Maintaining Your Piano

Maintaining Your Piano
James Grebe Piano Service
(314) 608-4137
1526 Raspberry Lane Arnold, MO 63010

Now that you have a new or used piano there are certain things you need to know to be able to take care of it to your and your piano’s best interest. A piano is a complex device that has certain physical characteristics that need to be addressed throughout its life. A piano consists of mainly 3 types of materials, namely wood, felt, and metal. These three materials do not react the same way to changing conditions. Wood moves in relationship to changes in humidity and temperature. With changes in humidity, wood moves, mostly, across the grain expanding or contracting. That means wood is changing its’ dimensions, which increases or decreases the crown on the soundboard. The crown is the bowing configuration of a soundboard to place it under compression to better amplify the sound of the vibrating strings that are under great amounts of tension across the soundboard. When humidity changes to the greater, the soundboard expands across the grain and puts greater tension on the strings, so they go sharp. When humidity drops, the soundboard shrinks and the tension goes down and the piano goes flat compared to where it was. As daily humidity changes affect the piano, it wanders further and further from being where it was left in tune. Keep in mind; the piano never goes back to exactly where it was, even if it goes back to the same humidity level. It is always traveling further and further from its place immediately after tuning.
Changes in temperature affect mainly the metal (cast iron plate) of the piano. From the time of tuning, if it gets colder the plate shrinks and if it gets warmer the plate expands, each time moving the top, where the tuning pins are to the bottom, where the hitch pins are.. Again, it never goes back completely where it was when the same temperature is reached.
When a piano has gone for a long period of time without being tuned the general trend is to drop in pitch, as the tension on the strings is always trying to lessen itself. The longer between tunings the greater the opportunity for having a lower overall pitch. Thus, you can expect if it has been a long time since the piano was tuned it is going to be below pitch. Raising the pitch is more than a one time tuning fix. The piano has to be brought up to standard pitch and then needs an opportunity to re-adjust to the new level and another tuning is required to get it back to A-440. Generally, the time in-between if dictated by how low the pitch was to begin with. I have another brochure that deals with pitch raising your piano available if you would like it, and all my brochures are available at my web site.
On new pianos it is the owner’s responsibility to let the piano get tuning stability by frequent tuning the first year when the piano learns where it is supposed to be. The wire is new and takes about a year for the stretching to stop. Generally, that means tuning in one month after delivery, then re-tuning in 2 months, then 3 after that, and 4 months after that. In home situations after that group of tunings every 6 months is what it takes to keep the piano at a stable A-440. In certain institutional situations, more frequent tuning is required because of more changing conditions, heavy use, or playing with other instruments. I have churches that have their instruments tuned every 2- 3 months to make sure they are in good tune for their expected use.. There is NO piano that maintains tune indefinitely and many times the better the instrument more tuning is needed because the quality of the piano sound shows up the slightest imperfections in pitch.
All of this may sound like it is over kill, but it is not if you want your piano to be worthy of your use for it. There is no substitute for a fine piano in a fine state of tune. Along with that, if it does have to go for a longer period of time without being tuned and you have maintained it well, it will do better than the piano with hit or miss type service.
Now, a word about piano placement.
The piano should be in a place where it will go through the least changes in temperature and humidity over the long haul. If it is a grand piano, it should be placed where when the lid is open it opens facing the longest dimension of the room. The keyboard should not be placed too close to a wall in case the keyboard and action need to be removed for service. Obviously, the grand should not be places with the right side of the piano next to a wall. If it is a vertical piano, the right side of the piano should not be next to a wall, as there needs to be room for the tuner’s elbow and arm to have enough room to manipulate the tuning pins. Whichever style of piano, it is a good idea to have the casters sitting on caster cups to protect the pile of your carpet, your wood floors, and maintain the pedal to floor distance of the pedals. Ask me about the caster cups I make for pianos. Treat your piano with respect. No eating or drinking at the piano and do not place things on the piano that are going to fall in, like pencils and paper clips. Remember, it is a musical instrument, not a place to put things.

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