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Piano FAQ

Over the years I’ve received many piano related questions.  Here are some of the most asked questions and answers.

 

Q: How often should I tune my piano?

A:  The standard for our area of southern New England is every six months. This is because a piano is gradually going out of tune all the time, and after about six months most people notice the piano sounds “off”. The “experts” say 4 times per year, following the seasons, but I think for the average home owner or school teacher this is extreme and expensive. If tuned every 6 months a piano will stay relatively close to it’s target pitch without too much stress to the instrument (or the wallet!).

Q: Why does my piano go out of tune?

A:  The tuning of a piano is greatly affected by humidity and temperature, although usage and moving do have their effects. As humidity and temperature increase the wooden soundboard swells putting pressure against the strings, which tightens the strings, thereby increasing the pitch of the strings and pulling harder on the tuning pins. The reverse happens with a reduction in humidity or temperature. Unfortunately, not all strings or tuning pins will receive equal increases in tension and, thus, will be out of tune with each other. Above all, the degree to which a piano goes out of tune for any reason is dependent on the tightness of the tuning pins. If the pins are tight the changes in pitch will be less in relation of environmental changes.

Q: How long does it take to tune a piano?

A:  The time it takes to tune a piano is dependent on the condition of the piano, the degree to which the piano is out of tune, and the skills of the tuner. That said, most pianos can be tuned in 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It is rare for a tuning to take less than 90 minutes. A complete, quality job is just not being done if the tuning takes only an hour or less. The longer it has been since the last tuning the longer the tuning will take.

Q: What is pitch raising?

A:  Pitch raising is the process of bringing the average pitch of the piano up to a target pitch which is most often what we call Concert Pitch, or A440. The piano will be tuned up to a pitch of A440 or slightly higher. The pitch will then relax back down, though now closer to the target. The piano is then successively tuned until the pitch stays at the target pitch and no longer relaxes back. Pitch raising is often needed in pianos that have not been tuned for quite some time or those that have been moved recently.

Q: What is a piano's "Action"?

A:  The piano action is the mechanism between the keys and the strings that does most of the work. When you press a key, a number of moving parts in the action transmit your finger pressure into movement and transfer of energy from part to part that eventually results in the striking of strings and the sound you hear. Sometimes the word “action” also refers to the way the piano responds to the pianist or how it feels to the pianist.

Q: What is concert pitch?

A:  Concert Pitch is also referred to as A440. The A is the A above middle C, and the 440 is a measure of frequency of vibration. Put it together and the A above middle C in a concert pitched piano will vibrate exactly 440 times per second. All other notes are mathematically derived from this reference pitch. When all strings are tuned to their predetermined frequency the whole piano is “at concert pitch”.

Q: Why can't my piano be tuned to concert pitch?

A:  Some older pianos can’t handle the strain of concert pitch due to age or design. This means that the piano will be tuned “down”, “flat” or “low”. This simply means that the piano overall will have a lower pitch and lower tension on the strings and frame, but the piano will sound perfectly fine as all keys will be tuned relative to each other. It is common to tune older pianos down one semitone, meaning that if you strike a C key it will actually make the sound for a B at concert pitch, if you strike a G key it will make the sound for an F# at concert pitch, etc. The only drawback to this is that although the piano will be in tune with itself and sound even sound great, it cannot be played with other instruments that are tuned to concert pitch, A440, as those instruments will be out of tune with the piano.

Q: Why do keys sometimes stick?

A:  There are many reasons for stuck keys. The culprit is usually excessive humidity (which swells wooden parts against each other), broken or rubbing action parts, or just dust slowing down movement. The answer to your problem will come after examination by a tuner. Often the solution is simple and can be corrected along with the tuning at no extra charge.

Q: My piano will not hold a tuning. Is it junk?

A:  No, there’s still hope. When the tuning pins (pins to which the strings attach) become loose to the point that the piano can’t be tuned, there are usually options. One option is to use a “pin tightener” mixture which when injected into the pinblock swells the wood around the pins making the pins temporarily tighter.  If you have only a few loose pins then a shim can be placed in the hole of each tuning pin to tighten it. The best option for a whole piano is to either replace the pinblock and/or simply replace all the pins with larger pins. Either option will require new strings but will ultimately fix the tuning potential of a piano.

Q: Do you tune organs or other instruments?

Nope.  Organs and pianos are completely different instruments.  They keyboard is about the only thing a piano and organ have in common. I only work on acoustic pianos.

Q: Can you fix my electronic or digital piano?

Sorry.  Electronic/digital pianos (aka keyboards) resemble, but are not the same as, acoustic pianos.  I am a technician of acoustic pianos only.

Q: Can you tell me what my piano is worth?
Not really.  I’m a mechanic.  While I may be able to give you a ballpark idea of your piano’s value, a dealer is better suited to answering your questions.  I’m just the guy with the tools.

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