played, and the
personal preferences of the piano owner/player.
| Q.: "What is regulation?"
|A.: Regulation is a process of aligning and adjusting the thousands of moving
parts within a piano. The goals are evenness, predictability, reliability, speed,
| Q.: "How often should a piano be
| A.: A new or rebuilt piano should have
a touchup regulation after about a year of service to compensate for initial settling
of parts. All pianos should have a complete regulation every five to ten years depending
on level of use. An instrument used for concerts or professional caliber study should
be adjusted annually and checked before each major performance.
| Q.: "Should a piano be tuned even
if it isn't being used much?"
| A.: Yes. Tuning is largely cumulative.
That is, the more often a piano is tuned the easier it is to tune and the closer it
remains between tunings. A well-tuned piano invites use whereas a poorly tuned one
| Q.: "What should I use to clean
my piano's keys?"
| A.: A damp rag, well wrung out, ought
to be enough to remove all but the most stubborn dirt. If necessary, a small amount
of mild soap (liquid dishwashing soap, for example) can be used. Do not let water
run down between keys. Wipe dry with another rag or paper towel. Use a separate rag
on the black keys if they are real wood as some have a black stain, which will come
off and could discolor the white keys.
| Q.: "Should I close the keyboard
when the piano is not in use?"
| A.: If your piano has real ivory key
tops they should not be covered as the darkness may cause them to turn yellow. If
they are plastic, it really doesn't matter.
| Q.: "What is the Piano Technician
| A.: The Piano Technicians Guild is an
international, nonprofit organization of skilled piano craftsmen. The Guild's purpose
is to maintain the highest possible level of skill in its members by providing educational
opportunities and forums for the exchange of information. Its goal is to provide piano
owners with accredited, readily available and thoroughly dependable service for their
| Q.: "What does RPT stand for?"
| A.: An RPT is a Registered Piano Technician
member of the Piano Technicians Guild who has been thoroughly tested for skill at
both tuning and repairing pianos.
| Q.: "What size piano should I buy?"
| A.: Generally the bigger the better.
Pianos do not take well to miniaturization. Virtually every aspect of a piano suffers
when made smaller including serviceability, tuning stability, tone quality, durability,
and proper touch. Remember that a full upright takes no more floor space than a spinet.
| Q.: "What is so special about a
| A.: Aside from the obvious visual difference,
the real difference is in the moving parts or action, as it is called. The grand action
is considerably more complex than an upright action and allows far better speed, control,
and reliability, especially when playing pieces where rapid repetition of notes is
| Q.: "Are my ivory keys valuable?"
| A.: A well maintained ivory keyboard
could add considerably to the resale value of a piano. However, even one missing or
damaged ivory can greatly reduce this value. Your technician can tell you whether
your ivory can be restored at a reasonable cost or whether the time has come to install
new, plastic key tops. New ivory can still be obtained and installed but at great
expense (currently over $2,000).
| Q.: "If my soundboard is cracked
is my piano ruined?"
| A.: Usually not. Most cracks are merely
cosmetic flaws but they do indicate less than ideal humidity control. If the hostile
environment persists over a period of years the piano can develop major structural
| Q.: "My last tuner said my piano
couldn't be brought up to standard pitch. What is the reason for this assessment?"
| A.: There are two common reasons for
an un-tunable piano: 1) chronic string breakage, 2) loose tuning pins. Both require
restringing and possibly a new pin block to correct the latter. However, it is equally
common to find a piano that is perfectly tunable but was left flat because the previous
tuner was either too lazy or too timid to bring it up to pitch, a process that involves
tuning the piano twice or even three times in rapid succession.
| Q.: "How can I keep moths out of
| A.: A clean piano is the best moth repellent.
Your technician can thoroughly clean your piano and check for any existing moth damage.
Modern pianos use felt which has been treated by the manufacturer to repel moths.
Moth balls and camphor cakes are not recommended as they give off corrosive fumes
which can attack your piano's metal parts.
| Q.: "How often should a piano be
| A.: The average home piano will never
need restringing under normal conditions. There are however, special cases where restringing
is necessary or desirable as follows:
1) Loose tuning pins or chronic string breakage
2) Excessive friction from rust causing tuning problems
3) Bass strings have gone bad
4) Soundboard in need of replacement or major repair
| Q.: "What kind of heat is best
for a piano?"
| A.: Heat is heat. A piano does not know
or care whether it has steam heat, baseboard hot water, or hot air heat. What is important
is the proximity of the piano to the heat source and the relative humidity level of
| Q.: "What is the ideal humidity
level for a piano?"
| A.: The precise figure given by manufacturers
is 42% relative humidity. Under no circumstances should a piano be subjected to levels
below 30% or above 70% for more than a day or two. European pianos are generally built
for a higher average humidity level (50%) and require extra vigilance to get them
through Maine winters.
| Q.: "Will it hurt my piano to be
left in an unheated summer cottage during the winter months?"
| A.: Usually not, unless the room is
especially damp. In fact, a piano kept in an unheated or semi-heated room in winter
will usually fare better than one kept in an overheated, under-humidified room.