Why Pianos Slip Out of Tune
Question: Why do pianos go out of tune? What has the greatest affect on my piano’s tuning stability?
A piano is made up of thousands of individual parts. A dizzying number of components constructed of wood, metal, and cloth all combine to create one musical instrument. In one way, all acoustic pianos are equal – they require tuning. Today, the standard pitch to which pianos are tuned is A440. Here are some of the reasons your piano will slip out of tune.
- Humidity Swings: The biggest factor that affects a piano’s stability of tuning are swings in humidity. Traditionally, a piano’s pinblock, soundboard and bridges are all made of wood. Wood can be very susceptible to swings in humidity which cause the wood to expand and contract. Constant swelling and shrinking combined with the thousands of pounds of tension created by the strings, causes the piano to quickly slip out of tune.
- Maintaining Consistency: A humidity range between 40% and 50% is optimal for your acoustic piano. The best solution is to maintain a constant humidity level in your home by using a whole house or room humidification control system. We also highly recommend the use of a Dampp Chaser Piano Life Saver System installed on the instrument to help create a stable ‘microenvironment’ around and inside the piano. These systems are available for both upright and grand pianos.
How much does a piano weigh? Does tuning equal repair work? In today’s blog post, we cover a few of the piano related questions we receive here at Chupp’s Piano Service.
How much does a piano weigh?
The combination of thick pieces of lumber, the heavy cast iron plate (sometimes called a harp), and numerous other components make the piano one of the heaviest instruments on the market today. Pianos vary greatly in weight depending on their type and size. For example, a Steinway & Sons Model B which measures 6’11” in length weighs approx. 750 lbs. while smaller upright pianos such as consoles and spinets, usually weigh in the 300 to 500 lbs range.
Question: My child is starting piano lessons. What kind of piano should I get for them? I found a free one on Craigslist and most of the keys still work. Could I start them on this piano until they get good enough to deserve a better one?
The selection of an instrument for your budding student is an important one. Students of the piano will spend many an hour practicing scales and building up to ever increasingly difficult pieces. A link should build between the artist and their instrument. This is why it is critical to select a piano that encourages them to sit down and play.
Imagine someone beginning to learn a sport, say, baseball. One wouldn’t give the budding player a stick broken off from a nearby tree and tell them; ‘learn with this, and when you get really good we’ll give you a real bat!’ It is obvious that this would not be conducive to enjoyable learning and would impede progress. One would be tempted to simply quit when placed under this handicap.
Unfortunately, we see this far too often in the world of pianos. The difference between a fully functional, professional grade piano and the ‘Craigslist deals’ and cheap keyboards one often sees in us for practice is like day and night. Even budding pianists can tell the difference, even if they cannot express what exactly they are feeling.
Young students are much more perceptive to tonal quality and touch than many parents think. Many of the ‘free deals’ that can be found on Craigslist (and yes, even at some piano dealers) can be much more trouble than they are worth. A badly built and maintained piano may require much more repair and restoration work than is initially noticeable when examining the exterior. It is always recommended that you contact a qualified piano technician prior to considering the purchase of one of these used pianos.
It can be incredibly frustrating to sit down at a barely functioning piano that has been badly maintained and attempt to bring some kind of discernable melody out of it. It is maddening for the professional; just imagine how frustrating it is for a beginning student. Sadly, we see this so often. It is no wonder that many students fail to stick with piano lessons.
In terms of monetary value, a durable, high-performance instrument can and will help you and your student get the very most out of piano/music lessons. A well-built, properly maintained instrument will stay in regulation and in tune saving you money in service calls. Many music teachers also have minimum requirements for the student’s practice instrument – and with good reason!
Maintaining Your Piano
As a piano owner, you naturally want your piano to sound and perform at a high level. A properly tuned piano is inviting to a pianist and helps bring out the best from any artist. One question we hear from piano owners is ‘how often should I have my piano tuned?’ This comes down to several factors.
If your piano is new or freshly rebuilt or restrung, do not be surprised if you find that the piano slips out of tune fairly quickly. This is due to the new strings continuing to stretch and the piano acclimating to its new environment. This is a normal part of the ‘settling’ process. We tune our newly rebuilt pianos four-five times before they leave our shop to help ‘kickstart’ that process, but stretching and acclimating still occurs.
Schools Need to Have Pianos Restored Too – Full Potential – Affordable Price
It is common for music-based and regular schools alike to have pianos that need to be restored. Often times, schools have pianos that are not performing at their full potential. Pianos in schools are typically used regularly and are often neglected wherein the instruments gradually lose their sound quality. The consistent, frequent playing on these pianos results in wear that many home pianos never see.
Playing music on a piano that needs to be restored is not a pleasant experience, as the piano simply will not produce the rich, full sound that it could. When a piano inside a school is working as it should, everyone using the instrument and listening to it will have a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
The pin block in a grand piano is obviously an important component to both the stability of tone and structural integrity of the instrument. About 40,000 pounds of tension is put on this piece of composite wood by the piano strings. Logically, care must be taken during the manufacturing and re-manufacturing process to ensure a secure and tight fit between the pin block and the cast iron plate. Recently we have come across a number of pianos where care was NOT taken during the factory manufacturing process. We have began/completed work on a number of Young Chang grand pianos where the fit between the plate and the pin block quite frankly was almost nonexistent as you can see in the photos below. Young Chang utilizes a very fine quality pinblock, so the bad fit is rather unfortunate.
Cleaning your Piano Keys:
There are 88 piano keys on a standard grand piano. Each one of those keys are covered by a piece of plastic or ivory called a keytop. Although some notes may get more of a workout then others, they all can use a good cleaning now and than. But what is the best way to remove the dirt, grime and oil that can accumulate?
The first thing you will need to do is determine what material your piano keys are made out of. Due to the ban on the use of newly harvested ivory, the vast majority of pianos played and manufactured today have some type of plastic or high quality simulated ivory keytop. Although the feel of ivory is not always fully duplicated, they are usually more durable and easier to clean.
If your keytops are plastic, use a clean white cloth with a bit of mild soap or key cleaner to remove the grime. After applying the cleaning solution to the cloth itself, wipe the keys down with a back to front motion, not side to side. Clean a few keys at a time and then dry with another cloth. Be careful not to use a colored cloth as the color could bleed onto the keys. Be sure to also take care to not get the cleaning solution on the wooden piano keys themselves. The wood can absorb the moisture, causing swelling or separation.
Does Your Piano Need Work? | Three Things to Check
“Should I get my piano worked on? It sounds OK as it is I guess. Is my piano worth the work?”
These are questions technicians often hear from piano owners. Why spend the money and time to get your instrument worked on if nothing is terribly ‘broken?’ In some cases that is true. When attempting to decide whether it is worth the investment, we ask:
- What is the brand name? (A lower quality brand usually isn’t worth the work.)
- What is the type? (An upright restoration isn’t as likely to be cost effective as a grand.)
- How old is it? (A 110 year old piano is probably going to need more work than one 10 years off the line. The brand and size of the piano dictate whether it is cost effective or not.)
These are a few of the first things to confirm. As a rule however, basic maintenance and checkups can allow for greater enjoyment of your instrument and can possibly save you money over the long run.
Here is a list of three things to have looked at before restoring your piano:
1: The Tuning
This is one of the basics, although it is surprising how often it is ignored. A piano that is out of tune is obviously not at its full potential. You may get used to an out-of-tune sound, however you will not be getting the best your instrument can offer. A regular tuning is essential to keep your instrument in good working order and sounding like it should. The pins in the pinblock can also become loose, preventing the piano from being in tune. Here at Chupp’s we recommend tuning your home piano twice every year, although this could change, depending on the environment. A concert piano should have a ‘touch up’ by a trained concert tuner before every performance. A regular tuning can indicate how much care the piano has received – as a qualified technician can examine the instrument when he visits it to tune.