Piano Maintenance and Care
How Often Should I Have My Piano Tuned
This is one of the most frequently asked questions by piano owners everywhere and applies to people who regularly play their piano at home. Optimally, you want to have your piano tuned twice a year and it all has to do with the weather. Temperature changes and humidity can have a strong effect on a piano’s working parts. That’s why we recommend getting your piano tuned twice a year in line with the changing seasons. This means you should be tuning your piano once in the spring and once in the fall.
However, this changes when it’s a brand new piano, in which case we recommend having it tuned four times in the first year of ownership. That’s one time for every season. This proactive tuning will help your new piano stretch its strings and allow your instrument to remain tuned for longer between sessions.
This of course is all based on how much you use the piano and personal preference. For example, a recording studio will have the piano tuned before each recording session. Professional pianists will ensure to have their piano tuned before each performance.
But overall, Piano NY’s official recommendation is to have your piano tuned twice a year, which will not only make your music sound better but will increase the lifespan of your instrument.
Piano Maintenance: Humidity Control
Pianos are very particular when it comes to weather. They don’t like it too hot or too cold and they need the humidity to be perfect. This is an important factor to consider all year long.
Pianos are made of wood and that’s what causes all the problems. Wood is amazing for producing a piano’s signature sound, but wood is also very sensitive to environmental changes. Moisture in the air will cause the wood to contract and expand. So, you may be wondering, why is that so bad?
Problems Humidity Can Cause In Your Piano
- Turning pins become loose
- Steel strings can start rusting
- Tuning will become unstable
- Felts may harden
- Swelling in action parts and keys could result in sluggish and sticking notes
Just as too much humidity can cause issues for your piano, so can too little humidity in the air. A good rule of thumb in the winter is that if your skin is feeling dry because your heater is cranked, chances are that your piano could be in danger of being damaged. Here are a few things you can do to mitigate this problem during the coldest months of the year:
Never Place Your Piano Near:
- Heating vents
- Space heaters or gas heaters
- Drafty windows
You should also consider how sunlight falls across the room during the day. It’s best to avoid direct sunlight if at all possible. Some people used to say that you should never put the piano along an outside facing wall, but that point is irrelevant in today’s modern homes with their significant amounts of insulation. The safest bet is to add a humidity control system.
Your piano is made from thousands of parts but approximately 90% of your piano is just metal and wood. At first thought, those may sound like some of the most durable materials you could possibly use, but wood is actually a highly sensitive material when it comes to temperature. Changes in humidity and pressure will cause wood to shrink and swell. This movement of the wood then pushes against the metal parts. This is a recipe for broken and damaged piano parts affecting the quality of the piano’s sound and ultimately its overall health.
During the summer months, the wood inside your piano will take on a lot of moisture because it’s so hot and muggy. This humidity is a powerful force that’s hard to tame. Even the most energy-efficient home with the latest climate control technology will not perfectly protect the wood from absorbing moisture in the air. This causes the wood in your piano to swell. Contrarily in the winter, the super dry air will suck up any remaining moisture out of the wood and cause it to start shrinking. This back-and-forth game of shrinking and swelling can have a devastating effect on your piano’s metal and wooden parts as the years go on.
The action of wood swelling and shrinking with the changing seasons is causing great stress to your piano’s inner workings. It pushes the wood against the metal parts, which will make it harder and harder to tune your piano properly. Fun fact: There is actually more than 20,000lbs of pressure on your piano caused by the strings pulling on the tuning pins. The pins are attached and fastened to a large block of wood called a pin block.
With the constant shrinking and swelling of wood components, including the pin block, this wood will become less stable and could experience structural failure. All that pressure will pull the pins out of place causing the piano to go out of tune.
- Humidity control systems will make your tuning last longer
- Humidity control systems protect your piano’s value
- Humidity control systems will extend the lifespan of your piano
These facts are important to know because there is something you can do to slow down your piano’s aging and preserve its health. You can’t stop the wood in your piano from absorbing moisture, but you can control how much humidity is inside your piano. You can have a top-of-the-line air conditioning unit or HVAC system in your house, but you will not be able to make conditions 100% perfect for your piano. There are always leaks near windows and doors that can affect your home’s environment. Thankfully, there is an affordable solution available to all piano owners.
Humidity Control Systems
There are humidity control systems made specifically to work with pianos. Essentially, these devices have built-in humidifiers and dehumidifiers to ensure a stable environment. You choose the setting and the system will work to maintain a consistent humidity level in the room where you keep your piano. This should eliminate virtually all shrinking or swelling of the wood, while also preserving the soundboard and metal tuning pins. In addition, the device should greatly reduce the occurrence of sticky keys and you’ll need to have your piano tuned way less often.
Need more? Here are some other benefits to humidity systems:
- Rust prevention. These systems keep metallic elements in the piano such as the strings from rusting. Rust is poison for a piano, making the instrument more difficult to tune and even causing the strings to snap.
- If your piano is projecting a harsh tone that sounds too bright, it could be that the humidity in the piano is preventing the hammers from hitting firmly enough to produce the right notes. Regulating the humidity will prevent this.
- You’ll have a better shot at reducing glue failure in your piano. Moisture can loosen felt around the keys or glue that holds the dampers in place. If any of these malfunctions, it will cost you a lot of time and money to get them fixed.
- It’s easier than ever to protect your piano’s fine finish.
Maintaining optimal humidity levels will also keep your hammers from getting too soft, which if left unchecked, could give your piano’s notes a muffled sound.
For a very reasonable investment, you can save a lot of money in the long run by purchasing a humidity control system for your piano, thereby overall enhancing your playing experience. The professionals at Piano NY are always here to advise you on the best system to install and all of your other piano maintenance needs.
Piano Finish Care
- Prevent direct sunlight and extreme temperatures
- Avoid abrasions at all costs
- Clean regularly
The piano stands out from all other musical instruments because, in most people’s homes, it also functions as a piece of furniture to admire. Throughout modern history, the piano has been such a staple of interior design in western culture. In fact, “piano finish” is generally used to describe the utmost quality in wood finishes for other furniture pieces including dining room tables and wardrobes. Taking the time and money to maintain your piano’s finish will extend its life and help you preserve the instrument’s value should you ever decide to sell it.
Things to Keep in Mind About a Piano’s Finish
- The easiest way to maintain your piano’s finish is to avoid direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, and humidity as well as abrasion. Regular cleaning will help as well.
- Humidity control is important for the internal components of your piano, but it’s just as important for the external finish. Wild temperature swings will trigger expansion and contraction of the woodwork, eventually leading to cracks and could even cause the finish to start separating from the wood.
- Place your piano in a room where the temperature remains fairly stable and avoid direct sunlight. This will slow the aging process of your piano, preserving playability and lifespan while mitigating any fading that could occur.
- To stop scratches on your piano’s finish, never set objects on top without a cloth or piece of felt underneath.
- You should never put drinks or plants on your piano. Even the tiniest bit of condensation or spillage could majorly damage the finish.
- Even the smallest specks of dust can cause abrasions. Avoid this by using a duster or damp fiber cloth. Don’t use coarser materials such as paper towels because their composition could scratch the piano’s finish.
- Polish can leave your piano looking sharp, but don’t use it unless necessary. Standard household lemon or furniture polishes can hurt your piano. Overall, you should avoid using any aerosol products as these sprays can get inside the piano and hurt internal components including tuning pins, action parts, and strings.
One of the most recent advances in piano finishing treatments is the use of polyester. This modern chemical technology is designed to give you the best-looking finish and protection on the market today. Polyester is an incredibly stable material that is virtually impervious to the effects of weather changes. However, the downside of polyester is its strength. Having a solid layer on top of a constantly moving material such as wood can lead to cracks in the polyester, which could damage your piano’s wood by inflicting abrasions on the surface. However, this varies by piano, as some companies will use a special formula on top of a piano’s finish to give an additional stable layer of protection for the polyester to be applied onto.
Once this special layer and polyester are properly applied to the piano, your instrument’s finish should be indestructible with extra protection against the sun, heat, spills, and other threats which could potentially damage your piano’s finish. These added layers of security are as much as ten times thicker than a traditional lacquer, beautifying and protecting the wood from changes in humidity for years to come.
Many different types of wood finishes can be applied to a piano and it might be difficult to determine in some cases what original finish was used, so there is no universal rule for cleaning and polishing the finish of your piano, but here are few pointers to follow:
Don’t use polish not meant for pianos
Don’t put your piano in direct sunlight
Don’t use products containing silicates
It’s important to avoid using any products which contain silicone. Your piano’s finish will absorb silicone and can saturate the wood, leaving it damaged and making it difficult to repair.
When cleaning any piano, no matter the finish, you can never go wrong using a damp fiber cloth followed by a dry cloth. If your piano has a polyester finish, there are special polishes you can buy from piano stores.
What Is Piano Regulation?
There are about 37 adjustments for each key of a piano’s action mechanism, enabling you to play the instrument within a certain specification.
Once the process is completed for one key, it must then be done on all the other 87 keys on the piano so that they all respond and feel the same. Despite having your piano regularly tuned by a professional, every piano needs regulation eventually. No amount of tuning or cleaning can prevent this necessary action from being taken.
The more you use your piano, the more often it will have to be regulated. The need can be accelerated by several factors including wooden parts suffering from excessive contraction and expansion, weakening of the piano’s steel springs, normal wear, and tear, felt compression, insects who like to chomp on the felt inside your piano, as well as general neglect of your instrument. The margins for error are small with pianos. Movement equivalent to a few thousandths of an inch with the piano’s tolerance can cause significant changes to the sound of your piano. You will notice a big difference in how the keys feel and the piano sounds. Parts of your piano will inevitably shift over time, so it’s important to have it regulated so you can get the best sound and keep your piano in a pristine and playable condition for all to enjoy.
Responsible piano owners will access regular service for their instruments. Even during a routine tuning, an experienced technician will search for issues with your piano’s action and perform some minor regulation fixes as required. A full-on regulation involves adjusting thousands of parts that comprise the action on a piano and this has to be scheduled separately from a standard tuning session because it takes so much time and focuses to carry out. When done together, regular tuning and regulation adjustments of your piano will keep it in great condition and ensure that you and your family can enjoy playing it for years to come.
Various types of materials have been used to cover piano keys throughout the years including:
The tricky part about cleaning the keys also comes from the glue used to adhere the coverings to the keys themselves. You never know what today’s chemical cleaners will do when they react with the glues. The safest way to take care of these keys is to use a white cloth that’s been dampened and then follow that up with the use of a dry cloth. Under no circumstances should moisture penetrate the wood of the keys. If you must use something stronger, try a gentle soap mixed with water.
Cleaning Inside and Underneath Strings
You will occasionally need to clean the inside of your piano and underneath the strings. Use a vacuum to suck up all the dust and dirt that collects in the action cavity and other internal components of the piano.
There are reasonably priced specialty tools that you can buy to clean the area beneath the strings.
Over time, the felt hammers in your piano will harden. Generally, this happens because the felt gets compressed from thousands of impacts over the years. That repeated contact with the strings will also form grooves in the felt. You’ll notice when the hammers are getting too hard when the piano will make notes with a brighter tone, which over time will become unpleasant to listen to.
Here are some instances when your piano could benefit from voicing:
- The piano will no longer play softly
- It doesn’t sound good even after a professional tuning
- Your piano sounds different from when you bought it
- You notice a radical variation between notes
When you voice the piano, you are altering the quality of tone for each note inside the instrument. This is done through a tension adjustment for each piece of hammer felt.
Professionals will use needles to gently make the felt more flexible, reducing the tension on each hammer. Another method for adjusting a hammer’s tone response is to add special chemicals to the felt. This is an easy way to achieve similar effects.
Voicing is the final step in the total overhaul and maintenance regime for a piano. Before voicing can be carried out, the piano must be in good tune and be in good regulation. The hammers should also be in good shape and not too worn out.
If they are the wrong shape, it may not be worth voicing at all. Keeping a good tone in your piano demands high-end hammer felt that has been maintained by professionals who could reshape and realign your old or worn-out hammers.
Brand new pianos need voicing sometimes too. This operation should not take place until the piano has been moved into its final position in the new home. This is so your professional voicing technician can take into account the acoustics of the room. Taking the time to do this will ensure that your piano sounds as perfect as possible. Also, if you’re a serious pianist, you may desire a different shade of voicing than another pianist. It’s a very personal experience that needs to be discussed in detail before the voicing job takes place. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions about how the piano will sound after the voicing is done.
As a piano is used through the years, its tone will change. It’s inevitable. The hammers will get worn out and compacted leading to a tone that’s too harsh and bright for many people’s liking. Most pianists should prefer to produce delicate and sweet-sounding notes. If parts of the action become uneven due to worn-out parts, preventing the fingers from properly transmitting motion to the hammers, the person playing the piano will lose the ability to control the tone as well as volume.
As you regulate tone with the voicing of your piano, you might notice it’s very much like moving the bass or treble up and down on your favorite stereo system. A lot of piano owners don’t know that the tone of their instrument can be customized to meet their desired tastes. Voicing can also correct tone to work with the acoustics of a specific room as well to compensate for an old or deteriorating piano.
A good tuning by a professional should take place before voicing begins. The technician needs to do this so that they can assess the piano’s current tone and identify the instrument’s most dire needs. While needles are often used to soften the felt on the hammers, some people like to use a chemical solution. Once the felt has been made more pliable, the technician can adjust individual notes to the piano owner’s liking. A pianist’s inspiration can be greatly increased with a well-tuned and voiced piano that’s been maintained by professional hands.
Making Sure You Have The Right Technician
Did you know there are more than 10,000 individual parts inside of a piano? It’s probably one of the most complex items you own from a mechanical standpoint. Each of those parts needs to be properly maintained to ensure your instrument sounds its best. This is a universal law for pianos; No matter how well maintained they are, they will all need repairs at some point. Tunings should take place at least twice a year with the changing of the weather. This isn’t just so that the bad piano sounds great, but it’s good for the overall health of the instrument. Because of a piano’s complex systems inside, you need to ensure that you’re hiring an experienced professional to care for your piano.
Piano NY has a team of experienced, registered piano technicians (RPTs) and craftsmen on our staff. We are your go-to source for all piano services. Our technicians are up to date on the latest piano maintenance technologies, tuning techniques, and more.
Our piano technicians do way more than just tune your piano. When we come to your home, we will carry out a full evaluation of your piano’s condition. We will provide the piano owner with an official diagnosis of the instrument as well as any recommended repairs. Many customers will express their surprise when we remove the front panel or the bottom kneeboard to access the piano’s key internal components. This is when it’s a good time to clean the inside of the piano because they are prime collectors of dust and dirt. Our technicians will always take the time to educate our customers about how their piano functions. This will reduce the chances of you letting it fall into an irreversible state of disrepair. Most customers want a perfect-sounding piano and it’s our goal at Piano NY to make sure you’re satisfied with the tone of all 88 keys.
If your keys are starting to stick and your piano just doesn’t create the same brilliant sounds that you remember from years ago, it’s time to call up one of the professional technicians at Piano NY. We’ll use our combined decades of experience to restore your piano to its former glory. We are always standing by with advice and suggestions for all of your piano playing and maintenance needs.